Men & the happy factor ‘one-space’

Men are stressed out these days. Employed or unemployed, fit or fat, nearly every man I know is carrying another level of stress that was absent a year ago.

No wonder. Bad times, hard work environment, demanding kids, needy wife. When it gets to be too much, I tell Rog he needs to be with his ‘oneself’ and if that means he needs to be alone, I add on he do so in his  ‘one-space.’ Recently, he’s been uber-stressed, so I suggested he check his one-self into a hotel in which he can find his one-space with Halo, thereby joining hundreds of other men in a virtual community of one-nessess.

Now, Rog is creative. A hotel was boring. If I was willing to give up time with him, relinquishing him of household duties such as going to the dump with a truck-full trash, he’s going to ensure his one-time is spent in the best way possible.

To whit, he recently found his one-self at a charity golf event with Gene Simmons and his wife Shannon Tweed. Beyond sitting by an aging, former adult film star and her plastic surgery partner, the back of his head is said to be featured in the upcoming episode of their hit reality show. His one-self was pretty excited about sharing his one-space for the camera.

A few days ago, he returned from a fishing trip. He walked in the back door with a large, clear sack of bloody, gutless salmon carcasses banging against his leg. He then proceeded to slice and dice the salmon with my five-year old girl looking on, who wanted to know why he killed something he doesn’t eat.

“Mom likes it,” he said. I stared at the thirty pounds before me. Clearly, his one-self didn’t understand the fact I’ll puke if I have to eat thirty percent of my body weight in raw fish.

“What do you need done now?” he asked me. His bucket was full. The toxic paint of stress was stripped off his body by the thinner called relaxation. He was ready to devote his one-self to household tasks and allow his one-space to be shared with the family. He was in his happy place. Mr. One-ness spent the next half a day cleaning algae from the pond pump, painting walls, loading the truck up with trash. It was awesome. And all it took was for me to support his needs to be at one with himself. Not all the time. Just here and there.

As for me, I’m going to stir fry some salmon, sit down with my bad old one-self and watch Gene Simmons’ reality show looking for the back of Rog’s head.

You Blaze, We Blaze

Do you ever find yourself talking in shorthand with your closest friends, spouse or partner? I’ve got this thing with my peeps and it involves talking in movie clips.

When Rog can’t get my attention, he says quite loudly, “AZiZ! Light!” from the first part of the 5th Element. When I don’t see him around the corner, I’ll ask Rog, is that you? He’ll reply– “Not anymore” like a viper ready to strike, as whispered by Deacon Frost, the protagonist in Wesley Snipe’s futuristic vampire-slayer movie, Blade.  The joke here being, he’s turned into a demon from hell. Thus, the phrase is best said with a slight whisper.
This little quirk has all types of other benefits. It saves entire conversations and breaks up verbal fisty-cuffs, for who can be mad when someone says, “you’re acting like Long-Duck-Dong?” (16 Candles)
In times of frustration, when Rog and I wonder whether we should have gotten married, we race to say “Well, I already took the blue pill,” (The Matrix). In other words, it’s too late. The deed is done and now we’re stuck with it.
During hissyfits, when one of us is frustrated with the lack of change from the other, it’s only a matter of time when he or I will say “What do you want me to be??” This invariably inspires the other to say in a come-hither voice: “I’ll be anything you want me to be,” with the inflection of Puss-in-Boots in Shrek 2 as he licks his, uh, stuff.
And who can live in a movie reference world w/out using Master Yoda’s phraseology, particularly in times of sappy seriousness. Examples include when I’m overly sentimental and Rog will throw down “Love you, I do.” In those rare (rare) occasions where he’s being small, I’ll suggest that Rog “be big, you will.”
When we took to teaching Porsche about brushing her teeth, and she asked why, I referenced Duke Leto from the original Dune movie. “The tooothee” I intoned. She knew the reference, knew that Duke died because of ‘the tooth,’ and has lived in fear of not brushing her teeth ever since. Grey wisps of smoke emanating from the tooth of a dead man is an awesome motivator.
When we entered children-raising-mode, all the references became animation-oriented. We address the necessity of wearing underware by breaking into a round of the “Bare Necessities,” (Jungle Book), why we need to “Climb Every Mountain,” to keep fit, or sing “Cruela Devile,” when a little one is being a little, er, evil.
Keep in mind the whole phrase, song or paragraph need not be recited. We are talking only the relevant snippet. The title of this blog, basically means ‘you fire on me and I’ll fire on you.’ (Gone in 60 seconds) It’s a perfect replacement for “I’m outta here’, and a whole lot more fun.
With that, ‘You Blaze, We Blaze.’ (Romeo Must Die, said by Isaiah Washington holding a large gun)

