The following is essentially what i said at my grandfather’s funeral today. I typed it out after i got done mowing a few days ago, knowing that i would be saying something at the service. I got through most of it without getting too emotional. However at the end I faltered a little bit.
The other day I was mowing. See we have this old riding mower that takes a screw driver and a pair of pliers and some magic to get it started. Needless to say I didn’t want to mess with it. Instead I used a push mower. To no surprise I started thinking about Pap. It’s not a coincidence that I was thinking about while mowing because my fondest memories of him are centered around him fixing push mowers. I didnt know my grandfather when he worked in a steel mill or as game warden. I knew him as a lawnmower repairman. Sitting out front of his red garage. For awhile there if you lived in Mercer or around the area chances are you had you bought your mower or had fixed or repaired by Russell. He was also the type of guy that if you were a little short he would just simply “pay me next time” and the thing is there was always a next time because you didn’t necessarily come to get your mower fixed but for the coffee that my grandma provided and most importantly the conversation. My grandfather was the type that could go weeks, months, years without seeing you and he would simply just pick up the conversation like it was yesterday. I remember people stopping by that he hadn’t seen in years stay and talk like best friends. That was my pap. A great man that seemed to have unlimited patience with me and my brothers. A man that would always let you settle up later. A man that you could slip into a conversation with as if it never ended. One day I’ll have another conversation with my pap, and I assure you it will be as if no time has passed.
Hey little man. Tonight was pretty rough. Sometimes I forget that you are just 5 years old. Sometimes I forget that your brain won’t fully develop for another two decades. I forget that at the age of 5 everything is magnified so much more. I’m sorry.
I remember when I had to move when I was about 13 years old. I hated it. That summer was the worst. The following school year wasn’t that much better. You can ask your Nanna. I can’t imagine what you are going through at the age of 5 and having to move. Not only move but getting use to living with new people. Me being around less. Not getting the individual attention you need. Sometimes I forget.
Honestly, I’m so proud of how you have done so far. Are things perfect? No. However, you’ve done an amazing job. So amazing that I do forgot how difficult all of this has been for you. You left friends. A house. Family. Routine. I’m sorry that I forgot.
I’ll do better to remember how much things have changed for you. How much all of this affects you. How much your life has changed. You have done an amazing job. I have to do better and I will.
As many of you know I am a die hard Steelers fan. I have a hoodie I wear so much that the one day I wore a different hoodie to work one of my students chimed “Mr. Nate I don’t think I have ever seen you without your Steelers hoodie, you look weird.” As a Steelers fan I am programmed to hate all things Cleveland Browns. I can’t stand the color orange. I think it’s the worst color in the crayon box. I do everything in my power to avoid wearing the color. I would rather wear bright pink and neon green than wear orange. So naturally, I am a huge Johnny Manziel hater. I think he will get crushed under some big defensive lineman and turn into the next RG3. Recent events however has me respecting Johnny Football as a person. Now that amount of respect fills thimble and no more, but at least it’s there.
Recently, Johnny Manziel check himself into rehab. The reason for the rehab has been undisclosed. From what sources like ESPN and CBS Sports, the speculation is that Johnny Football is really Johnny Alcoholic. His escapades have been well documented through twitter, instagram and TMZ. What has garnered the respect that I have toward Johnny Manziel is the fact that he didn’t get suspended a couple of games before this happened. There wasn’t a huge incident like Ray Rice and forced him into rehab. I’m just speculating but I’m believe someone convinced him to go. Regardless of who talked him into it or how it came about, at some point Johnny football realized he needed help.
I know for me it’s hard to admit that you need help. Pride gets in the way. I think I can do it on my own. I think I can make it. I’ll some how will my way through, figure out the puzzle in front of me, find a way out. Too often I know that for me, asking for help is like admitting I’m weak. That I some how failed. It’s tough to lay down that pride and reach out a hand.
I know there is no way I could survive being a single dad without my mom and my ex. That the grind of being a dad would eventually whittle away at me. That was very evident the past few weeks when my mom couldn’t watch Toby. Financially, I had to pay for an extra day of daycare, which adds up. Emotionally, I would have killed for an extra evening away from the hyperactive four year old with an equally as hyperactive imagination. The struggle was real. I probably could have survived long term but the toll it was taking even after just four weeks was rough.
