The Living Years

I got a phone call Tuesday from my sister informing me that my father is on his deathbed. Stage 4 bone cancer. This on top of the dementia that has been eating away at his mind for the last several years. The last time I spoke to him it was a struggle to form a coherent sentence. He knew me, but could not tell me who my wife or kids were. That was a year or two ago, so I have no idea how far gone he is now.

Some of you may recall a song by Mike and the Mechanics from the early 90’s called “The Living Years”. The song is all about the distance and disagreement between a father and his son. The first verse says:

“Every generation blames the one before, And all of their frustrations come beating on your door.

I know that I’m a prisoner to all my father held so dear I know that I’m a hostage to all his hopes and fears I just wish I could’ve told him in the living years

Oh, crumpled bits of paper filled with imperfect thoughts,

Stilted conversations I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got

You say you just don’t see it he says it’s perfect sense , You just can’t get agreement in this present tense

We all talk a different language, talking in defense.”

 

That pretty well perfectly describes my relationship with my father. I did not listen to that song this morning on my drive in to work, but I heard it in my head nonetheless.

My father and I have been estranged for quite some time. So, as I type this post this morning I am not entirely sure how I feel about the news I have received. I guess, if I were a “normal” person I would have called in to work this morning, taken the rest of the week off, and rushed off to see him in his last moments. I didn’t do any of those things.

I did inform my manager of what was going on, simply because I am not sure how I am going to react. I wanted him to be prepared in case I abruptly left, or began sobbing uncontrollably, or something…

The thing is, I am as much a spectator in this situation as everyone else. I don’t know how I feel. I don’t know how I will feel. I have no idea how I will react when the anticipated passing of my father happens in what I assume will be the next few days. So I am, in many respects, watching a movie I’ve never seen before, and waiting to see what happens.

I think it’s entirely possible that when a new idea or concept strikes many of us we have a tendency to believe we have “discovered” something. Our epiphany is an epiphany for all mankind. I’m sure this is particularly true if we are considered (by ourselves or others) to be “smart”. But then you talk to someone else, or read something someone else wrote, and realize that there is nothing new under the sun.

Nevertheless, while exploring my thoughts and feelings on the matter I was struck by the notion that in the end our lives are really just a series of snippets in the memories of other people.

We are born, in many cases we procreate, and eventually we die. The circle of people who care about any of these things is relatively small. The number of lives most of us will touch is also relatively small. In the end, even if a whole lot of people know who we are, the people who actually feel our loss is a small subset of that number.

Who we were becomes a function of how we are recalled by those still living. Being forever silenced and unable to correct the record or defend ourselves, perception becomes reality. All the things we accomplished fade away. The awards and achievements, the degrees and certifications, all of the accumulated pieces of paper and plaques…all piled into a pine box alongside the husk of who we once were…and turned to ash and dust along with us.

All that remains are the smiles or frowns of those who knew us when, from time to time, we come to mind. The things we said or did traded in for the things people think we said or did. Nothing lasting, nothing permanent. In my case, having fathered two girls, not even my last name will carry on. All that will matter when all is said and done, is what those two girls think of me, when they think of me.

Lest I depart too sharply from my normal manner and thereby cause consternation amongst my friends, let me follow up by saying….I’ll be dead. So, in reality, I won’t know, or care, what anyone still alive thinks. It certainly does make for some interesting thoughts though…and no doubt quite a few tee-shirts and bumper stickers about how all that matters is how we treated others, etc.

Right now, in a house I’ve never seen, in a town I’ve never been to, surrounded by people I’ve never met…my father is dying.   When I imagined for a moment what going to his funeral might be like, and what I would say if I were asked to say something, I came to some conclusions. I guess it’s up to the reader to determine if those conclusions are sad, or insightful, profound, or ambivalent. I can’t rightly say.

For the record, and for those not familiar with the situation, I will briefly recap. My father left my mother in the most cowardly manner I could imagine. He was a pastor and he ran off with the church secretary. He married her shortly after his divorce from my mother went through because, as he explained to me at the time, they didn’t want to live in sin, “any longer than is absolutely necessary”.

