Happy Anniversary

One kiss and then another.  

One day and then another.  

One year and then another. 

Would you give one kiss for the rest of your life?  
Would you live one year for all time?  

One year ago I married my best friend.

 
 
We’ve packed a lot into a year. We’ve been to concerts, gone on road trips, we’ve laughed until it hurt, and we’ve some tears too (mostly the good kind). More than anything though, we’ve loved. We’ve filled our hearts with love for one another and for our family.  
 
There are still so many moments that leave me wondering just how did this all even happen? How did I get here? Is this truly my life? And then she gives me that smile…the one that tells me exactly how much she loves me and I know that yes, this is my life…and it’s an incredible life.  

We have this running joke about being at a point where there is “no turning back.” It could be in the grocery store when we’re deciding whether to get a Digiorno rising or pan crust. “Once this goes in the basket there’s no turning back.” 

It could be about leaving the house. “Do you have everything you need? Did you remember to grab your water bottle? Once we pull out of the driveway there’s no turning back.” 
 
It can be when we’re looking at something on Amazon. “Are you sure? Once I click ‘buy now’ there’s no turning back.” 
 
The same happened when we bought our rings, got our marriage license, set a date, stood up in front of the kids, and so on and so on.  

Yesterday was no different. “You know, the warranty runs out tomorrow. It’s our anniversary. There’s no turning back.” 
 
No. There isn’t. 

Would you give one kiss for the rest of your life? 
Would you live one year for all time?  

 

Over 25 years ago I met my best friend. 

Then we lost touch.  

It feels like we missed out on so much. There are so many points along the way that I wish I could have gotten stuck in traffic for 5 more minutes, or caught a green light instead of a red one, or chose a different restaurant, or had one more coffee because looking back it seemed we always just missed one another.  
 
“Oh you hung out there? That’s where I hung out!”  
“You were there that night? That’s impossible. I was there that night!” 
“You used to go there on Wednesdays? I always worked on Thursdays!” 
 
But then we found one another again.    

 

Through the years and miles between us we supported, encouraged, and comforted each other through every aspect of our lives. We were friends. We did our best to take care of one another, to remind one another that we weren’t in any of this alone. There were children, new relationships, divorces, school, finances, health, deaths, births, career choices, and everything in between big and small, compelling and silly.  

And then we became We 

I’ll never forget the first time we held hands. I’ll never forget the first time a hug became a Hug…and The Kiss. Neither planned or anticipated, that single moment changed everything. We knew what we had and what we wanted.  

Would you give one kiss for the rest of your life? 
Would you live one year for all time?  

I love that she gets a little crinkle on her nose when she’s looking at me like I’m nuts.  

I love that she is the last person I want talk to before I go to sleep at night.  

I love how she bites her lip and cocks her head to one side when she smiles at me. 

When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible. 

One year ago I married my best friend.  

Today is our wedding anniversary but every day brings another milestone, another memory, another first, another high five, another kiss, another day in the rest of our life.  

It’s Our Life.

And it is an incredible life.

Would you give one kiss for the rest of your life?

Would you live one year for all time?

Happy anniversary my love. Thank you for this life. 

Be Well and Kind,
JRBB

  

A Picture Tells a Thousand Hashtags

My son, affectionately and respectfully known as Young Master Oliver, (said with an accent similar to Alfred, young Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler and mentor) was born almost four years ago.

In the years and months leading up to his birth I was one of those people who swore he would never plaster my Facebook account with photos of my kids.

Then, no sooner than he was born I was, yep, plastering my Facebook with photos of my gorgeous child. At first it was as simple as sharing the images with friends and family who were too far away to see him in person. It was efficient. I was also jubilant in my pride.

My son beats my heart.

on one of our many trips to the Houston Zoo

As time went on posting about our day became a sort of public document of our adventures as father and son. I loved the idea of letting friends and family members come along as we played with our Lincoln Logs and in our sandbox and on our trips to the zoo, museum, and anywhere else life took us.

So too did I want to share my experiences as a father.

I began using my Instagram less for my music and songwriting endeavors and more for sharing these father and son moments. I began using hashtags like “FaceOfFatherhood,” “DadLife,” and “FatherandSon.”

In doing so things took on a slightly different tone.

It was no longer just about sharing life with immediate friends and family. Rather, it became a very public display of parenthood.

It became important for me to show anyone who cared to notice what fatherhood looked like for me. In a world where mothers are viewed as the primary parent shuttling kids to and from grocery stores, museums, pharmacies, doctors’ visits, and everything in between, I felt it essential to show that there is more to being a dad than lawn care, lazy Sundays drinking beer on the sofa, and bumbling around the house waiting for mom to save the day. This image that permeates sitcoms, animated shows, and film, I believe, is a huge disservice and an affront to engaged, competent fathers and the very notion of gender equality.

In my family I was the one with the BabyBjörn doing the groceries, vacuuming, laundry, getting my steps in at the zoo, and juggling a career while getting a master’ss degree, and running a household all with a toddler on my hip or top of head.


In taking such a public approach to parenting I found myself interacting with an entire community of likeminded dads and supportive moms who were also using social media to model healthy and enthusiastic parenting. Sometimes we shared smiles and laughter and other times frustration and tears because as most engaged parents know, for every one of the former there is at least one of the latter.

But as time has moved forward things have changed a bit. My phone stays in my pocket (or even in the next room) more than it used to. I find myself more dialed into what’s happening and enjoying my life and family from the inside rather than observing it all from than from the outside. I feel more inclined to fully experience and enjoy every moment than I am in documenting them.

I’ve also been writing less frequently in my personal journal and I’ve been wondering why this has been happening but I think I know why. I’m not spending as much time documenting my life. I’m not spending as much time writing about what kind of life I want. I’m actually living that life.

Don’t get me wrong, I still snap photos and quick videos when the moment calls, I still pull out my journal but it’s most definitely not as big a part of my day-to-day. It’s hard to take time out of my life when I’m enjoying every moment of it.

I certainly don’t begrudge anyone for filling my feed with their family photos because I truly enjoy it. I love seeing my friends share their kids’ graduation, prom, birthday, and anything else moments.

And rest assured, once the summer gets into full swing and we get back from the First Annual Benninghoff-Becerra Family Vacation: Cruise Edition there will be more than enough photos to go around.  

These days though, I’ve been so truly content to just live in the moment and enjoy our adventures as a family. I’m hardly living a life of isolation but there has certainly been less emphasis on sharing for the sake of any larger motivation.

Documenting every single giggle and groan just doesn’t seem as essential these days.

Enjoying them in the most intimate way possible does.

Be Well and Kind,
JRBB

So Now What?

The Facebook is a strange place indeed.

I check my “memories” every morning. Sometimes random, sometimes laughable, there’s always something that brings a chuckle or raises an eyebrow in some way or another.

Yesterday’s was quite interesting indeed. Among the photos of Young Master Oliver playing in his sandbox and general musings on music there was a post describing how exhausted I was at the time in 2017.

I was drowning in work, school, parenting, household chores, some physical ailments etc. It was one of “those” posts. The phrase that resonated most was “To what end? An early grave?” I was so tired and desperate for a break.

“To what end? An early grave?”

It had been an incredibly taxing five years.

I had a second back surgery, finished my undergraduate degree, learned how to build websites, launched three of them, I had been gigging almost nonstop, built upon my professional career, had a child and who had basically spent his first two years “on top of head,” began and was about to finish my master’s degree, bought a house, was struggling with migraines, and, and, and, and…


Bottom line I was tired and didn’t know why I was putting myself through everything. Was I trying to further my career? Why? Was I trying to build a better life for myself and my son? What did that look like? Would even I survive to see it?

Here’s a screen cap of the post…

Among the comments expressing compassion and encouragement there was on in particular that looking back I find to be quite impactful.

“Our power comes within our ability to make choices”

And there it was. Wise words indeed.

It took another year but in August 2018 I began making a series of choices that would forever change my life, and the lives of many around me.

I asked for a divorce.

It was not a decision taken lightly. It was one that had been explored for nearly the entirety of that marriage, one I had tried to avoid answering until I no longer could.

