Posted by: itneverrainsinseattle | August 11, 2020

The First Bird Flies the Nest

I begin writing this post just past 3am on the last night my oldest stays at my house before he heads off to college. If all goes according to plan, he’ll be back here at some point before the official end of the semester — this year’s COVID-19 pandemic has seen every college in the U.S. either shorten or eliminate its in-person, on-campus activities for this Fall semester. But, even so, it won’t be quite the same. This is still his house (well… this is still one of his houses, anyway), but the situation will be different. He’ll be a semi-autonomous adult.

More on that later.

I’m posting here because I want to share this letter I just handwrote him, sealed up, and placed in his computer in his backpack. I imagine he will not likely see it until well into his trip, possibly not even until he unpacks in his dorm room. I’ve had over eighteen years to prepare this letter, and I failed miserably because, like any foolish college student, I waited until the night before to do my homework. It’s full of grammatical errors and, well, I’d word things a lot differently if I were to allow myself a few more hours, but I have work tomorrow after I see him off, and I can always mail him a letter to his new campus address in the days ahead. Right?

Still, here’s my first (and final) draft:

Dear Ben,

There’s a strange power in the situation you are about to find yourself in. You will discover you need more toothpaste, or a special kind of eraser, or snacks for your dorm room, and you get to go out and buy those things. Or not. You get to look for an on-campus job and you get to figure out what kind of schedule to ask for. You get to put up posters — or not — without having to worry about your brother or your parents or what-will-your-Grandpa-think-if-he-sees-this-on-your-wall? [sic]

If you’re unhappy, you can change something. If you like the way things are going, you can keep on going there.

It’s kinda cool. Now, more than ever before, you are the boss of you.

I hope we have helped prepare you well for all this. I have no idea if we have. But, I do know that you’re smart, you’re capable, and when you pursue something with enthusiasm, you are unstoppable.

You are a natural leader. You have charisma. I hope you use these super powers of yours for good. I hope you will continue to be kind, but without compromising yourself. I hope you will continue to defend what is right, without sacrificing yourself. I hope you will remember to have faith in yourself. And, even though I do sometimes worry (it’s a thing parents do), it’s not because I don’t have faith in you. I have plenty of faith in you. I just sometimes worry that you might forget that you can do this. “You got this,” as the saying goes.

You have a big brain. Use it!

And, remember the two most important technologies available to you. They will not fail you:

1) “Looking for things.” And,

2) “Asking for help.”

I love you, Ben. That will never change.

Now, go have fun and exercise that big brain of yours!

–Dad

I’d post more tonight, but it’s time to get to bed. I have to get up in a few hours to see him off. Besides, I’ve got something in my eyes.

Posted by: itneverrainsinseattle | November 15, 2016

Open Letter to My Boys: What You’ll Remember

My Dear Sons:

Sometimes, I am guarded about what I say to you, or around you. There are so many ways to say the wrong thing.

We are told as parents in this day and age that one shouldn’t praise a child for being smart or talented, for example; this could give children the idea that being good at something depends upon some innate quality over which they have no control. Rather, the parent should encourage the child by praising their effort. Talent without effort gets one nowhere, but effort even with only a little bit of talent can take one far.

And so it goes. Am I encouraging you the best possible way? Am I saying, “No,” when I should? If I keep reminding you to do your homework, am I setting up a situation where you will only do what needs to be done if someone is prodding you to do so?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I am second-guessing myself every time we have an interaction. Far from it. A lot of what I do and say around you flows naturally. Most of our conversations are a simple means to and end: will you please unload the dishwasher; it’s time to turn off the TV; yes, I’ll sign that form for you to take to school.

But when we do talk about something consequential, what will you remember? How might it change you, even if you don’t remember it?

Here’s what I remember from my own youth: I remember my mom frequently telling me that I can be anything I set my mind to. I remember my paternal grandfather instilling me with aphorisms like, “If an appointment is worth making, it’s worth keeping,” and “If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” I remember Cousin Tony’s more colorful aphorisms, delivered with gusto: “Remember to KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid,” and, “It takes less work to do it right the first time.”

I remember the occasional conversation with my father, where he would encourage me to consider that the other side of a given argument often had a valid point of view. More than once, he pointed out that most people see the world as black and white, when it’s really shades of gray.

