Category Archives: Family

Thinking of My Dad on Father’s Day

“A father has to be a provider, a teacher, a role model, but most importantly, a distant authority figure who can never be pleased. Otherwise, how will children ever understand the concept of God?” – Stephen Colbert

A few days ago was the 13th anniversary of my father’s death.  I’ve mentioned him before here and I’ve spoken of him as a hard man, and he was.

Today is Father’s Day, and I find myself wondering what he would think of me today.

I’ve owned my own business for 17 years now, and I think he would like that and be proud of me for it.  On the other hand, I never followed in his footsteps and pursued his business when he was alive and I didn’t pick it up and run with it after he died.  That, I’m sure, would be a big disappointment for him.

That’s how it was with him then, and that’s how it is now:  I never quite know where I stand.

Does the pride outweigh the disappointment?

 

I’ve always lived with the feeling it didn’t.

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Unity and Diversity – Two Sides of the Same Myth (Part Two)

“World unity is the wish of the hopeful, the goal of the idealist and the dream of the romantic. Yet it is folly to the realist and a lie to the innocent.”
– Don Williams, Jr.

 

Last week, I wrote about how when we push for diversity, we end up erasing it.  I believe a similar thing occurs when we speak of unity.  Even as we talk about our desire for unity, we divide ourselves.

Historically, just about every nation has experienced racial and cultural divides.  Often, these have turned into bloody affairs with injustices and atrocities committed by those in power on both sides.

In the United States today, we claim that we want racial unity, however the evidence shows otherwise.  Are you a Mexican-American?  An African-American?  Italian-American?  Irish-American?

If different ethnic groups wanted unity, then they wouldn’t label themselves by their race or nationality.  In doing so, they automatically segregate themselves from the rest of society, creating an “us” versus “them” mentality.

We see this in religion as well.  As a church we want unity… kind of.  One of my all-time favorite jokes was told by the comedian Emo Philips:

“Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump.   I said, “Don’t do it!”

He said, “Nobody loves me.”

I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”

He said, “Yes.”

I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?”

He said, “A Christian.”

I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?”

He said, “Protestant.”

I said, “Me, too! What franchise?”

He said, “Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” I said, “Me, too!”

I said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”

I said, “Die, heretic!”  And I pushed him over.”

I believe the problem comes from our inability to define who we are as individuals.  We are desperate to find some meaningful way by which we can be identified.  Somehow, we have to matter because in our hearts, we need to matter.  So, we pick something about ourselves, and cling to it for dear life.

We then surround ourselves with people who identify themselves as we do, thereby validating our choice in selecting what it is that makes us important.  If we lose that one thing – our religion, our nationality, our skin color… our favorite team, for that matter – we lose our identity, and with it, our value.

It’s seems that we want unity, but only within our own separate little groups.

Dad Score: 10/10 – Part Three

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in 7 years.”
– Mark Twain

After two weeks of background info, I finally get to share this story about my dad… one time for sure when he achieved the perfect Dad Score of 10/10.

As I said before, life in the Corps is pretty hard and life in the Aggie Band is harder still.  Back then, a large number of fish would wash out.  I don’t recall exactly what the attrition rates were, but I want to say Corps-wide, it was about 35-40%.  I know in prior years it was as high as 60% and I’ve heard rumors of years when it was more.  When I was there, my outfit had one of the highest retention rates in the Corps, but one of the other three outfits in the Band started with 36 fish and ended with 14 – a 61% attrition rate.

Most fish reach a breaking point where they make the fateful Call Home.  During the Call Home, they tell their parents how hard it is… how it’s not what they expected… how this isn’t what college is supposed to be like… how high school band was fun, but this is just torture… how mean and cruel the upperclassmen are, especially the sophomores.

I’m not ashamed to say I made the Call Home.

It was probably two or three weeks in.  My dad answered the phone.  I asked to speak to my mom.  He must have known what was up because he said, “Why don’t you talk to me first.”

I wasn’t sure how it would go, but I talked to him.  Once I started talking, I started crying, which surprised me… I didn’t realize how broken down I had become.

I told him how much I hated my life, how hard the Aggie Band was and how we had to do so much more stuff than the rest of the Corps and how our upperclassmen made us do things the CT fish didn’t have to do.  (Members of the Corps are affectionately known as CTs.)  I complained about not getting enough to eat and not ever getting enough sleep.  I complained about tons of other things.  I told him I wanted to quit.

Given his passion for A&M, I expected to hear something that started with “No son of mine…” and continued with a mandate of staying in the Corps and the Band.

