Saturday, December 22, 2018

Father Time

A small white house nestled in the curve of a paved lane overhung by Live Oaks and Dogwood trees is the home of Mr. Odell. He is well over 90 years this year and I’m about 10 years old. My Mom takes us over to his house once in awhile and he attends our church in Ellenwood, Georgia. My Dad is new in his career as an airline pilot, so he’s gone for days at a time and Momma works to keep the cabin-fever away by taking us here and there for visits and activities.
Mr. Odell’s house is small, tidy, and quaint. Behind his house are grapevines and gourds as well as a small vegetable garden. He has birdfeeders made of gourds, planters made of gourds, gourd windchimes, birdhouses and bowls all from gourds. The old man loves to have us over and shows my sister and I his latest puzzle each time when we arrive. He works on thousand piece or bigger puzzles all the time. Placing each piece on a specially built table and then gluing the masterpiece to a wood or cardboard backing for display, though most seem to sit in endless stacks of a dank poorly lit room in the back of the house. I wonder at how he stares at the puzzles and a single piece for what seems like an eternity at times. The kitchen is small and bright and coffee is always brewing and there is a small porch out front.
Mr. Odell is a tall, wiry man with big hands and a white beard. He has a comically large and quick smile and a twinkle in his eye reminiscent of Saint Nic though he has none of the jelly bowl on his small frame. He has family, but none live nearby, and his wife passed decades ago. He occasionally pulls a smooth plank of metal out of his pocket and rubs it between his thumb and forefinger.
“What is that Mr. Odell?” I ask.
“Oh, this is a silver dollar I started carrying in 1910.”
I look wildly at him, this is 1987 and I’ve been around for 10 years. This relic of a man has been carrying this silver dollar since the turn of the century? It doesn’t look like a silver dollar. It’s the size of a quarter and completely smooth save one notch missing from one side. Mr. Odell explains that he carried the silver dollar on a chain for the first 30 years or so, but the chain eventually wore through the coin and he has since kept it loose. The coin resides in the small watch pocket on his denim overalls along with his pocket watch which was probably just as antiquated. I was envious as I could be and carried around my own silver dollar for a few weeks before losing interest and probably the coin. Mr. Odell also showed me a halfmoon sliver of metal from his front pocket, which he explained was his wedding ring that had also worn itself down to a shiny half-moon on his finger decades ago. He returns the items to his pockets as soon as I had a glimpse and a feel of them. We sit on the front stoop and watch black birds swoop across the horizon like a modern piece of pointillism come to life. He says nothing and sips on his lemonade.
Momma and Jessica are wandering around the grape orchard in the back and my little sister squeals with delight at the sight of a butterfly. Momma shows her how to pluck a honeysuckle and lick the nectar from the stigma of the flower after pinching off the calyx and pulling the tiny plunger through the flower. Squirrels quarrel noisily in a tree nearby. Mr. Odell slowly gazes toward the street again and puts a foot on a stump that is sawed off at table height. A car scoots by too fast and he mentions that cars are not too loud these days. “You gotta pay attention so as not get run over,” he says to me.