But, there are also some conversations that are indelibly stamped upon my memory even though they did not contain easily repeated catch phrases. I don’t recall how the topic came up, for example, but one time, my father cautioned me that most people don’t choose their career path. Rather, they just fall into it. It was a disheartening idea as I recall, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that conversation was at the end of a long, difficult day at work which left him contemplating the futility of his job at the time. But that one conversation, with its mood of quiet desperation, has stuck with me and given me pause more than once.

How many conversations did I have with my father about serious topics? I really have no idea. He was certainly accessible. But, I was a kid. I was more likely to have the Big Conversations with my high school and college friends than I was with my father. How many of those conversations did I initiate? How many did he initiate? How many just happened? I truly don’t recall. What I do recall was that my father was thoughtful, and careful to point out that things weren’t always as simple as they seemed.

And yet, if you were to ask my sister, she would have a completely different set of recollections. She remembers that our parents annoyed her. Profoundly. She remembers how, when they learned she might be interested in nursing, they got her books on nursing. How insensitive! Didn’t they realize that she hated books? (Yes, of course they did. They tried to build positive associations with books. But, what she saw was them tying her negative associations with books to the things she was interested in.) She remembers that when they tried to reward her for getting good grades, how unfair it was because I got more rewards because I had better grades. Yet, when they punished her for bad behavior, that was also unfair because they didn’t punish me… even though I wasn’t the one sneaking around smoking cigarettes and the like.

It’s funny how things work out. As I write this, your Aunt is a force to be reckoned with in her career, she has a brilliant and awesome husband, and it seems to me that they are doing a fantastic job of raising your cousins. She has a penetrating intellect, a wickedly sharp sense of humor, and at the same time, she is as warm and caring as anyone I know. My sister is a wonderful person with a rich, fulfilling life. But, her memories of our parents are strained, and their relationship will likely never be fully reconciled.

My highest priority is to help you boys to develop the tools you’ll need to make the best decisions you can. I want you to be able to learn what you need to learn in order to do what you need to do. My highest wish is that you grow to become healthy, happy, well-adjusted men who make the lives of your loved ones and your communities all the better because you are a part of them.

If this happens, then I suppose it won’t matter if you remember me disapprovingly. And, if this wish isn’t achieved, then no amount of fond memories will make any difference; I will have failed you.

Even so, I can’t help but wonder: what will you remember of our days together? When you are raising your own children, what will you remember of what I say to you today? Of what you think I did right? Of what you think I did wrong?

At this particular moment in my life, I am wrestling with a number of rather large decisions regarding my work, my love life, where I live, and how I spend my time. Every one of these choices will have an impact on you in some fashion. Each choice, ultimately, is a calculated risk. I need to make each decision with care, based upon stone cold logic, educated guesses, and more than a little bit of hope.

Twenty years down the road, you’ll all be making these same kinds of decisions for yourselves. I can’t help but be curious: who will you be then? Who will I be then? And what will you remember of this time?

Whatever you remember of me ten, twenty, thirty years down the road, I hope it will include that I tried my best. Whether you remember me as being generally happy or generally sad, as too hands-on or too aloof, I hope that you will remember that I’ve always been here for you, and that I genuinely love you.

Ever yours,

Dad

 

Posted by: itneverrainsinseattle | May 31, 2013

After Divorce: Surprises of the Single Life

If you’ve read any other entries here at It Never Rains in Seattle, you’re aware that my marriage fell apart largely because it was strictly platonic, and I wanted a complete marriage while my then-wife… didn’t. At least, not with me.

While my marriage was not my first long-term relationship, I was also no stranger to the single life before getting married. I’d gone for long stretches of time without a romantic partner, and by the time I was married, I had spent many years living on my own as well as many other years with roommates or housemates who were lovers, or platonic friends, or indifferent acquaintances. It was a shame that my marriage turned out to be more of a roommate situation than anything else, but I did not dread going back to being single if it meant that there would be once again room in my life for easy solitude (something not available to me during our marriage) as well as the possibility of romance. Or, at the very least, hot monkey sex.

Commenters on this blog cheered me on, in anticipation of the joys that the single life can bring. And I looked forward to it. And now I’ve settled in quite nicely, enjoying creating a new definition of “home.” I get to enjoy time with my kids, and time by myself. (Granted, sometimes when I’ve had the kids for a long stretch, the first evening without them takes a little bit of adjustment.)