He simply said, “Well, son. That’s your decision. I can’t make it for you.”

I was stunned.  I think I was looking for permission to quit or, at the very least, being berated into not quitting.  I wasn’t prepared for his simple response.

I asked him what I should do.

He said, “I can’t tell you that. Only you can decide.”

Then, he said, “I can tell you this, though: If you quit, you will spend the rest of your life knowing you couldn’t do this. You will end up quitting other, more important, things later on. If you somehow make it through this, you will know that you can overcome anything because nothing will feel as hard as this does right now. This decision is going to define who you are for the rest of your life.”

I think this might have been my dad’s finest moment as a father.  I can’t think of anything he could have said or done differently which would have been even slightly better.

To top it all off, he was right.

 

Dad Score: 10/10 – Part Two

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in 7 years.”
– Mark Twain

Last week, I began telling a story about my dad… one time for sure when he nailed the whole “being a father’ thing.  To help understand this moment, I found it necessary to share a little bit about our common history at Texas A&M and in the Corps of Cadets.

As I said before, life in the Corps is pretty tough, and your freshman year is a lot like being in boot camp for nine months with the added bonus of being a full-time student who needs to actually make good grades.

Being in the Aggie Band, though, took the whole concept of making life miserable for the fish and turned it up to 11.

In addition to everything the other fish had to do, we had drill every afternoon from 1600 hours until formation and chow at 1830 hours.  The first half hour of drill was called “sectionals” where each instrument section (such as trumpets, woodwinds, drums, etc.) would work on their specific skills and maneuvers.  As it turns out, the vast majority of the skills and maneuvers in my section (woodwinds) involved having inspection-perfect uniforms, including combat boots polished to a mirror shine (we called it a “two-bulb” shine… the shine had to be so perfect, upperclassmen could see the distinct reflections of each of the two florescent bulbs in a dorm room’s ceiling light fixture).  The inspection involved a good 3-5 minutes and ended in doing push ups while getting yelled at by sophomores for the rest of sectionals.  The remainder of drill was spent perfecting the upcoming halftime drill for the week with a lot of push ups and getting yelled at thrown in for good measure.  Sometimes we missed formation.  Sometimes we got into Duncan Dining Hall just long enough to have five minutes to inhale our food before we had to report to our dorms for a quick shower and then Call to Quarters, which was mandatory study time.

Other things about being a BQ (member of the band) were harder, too.  When it came to our uniforms, the shine on our shoes, how we spoke to upperclassmen, our requirement to always have a fish buddy with us (you have no idea the abject terror one experiences when finding oneself the lone fish in front of upperclassmen)… in all of these things, and more, our upperclassmen held us to a higher standard than what we saw in the rest of the Corps.

For example, unlike the rest of the fish in the Corps, our upperclassmen required us to speak in unison.  You could always tell when a group of BQ fish were talking to an upperclassman because the first word was drawn out long enough for everyone to get into sync:  “Miiiiiiiiiiiiister Jones, sir!”  Looking back, I’m amazed at how we were able to organically develop a cadence in our speaking which allowed all of us to say stuff in unison.

Fortunately, this was made easier (a happy accident, I’m sure, as upperclassmen are loath to make fish lives easier) because as a fish, you’re only allowed to say one thing to an upperclassman when initiating a conversation:
 – “Mr Smith, sir!  May we have permission to speak sir!” (It’s actually not posed as a question.)

Likewise, there are only four fish answers:
– “Yes, sir”
“No, sir”
“No excuse, sir”, and
– “I don’t know, sir”

For the sake of accuracy, I need to be more specific about that last fish answer.  You’re not allowed to say “I don’t know”.  The correct form of this answer is as follows:

“Sir! Not being informed to the highest degree of accuracy, I hesitate to articulate for fear I may deviate from the true course of rectitude.  In short, I’m a very dumb fish and do not know, sir!”

Sounds like a fun life, right?  Hence the phone call to my dad….

Dad Score: 10/10 – Part One

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in 7 years.”
– Mark Twain

Like most men my age (or, perhaps, of any age), I had a complicated relationship with my father.  For the most part, I didn’t like him much.  He was an angry, prideful man and he had a gift for making me feel unworthy and instilled in me a feeling that I was a constant disappointment.  This wasn’t something he attempted to do.  In fact, there were many times where he would tell me that I was a constant source of joy in his life and that he was very proud of me.  But, that didn’t seem to ever sink in.

