I came home from what is more and more the most fulfilling job I’ve ever had and got to work on a carpentry project I’m working on for Christmas. Take a gander.
I’m not great by any means but I’ve been taking stock lately of a few things. The thing I would most like to be proud of in my life is my vocation as husband and father. On that front all I can say is I am trying every day. I am a teacher and vice principal. After my family, in my adult life, few other things have brought me such joy. I am a writer who has never claimed to be much good although I do know my way around a few decent turns of phrase. I am a man who likes to challenge himself in the gym, not stopping or giving up until I’m satisfied. I will probably never be satisfied and that is just OK with me. It simply means I will always be challenging myself. And I think that goes for every aspect of my life.
On the writing front in particular, I have been reading old posts to my children. It is fun rediscovering our life together; but not nearly as much fun as seeing the joy and hearing the laughter from my children who really get a kick out of my writing. Also on that front, I have noticed that I have at seven separate times in the past few months started writing new posts only to save them as drafts. Perhaps I will one by one finish each post and publish them. I might even provide context.
Until then, the family is beautiful, school is wonderful, I am building back up in the gym and getting stronger, and Baby Jesus has a comfortable place to sleep in my garage.￼￼
Dedicated to Annie DeLisle for reasons known to her.
Well here we are again! And by “we” I mean “me” sitting in a hotel room in a strange place, laptop on hand, pictures uploading to the cloud, bizarre canned cocktail nearby, cataloging the day’s memories, and reminiscing about the past – both years past and hours…
By the way, wasn’t it swell of me to start this post with a relatively short paragraph containing just two sentences, the second one ridiculously long and ending with an ellipses? Thought so.
By “here we go again” I mean to say that the very thing that was the catalyst to this blog and the forthcoming book(s) is now underway yet again. All the way back in the summer of 2008 and with a six week-old boy in tow because it would have been kind of wrong to leave him home alone, my darling wife and I set out to take the road trip we had talked about taking since we were dating. Six weeks later we returned to our apartment in Northern New Jersey, the boy now a man doubled in age. For 48 days we criss-crossed the continent reaching the far point of the Vegas Strip. I was a brand new dad and had fancied myself a pro at fatherhood. It’s hard to blame me since I had the best role model. My old man always did not only what was best for us but also made use of what he was good at while doing it. As a result I know every cerebral dirty joke every told. What I was good at (in my mind) was writing. So at the end of day one I found myself in a hotel room in Northern Virginia, playing with a happy infant boy, adoring my life, and reaching for my laptop so I could “pen a few lines to remember the day”.
Those lines exceeded 2500 words.
The next night I wrote another few thousand. And the night after that I did the same. I shared them with my wife who suggested I post them to Facebook where soon enough I had attracted a small army of “fans”. Long story short, I kind of forgot to stop writing. And every time we’ve taken a road trip since I’ve realized what is the bread and butter of this blog – road trips.
So tonight I present to you Day 1 of a new adventure on the asphalt ribbons of America.
Let’s start with the title. Every good story needs an apt title. The purpose of this trip for us is to visit my mother in New Jersey. And since we love my wife’s mother as well and she and my mom are great friends we asked her to come with us. So we’ll have one grandmother on the trip, another on the other side, and a whole lot of fun in between.
The day began shortly before 3AM when I sprang from my bed, dropped to my knees in prayer, grabbed a cup of hot, black coffee, and hit the shower. My loving wife had stayed up most of the night getting the house ready to be abandoned for a month and packing the car. She insisted I get the rest since I’d be driving. It’s a guy thing. It’s literally the least I can do. I imagine myself in days of old, my family in the back of a coach and me on the bench up front driving the horses. I also imagine horses don’t scare me.
A trip with us is like a trip to the DMV only not terrible or disgusting. However it does take all day to go a few inches. I was going to compare it to trench warfare but I thought it was too soon. Our first stop came just thirty minutes later as we pulled into Buc-ee’s. Click the link to look it up. It is pure Texas and pure awesome. I think we accidentally spent a hundred bucks there. Well, not me. I bought a black coffee and did 25 pushups in the parking lot. Off we go…
About two hours later, driving into the rising sun, we crossed the border into the Pelican State (Louisiana) at Shreveport. The kids and my wife slept soundly this whole time. My Mother-in-law Wilma remained awake long enough for the two of us to discover we were both halfway through a rosary (individually) and so we joined forces. Then she crashed. And I drove. Alone. For hours. Don’t feel bad. I got to count all the pine trees in East Texas along the way.