The invisible mom

It was a Wednesday night and my date for the evening, a married girlfriend, had bailed earlier (she had a sons soccer game). Not wanting to kill the hard-to-get reservation at a trendy Italian joint, where the owner greets us all with kisses and his parents, Giovanni and Frida, arrive every night promptly at 8:45 pm to sing and mingle, I called an unattached girlfriend who had the night off. She was early, socializing at the connecting wine bar, while I was right on time. When I came to collect her (doesn’t that sound like a true date), she was surrounded by single men of varying ages and heights, hair amounts and chins. Extracting her to make our reservation was as smooth as possible, given the men were trying to stroke and love her arms (as Italian men are want to do) when a single woman of divine loveliness is about to depart their company.

Fernando greeted me with ease (double-peck air kiss, and you know how I love those), but I respond in kind. I like Fernando. I like his mother’s cooking. I like that I get a table when I call. I even land half a lip on his cheek. “I forget how tall you are,” he says, a minor attempt at flattery, even though he knows precisely how I measure up, with or without my heels on.

My dark-haired friend glides to the table, not entirely ignorant of the looks cast her way. Glaring, evil things from the women and a flit and downward glance from the males. Me? I’m invisible. For good reason, I might add. While my friend is wearing form-fitting slacks, her camisole can barely contain her “blessings” that threaten to pop out of her shirt, even with her second layer, a black, short-sleeve shirt that hugs her child-bearing hips. Me, on the other hand, am wearing a knee-length skirt, a short-sleeve turtleneck and a Gergen wool short. Tights and booties aside, I’m conservative, she’s sexy (in my defense, I had a meeting afterward and wasn’t going to take on the night, so to speak).

This wasn’t all however. Her sway, her glances around, taking in the scene with the acumen of a racehorse jockey studying the field, were all done with purpose. She was on the scout, and she was being scouted. I, of course, was in it for the company and the food.

The waiter came and called me by name, but he sort of saw right through me as he looked to her. He, a gorgeous man, by the way, a foot too short and probably weighing half as much as me, was fixated on my friends eyes. He had to be. Her bust rested at the height of table, and it was distracting, particularly when she took a swirl of her water and asked him about the wine. As he flustered, I watched it all with a fond sense of awe, wondering if I was ever a part of her rare breed of flirtatious elite even when I was single. When he could breathe, he took our order (in truth, he took hers and gave me enough time to get mine out before he glanced back at her) and then left. As he walked away, I started laughing.

“Not him,” I cautioned. “You even think about wrapping your legs around him and you will break him in two.” She laughed, her chest still jiggling long after her mouth stopped, like the after shocks of a 8.0 earthquake.

Then Tony came by. Tony, you see, is another Italian, who had a guitar in hand and a fedora on his head, tilted just enough to help me visualize a gun in his pocket, roughing up a patron in the alley for not tipping enough. What, I’m thinking, did Fernando and Giovanni do? Take all the true Italians in the greater Seattle area and hire them for this little, 25-seat restaurant in Issaquah, WA?

Tony starts to sing, much to our dismay. However, my friend smiles away, and starts to narrate the story. Tony is singing in Italian, and my friend doesn’t speak Italian. Instead, she crafts the story based on Tony’s looks, intonations and facial features. It went like this….