The idea was novel, so I asked what cars were like before. He laughed and stood, stretching his long bony skeleton like Don Quixote just came to life and stepped out of a Baroque painting. He hitched up his overalls, tucking his bony hands into the front flap. This pose signified the beginning of a story, so I waited with much anticipation. Mr. Odell began in his crackly centenarian’s voice, which still carried the weight of its former strength. “Well, one day when I was about your age, I sat here with old men from the area and they would tell yarns while spitting chaw or taking a nip from a flask when the women-folk were in the house. One man was prone to making bets… and let me tell you Eric… never take a bet. A man won’t offer it if he thinks he can lose; and never make a bet because one day you’ll be wrong, and you will lose big. Anyway, this fella told my Daddy that he bet a silver dollar he could move his hand before my Daddy could drop his hatchet on his finger there at that very stump. My Daddy took the bet and we all readied the area in anticipation since Old Paul wasn’t prone to losing a bet and my Daddy wasn’t prone to taking one. The table was set, and Paul had his hand on the stump…”
(“Pardon the pun”, Mr. Odell said and chuckled to himself, though I had no idea why at the time)
After wiping the smile off his face and letting the laugh die in his belly, Mr. Odell continued, “Well, ol Paul had his hand in a fist on the wood block with his pinky sticking out and my Daddy had his small prunin’ hatchet at the ready. After much deliberation about how this would start, it was decided that one man would count to three and my Daddy could drop the hatchet at any point after. Daddy even laid a couple of cumquats on the table to show Paul how he would do it. Two quick chops turned the fruits into four pieces as easy as a hot poker through butter. Now they were ready, and Mr. Johnson started counting. One… Two… Three… but as he said three, we all heard a commotion on the road. It was a motor vehicle and I, for one, and prolly most of them had never seen such a contraption. It was putting along with smoke belching out and an awful noise. ‘Look!’ I said. Just then we heard a hatchet dig into the stump. Daddy and Paul looked down wild-eyed and Paul put a handkerchief over the tip of his finger. The nub set on the block next to the cumquats and looked right at home, truth be told. They took Paul inside and Momma and them cleaned and cauterized his finger. It wasn’t so bad, he didn’t even lose a knuckle, but that’s how I got this here silver dollar.”
I watched him roll the smooth metal disc across his knuckles like it was floating on air before flipping it up and asking me “Heads or Tails?!” before placing it deftly back into it’s home. Heads or tails was another joke, since the smooth plank had no discernible features.
“Yeah, Ol’ Paul was alright, but he weren’t no fan of the horseless carriage after that.” Mr. Odell slapped his knee, and guffawed as he plucked a pomegranate from the tree, cut it in quarters with an old Case knife and tossed me a section. I have no idea if the story was true and don’t much care. When you’re older than everyone else, I guess you can tell whatever kind of story you want, who’s to say otherwise?
Momma and Jessica came back to the house and Momma asked what was so funny. “Oh nothing, just telling this little fella about the first car I ever saw,” he said and shot a wink in my direction.
We would bring him a covered dish once every week or two and enjoyed the yard and putting some puzzles together over the next year and eventually we moved away. It was before social media and I doubt Mr. Odell woulda been the Instagram type anyway, but I think of him from time to time. A kind man, with a kind heart and a great story to tell for any occasion. I know there is no possibility he still roams this Earth, but I will always envision him on that stoop watching the cars roll by while the dogwood blooms fall in the yard.
Goodbye Father Time, the idea of a coin in your pocket for nearly a hundred years was probably the first concept of time and aging I ever had and helped me to imagine that my life’s choices could affect me for far longer than I could imagine. Time can sand a ring into a sliver and wrinkle an old man into a gnarly tree, but it couldn’t extinguish the twinkle in his eyes until they closed for the last time.