As humans we aren’t perfect but we try our best. Too often our best isn’t good enough and we need help. We stumble and fall, get knocked down and we think that we can do it on our own. Newsflash: We can’t. We need help. Johnny Football maybe a narcissistic, over hyped football demigod but even he realized he needed help.
I was getting down on myself earlier today. This week has been rough. My grandfather is in the hospital because he has influenza and at his age it could kill him. Work has been rough with people under the microscope for accusations, including myself. Then I drive home and realize that I have coolant leaking from my car. Toss in a persistent cough that hasn’t gone away and a few other issues, including an over active four year old and you get a rough week.
One of the constant things I tell my students at work is that this life isn’t about the good times, it’s about the bad times and how you handle yourself. They hear it so much that they can quote me verbatim. I was reminded of my own quote when I finally sat down and watched all the special acknowledgements of Stuart Scott’s life. I watched the videos that ESPN put together and Rich Eisen giving play by play using all of Stu Scott’s catchphrases. I teared up. Not because this man was the voice of sports for me while I was in college and into being an adult, but because all anyone talked about was how much he loved his daughters and how hard he fought to survive for them. I teared up because when times were bad he went on set and anchored ESPN after probably throwing up from chemo.
I thought of my grandfather. This is a man that I have never heard him say a bad word about anybody. A man that people would stop by to just talk to. A man that I can honestly say I don’t ever remember him raising his voice or displaying anger, even when helping to raise two boys throughout the summers while their mother worked. The patience that he had as he tried to teach us about mowers. Here is a man that even when life took his sight, mobility, stamina and overall well being never seemed bitter or angry.
This life isn’t about how you handle yourself when times are good, it’s about what you do when times are bad.
I have debated a few ways of approaching this post. Originally I wanted to look at it from a sports fan perspective or maybe as a rant. Instead I’ve gone back to what works and what I think most people will respond to, a Dear Toby.
Hey little man, well I guess if you are reading this then you probably aren’t a little man but you know you will always be my little man. I don’t care if you grow up to be 6’10” and 250 lbs, you’ll be my little man. So crazy stuff has been happening in the world. There is a ton of civil unrest. People are protesting and rioting. It all stems from two incidents involving police and blacks guys who have died in the hands of the police. Honestly, it scares me that you are a minority living in this world. That you could make a couple of bad choices and end up paying for it with your life because of the color of your skin. It’s a scary thought. How can I protect you from racism? Hateful words and actions? How can I guard you from ignorance and close mindedness? The truth is, I can’t. The over reaction I think would be to teach you to be guarded, untrusting, and cynical. At the same time I don’t want you to be naive, blinded and unaware. Where is the balance? The goal, I think, will be to help you recognize that there are terrible people in this world with terrible thoughts. Their lives can and will negatively affect you if you let them. At the same time there are amazing people in this world that are full of love and they can affect your life in such amazing ways. The key my son is to find to be aware of both and be ready for either.
I love you,
Starting, stopping, and deleting. Repeat. That’s what I have done with this blog for about an hour now. So, until I come up with something better, this is what you get.
I started this post and restarted this post and then restarted it again a few times in my mind. Hell, chances are I’ll delete this and redo this part. Seems like my head is full of things and then nothing at all. Full of partial thoughts. Partial opinions but never really settling on a side. Focused on something then suddenly distracted by a fleeting thought that barely registers. Trying to force myself to think and write has simply caused me to jumble the mess in my head even more.
Ever have one of this days where you have things to do but you don’t HAVE anything to do? Feels like that in my mind. I have various thoughts, worries, ideas, day dreams, and objectives but they seem to just crash into each other. I picked up Toby from daycare and they gave me some of his “art” work. I chuckled because it looks like how my mind feels. Lines drawn, not finished yet nothing more to do, abstract but suppose to be something.