My mother is, as are we all, a flawed woman. But she continually and constantly pounded one refrain into my mind from the time I was old enough to speak. “I hate a liar”. That can be translated over to, “I hate a hypocrite”. I did see, and still see, my father as a hypocrite. I believe he violated sacred covenants, abandoned his flock, led people astray, and committed a whole host of other things that his faith deems “sins”. Nevertheless, he did them. And he did them for the most base of reasons. I have never truly found it in my heart to forgive that.

That fact is in and of itself intriguing to me. I know women whose fathers sexually molested them, and they have found it within themselves to forgive them and attempt to repair the relationship. My father broke a vow to a God I don’t quite believe in, and (to be fair) he also lied to me in the process. But these things seem so much smaller than the things other people are able to see their way past. So I have to consider for a moment, is the failing his, or mine?

Not that I bear him ill will, or walk around with anger in my heart. I just added him to my internal list of people I prefer not to associate with. What that translates to is, in the last 15 years I’ve seen him once and spoken to him by phone 3-4 times.

I guess in my dad’s case what angered me was that he set himself up as a leader and an emissary of God, and then fell on his face. And he didn’t stumble over some unusual set of circumstances or extraordinary moral conundrum. He was tripped up by the same shit he lectured me on.

He demonstrated conclusively (in my mind) that Jesus isn’t changing hearts. He tore apart his own family, and the family of the woman he committed adultery with, and then he shrugged and said, “God forgives me, if you don’t that’s your problem”.

And now he’s dying.

What would I say if I were asked to say something?

My father was not a great man. Some would tell you he was a good man, and I wouldn’t rise to oppose them, though I would disagree. In the end, he was a man. He had his flaws. He had his vices. He had his shortcomings and failures. I do not begrudge him any of these things. We all have things about ourselves we are less than proud of. But he lacked honor, and was therefore not someone I chose to spend time with.

My father paid his bills, fed his kids, and served his country. He spent 4 years in the Air Force and the rest of his working life at NSA. He taught college courses, coached tee-ball, baseball, and softball. (An interesting aside, my dad was tried out to play Catcher for the Baltimore Orioles way back in the day.)

He gave to me my love of reading, chess, and debate. He taught me to think. And when he was younger and in decent shape, the man could play baseball.

He participated in the rearing of two moderately successful children. His progeny is no burden on society.

I hear that in recent years he got involved with child welfare and became some sort of court appointed advocate.

That’s it. That’s all I know about the man.

I recall a few ridiculous things like the way he would stick his tongue in his cheek when he was angry. I remember a few times we almost came to blows during my teenage years. I remember he was a bit of a clown, and enjoyed being the center of attention…which I suppose is the unspoken reason he chose to go into the ministry.

Mainly, since I hung up the phone with my sister, I have been thinking about more abstract things.

I wonder if he’s scared. I wonder if he’s even cognizant of what is happening. I wonder if he’s looking forward to “going on to be with the Lord”. Or is it possible that now that the question is no longer rhetorical, he has his doubts?

I wonder who has come to see him. I wonder, when I am in his position, who will come to see me? I wonder if he wonders if I will come…or if he even remembers my name. If he does remember my name, and does hope that I will come, will the last thing he feels be profound sadness? Is that my fault? Does it matter?

Assuming he has anywhere near a firm grasp on reality, I wonder does he look back on his life with regret, or satisfaction? I wonder how I would answer that same question.

In the end I am simply writing this because I am experiencing an event I will only ever experience once. I am not looking for pity or condolences. My father has not been an integral part of my life for a very long time. I won’t miss him more the day after he’s gone than I did on any given day last month.

I’m simply thinking about things, and seeing them, in a light that only shines once. So I’m capturing my thoughts and passing them on.