I’ve enjoyed quality one-on-one time with good friends of mine, I’ve attended some small parties, and I’ve even hosted a time or two. I’ve certainly enjoyed exploring a new relationship with my girlfriend, who is as stimulating in intellectual conversation as she is in, um, non-verbal communication. It is often frustrating that she and I live so far apart; our visits in person are far less frequent than either of us would prefer. Yet, I have to say that I also enjoy living in my own place with my own ebb and flow. I can cook when I want to, and I can order take-out when I want to, and there’s really only one person who sets the menu in my house. When I don’t have guests over, anyway. Or the kids. Well, you get the idea.

Single life agrees with me. At some point, I may find myself blending my household with another’s. When that happens, that will be awesome, too. But for now… yeah, single life is working out just fine.

Except for this one thing I never expected.

As you may recall, I had torn the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) in my knee during a freak knitting accident toward the end of the marriage. Penny and I were still living together. I had surgery to repair the ACL, which left me without a functioning right leg for a week or two, and that first week of convalescing was truly a drag. And while Penny and I were facing the strain of losing our house and our marriage, she nonetheless made sure my pain meds were handy and that appropriate food and beverages were within easy reach. She kept the kids from jumping on the bed, and gave me time to rest undisturbed. We still had our high-stress moments, but hey, that’s what married people do.

Flash forward a bit to this past Christmas season. We’ve moved to separate households, settled into new routines with the kids, finalized our divorce. By this time, we live about half a mile, maybe a mile away from each other. It’s the holiday season, which means my employer is in “shut down” mode. What better time to schedule some necessary but non-emergency surgery than when I can’t work anyway because of this shut down? (I’m paid hourly, so I’d prefer not to take time off for surgery during normal working weeks.)

The surgery in this case is to repair an “incarcerated umbilical hernia.” That’s a fancy way of saying my guts were trying to escape out my belly button, and that had to be stopped. So, yeah, it’s necessary. But it won’t become an emergency unless and until my guts actually manage to escape. The trick is to have the surgery before that happens.

Building a bionic belly button is nowhere near as involved as cannibalizing your hamstring in order to rebuild your knee. By all accounts, I’m told to expect to take a week off of work, but that really, I should be back on my feet (and eating real food) later the same day of the surgery. Very good.

BUT, because the doctor wants me to have general anesthetic, I must have someone drive me to and from the surgical center. You’re not supposed to drive just after you’ve been knocked out with narcotics, apparently. And they also insist that I have someone sleeping over in case anything happened and I needed help (and couldn’t take care of myself) that first night after the surgery.

That’s what one might call a “non-option”.

If I could have gotten away with it, I would never have even told Penny about the surgery. I find myself increasingly disinclined to have her involved. But, I need her to take the kids during the days that I otherwise would have had them for the first few days after the surgery. A good friend of mine is kind enough to take me to and from the surgical center, and he even joins me for pizza and a movie after I’ve had a brief post-surgical nap. So. Work taken care of, kids taken care of, and transportation taken care of.

But no, I do not have anyone stay over with me that first evening. My girlfriend lives out-of-town, and I don’t want Penny involved, and most of my friends are married with their own families to tend to, while my relatives live just about anywhere in the country but here.

My recovery moves along generally fine, although I notice my blood pressure getting a little spiky for a while. It’s this last point that brings up a very real consideration: what if I were to have a heart attack during convalescence? Hmmm?

As a forty-something guy, I’m not as vulnerable as an eighty-something might be when it comes to sudden illness or injury. But even so, the single life doesn’t mean the same to me as a forty-something as it did when I was in my twenties, either: I’m more at-risk, not so much because illness or injury is more likely, but because immediate intervention is less likely.

Believe me, I don’t sit around worrying about this stuff. I have so many other unlikely scenarios to obsess over. Rather, I mention this because it’s an interesting revelation to find that singlehood at this age is different from when I was fresh out of university.

Fortunately, there have been other, more pleasant surprises about re-entering the single life in my mid-40s. For example, the sex is much better….

Posted by: itneverrainsinseattle | May 22, 2013

The end of one chapter and the beginning of another

And if I had the choice,
I’ll take the voice I got,
‘Cause it was hard to find.
You know, I’ve come too far
to wind up right back where I started….
–Concrete Blonde, True

It’s been a while since I posted here on my public, albeit pseudonymous, blog. I’ve been busy. I’ve been retrenching. I’ve been rebuilding.