The ensuing months found me in the midst of an unfortunate, stressful, and what I continue to believe could have been an avoidable process to ensure my son had equal access to both his parents and that his life would be disrupted as little as possible. I feel like I achieved close to everything I hoped.

As I’ve joyfully written before, the end of that story was quite different than anticipated. Rather than being a divorced single dad living in an apartment or with his parents, I found myself married to my best friend and living back in the old neighborhood.

Everything has changed. My clothes, my car, my address, even my name and signature are different (enhanced!).

And there my friends, is the answer to the question about why I was doing everything I was doing for so many years.

I didn’t know it then but everything I was doing then and everything I was doing before, was leading me to that “better life” that seemed so nebulous and unattainable. I was recreating my life…from the ground up.

In talking to my wife and best friend about Our Life we always come back to the fact that we didn’t “fall in love.” We didn’t meet and realize we wanted to be together.

We were living our lives parallel, working towards goals, pushing through obstacles, until those straight lines started to merge. We didn’t realize it then but This Right Here, Us, was the only way this story was going to end.

And now there’s a new question…

All the battles seem to have ended…or at least ceasefires have been achieved. Everyone has found a bit of a rhythm. We’ve settled into Our home. There are no more boxes left unpacked, no fires left to extinguish. The old house sold last week. We paid off a mountain of debt. We got our transportation needs worked out. Our budget is set. My guitars are restrung and tuned. We have our routine.

So now what? Enjoy the hell out of life, that’s what!

At some point we must lay down our arms. At some point we have to stop living for the struggle. At some point not only do we get to let out a sign of relief but we simply must allow ourselves to breathe and relax and enjoy what we’ve worked to achieve. Smell those flowers and all that jazz.

That’s where I find myself. For the first time in the last 10 years I’m not looking for the next big challenge. I’m not desperately seeking out a great struggle to overcome because at least for now, I’ve achieved everything I’ve set out to accomplish.

For the first time I can look around my home, I can look at my life and the people in it and feel comfortable, content, and happy. I’ve never known that feeling.

Life isn’t perfect. I won’t sit here and say that my best friend and I don’t get aggravated with one another. I can’t say that building a modern blended family is not without challenges but I’m not looking to fill gaping holes in my soul with massive projects and to-do lists.

Right now I want to enjoy every moment with my family. Right now I want to enjoy baseball season! I want to play guitar for the sheer joy of it. I want to binge watch HGTV, cook, and just live the life I’ve been trying to build because without even realizing it, I was building This Life…and it’s incredible.

It won’t always be. There will always be challenges and problems but I know that my best friend is at my side…not behind me, not leading the way, but shoulder-to-shoulder and together we can do anything. We have done so much and we’ll do so much more.

But right now? I just want to breathe all this in. Right now I want to rest up because life will throw new challenges at me and at Us…but right now? Right now I’m going to enjoy every second because This Right Here is glorious.

Us

Be Well and Kind,
JRBB

What’s in a Name?

They were questions from a script, boxes to check as a matter of procedure, and asked with about as much zeal as an automated attendant alerting me that my phone call may be recorded for quality assurance.

The judge asked why I wanted to change my name.
I told him I had recently married.

He asked me if it was in the best interests of the community.
I said yes it was.

He asked if I was a sex offender.
Um, that would be a hard “NO.”

He asked if I was attempting to escape debt.
No…but wait, is that a thing?!

He asked if I was otherwise attempting to hide my identity for any other nefarious purpose.
Negative.
And with that and a court order signed with more than a dash of elegant bravado, I had a newly changed (I prefer “enhanced”) last name…with a hyphen and everything.



Neither my wife or I can recall asking or being asked “the big question.”

Being that over 10 years of our conversations, from the most mundane to the most intimate, took place via text and messenger we were able to review every exchange. We relived every thumbs up and emoji, every tear of laughter and pain, every virtual high five and warm embrace, every frustration, success, sniffle, smile, grumble, and giggle.

No such question was ever asked.

There was however a gradual shift in tone as this conversation, as this life, unfolded.

As we read through our messages spanning nearly as many years as this technology has existed, we came to understand that these were words not spoken between friends who at some point “fell in love.”

Somewhere along the way we simply came to understand what I am now certain has always been the case: I am hers. She is mine. We are Us.

There was no planning, no “ifs” and very few mentions of “when.”

There was no need to propose the idea of spending our lives together. Such an obvious concept required as much acknowledgement or debate as gravity or our need for oxygen.

No dowry was requested.
No honeymoon plans were made.
Dresses and tuxedos? Not even in an incognito browser tab.

No consideration was ever given to seating arrangements or even guests for that matter.

Instead, as things progressed, our discussions involved practical matters like zip codes and health insurance, meal planning and schedules.

Of course, one of the biggest changes was kissing. (Man, why didn’t we think of that in high school?!)

The reality is we were already sharing our lives, side by side, intimately bound. We always had been and as such we found little in the way of either of us making the decision to marry. It was just a given. Everything else is just details.

And so, we got married. 

From Here on Out….

Kristin Benninghoff is a name that has been locked in my mind and heart for over 25 years. Never once has Kristin ever been just “Kristin.”

“Well, well…if it isn’t Kristin Benninghoff.”

“Hey! Kristin Benninghoff! Come here for a second.”

“I love you Kristin Benninghoff.”

One name could never be enough.

Rhythmic and unique with just the right combination of soft and hard sounds, it can carry a bite or a smirk depending on the inflection…just like her.


”KRRIIIstiin BENNNinnnggghoff!”

Of German roots, Kristin is daughter of a strong, proud, witty, and decent father who loved her with an immeasurable force. A force that is rivaled only by her love for him.

His influence, his blessings and teachings, his humor, and his love comfort and guide her and by proxy do the same for Jakob, Olivia, myself, and Oliver.

She carries her dad in that name as she does with every beat of heart and in every breath conjured by her lungs.

Like her, for whatever reason, people have always combined my first and last name. To this day there are moments in a grocery store or pub when I hear “Jaasson Becehhhrra.” It’s always an old schoolmate or teacher.

For the entirety of our relationship, despite a period of time where she supposedly had a different last name, I have only known her as Kristin Benninghoff. I have no concept of her by any other name. 

I do it too. I don’t recall any time where I’ve introduced myself simply as “Jason.”

My name is Jason Becerra.

Jason R. Becerra to be perfectly clear.

The “R” is a big deal.

Perhaps Kristin is the only other person I know who is as proud to be their father’s child.

My father is known to many people as a celebrity, a broadcaster, a writer, and singer (and more than a few other names I’ll leave out haha).

He’s a kind, decent, compassionate man who has spent a lifetime trying to help his family feel and find love, success, and joy in our own lives.

In his professional life he would work 20-hour days at 5 different places if that’s what it took. He has accomplished “success” by any metric in the broadcasting industry. He has sung to empty bars and sold-out arenas sharing the stage with legendary artists and humble anonymous musicians with equal passion. He has given voice and served as an advocate for members of our community who would otherwise have neither.

So too did he coach my pee-wee baseball team and hold court regaling my friends and I with tales of Pahokee, Florida. He bought me books, inspired me to write, bought me my first guitar, gave me my first copy of Pet Sounds, and has guided me through life one step and hug at a time. Everything I know about being a man and a father comes from my dad.

Kristin and I are who we are because of our families, because of our fathers.


Us

So, there we were: Ms. Kristin Benninghoff and Mr. Jason R. Becerra.

It works ok I suppose.

We could leave them as is but it just felt…off.

Kristin is a Benninghoff. She is no more a Becerra than she is a Peterson, Xu, Abboud, or Alperstein.

The thought of her replacing “Benninghoff” with “Becerra” seemed unfathomable. It seemed crude and sacrilege.

It was a non-starter for me.

Similarly, I cannot separate myself from my name. I share it name with my father, my mother, and my son. It’s who I am. It’s part of what binds me to my family and what helps illuminate each step I take into my own future.

So, then what?

For a moment she considered hyphenating but that didn’t feel right to me either.

Why don’t we BOTH hyphenate? Afterall, John Lennon took on Yoko’s name.

Just like that, Kristin and I had another of our many “well, duh” moments.

It makes all the sense in the world.