Unfortunately, this has defined my view of God and ended up molding me into the kind of father he was.  I’m not making excuses for my many failures as a parent; rather, it’s made me understand him far more and has enabled me to give him a lot of grace.  When I look at his life, from the time he was a boy all the way through to when I became a man, it’s no wonder he became who he was.  And in all fairness, he did a much better job than he should have been able to.

I was thinking about him today… about one moment in particular.  Without a doubt, this is one of the times my dad nailed fatherhood.  Seriously, his Dad Score was a perfect 10 out of 10.

To fully understand this – to know why he knocked it out of the park – you have to understand a little bit about him and me and some history we share.

My dad went to Texas A&M University and was class of ’62.  Of course, he was in the Corps of Cadets and he was incredibly passionate about his love of A&M throughout his entire life.  I went to Texas A&M as well (class of ’92) and I was also in the Corps of Cadets, but I also joined the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band (which is a major unit of the Corps).  And, like my father, I’m very passionate about A&M and love it dearly.

If you’re not familiar with the Corps, it’s an ROTC program.  But, it’s not like most.  Texas A&M is one of six Senior Military Colleges.  The Corps of Cadets at A&M is similar to the ones at The Citadel, VMI or Norich.  This means life is a lot like life at one of the service academies, but quite a bit tougher.  Cadets were supervised far less than at the academies, so there was more… ah… “creative” forms of instilling discipline into the freshmen (called “fish”).  The fish year was basically nine months of boot camp with the added stress of being a full-time student.

Being a fish in the Aggie Band, at least when I was there, made life in the rest of the Corps look pretty easy – with the exception of the guys in the Fish Drill Team.  If you’re not familiar them, look them up.  They’re absolutely amazing.

More about life in the Aggie Band next week.

On Owning Pets, Part 5 – A Potpourri of Pet Tales

“If animals could speak, the dog would be a blundering outspoken fellow; but the cat would have the rare grace of never saying a word too much.” – Mark Twain

I know I’m going on and on about pets, but I’m amazed at how many I’ve had in my life.

– When I was a kid, we moved into a house where the previous owners abandoned their dog. We took her in and she was a great little dog until she died of old age.

– I lived in East Texas when I was very young. We had a Siamese named “Princess”. She used to love to kill snakes and leave them at the front door. We came home from dinner one night and there was a large rattlesnake on the door mat. We almost died when we saw it. Fortunately, it was dead. Princess had left us a gift.

– I got a Black Lab when I was a teenager. Strictly an outside dog as my mom refused to have animals in the house. We always knew when people were coming to the front door because he always laid there and his wagging tail would thump so hard against the door we could hear it all
over the house. He got hit by a car and I was devastated.

– A neighbor’s dog came over to our house a few times and fought with my lab. It was pretty bad. The first time, I was able to separate them with a hose. The second time, I couldn’t. So I shot the neighbor’s dog.

– Somehow we ended up with several cats at our house when I was a teenager. Those cats had kittens. We had 18 cats. We gave them all away, but not before our garage was infested with fleas.

– Of the cats I’ve rescued over the years, one died in the litter box the day after we got it home, one came home with a UTI, acne, and two ear infections, another died beating its head against the floor… the sound woke us up and I rushed him to a 24 hour vet clinic. He had to
be put to sleep. I only tried it with one dog who ended up having parvovirus. Medusa brought him home (keep in mind this was right after our landlord had threatened to evict us because they found out we had an outdoor cat… so I guess it just made sense to her that we should adopt a dog. Go figure.) and he immediately pooped in the dining room. He had horrible diarrhea and I ended up sleeping on the couch so I could let him out every time he asked (which was every 30 minutes, or so). He was actually a great dog and was really well-behaved. I took him to the vet and was told it would cost about $1,200 to treat him for parvo. So, I took him back to the Humane Society (along with the printouts from the vet). The refused to believe he had parvo even after I showed them the vet’s reports. I told them I’d come back and get the dog once they treated him. They refused. So I got a refund of my adoption fees, gave them the dog and left. Consequently, I don’t rescue animals anymore. Perhaps I should, but I’ve spent hundreds or even thousands of dollars on rescued animals. It’s just cheaper and easier to find a reputable breeder.

– Medusa got the kids a gerbil once. Or a hamster. Or some type of rodent; I don’t recall which type, exactly. The net result was a cage that smelled constantly and three-foot area around it that was covered with pine shavings and rodent droppings. Ultimately, the rodent escaped and disappeared. We found it months later when we were moving. It was alive and well and had chewed a hole in the wall behind a bookcase and stuffed it with carpet and padding that it had chewed up under the bookcase. I released it into the wild.