When I started this blog, with an entry entitled The Beginning of the End is Still a Beginning… Right?, I was struggling to come to terms with the increasingly inevitable end of my marriage. By getting my thoughts out onto these pages, and engaging in such constructive dialog with you, my faithful readers, I was able to navigate the treacherous waters of divorce without upending the entire enterprise. The kids are doing well, and Penny and I have been maintaining a healthy co-parenting arrangement. I’ve begun the long, slow process of getting my financial house back in order, and I’ve done what I can to strengthen my already healthy relationship with my boys.

Somewhere along the way, I seem to have lost my voice. I’m not referring to my speaking voice (although, oddly, that has happened, too; my singing/speaking voice still hasn’t fully recovered from a bout of laryngitis a few months ago), but rather, the part of me that is Inris. The keeper of this blog; the teller of this tale. If the chapter of my life entitled Marriage and Divorce has drawn to a guardedly successful resolution, what’s to be the tone of the chapter to follow? Having addressed the concept of Not This, I’ve been still at a loss to pick up the thread of Then What?

I’ve been maintaining a kind of holding pattern, during which the fog that has enveloped my mind for the last few years of my marriage has begun to clear. It’s not quite yet obvious to me what’s next, but some options are falling away, and I’m starting to feel recovered enough to head off soon on some new adventure.

Certainly, a large part of the next chapter of my life involves being the best father I can be to my boys. I suspect that part of what comes next will also involve having to address the damage that was willfully (though, impersonally) done to me by certain financial institutions. While I have a fine job at the moment that is helping me to pay the bills, there will also have to be some deliberate decision-making regarding my near-term and long-term career goals. So, yes, all of this will help to shape the story of this new chapter in my life.

But there also needs to be romance. Let’s face it: one of the primary reasons my marriage failed was the lack of romance. So, now that the marriage is over, there’s room to let some love back into this story. But how is that going to work out for a mid-40s, single father of three who divides most of his time between work, kids, and recuperation?

Would it surprise you to learn, dear friends, that there can, indeed, be romance after divorce, even for this jaded heart?

Because, the next chapter does, in fact, begin with yours truly starting a conversation with a beautiful young woman who is smart and sexy, and who speaks my language.

She’s got kids of her own, so we have that in common. She’s coming out of a marriage that has had some serious problems, but she is trying her best to make sure her new path is as healthy as possible, with ever an eye toward considering what’s best for her boys.

Her three boys.

Yes.

I know.

She loves me for my body as well as my mind. It’s so weird just to even type that out loud. That after such a very long dry spell, some welcome rain is making its way into this parched  life. Mrowr.

She surrounds herself with good, honest people; she strives for integrity in all that she does. She keeps me intellectually honest. She demands respect, and she gives it, as well. We share overlapping senses of humor, taste in music, and pop culture references.

For all of that, there really is only one complication.

You see, I live in Seattle.

She lives in Arizona.

Posted by: itneverrainsinseattle | October 22, 2012

Teach Your Children Well

One thing that my ex and I always had in common was a desire to have kids. Lots of kids. And for a variety of reasons — none of them particularly scientific — we always expected that we would end up having girls. Lots of girls.

So, of course, we ended up with boys. Lots of boys.

Only boys.

Not too long ago, on the occasion of our oldest’s birthday, Penny mentioned her observation that our first-born is already “more than halfway out the door.”

The notion caught me off guard. Wait! Wait a cotton-picking minute!

Back in the beginning, back when my ex was my fiance and our lives before us were filled with promise and hope and opportunities and boundless possibilities (ie, you know, before reality and all that), we had all kinds of ideas of things we wanted to teach our daughters. Such as: it’s okay to be smart. It’s okay to pursue your interests, regardless of how society has typically categorized them. It’s okay to have sex if you want to, and to not, if you don’t. It’s okay to be strong. And it’s also okay to be feminine. We wanted our girls to be as fluent in the languages of math and science and literature and pop culture and history and love and philosophy and self-respect and respect for others, as deeply as their talents would allow. Penny and I had both, in our separate experiences, seen how pre-conceived gender roles (and sexual repression and so many other issues, including disrespect and incivility, the growing celebration of ignorance in our country, etc.) can harm both individuals and society as a whole.

And then we had boys, and that was fine, too. Boys, like girls, are awesome.