Maybe I’m just creating a snippet in the memory of someone else…

My Changing Perspective

There are moments in life, or at least in my life, where I come to sudden realizations.  Epiphanies they call them.  But there are also slow, inexorable, seemingly decades long processes where I confirm what I suspected at the start.  I don’t know if I can put my finger on the moment when that confirmation became a reality.  But, I suspect I am in, or near, one of those moments as I type this.

I spent a good portion of my life pretty well broke.  I can still recall when my children were little and I had separated from their mother.  I was living in a rent-controlled studio apartment on the wrong side of town.  Driving a vehicle graciously given to me by my former father-in-law.  One day in particular stands out.  My kids asked me to take them to the park, and I had to tell them that I didn’t have gas money for a ride to the park.

Broke!  Like, for real!

Which is why I develop a special level of anger at people who assume that because I am white and/or male, that I do not understand the plight of the poor.  As if you have to be minority in order to have no money.  Let me state for the record…I understand the plight of the poor.  I live every day with the knowledge that if I were to lose the access I have to the facilities I work in, I’d be right back in that same boat.

Anyway, Lose Yourself by Eminem came out and the third verse really stuck in my head.  I decided that I had to formulate a plot…or end up in jail or shot…

In any event, some 12 years ago (or thereabouts) I began to aggressively pursue success.  First through a contact of my then girlfriend (now wife), and then through other contacts made as time went on, I found myself in increasingly better paying jobs.

I did some telecom work for a while.  8 hours a day standing on a ladder, pulling wire over my head.  I walk around with messed up shoulders (they tell me it’s arthritis) nowadays as a result (IMHO) of that experience.

Then I got a security clearance and began a series of jobs.  Some were physical, some were technical, but each time I took on a new position I got a raise in pay.  When you’re dead broke a raise in pay is pretty much all you care about.

Eventually Bev and I got married.  Between the two of us the money going into the checking account went up about 10x.  I went from telling my kids I could not take them to the park, to sending my oldest to London as part of her senior class.  It truly warmed my heart to be able to provide things for my kids, and I regarded this as my highest calling (aside, of course, from teaching them to be decent people).

When I was sitting around watching paint dry for a living (yes, really) I kept thinking (and saying) that I was meant to do more.  When I worked Helpdesk, when I filled a small IA role, when I did Requirements work…I kept thinking and saying that I was capable of more.  I even wrote a number of blog entries right here about how life has to be about more than just trudging to work to pay the bills.

Oh yeah…the bills.  For those who do not know, or have only walked on one side of the street, let me take a moment to tell you about the bills.

When you’re broke…and I mean gas money broke…you “shop”.  You find deals on things like food and toilet paper.  You try to make sure you have enough money left over to pay for internet access or cable tv…because after all, there has to be something to do on the weekends.  You accept gifts and donations from friends and family.  You buy books on how to fix things, rather than pay someone to fix them.

When you cross over to where I am now (my eldest still recalls me telling someone that I make enough money to pay someone to punch them in the face), life is different.  My wife, having never really lost her low income mindset, still calls me to say that she wants to get her nails done.  I always reply with, “Do whatever you want.  I don’t care.”

These days I do things like spend a grand a month adding ink to my arms.  I wake up and decide I want a Harley, and that afternoon I ride home on my Harley.  One of my daughters asks for something…and they get it.  In short, I am now living the life I imagined I wanted back when I couldn’t afford to drive to the park.  And don’t get me wrong, this is not one of those posts about how money cannot buy happiness.  It absolutely can!

When I am sitting at the winery enjoying a good time with my friends…that’s happiness.  When I am riding down the road with the wind in my face on the Harley I wanted since I was a kid…that’s happiness.  When my daughter gets to see the world, and do things that other kids don’t get to do, and she hugs me and says “thank you daddy!”…that’s happiness.  All sponsored by money.

No, this post is about the constant drive to do more, learn more, and earn more.  It’s about the fact that when you are always on the bleeding edge…it’s you that does the bleeding.  It’s about the thought that maybe I have reached a comfortable place…and then I took one more step…and maybe I should take a step back.