– In college, I bought a fish tank and had some fish. I did this primarily because the tank was the exact size of a Playboy centerfold which is what I used as a backdrop for the tank. I realized, though, that fish poop and tanks have to be cleaned and it just wasn’t worth the hassle. So, I sold the whole thing to a guy I knew. I even let him take the centerfold.

– My youngest daughter owns the World’s Best Cat. Seriously.

– My lady love, I call her “Kitten”, has a dog. This thing is pitiful. It’s a Boston Terrier that’s about 14 years old. Kitten’s dog is almost totally deaf, doesn’t see very well and sleeps about 22 hours per day. She is also the single most food-obsessed creature I’ve ever seen. She can be fast asleep and if one walks into the kitchen and grabs a napkin, she is somehow right there waiting. If actual food appears, she starts shaking violently while never taking her eyes off the food. If you toss her a treat, she’ll catch it in mid-air about 95% of the time… if she misses, she can’t find the treat because she’s too blind, so you have to point it out to her. But, most of the time she catches it.. and it’s amazing how fast and accurate she is.

There are other stories, too. But you’re tired of reading about them and I’m tired of writing about them.

I want a cat, though.

On Owning Pets, Part 4 – The Eater of Souls

“Dogs act exactly the way we would act if we had no shame.” – Cynthia Heimel

Forget about the Vibrating Pomeranian, The Replacement Dog, the ferret or any other bad pet decision I was forced to endure. By far, the worst of them all was The Eater of Souls.

A few years ago, Medusa decided the best Christmas present our son could ever get would be a dog. Of course, I immediately pointed out that this was a bad idea for a lot of reasons. First, I would be the one taking care of it during the day since I work at home and he would be in school (and Medusa did nothing at all, if she could help it). Second, I had an employee at the time who also worked in my home office and the dog would be a distraction for us both. Third, our son wouldn’t take care of the dog because he’s too wrapped up in video games. Fourth, we like to travel when we can, so the dog would have to be kenneled which is expensive. In short, I specifically said there is absolutely no way we would get another dog as our lifestyle as a family simply wouldn’t accommodate providing a dog with the care and attention it needs.

So, imagine my surprise when Medusa buys him a dog. Not just any dog. Oh, no. We get a Husky. This is the single most difficult dog to contain in the entire world. It needs constant attention and has boundless energy. They are incredibly smart and are amazing escape artists. Ours actually learned how to unlatch the tether from its collar by rubbing his neck against the license plate on my motorcycle trailer. Once the dog escapes, what does it do? Runs away. Every time. That’s what huskies do.

Here’s the thing… if you’re looking for a constant companion and playmate, these dogs are amazing. And they are absolutely beautiful. For us? It was the exact opposite of what our family needed.

Why do I refer to him as The Eater of Souls? Because he would suck the life right out of you. If you weren’t paying attention to him, he whined. If you left him alone for any period of time, he howled. If you tried to kennel train him, he barked, howled and threw himself against the walls of the kennel. We started with an open metal cage which our golden retriever (who was perfect for our family) used until he died. It was very nice. It had a bed in the bottom and padded fabric lining the lower half of the walls and a matching cloth cover that could cover the cage for warmth or to help calm the dog. TEoS destroyed all of the fabric the first time he was put in it. He went on to bend the walls of the cage and throw himself against the corners until the cage opened enough for him to escape. (It was a steel cage, by the way.)

So, we moved to a large hard-shell plastic kennel. The normal techniques of kennel training him simply never worked. TEoS would literally howl and bark from the time we put him in the kennel until we let him out… minutes, hours.. no matter. It was constant.

We tried keeping him on a 20′ tether in the back yard. He’d escape by slipping out of his collar, getting his collar to open, unlatching the tether and once by chewing through the steel cable of the tether itself. We put a harness on him and he broke it. Each time he escaped meant I got to go to the pound and pick him up (and pay a fine).

Travel? Sure. Just spend $50 per day or more to have him kenneled.

Get a pet sitter while we’re gone? No problem. Until she gets so frustrated, she just ties the dog to the coffee table and leaves and we get a call from animal control letting us know they’re breaking into our house to rescue the dog because it’s been howling non-stop for two days.

The greatest moment I ever had with ToES was when part of my town was evacuated because of a forest fire and ToES ended up in the pound (I was out of town when it happened). When I got back in town, the lady at the shelter told me one of the volunteers was completely in love with the dog and was broken-hearted that I was there to pick him up. I immediately filled out the surrender form and paid the volunteer’s adoption fee so I knew ToES would go to the guy who loved him so much.

Ahhh… a happy ending.