She was not joining the Becerra family.
I was not becoming a Benninghoff.

Our whole relationship going back to the beginning has been a blending of our lives into something new. Getting married was simply natural and obvious…like gravity and air.

We have made the choice to bring together everything our fathers and families gave us, everything that had defined us as individuals.

We are taking everything and everyone we have in our lives and sewing them together into something new (whether they like it or not ha-ha).

We give to one another every memory and moment, every good time and bad, every smile and scar, all the laughter and loss that we have ever had, shared or yet to be experienced.

All these things make us who we are…and who we are is Us.

How could we NOT have the same last name?

It became such a simple and obvious choice…. like gravity and air, and Us.

And so, we changed (enhanced) our names.

There are many layers to this notion of spouses changing or hyphenating (enhancing) their names after marriage.

Some may see my decision as a statement of sorts and discuss the idea within the political or philosophical realms. There are legal and practical aspects and certainly gender roles within society could and are being debated every day but I am not going to do any of that because none of it had anything to do with why I went to Harris County Court #310.

My name is my statement and my name is Jason R. Benninghoff-Becerra.

Be Well and Kind,
JRBB

The Story of Us

I wish I could tell you a story about our first kiss or the magic moment under a bowl of stars when fate made itself known to Us.

I wish I could paint a portrait of me brushing the hair behind her ear as she first looked at me with those eyes and that smile that change my life every time she graces me with them.

I wish I could describe the precise moment when I first heard her say “I love you” in a way I had never heard her say it before.

I wish there was some way I could capture all those fireworks and butterflies that come in the moments before that first kiss that changed our lives…the kind of kiss that changes anyone’s life really.

But I don’t have those stories to tell. Ours is not one of “new” love or of flames so passionate that their heat carried us into the sky.

Our story begins in a musty sophomore geometry classroom. We were bound together by the alphabet and its influence over Ms. Grissom’s seat assignments.  

Unencumbered by the kinds of promises kids so often make though they are too young to know they can’t keep, our friendship was instead marked by our social awkwardness, our misfit friends who inhabited the land of broken toys that was our classroom,  and shenanigans. (Well, the shenanigans were mostly mine.)

That smile continues…my hair? not so much.

She was beautiful though she won’t acknowledge it. She was funny and smart with an air of cool that again, she’ll deny. Her self-image is much different than my view of her. I suppose the same is true for me.

I was shy and insecure with a sense of fashion that could generously be described as ridiculous…except for my black trench coat. I’d like to think it was the first step in wooing My Love.

Sometimes the class clown, other times desperate to melt into the faded paint on the mid-century classroom that incubated us, I was never quite comfortable in my own skin.

She had my eye even then. She doesn’t believe me but it’s true.

Somehow despite my often crippling awkwardness I summoned the courage to write her a note. Clumsily folded with a little tag that had the word “pull” and an arrow, it was my first attempt at telling her how I feel. She denies this too but it’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Then as now, every word was a piece of my heart.

Whenever I made my clumsy attempts at humor she would look at me with a tone in her eyes that seemed to embody both a sense of dismay and approval. She tried to keep a straight face and sometimes she managed to but more often than not that smile would not be denied.

That smile.

Through circumstances unique to adolescence we were pulled apart and lost touch despite always being in the other’s orbit.

It seemed like we were always five minutes and two miles away without even knowing it. We visited the same friends’ apartments always just missing one another. One night in particular I left our mutual friend’s house about 10 minutes before she arrived.

We didn’t even realize we knew the same people.

For a time we lived almost exactly across the street from one another.

She worked at the restaurant directly across the street from the pub I frequented. I ate at her restaurant with some regularity too. Evidently it was always her night off.
I’m serious. You can’t make this up.

For years we circled one another, never knowing just how close we were. So close yet so far away.

Enter Facebook and a simple friend request I received one afternoon.

It was Kristin Benninghoff.
I won’t even attempt to deny that my heart skipped more than a beat when I saw the “alert” nor the fact that I stared at the screen for I don’t know how long waiting to see if she would send me a direct message.

She did.

When friends reconnect after time apart they often say they “picked up where they left off.”

Kristin and I did not.

We picked up right where we were.

We slipped into one another’s life both as if we were never apart but also with all the miles, scars, tears, laughter, and experiences gained over the years we spent in orbit.

That time carved and molded us into more than just old friends catching up.

The first time I saw Kristin in person after all those years she spoke to me as if we had never spent so much as an hour apart in our entire lives.

She knew me so well, our conversation so fluid and intimate that I asked if perhaps she had reached out to my then-wife to inquire about various details.

She had not.

She just knew.

She just knew.

Since then, every step we’ve taken has been taken together.

We became inseparable despite seldom having the opportunity to even grab coffee.

We became each other’s biggest fans, boldest champions, most caring confidantes, and loving supporters.

The good, the bad, the awkward, the triumphant, the failure, the loss, the joy, this life, the universe, and everything have been experienced together.

We have spent these years supporting one another through heartache and the stress of building the lives we always envisioned but seemed unfathomable to that point.

We’ve celebrated too.

She cheered me as I performed on stages large and small alike.

I cheered every milestone achieved as she, Jakob, and Olivia moved through life.

She embraced the birth of my son with a passion and tender love that continues to humble my soul.

And together, we walked across the stage, her in Houston and I in New Hampshire, to receive our Master’s degrees. We spent the day texting back and forth as we sat waiting for our names to be called.

Graduation Day

She is the first person I want to tell about anything that happens throughout my day.

Someone cuts me off on the road? Call Kristin.

Oliver said “SEGA!!!” I must call Kristin.

Exactly how does so much laundry appear in the hamper? Kristin will know.
I’m struggling to maintain a grip on my life. Kristin can help. Kristin will understand.

Whether inconsequential or monumental, Kristin is my first instinct…and always has been.

Yet, we were never single at the same time.
Being together as we are now was never even on the radar.

Perhaps a fleeting curiosity or the proverbial “what if” would cross our individual minds but it was never outwardly acknowledged. We never spoke of such things.

What could have come of such talk or consideration?

What would the point have been?

We thought of it in the same way a child may think of what it would be like to fly but without the naivety that youth provides to allow them to believe they have wings to spread.

We were in long term relationships and we had our friendship. What more could we ask?

But things change.

Several months ago I made the very difficult decision to end my marriage after 14 years. That marriage gave birth to my darling son and taught me more than I can describe about sacrifice and compromise, about love, and about what it means to fill the measure of my creation.

It was not a decision taken lightly. There was no singular moment or action that led me to that decision but it was one that I came to believe was the only and best choice to make for the family. It was an inevitable and in many ways unfortunate choice to make but no less essential for the lives of everyone involved. As I made my way through the maze of divorce settlements and trying to reconcile my beliefs about family and individual fulfillment, I came to understand what life would look like. Maybe I’d have an apartment somewhere or maybe I’d spend time with my parents planning the next chapter of my life as a divorced father.

But then, something happened on the way to the rest of my life.

I’ll resist the temptation to frame the way Kristin and I became Us within the context of destiny though the manner in which we went from “us” to “Us” begs for such otherworldly poetry.

What I do know is that we were collecting all the photographs and memories, joyful mornings and mournful nights, wisdom and knowledge, that have all led us to this moment…to This Right Here.

They say timing is everything and I suppose it is.

We had in fact never been single at the same time.

We had in fact never spoken of any sort of life together beyond what we had always enjoyed.

And then we did.

And when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life together with somebody you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.

And so it has.

It’s the heart that matters more

We turned Our new life over and in doing so we found Our Love.

This is why I cannot tell you a story of a singular moment when Kristin and I became what we are today.

Our story is one of Choice.

Our story is about the choices we’ve made as both individuals and as Us.
Some of the choices we made while apart, unfortunate though some may have been, were essential in shaping us into the individuals that have become Us.

So too are the choices we made to craft the lives we wanted to live, lives we thought impossible until we had the audacity to believe in ourselves and in Us.

We made choices to earn degrees and to further our careers.

We made choices about family and faith and all the while challenging and inspiring one another as we took those steps together in hopes of building our lives. We didn’t realize it but we weren’t just building our lives.
We were building Our Life.
So too have those choices involved others.