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Sunday, November 11, 2018

Stories...


I sit in a room with hundreds of people and watch a peer and a friend speak softly into her microphone.  A few minutes ago, I was stirring a coffee and mingling with others in the lobby. But now I am fully present in the room and her voice wavers only slightly as her lips move and her heart speaks to us all. She tells us of a coach and mentor who came to her aid as her child battled for his life. She speaks of recovery for the child and realizations of her own. She speaks of physical, financial and mental weight and how this friend and leader introduced her to our program and helped her shed them all. She reminds us of the importance of our job and the impacts we can make before inviting us all to share what we know to help others with those burdens. She bites her bottom lip as many in the crowd blink away tears or hide them with genuine applause and appreciation.

This was just one of many stories we heard over the weekend. I saw people I didn’t know and heard about families who were strangers to me, but somewhere along the way lines began pulling at my heart reminding me how we’re all connected and as the speaker said, “we’re more similar than we are different.” This wasn’t the first time tears welled in my eyes during the convention in response to a story of seemingly insurmountable odds met with overwhelming transformation (in health, in thinking and perspectives, and in time and financial freedom). Somewhere during the weekend, I redefined my “job” as a “mission” and my business plans became the blueprint of an empire.

I saw with perfect clarity that I am not a salesperson, but a guide. A coach to help others lay down weights they have no need to carry. I realized I needn’t worry about whether I should make a pitch, but to simply lead with my heart while listening with my ears to see how this program could help change a life. There is only one way to get to know a life and there are no shortcuts: it takes time and it takes questions, it takes a keen ear and an open heart. Once you know a life, you don’t have a pitch to make at all because now you simply recognize an opportunity. The only challenge is in knowing how to deliver it in the best possible way for the recipient to actually hear and consider it. To help them hear in a way that allows them to uncover their own motivation (or “why”) and leads them to dream. Dreaming is a talent so many of us lose early in life, so to be able to awaken that within someone and then to hand them a map on how to achieve those dreams is truly an amazing gift. My coach shared a gift with me, there’s not a bone in my body that feels like I was “sold.”

At this weekend’s event we did some good for others and plenty for ourselves. As I sit here watching the faces of strangers in the room, those faces become those of friends and family. The stories show what we have in common and they are the thread that hold us all together like so many braided blankets on a cold night. We’re lashed together by the common purpose of seeking to become the best coaches and friends we can be. I see determination in the eyes of my peers. I see wonder, love and a giving spirit in every smile. This is how we change the world, with strength and support for each other, with empathy and encouragement for everyone we meet.

The trip is over now and I’m thankful to be home with my family. Excitement and inspiration will undoubtedly fade over the coming weeks, but I notice many posts from fellow attendees showing happy reunions with families greeting them. It’s another set of stories, though I don’t cry this time, I just smile to myself. I love these stories. They play out every day in the conversations we have. How will the next chapter in your story begin? You won’t know until you start writing it.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Go Toward The Light

I've managed to lose 54 pounds in the last 4 months. No, I'm not done.

Somewhere along the way to my current forty something, I began hearing my doctor say things that I didn't want to hear.

"You're overweight, you're pre-diabetic, your blood pressure is high, your cholesterol is high. You are heading toward heart problems if you don't change your lifestyle."

I didn't like that, so I let it one ear and out the other. I was content to keep eating everything I wanted with no activity to speak of and a sedentary job. A friend reached out to me to ask if I would be interested in hearing a program he was on that had led him to lose over 60lbs (at the time... he's well on his way to 100 now). I brushed him off a few times and then, decided to hear him out. He explained the program to me and showed me how it would work and what it would cost (not much compared to what I was already spending on lunches, after work drinks and snacks).

I decided to give it a try and now here I am wondering how I have made it so far. My responsibilities didn't change, but my mindset did. It's hard not to believe in something when you see it working everyday. I just went back to the doc this past week and I'm now off my blood sugar medication (a shot I was giving myself in the stomach every day). I'm off cholesterol medications and I'm down to 2 of the original 3 blood pressure medications. My pulse is slower, my waist is smaller and I'm feeling great!

I really feel like I'm adding years to my life as I take inches from my belt. I'm not a guy with the most will-power, but the program has worked and there is no denying what a little discipline will do for you once you put your mind to it and find a program that works for your needs. I'm not working out, though I do try to be more active. I still get to eat some of my favorite things, but I'm monitoring my intake much closer now. Thank you to all who are supporting me and I encourage you to find a way to get healthier as well. Our children see us as super heroes and I'd like each and every one of you to keep that illusion for them as long as possible through better health and habits. If you need a hand in finding your way, please let me know because I would love to help you!

Sunday, April 8, 2018

On Changes... (two and a half years later)


It has been some time since I updated these pages, but I’m happy to report both J Bean and Link are growing like weeds and doing well. VV has a place nearby and we’ve been doing OK with the co-parenting gig, though we struggle with the occasional flash fire.

The person I alluded to in my last post as someone who thinks I am a better person than I am is now my wife. We’ll call her Serene here and she came to my world with two kids of her own, Bea and Nikki (also aliases). Serene and I bought a house and my career is back in full sing. As we have blended our homes into one giant Brady Bunch, we have dealt with hurdles in house rules, exes, schedules and the usual fun of living with someone new. Now our house consists of Serene, Dad on the Run, J Bean (9), Bea (14), Link (6), Nikki (10) and a puppy named Shade. I always dreamed of a big family and now when I ask for a table at a restaurant, the count is a half dozen! The puppy is an Australian Shepherd and we decided to get him because with only 4 kids, we found we were getting too much sleep and really didn’t have enough messes to deal with.