I was at the playground tonight with Toby. I really watched him tonight. Not sure why tonight was any different. Maybe it was dark French roast coffee I had. Gave me an extra caffeine boost. I was amazed by how much he had grown up. He was climbing on things that really weren’t meant to be climbed on but he managed them. He was playing with a little girl and did great. He took turns and shared his toys. His imagination is getting better. We played “store”. I would walk up to this play area and ask for food or clothes and he would give me a hand full of mulch. It was the little things that he did that made things different, saying “thank you” at appropriate times. Or informing me he was out of milkshake and all he had was apple juice. It was pretty sweet to see that he had grown up just a little.
Recently I was at a conference. At the conference were wide variety of professionals from my field. When you go to these conference you tend to run into the same people and you get to know people. I ran into a former boss. I worked with years ago, in fact it was the first job I got out of college. My buddy Mike and I worked there together. There was a friend that we made while we worked there named Maria. We all started around the same time. We had a blast! We worked at a residential home for delinquent youth. Young and just out of college the three of us made our mistakes and learned lessons.
One mistake that comes to mind is when I had to take some kids shopping for something. I didn’t take any change and we had to take a toll road home. In a panic because it was getting late, I ran the toll booth. A week or so later my boss calls me into the office. I’m pretty sure she had pictures of me running the toll booth. I confessed immediately! She gave me a look and told me not to do it again. Lesson learned… Get an EZ Pass.
Sitting there with my former boss and talking about where Mike, Maria and I are now was really cool. Maria is now the supervisor of the residential home we worked at, Mike is a drug and alcohol counselor at a prison and gets to do trainings called Hostage Crisis Training and I’m worrying about making sure my facility is in compliance with letters like PREA, BHSL, and DPW.
I don’t know about you but I often times I think “man when I grow up…” Or “when I get older…” I think that some how I need to get older than what I am to fix things. That I’m still back being 22yrs old and that I have a ton of growing up to do. This conference made me pause and realize that I’ve actually grown up. Just like tonight when I stopped and really studied Toby I noticed it was the little things that made a difference. It was pretty sweet for me to realize that in fact, I had grown up just a little.
So there are anniversaries and then there are anniversaries. There are the big ones like wedding, birthdays, holidays, and celebrations. Then there are those anniversaries that are little ridiculous. You know the ones. The one month anniversary of us dating. The two year anniversary of your job. They have meaning but not really. Then there is a different kind of anniversary. The ones you you would rather forget. The death of a loved one. The day that a tragic accident happened. The day you decided to separate.
Today is the 6th month anniversary of when my STBX and I decided to separate. Yesterday I had a moment. Rarely am I emotional. I’ve been called brusk, robotic, flat, and very police officer like. When I do seem to get emotional I hits me like a tidal wave. Practically knocking me on my ass. Those moments more often than not suck.
About six months ago when my STBX and I decided to call it quits, you can imagine I had one of those tidal waves of emotion. In order to cope with it I wrote/typed Toby a letter. It was just as much for me as it was for him. That letter was the genesis of this blog/rant. I have almost chickened out a few times but in a moment of vulnerability, here is that letter:
Dear Toby, (1/22/13)
Today I’m pretty sad. I would hope that my first entry to you would not be a bad one but a joyful one. However, as most human beings I find myself contemplative in times of distress. Your mother and I last night decided to separate with the intent of getting divorced. I want to let you know that this separation is not because of you and that you are not the cause of it. Even the beginning of that last statement is a complex. We are separating and you have a big part in it. We are currently not happy. We love each other but we are not friends. We don’t hang out and we don’t want to do things with each other. We both understand that wanting to be with each other should be a huge part of a marriage. With that said we also understand that we could push through this and try and maintain our previous course. The consequences of that would be huge. We would be rolling the dice on developing resentment and anger toward one another. Even if one of us is unhappy, the effect that it would have on our family as a whole would be devastating, more importantly the effect it would have on you would be devastating. We both love you too much to risk putting you through that. One thing that I have learned through my job is that parents cannot hide their issues from their kids and if they try then it makes things worse for the kids. In the end if your mom and I are happy in our lives then we will be better parents to you. If we are unhappy then the chances of us passing that on to you becomes great. Again, we love you too much to do that to you. I love you son. You are an amazing person and have enormous potential.