“They are at the well….” (she purses her lips and furrows her brows)…”they fight, her parents don’t like him,” (she puts her hand to breast)….”she throws her arms around him, vowing to stay,” (she nods her head)…. at this point, I start laughing. I can’t help it. Tony is being so sincere, but he’s loving her story, and together, the two of them are playing up the crowd like they are at the Met. At this end of this sad, saga, the lovers are torn apart, and as she notes, “the well has gone dry from tears.” (My personal well was overflowing with hysterics).

As we leave, I step aside to speak with Giovanni and his wife, slip Tony a five as I shake his hand and give Fernando the now patented double-air kiss.

I’m sure the millions of woman around the world who go from single to married, from sexy to conservative, on the market to off, and empathize with this situation. It’s funny. It’s life. and you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way. I went home for the real kiss on the lips with my husband, double, wrap-around hugs to my two girls and told them just how much I missed them. I must say I absolutely adore and love my single, gorgeous, chased-by-all-men-with a pulse girlfriend. At the same time, I’m pretty thrilled to take the title of the invisible mom.

Midnight affairs

A few years back, I had a moment of enlightenment. When confronted with an irritable, red-eyed, worn-out spouse who looked like he’d been bear hunting instead of working, I dug deep.

“Honey, why don’t you take some alone time.”

“Really?” he asks, genuinely surprised.

“Sure. I’ll watch the kids, do the dishes, clean the house. You deserve a break.”

Thus it began, the simple, kind and innocent offer that has put my husband on the fast track to marital purgatory. After lo, these long years of being an innocent bystander in the affliction that’s more addictive than crack, and just as expensive, I, too, have become corrupted.

What for am I talking? On-line gaming.

Halo. Gears of War. Second Life. It’s a vast and far-reaching playground of lives, identities and choices, nearly all of which will get the player killed. Clothing, morals, ethics? Not necessarily required or desired. Snowboarding? Forget it. Rog got Porsche playing Gears of War as a three-year old, WITH the headset mind you, so she had the choice experience of interacting with thirteen year olds from around the world. By four, she’d seamlessly graduated to Halo, sitting side-by-side with her dad, who acts as a fourteen year old when he enters into the anonymous otherside of the screen.

Searching for a solution to the midnight affairs that had become my source of loneliness, I sought for solutions. Nylons. Red lipstick. High heels. All good. For oh, say, seven minutes give or take. On a good day, if I’d stuffed Rog with pizza, maybe a half hour to allow of digestion. Then “ooh, look at the time.”

“What?” I’d practically yell.

“Nick is waiting.”

“Nick, as in, Nick the neighbor?”

He’d nod, practically bounding down the stairs.

You see the dilemna.

So now, when my husband is out, dallying around (ode to Don King), I’m playing Second Life. LOVE THIS. Lots of options. Lots of plot lines. Less drool and ghoul than the hard core fighting that occurs in Rog’s selection of on-line games.

Turns out, I’m not the only girl on-line. In fact, I had to conduct some research for a client, and learned that over forty % of gamers are women, who make plenty of money, are married with children. What does that tell me? Oh, right. I’m one of them.

Curse you Halo. But tell me where I can find the next version for cheap, would’yaz??

Service, appreciation and love. The not-so-silent connection

Whenever Rog (my husband) calls me several times a day with no other comment than to tell me he loves and appreciates me, or gives me lots of unwarranted hugs and quite, kind looks across the island in the kitchen, I know something is up.

When this started, around Thanksgiving of last year, I worried the shoe was going to drop, and his words and looks were preparatory to an unwelcome announcement. It never happened. Instead, he invariably revealed an experience that had made an indelible impression, causing him to re-up his appreciation of me, our girls, the home, and our family life in general. Who among us, I ask, doesn’t want a spouse to experience this type of transformation, even if it is only temporary?

The kitchen buffet line where
Roger served

This time was slightly different. Rog came home late, around 9 pm. I knew he and his hockey team were going to be making and serving dinner at the Ronald McDonald House in Seattle. For those international readers (which nearly outnumber those in the US), the RM House is a place where children, stricken ill with terrible diseases (cancer is the most common) can live with their families, all expenses paid, as their children undergo surgeries and recuperate.