And I always knew, in the back of my mind, that to honor what we had in mind if we had raised girls, we would need to have a corresponding set of guiding values for raising our boys. In general, I think we’ve been doing okay. We’ve nurtured our boys’ natural love for science and math and stories and history and physical activity and music and movies and so on. We’ve worked on dignity and respect and politeness and kindness and “playing well with others.” They’ve been introduced to religion and philosophy, and we’re starting to get into politics as well. We also expect, one of these days, to deal with more advanced concepts, like closing the @#$%! door and picking up the @#$%! laundry off the bathroom floor. And peeing *into* the toilet instead of all over the floor. I imagine that girls grasp that last concept much earlier than boys, for reasons that have nothing to do with brain development.

As they get older, gender roles are also starting to become a more relevant topic, as well as sexuality, romantic relationships, and picking appropriate nursing homes for their aging and decrepit parents.

I was making dinner for the boys the other day when one of them asked to help. Making dinner is a little different experience from whipping up a box of prepared brownie mix, where all the boys really do is help stir and then fight over the whisk or spoon when it’s done. And it occurred to me… there are a lot of specific things I want my kids to know by the time they leave the house. Beyond the generalities of having “a love of learning” and “playing well with others.”

With Penny’s remark about how we’ve already gone past the half-way point as far as our oldest is concerned, it’s time to get serious.

So, it’s time for me to flesh out a list of “things I want to teach my children (or make sure they learn) by the time they leave the nest.” And I’m asking you, dear reader, to let me know what’s missing from the list.

Teach Your Children Well:

General Concepts:

Critical Thinking — using logic and assessing evidence to arrive at good decisions

Creative Problem Solving — adapting to change and making the best of it!

The Scientific Method

Character and Relationships:

Respect for yourself

Respect for others

Right and wrong

Being a good partner (business, romantic, creative collaborator) and, on a related note, being a good friend

Understanding different kinds of relationships and roles, and how they can change

Principles (integrity, dignity, kindness, generosity, loyalty, honesty, self-confidence, humility)

Facing tough choices

Acting decisively

Taking stands

Having a sense of humor

Balancing taking risks with playing it safe (or, “Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em”)

Subject matter:

The basic academic subjects (math, science, history, literature, language, social sciences)

Popular culture (a basic familiarity with the classics as well as contemporary movies, music, dance, literature, video games, spectator sports)

Creative arts (play an instrument, compose a song, write a poem, act, orate, paint, photograph, design a page layout, sing, dance, draw, animate, script, cook)

Religion, Philosophy, Spirituality, and Skepticism — in theory and in practice

Government — in theory and in practice

Special topics: racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry — recognizing and avoiding/combating

Technology and tools

Animals — identifying, plus general care and feeding

Plants — identifying, plus general care and cultivating

Specific skills:

How to study / how to learn the answer to an academic question

Survival skills (swimming, first aid, CPR, starting a fire, tying knots, building a shelter, mountaineering, martial arts, jump starting a car)

How to cook at least five different meals

How to perform at least one magic trick

How to drive (stick and automatic)

How to pick locks

How to negotiate

How to compromise… up to a point

How to navigate

How to recognize, handle, and use weapons (also, as appropriate, how to avoid/defend against same)

Hunter safety — even if my kids never hunt, this is a must

How to use the internet safely

How confidence schemes work, and how to avoid them

How to build a book case

How to write a computer program

How to play card games

How to pick what wine goes with dinner

How to make an elevator pitch

How to deliver a speech

How to prepare for a job interview

How to wash dishes. And laundry. And perform all those other chores that make for a more pleasant home.

How to win with grace

How to lose with dignity

————

Wow. That’s a long list. And I know I’m leaving a lot of things off of this list by sheer oversight. It’s also not overly specific. Just as I was beginning to prepare this post, a friend and fellow blogger posted to her site some thoughts about how boys need to be raised to treat girls/women with respect. Her points are dead-on. But if I were to get to that level of detail on every point on my list, I’d be typing for days. Still, I’d like to hear what you think. Be as specific or general as you like. I’m sure I’ve left some things off because I just took them for granted (“don’t eat the yellow snow”). But others I may have left off the list either because I simply forgot to mention them, or perhaps hadn’t even considered them. Maybe you think I should take something off the list?

My ultimate goal is to give my boys the tools they will need to be good men. What are your thoughts?

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