She chose Oliver.
Oliver chose her.

Olivia chose me.
I chose Olivia.


Olivia chose Oliver.
Oliver chose Olivia.

My beating hearts

And while Jakob is already building his own life, growing into a man anyone can be both proud and humbled to know, he too made a choice.

He chose to open his mind and heart to Kristin and I and to stand with Us, his own beloved at his side when Kristin and I make the most natural and obvious choice of all: to be married.

We all chose to come together and build something new.

Our story is not defined by any one moment.

Our Life was not born in a whirlwind. There is no story of falling in love, of courtship, or dropping to one knee.

Rather, Our Life is defined by moments sewn so tightly together that I struggle to find the seams that join the separate pieces.

I’ve no concept of a life without her…not one that I would ever want to live.

God Only Knows what I’d be without her.

The fact that we are now We is a testament to, and confirmation of, what I have always known to be true but was too afraid to allow myself the chance to consider as ever being possible.

Kristin, It Had To Be You. It could not have been anyone else and I’m so glad it’s you.

Kristin you are my best friend. We Can Do Anything. We have. We will.

I love Kristin Benninghoff.

She is My Love, from Here On Out.

I love that for Us

Always and Forever and Regardless.


Be Well and Kind,
Jason

The More Things Change…The More Things Change

Things are different with me these days.

I have changed quite a bit over the recent past due to two distinct reasons.

Growing up, my family escaped the worst of nature’s wrath. As a child I watched a neighbor’s tree get ripped from the ground but nothing really happened to our house. We had various flooding events as I grew up but again nothing really impacted us.

Tropical Storm Alison flooded my apartment but very few of my possessions were destroyed. We only had about 8 inches of water and it came in so slowly that I was able to get my valuables off the ground. My car needed a good washing. That was about it.

Katrina and Rita didn’t directly impact us either.

Ike knocked out another neighbor’s tree and destroyed part of their house and both cars but we were only out of electricity for about 6 hours. We had a little water seep into one room.

My parents were without power for about 2 weeks but they sat on the patio and grilled, came over to do laundry, and everyone was relatively ok. I had other friends who lived in a cul de sac full of outdoorsy folks so they had a huge block party with everyone emptying their deep freezers and firing up the grills and smokers.

Then the Tax Day Floods came. My parents were not flooded out of their home  but they were flooded in. It was impossible to reach their door without a boat. It took over a week for the water to drain. Getting my dad’s medication was a bit of a challenge. I was worried about what would happen if I needed to get to them or get them out in an emergency.

Just like that, things were starting to hit much closer to home and it seemed as if these events were experiencing a crescendo.

Still, afterwards everything went back to normal and such concerns faded to the background again.

Enter Harvey.

We are closing in on one year since Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. It’s amazing to think about that because of how much the storm still seems to linger over so many of our lives.

There are homes yet to be repaired. There are people yet to determine what to do with their houses and where they’ll live. Some kids are still waiting for their schools to reopen.

Before the storm, a new strip centering being built meant everyone wondered if there would be a Starbucks or a Kohl’s but now then news of a new real estate development project is greeted with questions about flood mediation. Citizens that never once thought about things like how an empty patch of grass helps control water flow have become comment thread activists on the NextDoor app. We’ve all gotten a crash course in city planning and civil engineering.

Looking back Harvey does not seem like an isolated incident. Rather, it seems like the most recent in a series of ever-building events.

Reality hit me at about 4:00 am on the morning of the storm when I left the house looking for batteries and a flashlight. It was the first in a flurry of shots I would receive over the coming days and weeks.

The experience of trying to provide and protect my family during and after the storm, of trying to manage the logistics of things like finding pharmacies and grocery stores that were both open AND accessible, of finding gas, of finding something to put the gas in, of learning how to use a generator, of trying to keep Oliver cool and entertained…all of that has changed me.

Before Harvey I had some tools in the garage, a couple extension cords, a decent drill, an old roll of duct tape, and that was about it. I had a couple flashlights, one broken, and another in need of batteries.

Since that Saturday morning, I’ve amassed a generator, a dozen cords, fans, a stack of power bricks, flashlights of every variety, batteries, cases of water, half a dozen gas cans, and I just invested in a freezer. I have a pair of thick tactical boots that served me incredibly well throughout the storm and afterwards.

If I see a sale on water, I grab it. If I see a clearance price on a power brick, head lamp, batteries, I take it.

I pay closer attention to things like how much of my medication I have at any given time and try not to wait until the day before to call in the refill. I keep tabs on things like how much paper towel, water, and batteries I have. I have a full tank of propane and now I have a smoker…as much for the joy of outdoor cooking as for being able to cook without electricity. I’ve always been a bit of a weather buff but now even more so.

Of course all of this “prepping” may be for pointless. Let’s face it, Another will come and when it does there will only be so much we can do. The storm could flood my house wash away my precious stockpiles.

Yet, I do these things because I’m different now.

So too have I noticed a sharp change in myself for another reason.

Columbine, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Aurora, Tucson, the Sikh Temple, Sandy Hook, Boston, Charleston, San Bernardino, Orlando, Dallas, Ft. Lauderdale, Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Parkland, Santa Fe, 2-inch bulletproof glass at the bank, metal detectors at the ballpark, “see something say something” and everything in between have chipped away any sense of comfort I had when out in public.

I am different now.

Mind you, I was not raised in a fantasy world where crime didn’t exist. My comfortably middle-class upbringing did not obstruct my view of reality. People got shot, robbed, raped, stabbed, and beat up. A schoolmate’s father went into a rage one night and murdered his mother as my classmate watched.

But I was never so aware or alert as I have become as these events have occurred one after the other. Much as with Harvey, the Santa Fe shooting seems like another step in a seemingly endless progression, one that keeps getting closer.

So now when I get out of the car I look in all directions. I go inside and scan the room. Where are the exits? Is it crowded? Does anything seem “off?” My ears are wide open listening for shouting, loud pops or bangs. I try not to focus so much on my shopping list that I lose track of where I am in the store, who is around me, and whether or not I can move freely and quickly if the need arises.

I like to take Oliver shopping with me. We have a ball describing things we see, singing, greeting other shoppers and store employees. Best of all, we usually come home with a toy.

On such a day out we found ourselves at the local Wal-Mart.

This particular visit began much like any other. I got out of the car; glanced around the parking lot, and pulled Oliver from his seat. We danced our way into the store and got as far as the frozen food section before we heard a wild alarm and people shouting. It was much louder than the ones heard when a customer walks out with a shirt that still had the security tag on it. It was scary. People around me ducked for cover, one woman fell flat on her stomach, hands over her head.

Oliver shouted, “Daddy! What’s that noise!?” Instinctively I grabbed him tight and turned my head towards the source while also slowly walking in a direction from which I could quickly make a dart for the exit if things went south.

I made a game of it by telling him it was the “Wal-Mart Police” who must have “arrested” a little boy for being too crazy in the store. (Everywhere we go has its own police force. There’s McDonald’s Police, Kroger Police, Target Police, Zoo Police. They all arrest crazy toddlers who drive their fathers bonkers. That’s how I roll. Sue me. Haha)

Whatever it was turned out to be nothing but for a few moments I thought things were going in a different direction.

That moment reaffirms my insecurities about letting Oliver out of my sight as much as it does my concern of taking him out. I don’t want him to go anywhere without me. Granted, a big part of this is because I want to spend every second I can with him. He’s my son and beyond loving him, I really do like him. He’s three years old and already my best friend.

The other side of that is the fear of something bad happening and me not being there for him. The idea of sending him off to school is nerve-racking.

And it isn’t like I could necessarily “save” him from anything. What am I going to do? I don’t carry a gun. I’ve never even held one and despite having memorized every training montage from every Rocky movie I have yet to “eat lightning or crap thunder.”

I have a hard time swatting a roach. (What? They’re freakish creatures. Some of them can FLY! Did you know that?! Evolution isn’t all it’s cracked up to be sometimes.)

The fact is that if something is going to happen to Oliver then it should happen to me. If he’s sick then we’re sick. If he’s happy then we’re happy. If he’s frustrated then we’re frustrated. If he gets to go to the zoo then I get to go to the zoo.