He hugged me several times, loved on the girls and before he could say much, I enthusiastically explained that he gave service to a dear friend’s niece. Her niece, in her early 30’s, had 1 year old girl born with a cleft palate, and has had a series of operations in the last few months. Her four year old daughter was diagnosed with cancer in her leg, and after surgery, the doctors found another huge cancer tumor in her other leg. The father recently returned from Iraq to see his youngest daughter for the first time, and comfort his four-year old. The entire family was living at the RM House.

When I told Roger about the connection, he shook his head, not recalling the family. “It was so packed,” he said, recounting he and his team were hard pressed to cook, serve and cleanup for the 60 or groups that only a few faces stood out. “I worked harder in those four hours than I have in a long time.” He changed the subject, back to our own family. He apologized for working so much, for not doing homework with our daughter. For neglecting to put the handles on the doors to their closet (I told him not to worry on that count. I’ve come to appreciate grimy fingerprints as works of art on permanent display). He said he regretted not telling me he loved me more, or appreciated my work in the yard (going so far as okay’ing my purchase of the Huskavarna jacket after the fact). He went on. At the end, I knew he had seen many things he couldn’t express, with or without a eruption of emotion.

Then he stopped.

“Those kids, most without hair from the cancer treatments– in every one, there was hope and fear,” he said, his voice soft and harsh. He was at the bottom of the staircase, holding one rail, his other hand at his hip. “And this woman, she came down by herself. I guess she was early thirties. I think at any other time, she would have been very pretty, and I could see her as a vibrant happy person. But you know,” and here he stopped, looking at me hard so he wouldn’t lose it, “she just was holding on. Doing all she could to survive.” Rog described her walking zombie-like through the area, getting food and leaving, all the while, her eyes were glassy, like she wasn’t really there. I would have been a wreck, I told him, and he shook his head. “No, we were too busy to reflect. That happened later, on the way home.”

“I’ve never done that before you know,” he said, referring to giving service. I did know. Other than distributing blankets to the homeless in San Francisco, he’d not actively sought out service projects. “I’ve got to do that now. At least once I month. I’ve got to figure it out.” He didn’t need to tell me the appreciation for health and family, for home and love, are too often taken for granted. I was thankful for his experience, the boost of love it injected in our home. He’s was wrong on one count though. He’s not the only one that needs to give service one a month. I do too. 

Avalanches and detaching from ones spouse

As Rog left the condo this morning in full regalia, resembling a skeksis with a helmut and a backpack, my final words were: “Are you going to go back trails?” In other words, does he have a death wish, and if so, are we insured? (It didn’t help that I had mother, a sister, two girlfriends and a male work associate all send me texts and emails to see if we were ok).

Snoqualmie…Washington’s version of
little Switzerland

Now, I hate to sound cold and cruel, but let’s face some facts. When it’s been skiing a foot each day and another several each night for days on end (and still snowing), avalanches come with the territory. As we were driving over the pass, I read about three skiers that died at the pass nearby, another 8 buried. The mountain operations went to great pains to identify the skiers were out of bounds and not on groomed runs.  Little did we know that as we were driving over Snoqualmie Pass, rescuers were digging out the body of a snowboarder who had skied out of bounds, triggered an avalanche and was swept over a cliff and down 500 feet.

“I’ll be careful,” said Rog, clearly regretting the words the moment they left his mouth. Yesterday he’d been skiing deep powder with two friends, only one of which had avalanche gear, and even his was missing the critical beeper. I mean, what’s the good of having an inflatable if no one knows where to look on a 200 yard stretch of 20 feet deep snow?

“We don’t have a stupidity clause in your insurance policy,” I told him, nary a hint of joking in my voice. It just so happens I had read our life insurance policies several days ago to give some pointers to a friend.

“Yes, but it’s been two years,” he says with a smile. I’d also informed Rog than an entire, single-spaced, double-sided page talks about suicides. The net of it is that the insurance company will only payout if the person covered commits suicide 2 years after signing the policy.