It’s about thinking that maybe a nice, boring, 40 hour a week, do it in my sleep, no certs or training required, type job might not be a bad thing.  I had one of those a few weeks ago, and I moved on to where I am now sitting.  Because I wanted to do something meaningful and “important”.  I wanted to work in “security”.  Cyber security to be exact.  So here I am.

I haven’t been here long enough to really form an informed opinion.  I will give it some time before I really make any important decisions.  I am simply writing this because for the first time I can recall in my life, I have moved on from one place to another, taken a step ahead in pay and responsibility…and thought that maybe I made a mistake.

There are a lot of reasons why this thought has crept into my mind, but I won’t bore you with the details until I see how things pan out.

Time will tell.  When it does…so will I.

Cheers

 

The Diabetes Blog

It’s funny how you can wake up not feeling well one morning, and by the end of that day your entire life is different.  Mine will be forever divided into the period before my diabetes diagnosis and the rest of my life.

Today I go to my first counseling session to learn how to eat, test, etc.  But last night I got a call from the doctor’s office giving me some test results.  My A1C was 11 and some change.  Straight type 2 diabetes.

I wake up in the morning with a meter reading in the neighborhood of 250.  Yesterday, I took my meds and my levels dropped to 164.  I thought I was going to pass out.  “Low” blood sugar is considered anything below 70.  So…at more than double what is normally considered low I start experiencing the symptoms of hypoglycemia.

God only knows how much damage I’ve done to the various things that diabetes affects.  Vision, nerves, organs…  I have no idea how many years I may have taken off my life, or the consequences I will suffer going forward.  But the truth is, I have more immediate concerns.

250 feels normal to me.  Truthfully, it actually feels a little low.  So, I have no idea how I’m supposed to get down to 80-120.  I only know that I cannot remain sick, and weak, and unable to function.  So, I am hopeful that these medical people can help me get to the right place without feeling like I’m dying.  If they can’t…then I already know what I will do, having been well acquainted with myself for some time now.  I’ll “try to eat better”, and go back to normal living without the sodas and candy.

The biggest thing that this entire period of illness has made me aware of, is how much time and energy I’ve wasted on things that don’t matter.  It has made me cognizant of a fact we all mumble but perhaps don’t really think about.  That being, that tomorrow is promised to no one.  So, if I have to choose between living a shorter life that is more full, and living a long, empty, sick one…that choice is easy to make.

I am not going to let this condition become the focus of my life.  This is not going to turn in to “The Diabetes Blog”.

I am going to focus my life on friends and family.  I’m going to put making money in its’ proper place on my priority list.  I’m going to spend more time with my kids, and with my wife.  I’m going to call friends more often.  And I’m going to make sure that the people who are important in my life, know it.

Past that…screw it.  I grew up believing I’d die before I turned 21.  I’ve already been around twice as long as I expected to be.

So I will take the steps needed to reverse this condition…to a point.  But, I am not going to walk around feeling like I’m about to die every minute of every day so that some meter says what some person says it should say.  At the end of the day what truly matters is that I can move, and speak, and function.  You know… live.

The truth is we’re all dying.  We started dying the moment we were born.  So I think it’s more important how you live, than how long you live.

Voodoo! And It Works…

I am what you might call, “old school”.   Men don’t cry.  Suck it up, buttercup.  You know, the whole deal.  Prayer doesn’t change things, hard work does.  Etc.

But, as I noted yesterday, I am now dealing with some inner turmoil and anxiety which has got me all out of whack.  Not to mention the blood sugar related issues.  So, I’m hot.  I’m cold.  I feel like I’m going to pass out sometimes, which is generally a result of hypoglycemia.  So of course that has me mixed up, because my sugar is high, not low.  Basically, in terms of a brief summary, I feel like shit.

Falling asleep at an hour even remotely close to the schedule I must readjust to in order to return to work is proving difficult.  I will have to pick up some sort of sleep aid this afternoon, and hope that it works.  But yesterday my biggest concern was this inexplicable anxiety I have been feeling lately.  As it happens, right in the middle of writing about it, I got a phone call from the only person I have known since High School that I still talk to.  Who also happens to be getting her PhD in psychology and works as a counselor.  So… not a bad sounding board at the moment.