Perhaps it was the excitement of the rushing and mighty Big River but all my passengers seemed to awaken right before we crossed the Mississippi. After a bathroom break and photo op we stopped for lunch at a Cracker Barrel in Vicksburg. I got excited as we pulled off the highway. There, right next to the restaurant, was what looked to all the world like an outlet mall. They do come in handy on road trips for all the articles you suddenly remember forgetting to pack once you’re just out the door. Only this one was different. For starters it was only two strips of stores. And 98% of those were closed. As in, didn’t exist anymore. It was sadder than when my dog died in high school. Thank God for chicken fried steak.
As we barreled across Mississippi I decided it was time to indoctrinate the offspring by forcing them to listen to playing some selections my older sister made us listen to on road trips when I was their age. Linda Ronstadt, Boz Scaggs… I’m sorry. I almost drove off the road. Let’s listen to silence, kids! Silence sounds good.
Finally we crossed into Alabama where the stars fell. Not sure if that’s a tourist slogan or if a radiological waste site is actually contributing to the ethereal glow. It is a beautiful place. Here’s where it got really fun for me as a dad. When I was 12 my older brother had just graduated from West Point. Yes, that one. He set out on a trip to Birmingham to visit a friend from the Academy who had left two years earlier and was graduating from Auburn and he took me along for company. I remember the trip well and not just because my brother decided to make the 1000 mile return drive straight through but because our hosts took me to the Statue of Vulcan. Someone from Birmingham once visited New York Harbor and decided the Statue of Liberty would be nice overlooking their city. Instead they got Vulcan. Birminghamanians are proud of their city’s industrial roots so entrenched in the iron industry. In fact they’re known as “the Pittsburgh of the South” even though that city’s lifeblood was steel. Came up with that one all by themselves. Their history of segregation? Not so proud of that one. But they deal with that in several other really neat monuments. Hey, nobody’s perfect. Vulcan is really cool too. Perched on a very tall pedestal resembling a lighthouse, the deity looks out over Birmingham with an anvil at his side and an arrow in his raised hand. He’s even wearing a nifty apron round his waist. Unfortunately that apron was cut for a transparently smaller man. From the rear and shining on the Homewood neighborhood with the brilliance of a large celestial object is the exposed backside of a well-sculpted dude. God? Demi-god? It’s his butt. I remembered all of this and simply had to take my kids for the experience. Both kids laughed heartily when they saw it. Then we went to the top. My daughter even climbed the ten flights of stairs with me (had to get my workout in) and gleefully stepped out onto the viewing platform at the base of the Statue. Before freezing in terror.
The platform was an open steel grid. Boy was that scary. I had to be brave so she wouldn’t cry. Inside I had three heart attacks. Not figuratively either. Ten stories up and a clear view of the ground below. Maybe this wasn’t such a brilliant plan after all.
Nonetheless we got our pictures and drove on. On our way to the hotel just north of town God must have known I hadn’t closed my exercise ring on my watch. An old woman sat in an old car in the middle of a busy street. She had broken down. My wife said “She needs help.” Good observation. I pulled over, jumped out, and like roaches scattering in a kitchen but in reverse two other people and I ran toward her car, dodging traffic, and pushed her a block to a safe spot.
Finally in the hotel I “did the Dad thing”, even though I was beat, and jumped in the pool with my children. My wife went for food. Krystal’s. Never had ‘em? I’ll tell you more tomorrow. Wilma? She stayed in the room to pray. I needed it – the prayers that is. Later I closed out the day with a Walmart run. I forgot to pack my jumprope. It’s my daily cardio. I start every day with 30 minutes of high intensity jump rope before breakfast and vacation doesn’t change that. How else do you think I can do all this? Prayer? Oh, yeah that too. Made five trips back to the car for forgotten items, and finally cracked open a drink (if you can call it that) with my mother-in-law.
Which brings us to the present. Seems we have some 30 days ahead of us and many more adventures in store. I can’t promise more bareassed statues of Roman gods but I can promise lots of love and plenty of fun and a most thankful heart from this dad of two future saints.
My dear mother commented on my last blog (but on the reposting of it on Facebook, not here). I had mentioned that I think I got my “grit” from her. I learned long ago, kids, that your grandma was one tough cookie. I also learned that toughness does not mean one has to be cruel or brutish or a boor. She’s also one of the kindest, warmest, and most loving people you’ll ever know.
Her comment simply read “I love your grit as well.”