That made me feel sooo much better. “When are you going to get the avalanche gear?”

“The inflatable is $800 bucks,” he explained, referring to the little item that had saved the pro-skiers life when her friends died.

I asked him if his life was worth $800 dollars, receiving only silence in response. He zipped up his gloves. As he started to walk towards the door, I did my level best to channel my inner non-Budha, searching desperately for that thin line of patience in my Swedish-Scottish rip chord of fury. I did the only thing a woman on the verge of worry and fear can do in such times.

I detached.

“Just so you know, if you die from your own stupidity, after I get over my pain, I’m going to be seriously pissed at you, and will have no problem spending your life insurance policy.”

This made him laugh. He turned and flipped up his goggles. “No out of bounds. No death. Promise.” With that, he left. I did what any wife does in that instance. I turn to my daughters, make them chicken soup and carry on with life.

When it’s OK to take a name in vain

For the first ten years of my marriage, one of my most over-used phrases was when referring to “my sister-in-law, you know, the nutritionist.” My husband would then groan and roll his eyes, hoping the effect would stop me from always introducing said sister-in-law with this preface. I’d ignore him and sure enough, the next time, I’d say it again, as though he’d forgotten both her name and her background.

It was done with purpose you see. My opinion, (derived from an unfinished college degree but lots of life experience), had not one iota of credibility when it came to information about food or nutrition. Thus, when I wanted to emphasize (or in reality, convince) my husband to change his evil-eating ways, I’d invoke the almighty of authority: my sister-in-law.

And why not? I have a brother as an accountant and attorney, and I use his good name left and right when it suits my purpose. Same goes with my mom the therapist. Why take my word for it when I can take hers? Fashion sense? I go straight to my sister, who was a GM at a high end boutique and would invariably offer me advice akin to Zoe, though forgetting I didn’t have a Kardashian budget. When I’m trying to get what I want from my husband, I invoke…who else? Good old Dad. A man who has six kids and is still married has got to carry more weight than my own.

So it is that I believe a person’s name, nea…very aura and image, can be used to a fruitful and positive end.

These times include weaning someone away from chocolate: 

“If you keep them away from chocolate in the first four years of their life, they won’t ever want it.”

So said my sister-in-law (the nutritionist), before I had my daughters. She was raising the first two of her four kids, and I locked the bit of wisdom away for a decade, opening the drawer and applying it to my daughter when the time finally came. Guess what? It worked! She doesn’t really like sweets. Beyond this tidbit, I’ve invoked her name on all sorts of things she’s said. Beyond coming off as nice to impart some good advice, I have the added benefit of having a cool, informed in-law.

When you need to improve the happy factor in your married life:

“If it takes five minutes, don’t complain, just do it. What does it hurt?”

From dear old’ Dad, when referring to my husband and his, er, requests. ’nuff said. Like the aforementioned advice, I have replayed this to other women, much to their spouses’ happiness and delight. Dad is broadly known as the coolest, most informed 73-year-old out there. (Not much different than the man he was when I was a teen. Just a bit more ‘free’ with his info).

When you need an honest opinion:

“When you ask for a friend’s opinion and they down first before commenting on your outfit, don’t believe what they say. They are lying.”

From my fashionista sister, who, having vetted thousands of trendy-seeking customers, knows her stuff. On a side note, I’ve tested this out multiple times. It’s true. The exception? My husband. He looks me straight in the eye and tells me it’s ugly. That’s how I know he’s a keeper and my sister? I can use her name anytime I want. She, like the others, always come out looking like superstars, and that’s when it’s OK to take their name in vain.

Porcupines are people too

Like all two-legged land-dwelling creatures, I have a softer side underneath. You wouldn’t always know this, particularly if we were sitting across the table from one another, negotiating a licensing agreement or if you were to hear me “discussing” my water will with the service manager. In fact, like the white under belly of a porcupine, my softer side is often disguised by layers of pricks, sharpened by financial tsunami’s, breakups with boyfriends and other humiliating experiences, each one of which lends itself to an increased potency of verbal barbs, that, when used, give the unsuspecting a severe, emotional

How to Hug a Porcupine: Dealing With Toxic & Difficult to Love Personalities

laceration.