Serene and I met online and had a whirlwind romance, she is the most supportive and loving person I have ever met. She’s a wonderful mother, a beautiful person inside and out and I don’t know where I would be without her. Serene works on the IT side of a healthcare company, hails from Kentucky (which mixes well with my Georgia roots), and just happens to be one hot Mommy. In getting to know Serene, she took it upon herself to read my entire blog, which had the effect of allowing her to get to know me in ludicrous speed. After that, she was still interested, so what could I do but ask her to be my wife? Now, if I could just convince Serene to write a biography, then I could do the same. Much of her past seems a mystery to me, and she never thinks her story is as interesting as it is. I look forward to years of prying open that shell to find the pearls within. In the meantime, our magnetic attraction and complementary personalities keep life interesting. To say I’m in love would be an understatement and to write how happy I am would certainly fall short of reality.

I feel a little rusty in my story painting, so it may take me awhile to get the brushstrokes down again. I'll give you one guess on who has been begging me to start writing again for the past few years. Thank you all for your support over the past years, I look forward to sharing more in this new chapter.

From left to right, Bea, Nikki, Shade, J Bean and Link

DOTR and Serene

Nikki and J Bean

Thursday, October 15, 2015

On Changes...

Sitting on my new balcony, overlooking the large swimming pool, a gurgling fountain and surrounded by tropical fauna I collect my thoughts and begin to write.  I absentmindedly reach to my pocket for a cigarette where there are none. Overhead the cloudy, Florida night is punctuated by stars and interrupted by tall pines shifting sleepily in the warm breeze. I hear the barely noticeable white noise of my children’s monitor, motorcycles cruising along the highway, the chatter and splashes of swimmers and a few muted conversations of my new neighbors.

There have been quite a few changes in my life over the past several months and I reflect quietly on them while taking in a deep breath of the breeze tinted with chlorine and the memory of the sea. The monitor buzzes steadily indicating my children, my loves, have given in on their battle with sleep though they will live to fight another day. Laundry is done, well as done as it ever it is in my home, with 3 loads neatly folded and hung and one in the chamber, ready for a quick toss if needed. I fed the children, cleaned up after, helped with homework and even had time for a quick vacuum of the living room interstate. The surface streets can wait for the weekend.

A few dishes in the sink, a stray ant or 5 scrambling for food on the counter that isn’t as clean as the former at-home Dad within me would like, but all in all the “new normal” isn’t that bad. Two homes, two sets of beds, two jobs and two holiday calendars mark the odd multiplication that results from a family’s division. VV and I are co-parents of a different sort now and I have been back at work for nearly a year.

No apologies are needed, condolences are not appropriate. Two adults decided the best thing for our children was a home that didn’t include both of us. Reasons as old as time and as new as the pain of a paper-cut are to blame, but they won’t be rehashed in these here pages. Sure, there were periods of weeping and grieving. Heartbreak is never easy, no matter whose fault or how slow the burn leading up to it. Coming to terms with days where I don’t see the little ones, when I don’t get a hug and a kiss from either was not easy (for either of us, I’m sure).


I held my head high and stayed strong for Link and J Bean (at least when they were around) and I slowly came to terms with a new life.  A life I am feeling comfortable in, full of experiences and people I would not have known in my former station. Despite this, congratulations aren’t in order either. Life marches on and I am who I am because of what I have been through. There is no need for regret, for hatred or jealousy. I try to accept my shortcomings and those of others and let the pages turn. I’ve never been much for drafting an outline first, I tend to let the words and the shifting sands of time carry me where they will.

I’m forever grateful for the years I had the chance to spend as an at-home dad. I am better for the experience, more grounded in the lives of my children than I might have been otherwise. I benefited from the friends I made in circles I would not have traveled had my life taken another path. I’m thankful for the support and the interest of so many readers, friends and confidants. I hope to continue to contribute within these pages from time to time, but for right now I just want to stare at the sky, dream of the promise of tomorrow and talk to someone who thinks I am a better person than I am. Much love to all you parenting partners, keep fighting that good fight and if you find your world turned upside down? Well, I suggest you call over the little ones and stand on your head with them to see if it’s the world that has changed or if it was just you. 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Rebels With a Cause...

Because I said so...

Did I really just say that?