We’re in this together.

And just like that, Reality comes back to throw another stiff jab.

I can stockpile all the AAs and water bottles in the world and I can keep Oliver in my arms 24/7 but I can’t really keep anything from happening can I? I can’t really prepare for anything can I?

I couldn’t have prevented Harvey from flooding my house anymore than I was able to keep it from happening to my parents down the street. If my house was going to flood it was going to flood.

If someone had shot up that Wal-Mart then all I would have been able to do is scoop Oliver up and try to get the hell out of there. Maybe we would have. Maybe I would have tripped over my own feet and fallen into the display of value size Heinz ketchup while dozens of people trampled us on their way out. Maybe something worse happens.

And so I am different now.

I am different because while I always accepted that I have no control over any tragedy that life may bring I had never truly allowed that feeling to get deep inside of me. I pushed all that aside, tucked it away deep in the back of my mind and as such my lack of preemptive action didn’t really mean much.

Now? I wallow in the ironic futility of so much preparedness.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t live in some constant state of fear. I’ve not spent the last ten months stockpiling arms and MREs while researching how to capture rainwater and fashion gas masks from Downy dryer sheets. (Gain smells better, don’t you think?)

There are no plans to build a bunker beneath The Cathedral.

It just makes sense to always have an extra box of AAs around, mostly so I have enough to keep Oliver’s trains chugging.

Why wait to run out of water or anything really, and have to pay full price when you can stock up during a sale?

I can’t wait to get the new freezer on Saturday. It was purchased as much for being able to take advantage of sales as anything else.

I’ll be able to stock up on Oliver’s Eggos du jour. My dad can buy all the Digiorno frozen pizzas he wants and come Thanksgiving, I’ll be able to grab an extra one for later in the year!

But reality is never so far away that it’s truly in the back of my mind. The freezer, like everything else I’ve collected over the year, will come in handy when the next storm arrives.

Every generation debates whether or not the world has changed, whether things were “different back then.”

The world might be different. It might not be.

But I am different now.

 

Be Well and Kind,

jason

 

 

The Face of Fatherhood

We have seen an incredible wave of progressive movements aimed at challenging conventional roles and ideas in recent history. From what constitutes “beauty” and “gender” to what constitutes “bullying” and even what “presidential” means.

Those discussions are certainly beneficial to the ambiguous and distant collective we call “society” but they are essential to we the individuals who comprise that society.

And so too, I’ve taken notice of another, not so vociferous, movement that is creeping its way into the zeitgeist: the roles individuals play within a given family structure and fatherhood in particular.

It’s been somewhat refreshing to see commercials feature fathers in rolls that don’t depict them as sofa-riding oafs. A favorite of mine is the “Glass Full of Smiles” spot from Minute Maid that shows a dad and his daughter enjoying a refreshing glass of juice as she draws with her crayons. It’s pretty adorable with its ”to the fridge!” ending.

There have been a few others peppered into the mix but they seldom earn the attention or praise that similar advertising campaigns earn when they feature people of color when children with special needs are shown in Sunday circulars. When fathers or husbands are depicted as uninvolved or clueless, these ads fail to receive the same level of ire and criticism as those that attempt to embrace diversity but fail miserably leaving us to wonder who would actually sign off on such ads.

Now, before we get too deep, I really want to take a moment and be clear. There’s no direct or literal correlation being made between fatherhood or husbandry and centuries of mistreatment, persecution, slavery, civil rights abuses, and other such atrocities upon humanity.
This is simply an observation I’m making about current trends in marketing and advertising and how I believe they both reflect and shape our collective attitudes and biases.

I bring gender, physical, and racial/ethnic diversity into the topic to simply discuss how mass marketing has begun an unprecedented shift away from the white wife/husband with two kids in a suburban home aesthetic and towards an image that attempts to be more indicative of ALL our realities.
It wasn’t that long ago that the world was turned on its head by Sammy Davis Jr. kissing Archie Bunker. Now we find ourselves with TV shows featuring people of color, homosexuals, children with cerebral palsy.

So then, has the time not come to also include the roles each individual plays within a marriage? Should we not examine further what fatherhood looks like and then attempt to both reflect and encourage the positive aspects of it?

I’m a child of baby boomers, a Gen Xer as they say. I grew up with the latch-key kids, though I was not one myself. I grew up with a strong mother and father where she stayed at home managing the operations of our household and my father worked just as hard outside the home to fund those operations. Neither was emotionally unavailable. Neither ever too busy to play or talk or anything else. I had it good.

Being of my generation I also grew up bombarded with messages about deadbeat dads and how many children there are without a strong male role model…about how many African American children grew up with only their moms because their fathers were in prison.

TV dads like Steven Keaton (Family Ties) or Jason Seaver (Growing Pains) gave way to Homer Simpson, Al Bundy, and so forth.

Mothers are typically depicted as the ones who have to come and clean up the mess left in the wake of these bumbling fathers. Mothers are the problem-solvers, the multi-taskers, the heroes.

And rightly so. I’m a big fan of mothers. Some of the people I most admire are women who are, all at once, mothers, business owners, educators, artists, students, musicians, and so much more. Mother is indeed the name for God on the lips and hearts of all children. But where does that leave fathers?

Are mothers always the blessed angels and fathers always the couch potatoes?

Certainly not.

I know many a mother for whose children my heart aches. These children will never know the intimate love felt between a child and both their parents.

I know many a mother whose children sit in soiled diapers, hungry (for food and for attention) while mom flips through the TV channels yelling “stop touching that”.

And so too do I know many a father who come home weary from a long day but still anxious to embrace their children and give piggyback rides. Count me among them.

So too, do I know many a father who wake up for the late night bottle feedings, the nightmares, and the “hey I just want to play even though it’s 2 am” moments that come with babies. Count me among them.

Acknowledging one does not have to come at the expense of the other. We can celebrate the sanctity of motherhood without dismissing the fact that dads are pretty neat too. We can also talk about the challenges that arise from those parents who struggle with or refuse to embrace their sacred and privileged responsibilities without painting such a wide brush that it smears the ones that do.

I joke among my friends that I am the most handsome housewife they’ll ever meet. (Haha It’s probably not true, I’m not that handsome but the joke plays well.)

I do “husband/guy stuff” like making sure the cars get in for service (I’m not so much of a “real” man that I can do it myself haha). I assemble toys and furniture (like the crib my soon-to-be-three-year-old never used). I lug stuff around…at least as much as my twice-operated-on back will allow.

But, I also do the laundry, careful to ensure darks with darks/whites with whites as well as the proper amounts of detergent, softener, and dryer sheets.

I clean toilets and polish fixtures. I dust and mop and vacuum every week. (Vacuums…a favorite topic of mine. I could write volumes so don’t get me started haha)

I do the shopping…some would say I’ve become a bit “extreme” in my coupon strategies.

If there’s a dish yo I’ll clean it…or at least put it in the dishwasher.

Balance the checkbook, pay the bills, stay on top of maintenance schedules for things around the house like those darn vacuums (yes folks, you do have to clean and vacuum your vacuums) HVAC components, the yard, trees, etc…all that stuff. Some of it is “man/husband” stuff but a lot of it is traditionally thought of as “mom/wife” stuff.

the whole world in my hands – Photograph by Ashley Newman Photography

More than anything however, the one thing that I am most proud, passionate, and unyielding about, is the relationship I have and want to continue building with my son.

I dote on him. I love shopping for his clothes. I massage him with baby lotion. (I love the smell of baby lotion and cologne) I enjoy dancing with him and turning myself into the most ridiculous sack of humanity ever just to get a giggle out of him. Bath time is party time.

He fascinates me. It has been a marvel to watch the way he has evolved from a tiny infant into a real person with a voice and a personality all his own. I love peeking around a corner to watch and listen as he talks in different voices for each dinosaur and dump truck as they carry on discussions about any given topic. His creativity is astounding and gives me boundless pride.

I am a father the way my father was before me. I don’t know any other way to do it, nor do I care to learn honestly.