“You need to read ‘How to Hug a Porcupine,” my mother casually suggested. I should have known better. She’s a therapist. Of course it had a double meaning. But I was being dense. I thought she was referring to improving my relationship with my husband, who I’ve always considered a bit…rough around the emotional edges. “You might really like it,” she said smoothly. “It helped with your dad.” That was it. Amazon confirmed my rush order later that night.

When I got it, I resolved to read it page by page with Roger, thereby saving the big reveal for the two of us. Secretly, I was hoping he’d make evident his emotional vulnerability as we read about his emotional issues. How little did I know.

The sub-title of this book is “Dealing with Toxic and Difficult to Love Personalities,” I might say, and the definition of a toxic personality is thus:
A toxic behavior is any word, deed, or action which detracts from you being your best self or hinders others from becoming their best selves.”

The next paragraph basically says many toxic personalities are well-meaning. They “sincerely believe that are acting in a loving way and that the end justifies the means.” The trite phrases of “I’m doing this for your own good,” or “you will thank me later,” are really demeaning, criticizing etc. The difference between toxic and nontoxic behavior is in the approach. How they deal with the negative is the issue. The manner in which they treat others defines them as toxic.

I waited until Rog and I were in the car for a four-hour drive to a weekend destination when I whipped out the book and started to read up to page 7. He laughed at the title, smirked at the definition of toxic, and became completely silent by the time the attitudes and behaviors of toxic people are listed. I read 58 characteristic descriptions. During the exercise, I marked those I felt he had, but was surprised when he wanted to join in the conversation.

“You have a number of these as well.” Me? What the…This wasn’t about me. How could I be toxic?

When it was over, we had 16 between us, almost evenly split. Generally speaking, he owned his characteristics while I was offended and immediately went in defense mode. I mean, he’s the one who has trained me to debate and play the devil’s advocate on everything, particularly household expenditures  that I believe are necessary and he believes are discretionary (working outdoor lights to keep away predators, as an example). “What?” he said, a bit surprised at my attitude. “You didn’t think you are a bit prickly on the outside?” This was akin to hearing his pot calling my kettle black, but I kept my mouth shut.

Needless to say, we both enjoyed the following chapters on the differences between a porcupine and a muskrat (how’s that for a visual. Honey, you being such a muskrat today)….the chapter on raising little porcupines (manipulating beasts), plucking quills on a porcupine (e.g. making the softer), putting on the armor (keeping yourself healthy with toxic personalities, entering the home of a porcupine (an relative or friend w/undesirable traits) and so forth.

In fact, each chapter is so laden with real life (e.g. true) examples, step by step how-to’s for dealing with difficult personalities, I found myself wanting to get or recommend the book to everyone I know. For the truth is we all come in to contact with toxic personalities, in the workplace, friendships, church or on the street. Being armed with the tips is like putting together a the perfect offense required to win the game as opposed to the stress of memorizing defensive plays.

Oh, and lest I forget, a very lengthy chapter is devoted to “what if I’m a porcupine.” The equivalent of joining AA. “I’m Sarah, and I”m a porcupine.” After all, recognition is the first step. Of course, I’ll follow that up with ‘but at least I’m not like that skunk over there. He stinks.” Oops. I guess I missed page 163, the section on ‘positive communication skills.’