We spent about an hour discussing the issue.

Having walked away from Christianity a number of years ago, I have had a tendency to disregard anything that sounded even remotely like hocus-pocus. I have smirked and mocked people who talk about being, “mindful”. I put no stock in meditation, in just the same way I put no stock in prayer. But when you find yourself at the end of your rope, you also find yourself willing to consider new things.

My friend recommended to me that I concentrate on controlling my breathing and counting. This, she said, was the essence of meditation. She also advised me to try to remain focused on the moment in which I found myself. Rather than my normal method which involves worrying myself sick about every possibility and permutation of the hours, days, weeks, and months ahead.  So, what the hell…I gave it a shot, and it worked.

I have spent a very long time with a white knuckle grip on the steering wheel of my life. I have plotted and planned. I have set goals for myself and then achieved those goals, only to find that there was no fulfillment in doing so. I have scratched and clawed my way up the ladder, only to find that I did not like the view.

My friend refers to my state of mind as, “existential angst”. I say, call it what you will. Whatever it is, I don’t like it.

She advised me to think. To remind myself at any given moment that I am wherever I am and that’s what I should focus on. So I did.

Last night when I went to bed I laid there breathing in and out through my nose and counting. It’s funny that something so simple can have such a profound effect, but it most certainly did. I did not find myself dealing with the anxiety issue, or at least nowhere near to the same extent. I still wasn’t able to fall asleep when I wanted to and I’m not sure why, but it wasn’t anxiety keeping me awake.

I used to be afraid of change. I like things to be nice, neat, and orderly. I wanted to do the same things at the same time. I wanted to map out a plan, say for something like paying off bills, and then have that plan executed. I want to know that I was coming home to the same place, and the same people. I wanted to go to work and do my job, and come home. But, it seems like change is the new normal for me.

If this last six months has taught me anything it is that nothing stays the same. No matter how hard I plot and plan, unexpected things happen. Like going to bed one night feeling fine and waking up the next morning in so much pain that you can’t go to work for three months. Or having the surgery to fix that original pain only to have it move to somewhere else. Then, just when you think you are done with all the medical issues, a new problem pops up.

It is to some degree this lack of predictability, and my inability to control what is happening to my own body that is causing this angst. The feeling that I am not in control has always been scary to me. It’s the reason I don’t understand people who take drugs. I never want to be, “out of it”. I never want to be, “high”. I want to be grounded, rational, and in control. Right now I’m not. I think that, combined with the effects of various medications, and the feeling of being weak and vulnerable, is the source of my anxiety.  In fact I sincerely hope that’s the case, because I don’t like some of the alternatives.

Thaeda believes that this whole process I’m going through will result in some marvelous transformation. Normally I would scoff at such a notion. Now, I’m not so sure. We talked for a while about how I have been able to deal with issues and overcome adversities in my life. I described it as myself being a rock in the middle of the river. I simply let the river flow around me and thereby got through whatever the problem was. But now the rocks problem is not the river, it’s the rock.

So I’m going to keep my mind open. I’m going to try, as hard as I know it will be, to embrace change. If this period has taught me anything it is that the people in my life are the most important part. So I’m going to try to open up. I’m going to try to be more caring and kind. Especially to my wife, who has been steadfast by my side through this whole ordeal. I cannot imagine where I’d be right now without her.

Lastly, I’m going to get serious about unburdening my family from these financial obligations. In order for real change to happen I need to create an avenue whereby it can happen. Right now that road is closed, but I’m gonna see what I can do about that.

I know that nothing that is wrong with me is life threatening. At least not in the near term. Obviously, diabetes can kill you if left unchecked. But I don’t plan to leave it unchecked. But all these ailments and illnesses, pains and pills, hours and days of doing nothing, have given me time to think. I have thought about where I am, and I have thought about where I want to be. I do not know yet specifically what I want to do. I only know that I want to make the hours count. I want to feel like I’m not wasting my life, like what I’m doing matters. Even if the only person that it matters to is me.