The Rest Is Over
Inspired by these words, children, I think your old man has had about enough rest and recuperation. A compression fracture certainly isn’t the end of the world. Come to think of it, the doctor didn’t even put me under any specific restrictions. That could be because it was almost 6:00 on a Saturday evening and I was their last patient. Nonetheless I believe in the old adage of listening to one’s body as a guide to pain management. And this body of mine is saying “Go on now, old man, time’s running out. You’re not getting any younger and you NEED to do something.” I still have these nifty painkillers they gave me and I’ll continue to take them as needed.
But tonight I was called out on four jobs requiring me to move a few hundred pounds worth of medical shipments. I was leery but you know what? I did it. I figured it out. I didn’t hurt myself (at least the pain hasn’t set in yet) and I survived.
I’ll probably never look like this dude. My feet point in different directions. And I only have two of them.
You know what that means? I’m getting back to the gym tomorrow. And when you read this years from now you’ll see that your dad was nothing if not determined. He’s determined not to be sidetracked. He’s determined not to let pain rule his life. He’s determined not to get soft. And he’s determined to continue to go after the hard things in life. I still don’t think I’ll go anywhere near a trampoline anytime soon but free weights?
Never Give Up
I can’t let myself down. I’m going to get shredded if it kills me
I can’t let you kids down. You deserve a dad who can physically do all you demand of him.
I can’t let the high school athletes down. They look up to me. On this last point I’m mystified because if they could have seen me when I was their age they would have kicked sand in my face assuming we were anywhere near a beach.
Life goes on, my children.
And for everything else… say it with me. “There’s Percocet!”
I originally started writing this post about my experience reading some books to my daughter in mid-November. Having finally the time to finish it, I publish it now. Keep in mind we’re currently on The Silver Chair. The fun never ends. With apologies to C. S. Lewis
I need a break.
Yesterday I got called to drive to Lubbock. Lubbock is a city of about a quarter-million souls in the Texas panhandle. It vies with Amarillo for the title of “Jewel of the Panhandle”. I suppose that’s better than it’s former moniker: “Notch #3 on the Bible Belt”. It’s actually a very nice city; it’s just that there’s literally nothing between here (the Dallas-Fort Worth area) and there. And it’s a five hour drive without stops or traffic which, believe it or not, can pop up on the remotest stretches of I-20 without rhyme or reason.
I received my marching orders from my boss around noon yesterday for a package that needed to be delivered no later than 8:30 this morning. Now go back and read where I said that Lubbock is five hours away. Ordinarily I would have taken that information and made use of it. My plan was to grab the kids from school, workout, and hit the sack. If I could be in bed by 7, I figured, I’d get about seven hours of sleep before leaving home at 2AM for the long drive out west. But you know that wasn’t going to happen…
About an hour before the kids got out of school I took my pre-workout meal which consists of a bowl of cream of rice mixed with a tablespoon of almond butter along with 50g of whey protein. For funsies I like to add a shot of bourbon or two. It takes the sting away when I realize by the time I’m taking my post-workout meal that I haven’t made much of a dent in my progress. And the cream of rice is so tasty! I almost wrote that without laughing.
Even though it’s been cold with temperatures in the 30’s I headed out the door to get the kids wearing my running shorts and a hoodie. You have to know from that fact that I was never going to get to workout. I got called to run a different job at 4:30. Then I was informed that the thing I’d be taking to Lubbock wouldn’t be ready for pickup at the airport now until 10:30. One thing lead to another and before I knew it, it was 2AM, I hadn’t slept a wink, and I was heading off to Lubbock. This was not going to be fun.
I delivered the package ahead of deadline, grabbed some coffee, and headed back home taking in the now-familiar cotton fields and oil wells along the drive. I’ve now done this Lubbock run often enough that I know what’s off every exit. Need a Chick-fil-A? Wait until Weatherford. Clean bathrooms? Try the Allsup’s in Abilene. Heading out the final 90 mile stretch on US 84? Check the gas gauge. There’s only one station between Roscoe and Post. My God when did I become this man?
I walked into my house just shy of 3 this afternoon. I took my belt and shoes off, climbed into bed, pulled the covers over myself, and slapped my hand twice on the mattress next to me. That signaled my Jack Russell, Buddy, who dutifully came running in from the family room, hopped on the bed, and curled up next to his master. Man’s best friend indeed.
The Chronicles of the Chronicles
A few hours later I woke up. You’re probably wondering about the title and the Narnia reference. Patience is a virtue Eileen. I’m gettin’ there. I got out of bed and had some dinner. I even tossed a scrap at Buddy for being such a good boy. He, being a terrier, took the morsel and then snapped at me before walking away muttering something about getting some money together so he can “get outta here and find his own place.”