Lucia’s Smile

Oftentimes a weekend will go by without a high or low of note, and it’s not until later that I’ll reflect on a instance that sticks out like a snow cone at Disneyland on that hot, summer day when I was 12.
It was my recent interaction with Lucia, a woman of Latin American decent, who stands a bit taller than the eggshell colored counter she works behind at my favorite dry cleaner. For thirteen years, her dark, elbow-length hair has swayed across her shoulders as she whirls to lift my clothes from the moving rack, her round frame squished in to skin-tight, solid size ten jeans, atop three-inch heels that cause me to wonder if she’s not a vertical eight-wonder of the world. And when she hands me the pen to sign the credit card slip, it’s invariable held between ornately airbrushed nails that are half the length of her fingers. Those are the physical characteristics of Lucia, which are now as normal to me as my own skin and hair.
But this isn’t what I remembered. It was the smile. Her wide, open-mouthed grin, revealing the crooked from tooth that somehow doesn’t detract from her looks, the crinkling at the corner of her eyes created by the muscles under her skin, pushed from from the smile itself. These too add to her jolly countenance, like the pictures of Santa Clause as he puts the cookie in his mouth. Lucia’s smile is always accompanied with a question about my children and followed up with another comment on the beauty of the weather, the day or some other subject that she’s infused with her inner joy. All this, despite her 13 year, 29 mile commute to and from inner Seattle, leaving her 2 daughters (now 11 and 9), to make a living and deal with (happy) people like me. 
Lucia’s smile, 2 times a week, 52 weeks a year, over 100 times a year. In 13 years, that’s well over a thousand interactions. Not once has her mouth been turned down at the corners, her eyebrows furrowed or her pants loose. I love consistency, and I love Lucia. She’s my idol. I can barely remain overjoyed and happy for eight hours. A week? Fat chance. Yet when I’m around Lucia, I can’t respond to even her most benign comments without feeling like a happier person, in a better mood because she has touched me with a bit of her light.
Today I’ve resolved to make a Monday resolution (for New Year’s is long past) to be more like Lucia, and channel my inner happy self. I know at least two times a week I’m sure to reflect the light of Lucia, and that’s when I’m in her presence.

A Father’s Valentine

I’m seeing red. With the upcoming holiday that is represented by all things hearts, I’ve been remembering my father’s best Valentine’s gift to me.

It’s never too soon or late to start
your PPIs (and ps. works w/boys just as well)

“I’ve not been so good lately,” he said to me, one Friday night when I was about thirteen. “I’m going to get better.” Being the standard 13 year old that I was, his comment blew right past me. He was a fine dad. Not around so much, but then he worked. I got that. It was my job to be a surly, quiet and generally speaking, moody teenager going through puberty as best I could, all the while keeping my grades up, avoiding major mistakes with boys and pretending to like church when all I really wanted to do was sleep in on Sunday morning. “We’re going to start taking walks. Just you and me.”

Thus commenced what Dad referred to as our PPI. Our  Personal, Private Interviews. I’ll never know where this name came from, nor what the whole Interview thing stands for. It didn’t matter. What I got was an hour of walking through the back forty, down our driveway, on the dirt road for an hour, once a week. No phone. No business. Just us. Yes, it was awkward at first. We had nothing to say to one another. It took a few weeks and then the conversation started to get easier, the silences shorter. Soon enough, I found there was no question I’d asked he wouldn’t answer, and that dad had plenty of opinions he’d never shared with me before.

I was reminded of this a few days ago, during nature’s version of a PPI. No Internet. No power. The irritating, glorious silence, interrupted by my husband’s shouting at the cat for using our carpet as a toilet, the two feet of snow outside was not his ideal toilet. We needed an intervention.

“Let’s call a family council,” I suggested. The year Dad invoked the PPI, my parents also started the family council. If you aren’t familiar with the term, I’ve realized it was our parents way of avoiding a 1×1 argument, by bringing a hard to deal with topic to “the family,” e.g. the children. Rather than Rog and I hashing it out over what to do with Remus (aka Fats), we’d talk it over with the kids, mulling the pros and cons of keeping or kicking out the cat.

“Why bother?” Rog asked, identifying he’d lose council vote before we ever started the discussion.

“Because someday we are going to have serious issues like moving or school changes and we should get in the habit now,” I told him. “And while we’re at it, have you ever heard of a PPI?”

Rog hadn’t, but he loved the idea. One on one with his daughter, providing guidance, a listening ear or real world information all rolled in to one. “Want to start this Valentine’s?” I asked him. He readily agreed. I figure if he catches her at 6 instead of 13, that’s 7 more years of dedicated weekly-father daughter time. I think that’s the best Valentine’s gift a man can give.

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