While mothers are typically seen as the nurturing, kind-hearted, and doting of the two parents fathers, well…we have to teach our children to be strong and tough because the world is a dangerous and merciless place. I believe I can accomplish the latter by embodying the former.

I can’t be “that” dad who rules the house with an iron fist from a recliner. Why would I want to be? I don’t want to be the kind of father who sets demands and defines punishments instead of expectations and rationales. The latter can almost entirely erase the need for the former.

Now, I say that, not to tell anyone what kind of dad or parent they should be but to point out that the role I play is hardly the one that many of my peers, and perhaps many of you reading this, have come to understand a father to be. It is certainly not the kind of father I generally see depicted on television….other than the bumbling part. I am perhaps one of the clumsiest people you will ever meet. I fell through the ceiling once. I’m certain I’d fall through the floor if it were possible.

I’ve never, ever, assembled a piece of furniture without having to disassemble it at least once because I did something backwards.

So, anyway, haha…to my original point: why are these depictions of men not criticized for being unproductive and unhealthy? Why are men not more effectively and positively represented in mass media?

I think a great deal of that has to do with who the ads are targeted towards.

Men and fathers are still not the primary audience for commercials promoting baby diapers or other products. We aren’t the ones that marketing departments think about when they are putting together a campaign for household cleaners, laundry detergent, vacuum cleaners, and whatnot.

Watch the commercials. In many respects they would fit as nicely into a break from Leave it to Beaver as they do now.  They are typically Caucasian women (though as mentioned an increasing number of women of color) and often with a baby on their hip or playing nearby. These ladies pull the laundry out and smell the wonder that is spring air or lavender romance or whatever silly name they’ve attached to a product. They wear heels while vacuuming.

Now these commercials are often criticized as being unrelatable and unrealistic and for sure, they absolutely are.

I don’t wear heels when I vacuum. I wear sneakers or Dr. Martens, cargo shorts, and a toddler on my shoulders. I don’t smell the laundry because I don’t have time. I have a dozen other loads of laundry to get through, a roast in the oven, Alexa telling me my son’s chicken nuggets are ready, and oh my god why is the dog barking?!

And yet, just a quick glance through the personal products section of any given store provides a horrible insight into what companies think of men.

Action Blast! Adventure Advanced! EXTREME DRY!

Wait, what…Dark Temptation?! I’m not sure what’s going on there.

Again we see these notions of men being aggressive and dominant reaffirmed in something so simple as soap and personal hygiene products. I don’t want to smell extreme. The only adventures I go on involve coupons and fighting through hoards of crazed shoppers to get my detergent deal where I spend 50 cents per jug when regular price is 6.99….talk about EXTREME!

Through all this I began using Instagram.

I had an account but it lay fallow for year. When I founded a small promotions and record label (Cathedral Records) I began using my account a bit more to share photos of the studio, of artists I was helping to promote, of instruments, etc.

Then I started sharing photos of the food I cook. (I’m a passionate home chef). And of course, like any proud dad, the baby pics started to elbow their way in. Using Instagram and Facebook gave us a way to easily give my family and few friends the opportunity to sort of tag along as my son and I went through our days together. I’d never used a hashtag on Instagram but I had come up with one that I began slapping on my photos after seeing so many tags about motherhood: #FaceOfFatherhood.

The Face of Fatherhood isn’t always cute and giggly. haha

I thought it had a nice ring to it and summed up what I thought these photos of our adventures together were “saying”…if they were saying anything at all.

As the weeks and months and passed I began getting comments from friends and colleagues about how close my son and I are. How it’s so special to see a man so attached to his son. How it’s so obvious that he and I share a special bond.  I started to look at these selfies with different eyes and I began to realize that these photos were saying something. They were depicting something special.

Thus, I switched my Instagram to “public” and began using it more often. I was curious about this whole hashtag thing so I started adding different ones and all of the sudden I was greeted by an entire world of men modeling healthy, positive, and relatable images of what it is to be a father.

Stereotypes are being challenged with every “heart” and each one leads to another.

I’ve seen men of color, most often portrayed as these incarcerated dead beat dads, braiding their daughters’ hair and cuddling with their kids reading a book.

I’ve seen strong, well-built guys that would otherwise seem like some “dumb-jock” painting his adorable daughter’s tiny toe nails.

I’ve seen out-of-shape “every-guys” grinning like the proverbial cheshire cat as they toss their toddlers in the air.

One of my favorites is a gentleman with a big burly bearded chef who hunts and prepares these gorgeous meals. He has a gang of daughters who he photographs even more often than his meals and he can’t stop gushing over them. This big bad woodsmen just melts when his children are around.

Indeed the face of fatherhood takes many forms.

It is reassuring to see so many men sharing their experiences, their devotion, and their love. Something so simple as a selfie can say so much.

We are here and if no one else will tell our story, we will tell it ourselves. And if many won’t listen, it doesn’t matter, because our children are listening and they will tell their children, and eventually it will be The Story.

Keep it up dads. Our work is the only work that matters.

Until next time,

Be Well and Kind…and give your kids an extra tight hug today.

 

Jason

 

The Art of the Deal – Life Lessons in Negotiations

Negotiations are a part of life.

We negotiate often without even really thinking of it such terms. All our interpersonal dealings involve some form of winning and losing…someone gets what they want and someone surrenders something.

A job interview, for instance, is most certainly a negotiation. You’re selling yourself, they are selling themselves but they already work there so they are in somewhat of a position of power. You need them to like you more than they need you to like them…typically speaking. You can certainly turn it around and look at is as they’re the ones who are looking for help. Right? You get my drift though.

Asking your employer for a raise, talking about potential vacation spots with the spouse, even walking through the grocery store looking at what’s on sale or being featured this week…all of it can be boiled down to an old west duel between two dusty cowboys each unwilling to yield even a step.

Now in another life many years ago, I worked in retail management and sales. I’ve been married for nearly 15 years. Lots of negotiating….to say nothing of the years I spent as a young boy trying to smooth-talk my way into a later curfew or an extra few bucks for a day out with my friends at the mall.

However, just yesterday I found myself in the most heated and anxious battle of wits I’ve ever encountered. And I must admit…the other man won.

Allow me to set the stage:

It was about 4:45 pm…a day like any other. Left the office, drove home, traffic was not horrific, the weather rather pleasant. I entered my home to find my mother putting the finishing touches on what would be a splendid meal, (arroz con pollo y platanitos) while my father sat with my precious son watching television and playing with Lincoln Logs.

I heard the joyous cries from down the hall: Dadddddyyyyy!!!!!! A warm embrace, peck on the cheek and our afternoon began with a diaper change, assembling some train tracks, and discussing the finer aspects of his day spent enjoying all the finest appointments of toddlerdom.

A bit of time passed and, as has been the norm since his arrival, our recently adopted eufy robovac Alfred (HIGHLY recommended by the way) was summoned. My son, Young Master Oliver, adores his friend Alfred and they spend hours together…Alfred vacuuming and Oliver dancing and jumping around him while “feeding” him bits of popcorn or anything else he comes upon.

After a short while, Oliver wanted to take Alfred into the Cathedral. (The Cathedral is the large studio room ideally used for recording music but in the almost years since my son’s sacred birth has become more of a parking lot for wagons, strollers, and a candy-apple red Jaguar).

Now I didn’t want Alfred in the Cathedral…or Oliver for that matter. There are instrument and speaker cables, computers, valuable guitars, and there are bottles of wine (that we just found out last night he can reach! So I guess that should be “were” bottles of wine).

So like any parent I say “No, don’t go in there. You and Alfred stay over here.”

And so it began. Our negotiations.

Yes! Daddy…I want to take Alfred to the Cathedral!

No son. Stay over here. There’s plenty for you and Alfred to do.

Oooh Daddy, I want to take Alfred.

No son. Come on. Let’s go outside and do stuff. It’s pretty. Leave Alfred be for now.

NOOO! Alfred.

Oliver don’t….stop. Wait. Don’t take Oliver in there. No.

Heeeheeheee

Oliver I mean it. Stop that.

Heeeheehee YES! Daddy, I’m taking Alfred to the room!

Ok that’s enough. I mean it. Stop right there!