This is a story about one of my kids and our fascinating relationship. My daughter is very much like her old man in many ways. By that I mean that her brain seems to process interpersonal relationship in the same way I do. This can be a good thing. But one area where I think we diverge in our thought patterns is how we pay attention to another when that person is reading to us. OK, so I can’t say I’ve had anyone “read” to me as such in many years but you get the point.
Two years ago I endeavored to read the seven book “Chronicles of Narnia” to my son. I had read the first three when I was young. I’m glad I got through all seven with him. I thoroughly enjoyed the series as did he. Within the past month or two my daughter asked when I would be reading the series to her. It seems she cannot be left out and if he got something, she wants it too. For instance there was that time she wanted her tonsils out just like her brother. Or how about the time she demanded life would be no good unless she could also play basketball. I still think it odd that she asked why she hadn’t been circumcised.
Or I could look at it as “she wants some time with Daddy”. And for that I’m happy.
We zipped through the first book in the series. And for the record, the ONLY way to read them is in the order in which they were written. The effort of some publishers after the fact to rearrange the series into some kind of chronological order, to me anyway, does not work. Forget for a second that Narnian time does not work like time in England. There is something to be said about reading such an epic tale in a way that leaves mysteries – past and future – intact. So many times I find myself saying “Ah… so that’s why that happened so many books ago,” even though it was an event in the “future”.
As soon as I returned The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe to the library I picked up Prince Caspian. This one took a little longer to get through. We were into a season full of distractions like Halloween. Try settling any 9 year-old down to hear about a barbarous battle on a fictional hill after demolishing a bag of Kit Kat’s. But we trudged on right through the scene were Glenstorm and Trufflehunter savagely attacked Rum Tum Tugger and Mungojerry before beating Miraz to death with a the severed arm of a centaur named Bobby.
All the while my precious darling was doing her level best to pay attention to all the details. In fact, she followed the story quite well. Her brother had a better time following but that’s because he didn’t stop to ask questions. With her it’s “Wait, Daddy, why did the White Which do that?” or “Wait, Daddy, Where was the train station located? Like couldn’t they find it again and go home?” or “Wait, Daddy, do you think unicorns can really poop glitter?” You know, esoteric comprehension stuff like that.
Finally, Caspian the Tenth restored to the throne of Narnia and the Telmarines (I hate them) returned to whatever pirate island they came from, we moved on to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Night after night we read a few pages at a time. I didn’t mind because I was enjoying the time with my baby. Her observations are amusing and she really seems rapt in the sound of my voice. It’s a sweet picture of a sweet girl and her old man.
But those observations do tend to make me reach a breaking point when I’m tired. She had already asked about how the dragon died on the island. “I don’t know.” She had asked about why Caspian was sailing on this voyage again. “Let me recap the entire first five chapters, dear.” She had told me that a friend at school has an iPhone X and it’s not fair because she gets everything. “You know what she doesn’t have, lady? A freakin’ father!” Oh wait, that wasn’t supposed to be verbalized. Falling asleep in her bed one night I read the following line from Cousin Eustace: “Well, anyway, I looked up and saw the very last thing I expected: a huge lion coming slowly towards me.”
As I read the words between yawns I could see my little girls hazel eyes (same as mine) grow wide with excitement.
“I know! I know! I bet it’s Aslan, isn’t it!?!?!”
I slammed the book shut and said “Well who the hell did you think it was?! He’s the only lion in the whole damn series!”
And because she has inherited my sense of humor she took this not as a rebuke but for the humor it was and we laughed.
I read a few more pages. Eustace stopped being a brat. And my daughter drifted off to sleep.
Folks, I got off all that social media nonsense a while ago. Sorry but I'm not on Twitbook, Facepalm, YouHu, WingWang or any of the others. Maybe an event will happen to make me change my mind like Peter and Paul coming down with flaming swords and commanding it be so. Until then, read the blog and if you feel a comment is in order or you feel like sharing a tip or suggestion for a topic, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Harvey is a funny, witty and interesting read. Want to know what's going on in the world of Harvey? Then make a point to subscribe to his blog! You just never know when those pesky Weebles will show up. Hmmm, speaking of Weebles - haven't heard from them in a while (wink). Seriously, you just never know what to expect and whatever you find, it never disappoints! -- Debbi Robertson @ Photos and Facets