Therein lies the key, and the first step towards change. To come to the realization that I do not need to do something for recognition, a big paycheck, or renown. I only need to do something that leaves me feeling like I did something. Life lived, not merely endured. Hours spent, not wasted.

So there remain goals and objectives, and things I will try to control. But for right now I’m just going to try to control my breathing and count to six…

Welcome To Your New Life!

Yesterday was my birthday. I turned 45. Sunday, I got medical verification of something long suspected. That being, that I am diabetic.

I realize this is by no means a death sentence, or anything nearly that dramatic. But, it will of course change my life. I’ll have to monitor what I eat and when. I‘ll have to do these finger pricks several times a day. If I’m able to control it simply through diet and exercise then it won’t really be much more than an inconvenience. If not, that’s a different story.

The thing that is troubling me most at the moment though, is not the diabetes diagnosis. It is an anxiety I have become aware of, that is impacting me every day. It is difficult to describe exactly what the problem is. Or rather, what the root of the problem is. The symptoms themselves are easy to describe.

It is 5:22 PM in my little corner of the world. In just a few hours I’ll need to go to sleep, as I try to get back on my regular work schedule. My wife on the other hand will set up all night long, and sleep all day tomorrow, because she works nights. For some reason going to bed alone has started to scare me. And even though I know she’ll be in the next room it still causes me anxiety. Tomorrow night she’ll be at work, and I don’t know if I’ll go to sleep at all.

This is brand-new. I have spent many a night by myself over the course of my life and especially the last 10 years. I’ve stayed in hotel rooms when I had to travel for work. I had no problems. I have worked the opposite shift from my wife for several years now; awake when she was asleep, asleep when she was awake. Not until the last 10 days or so has there ever been an issue. But there is one now.

It may be that over the course of all these treatments a mixture of medications has caused some kind a chemical imbalance. Or, it may be that I’m feeling weak and frail and that scares me. I have always been an introspective person and I have spent more than a few minutes trying to figure this out. I know what I feel but I don’t know why I feel it, and that is a concern to me.

I am hopeful that as my blood sugar normalizes, and my strength returns, that this frail, sickly feeling will pass.  I am also hopeful that this anxiety will pass with it. I am not accustomed to feeling like this, and I do not wish to become accustomed to it.

It’s hard to describe in exact terms. It’s a sinking feeling, a dread, a fear bordering on paranoia. It keeps me awake at night. Even now as I sit here my wife is taking a nap, so I am in essence alone. That is enough to set it off.

I cannot recall the exact day when these feelings began but I know it’s very recent. I believe it started after I was prescribed Zoloft, ironically enough, to help me sleep. What it actually did was jacked me up as if I had drunk several cups of coffee immediately before going to bed.

In any event, of the various conditions I am currently dealing with this is the one that most concerns me. I can handle drinking more water. I can handle cutting out treats, eating less sugar,

And all the other stuff that comes along with diabetes. Is this inner turmoil that I can’t handle.

Between the last sentence and this one my phone rang and I had a hour-long conversation with an old, and very dear friend. She helped me put some things in perspective, and gave me some things to try. It’s funny how just connecting with another human being can change things. I don’t know how I’ll feel later tonight or tomorrow, but what I do know is I feel better now than I did before the phone rang.

Something else I know is that things get worse or better, nothing stays the same. So, I’m going to hope for better and try my best to set aside these thoughts and feelings. Get some sleep. Start eating healthy. Regained my strength. Reclaim my life.  I’m going to try to be more open to more things. I’m going to try not just to reclaim the life I have had, but to transition into the life I want to have over time.

But for right now I’m going to stay focused on the moment in which I find myself. Because if there is one thing that I have learned from this whole experience, and verbalized during this phone conversation, it is that I cannot control everything. I cannot plan for everything.

I just have to take each day as it comes. Or, as my friend’s daughter says, “roll with it, lean with it”.