Now I have him. He’s cornered. Yes he took Alfred into the Cathedral but he hasn’t turned him on. We aren’t past the point of no return. This isn’t a hardcore punishment situation here. Rather, it’s an “opportunity” to correct behavior, assert my role as father and provide precious, gentle yet firm, guidance.

We’re negotiating.

He wants to play with Alfred in The Cathedral.

I want him to leave Alfred alone and do something else….or at the very least, bring Alfred back to the living room and kitchen area.

Son. Don’t turn Alfred on. Don’t press that button. I mean it. Pick him up and let’s go.

Yes.

Yes? Yes what?

I want to press the button.

Now mind you, he says this not in an aggressive manner. Rather, a sweet pleading tone…it’s a ploy. Don’t buy into it.

I’m too smart for it though. I’m on to him and this little act. I’ve seen it plenty of times over the years. I lived through the sales floor at Guitar Center. I can get through this no problem.

Son. No. We aren’t pressing the button. We are going to go get socks and shoes and go outside! (happy enthusiast voice!)

I’ll preeeesssss the buuuutttttoon.

(Seriously? Am I in a cartoon?)

My son’s index finger is literally hovering about two centimeters above Alfred’s seemingly eager, and perhaps even mockingly, blue lit button. Oliver’s eyes are locked onto my own. A grin has now come across his demented little face.

I know this play. It’s the “I’m cute” play. Girls used this on me for years! You know how many apartment moves I’ve done? How many errands I’ve run? How many discounts I gave at GC because of the “I’m cute” game?

Plenty….and I’ve learned my lesson.

I’m 42 year old man, married, homeowner, tax payer, voter, business owner, and aspiring-something-or-other. No way the “I’m cute” thing is going to work on me at this stage in life.

Son. Seriously. Get away from Alfred. We’re not pushing the button. We’re not letting him vacuum in here. We’re going to the living room. Pick him….gently….and bring him back to the living room. We’ll go do something else for now. Maybe later we’ll bring Alfred in here but now.

My voice is beginning to take a bit more bass, my posture a little more rigid. I have about 3 feet on him so it’s easy to lean over him….for now at least. Inside of a year he’ll be nine feet tall so I’ll need a different strategy. But for now I have this.

Physical posture is important in these things so I try to assert myself without being menacing.

I’ll ppppuuuush the button….

Oliver. Do. Not. Push. That. Button.

Now we’re at the stalemate.

Silence takes over.

We’re those two gunfighters in the New Mexico sun.

Eyes locked. His finger hovers over the button. Alfred’s blue light letting me know whose side he’s on.

I stare deeply into my son’s eyes.

I got this.

My face tenses up. His grin seems to grow by another nine inches, Alfred’s blue power light signaling whatever everyone but me seems to already know.

Silence continues. I stiffen up a bit more hoping it’s the little bit to put me over the top.

His hand drops another millimeter or so closer to the button.

I feel it coming up from inside me. A tickle perhaps…emanating from my Dr. Marten’s that quickly leaps up to my spine but I fight it back.

I tighten up again. I’m not losing this.

I recall all the lessons I learned in that boiler room of a sales floor where one wrong move meant losing profit margins and gross sales figures…everything that made the world go round both as a store and as an commission employee.

I’m staring a hole through him but then the tickle returned and it rose into my chest and I knew what Oliver and Alfred had known the whole time: that for all my posturing, for all my sad little attempts at being stronger than a toddler, I had lost.

I just didn’t know until that moment.

I lost before I even followed them into the Cathedral.

I lost before I even brought Alfred into our home.

Hell, I lost almost three years ago.

My stern face gave way to giggly defeat and Oliver pushed the button in glorious victory.

A wise man once said (probably not one with a toddler I’m guessing) that you should never enter into a negotiation without knowing how it’s going to end. You have to know you’re going to walk away with what you want or you’re going to walk away period, having given up nothing.

Yeah. That doesn’t work with Young Master Oliver.

Until Next Time,

Be Well and Kind,

Jason

The Lunch Table

Through the years and miles between us
It’s been a long and lonely ride
But if I got that call in the dead of the night
I’d be right by your side
– Jon Bon Jovi

Each one of us is a brain, and an athlete
And basket case, and a princess, and a criminal
– The Breakfast Club

 

Not long ago I wrote about “pals”, the tragic loss we felt within our group and how that tribe molded so much of who I am.

Today I want to talk about furniture…and how a simple table can form and maintain bonds far beyond anyone could imagine.

I was not a particularly happy student. At home I was loved and cherished but when I left for school every day I entered a very lonely and isolated world.

Every year kids looked forward to picture day but for me it was perhaps the most traumatic day of the year. All the kids ordered these huge packs that included dozens of wallet-size photos that they would trade amongst their friends. My mother was always encouraging me to order such a package and it was always so difficult to try and temper her enthusiasm because really, I had no with whom to trade.

This point was never driven home so deeply than when I offered to trade with one elementary school classmate in particular. He had already given his out and told me “I may be your best friend but you’re not my best friend. You know that right?”

He did accept the photo from me but a few hours later I saw it on the hallway floor where he tossed it away with some trash.

That comment came to dominate all my relationships…even to this day, as silly as that may seem.

By sophomore year I’d become quite isolated. I had a couple friends and that was about it. I didn’t really fit in anywhere.

I played sports with some measure of ability but far below the level needed to be accepted into that crowd.

I was smart but a bit of an underachiever and thus the “GPA” kids, for the most part, also seemed to shun me.

One of the people I was most close to, a fellow Beatles fan, was a theater kid and thus I knew some of them but I wasn’t in theater but for a single year and as such I was but a stranger in their strange land. I didn’t get their inside jokes, didn’t share their communal experiences

Despite my musicianship, I did not participate in band so I was I existed only on the fringes of their group.

I didn’t listen to enough heavy metal or cut class. I wasn’t quite strange or anti-social enough to get into those groups despite knowing quite a few of those cats as well.

I was just some sort of nomad, roaming from group to group, ever really being a part of anything.

Then, during the summer between 10th and 11th grade my family made an unexpected move to Florida and I started fresh in a new high school.

Miami Southdridge High School circa 1993

Wendy and I with our friend Robby.

And I loved it actually. Despite my solemn intent to refrain from any social interaction I met my dear “little sister Wendy” and we became inseparable..to the point that if we weren’t actually side by side, teachers would ask us where our other half was. Never romantic with one another, we were bound by our shared experience of having moved from other cities. I had a girlfriend in Deer Park. She had a boyfriend in New York. We loved literature and music and we were both committed to being as miserable as possible until we could return home to our beloveds. Haha. All the while, we became quite happy were carving out our own little niche there in our new school. I continue to cherish her friendship to this day.

Then my family’s life took a very odd turn.

My family had to move BACK to Texas…in the middle of the school year no less.

Within six months I’d been ripped from one school I didn’t like, placed in a school I’d come to love, and then sent back to where I came.

It was incredibly bittersweet to say the least. I was tormented about leaving Wendy and the kids I was just getting to know but I was looking forward to coming back to the girl I’d spent so many days and nights pining for. When I got back though, I was greeted with the unfortunate reality that this relationship was not to be…at least not to be what I had hoped. It happens. We were kids.

And thus I found myself in a sort of limbo. The only thing pulling me back to Deer Park was gone and it only magnified what I had left behind in Miami. Add to that the fact that I had moved back just before mid-term exams at Miami Southridge but arrived in Deer Park just after their mid-terms. Thus my entire first semester did not exist. All of the sudden I was in danger of not graduating.

But then something very odd happened, and I honestly have no recollection of exactly how it happened. I ended up sitting at The Lunch Table with Skip, Honour, and Nikki.

always behind the camera snapping pics of all of us, this is one of the few pics I could find of Honour

I have to assume it was Honour that brought us together. Always the sentimental one, she has an incredible commitment to preserving memories and maintaining that which binds people together. You should see this girl’s scrap books.

Skip and I racing with the wind yeah

Skip and I quickly became fast friends. We both loved music, played guitar, and both like spinning a good yarn. I tried not to hold his love for Metallica against him and just pretended that part of him didn’t exist. haha

Darling Nikki

And then there was Nikki. My dear Nikki. Somehow we managed to have a sort of uncanny mind-meld. We didn’t need to go into details with one another about why we were sad or angry or feeling dejected. We would just sort of lock eyes, understand what we were silently telling one another and know that, in that moment, we would be ok.