Are my demands for compliance without question really the goal of parenthood? Am I raising another brick in the wall; another round peg for every round hole? Does trying to do so more often than not result in a rebel without a cause?

More importantly, are the actions I take... the "ought to's" of parenting effective? What measure do I use?  At what point do I measure that outcome? Is a 2 year old who says please and thank you the goal? Or am I shooting for a 26 year old who can feed and clothe himself while not ending up in prison?

Maybe I'm trying to raise a better parent than I am.

Perhaps, it's not so important they listen to me (or anyone) without question and it's more crucial they be independent and comfortable going against the flow.

I've seen the the white water rapids of a group of teenagers pulling everyone along toward a waterfall and hidden dangers. I've rolled down that river myself. Learning to take a few strokes against the current of social rules and peer pressure is probably a valuable skill for a child learn... so how do we teach it?

It is difficult to remember the world view we present our children is not just in the words and lessons we teach with purpose, but in the guidance we offer through our actions (often inadvertantly). Will my desire to be unquestioned expand their horizons and their potential, or limit their ideas and confine their goals? Am I willing to answer that question?

What about the other people they come across? When a person tells my daughter this activity is for boys or tells my son those toys are for girls I want them to question the assertion. When someone offers a ride to an underage keg party and it seems everyone is going, I want them to decide for themselves if that is a good choice, because I won't be there.

I am the parent and I hold some authority, there is no avoiding the arrangement, but I don't have to squech their desires to know the "why's" and the "how comes." I don't have to silence their objections. It's not my goal to raise subserviant children, I want them to grow up to be capable, introspective and independent adults.

Being "like everyone else" may be easier in some ways for children and doing what they're told everytime certainly would make parenting a more pleasant endeavor. On the other hand, we should not forget to rejoice in the rebels and the rabble-rousers. I don't want to raise a rebel without a cause, but I do hope to raise discerning, skeptical children who see much cause in this world to rebel against.

Here's to you Link and J Bean, may you break all the rules (well, some of the rules) and challenge the status quo, may you not always take the easy way out, may you sometimes make other's uncomfortable with your individuality and may we always remember that you are the rebels with a cause we raised.

I want to keep you from harm, so my rules and your ideas of freedom will often clash, but I want you to know that somewhere behind my inevitable scolding and angry face is a jagged bit of pride stuck in my throat.



Monday, September 15, 2014

Man Under the Moon

“Look, Daddy! Moo!,” Link says excitedly pointing at the half-moon directly overhead as we walk into his daycare center. All I can think of is loving him to the moo and back and squashing the inner voice telling me to take him back to the car, speed home and spend the day hugging him and showering him with kisses.

I’ve been chatting him up about the great first day of “school” and how he’s a big boy and gets to go learn just like his older sister since we dropped her off 10 minutes ago and he seems excited. After 5 and a half years as an at-home father it is time for me to start a new chapter.  Last week I had the first job interview and soon I expect to be getting back into my career in investigations.

As I punch in his student number (how can a 2 year old have a number?) on the panel outside, the door clicks and we walk in to the impossibly clean facility. Don’t children attend here? I’m confused. After some small talk and administrative details with the director I walk down the hall toward Link’s classroom. I hear his sneakers pattering along the hardwood floors and see his soles blinking like tiny emergency vehicles (which reminds me of him yelling “Beedo, Beedoo, BEEEDOOOO!” on the way to school when a fire truck passed us). I fear the lack of that pattering when I get home, I smile at the teacher. Does it look sincere? I doubt it.

After she has a little chat with Link about Lightning McQueen on his shirt, to which I know he’ll say, “Ka-Chow!” before he even does, the teacher shows me to Link’s cubby. 

“Well, here are his things. He has a little eczema break out right now, but I forgot his lotion {more guilt, too heavy} so please don’t use anything else unless you have Cetaphil or Aquaphor even though it looks red.” I manage to squeak out before giving him a quick hug and telling him bye. I leave quickly because I know it is best that way and he doesn’t cry, but I put on my sunglasses before I’m out the door.

In the car, I breathe.

At home it is too quiet, so I write.

Tomorrow, he’ll be with me and we’ll pack every minute of fun in our two weekdays per week off school until I get back to work. I’ll cry, we’ll laugh and life marches on under the moon.