The Lunch Table was 45 minutes of paradise. It was shelter from the sort of storm that maybe only teenagers feel. It was the only place I fit in.

This simple table was just like almost every other one in the cafeteria. It sat four and was kind of tucked away on the edge against the wall…and it was miraculous.

All three of my tablemates were a year ahead of me so at the end of the year they were gone. I briefly dated Honour that summer before she went to university, I stood with Skip during his marriage and I hold him and all of Catholicism responsible for the pain that creeps up in my knees whenever it gets chilly out. (So much kneeling and standing, standing and kneeling. Haha) Nikki, too, went off to school and I, well…you read about the tribe I built in the months and years that followed.

All these years later, and this whole Facebook thing takes off and we all reconnect and share pictures of the kids and our food, and argue over Metallica (though there’s really nothing to argue about…but hey, no one’s perfect haha).

The gang back together.

And so here we are, in that place we all find ourselves as our teens morph into our 40s…seemingly overnight. We have our lives, we have our friends, our bills, our receding hairlines…all that stuff.

But we still have each other. That’s never changed.

So there I was last week, pouring through Craigslist as I  do whenever I want to gawk at mid-century record player consoles…you know the kind your grandparents had.

I love them. I fell in love with them when I was a kid at MY grandparents’ house. They had a gorgeous one.

I posted a link to a particularly interesting one…a Motorola that had, not just the phonograph and radio, but a TV! It was gorgeous. Two buddies of mine are also into these so I thought they’d be interested in checking it out.

I barely gave it a second thought and went about my day…that evening I get a call from Nikki. The first thing I thought was “What’s wrong?!”

Other than via Facebook we hadn’t spoken in several months but rather than being a call of distress it was a joyous call that I’ll never forget. She wanted to thank me for the years of friendship, apologize for not bringing Oliver’s birthday present over during the summer (did she not remember Hurricane Harvey? I think there’s more than enough slack to be cut haha) and to say she wanted to get me a belated graduation present.

Seriously? A gift? C’mon.

After much debate I simply told her she should come by the house over the weekend and just spend time with my family and call it even. Why the need for a gift?

Then she rolls out with the fact that she wanted to get me the Motorola console.

I told her she was out of her mind.

She insisted.

I said she was out of her mind. She called back a few minutes later and said it was done and she was delivering it Sunday afternoon.

I told her she was out of her mind.

She assured me she was very much within her mind and that it’s done. She’ll see me on Sunday.

Turns out my Lunch Table friends conspired to make this happen. Honour contacted the lady selling the console, Skip helped load and unload, and then, as promised, Sunday afternoon here come Nikki and Skip, some sort mash up between Santa Claus and Sanford & Son in a pickup with this console tied to the back.

Just like that I am the proud owner of a fully operational 1952 Motorola TS-228 TV complete with original tubes and even the manual.

This gift, this miraculous and unexpected gift, is the most thoughtful surprise I’ve ever received. After Nikki and Skip left yesterday I kept looking at the console sitting in The Cathedral as if it had always been there. I’m in awe. This doesn’t happen to me. I feel like some sort of lottery winner.

 

Mind Blown.

My mom was teary-eyed over how sweet it was and how Nikki had brought Oliver a beautiful frame and even a sweet tent. She just went on and on about how these friends of mine are so amazing and how touching it all is.

And she’s right.

But really, it isn’t even the console. Don’t get me wrong, the console is super rad but it’s what the console means.

It’s like I said, I’ve always struggled with the idea that somehow I’m less important to anyone I know than they are to me. It’s just ingrained in my identity at this point.

I can’t help but resist any hope that somehow I’m as important to someone as they are to me…that I’m on even footing with others. When I try it makes me somehow feel arrogant or full of myself…and more importantly I become vulnerable to so much more disappointment because eventually I’m going to discover that indeed they might be my best friend but I’m not theirs.

Even as a father I look at my son and have to constantly reassure myself that yes, he loves me at least as much as I love him.

Turns out, at least to the kids who shared The Lunch Table with me and the adults they became, I am important. I am valued. They love me as much as I love them.

Thank you dear friends. Thank for you letting me sit at The Lunch Table.

Thank you for helping me seek shelter from the storm.

Thank you for the years of friendship and thank you for forcing me to do my very best Sally Field impression today.

And thanks for this console.

Seriously…it’s freaking rad!

Until Next Time….

Be Well and Kind,

Jason

The Magic Penny – Musings on Love

I’m not a wise man by any means. My life often seems like a complete mess in fact. So, take what I say with whatever grain of idioms you choose.

BUT…I have come to learn a few lessons over the years and perhaps the hardest one is about love.

It’s impossible to demand love or affection. There have been so many times I’ve felt betrayed and resentful towards someone because I felt I had earned their devotion. Damn it, I did everything I was supposed to do. Why don’t they love me back?!

In reality I didn’t always do everything I was supposed to and that begins with acknowledging that people get a say in the matter. I don’t get to decide for them. And maybe, just maybe, I did all I did with a motive beyond genuine love.

Maybe that’s the whole point. Maybe we shouldn’t do things to get something.

It always seemed that the more “justified” i felt in having earned someone’s affection.  The greater my sense of entitlement the further that person pulled away from me. The tighter I clung, the more vicious their resistance.

I see this with parents a lot too…I guess being one I’ve begun to notice it. The family will be in a mall and one of the parents is yanking on the kid, demanding a kiss or a smile, trying to take a photo or whatever. It’s awkward for sure and a little sad when I think about it too long.

No matter the type of relationship, we shouldn’t demand love or affection from anyone. We should aspire to receive it, cherish it when we do, and self-assess when we don’t.

No one is entitled to a kiss from that guy or girl they’re in love with. You can’t force that crush of yours to feel the same way about you. You can’t force your kid to want to cuddle. You can’t even force your boss to respect you.

It’s perhaps been the hardest and most awful feeling I’ve endured…that feeling of wanting someone to love me back, to want to kiss me, to want me the way I wanted them to only be denied. Sitting in that filthy resentment, confusion, and loneliness is crippling.

Try not to end up there.

At some point I suppose we just have to learn to do the whole “letting go” thing. At some point we have to accept that others really do have a choice in the matter. At some point we have to realize that the more we force ourselves upon someone, the more we demand, the less likely we’ll ever receive what I think we all want and need most: to be loved…and to have our love validated.

Use whatever fable or song lyric or idiom you want to express this sentiment.

There are tons.

In this moment though, I shall quote a classic from my Deepwater Elementary School music class:

Love is like a magic penny
Hold it tight and you won’t have any
Spend it, lend it, and you’l have so many
They’ll roll all over the floor
– Malvina Reynolds

Relationships are hard. They’re the hardest things I’ve ever tried to do. I’m no good at them…even with my son who seems to adore me, I find the concept of fatherhood and my relationship with him to be so complex. I’m never quite sure if I’m “doing it right.” Yet, it seems so counter-intuitive. It seems, at least superficially, that it should be quite simple. I love my son, he should love me. But things are never really that easy are they? Though…perhaps they are.

Like I said, I’m not a wise man.

I know I didn’t “do it right” with pretty much any of my friendships and attempts at romantic love through the years…and that’s part of life and all that jazz….the “Wonder Years” or whatever. But the failures hang heavy on my soul and lay the foundation for everything I am and will be…sometimes in a healthy way and sometimes, I guess, not so much.

But if you take anything away from what I write, let it be this: be ok with yourself and be willing to work for love. The kind you get when you force someone’s hand is never real. I’ve been told “I love you” plenty of times in life and at this point I can look back and know when someone meant it and when they said it because I expected it or because they thought I needed to hear it or because they didn’t know what else to say.

When I hear Young Master Oliver say “I love you Dad” I KNOW it’s real. There’s no confusing it.

Anyway, let’s turn on some Ramones or something…seems a little thick and heavy in here….all this talk about love and whatnot. haha

Until Next Time….

Be Well and Kind,

Jason