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My dad was a good man. He was born into the same poverty that many were in his day, but hard work with little reward went a long way in building a strong back and stubborn will in my father. I always remember his pride. No matter how little we had, he was proud to have it and proud to have us. Pride isn’t always the bad thing people make it out to be. I never remember a time that he was ashamed.
I think I was sent to my dad as a test of his patience. His polar opposite, I hated being outdoors and took little joy in the things he loved. To me, hunting meant a lot of walking through the woods and then sitting on the trunk of a felled tree and then more walking. Fishing was sitting, but sitting outside and near water and with a messy, dripping thing you kept dropping in and out of the water.
Video games, that was my forte. My dad would have rather me been out playing ball, or fishing, or pretty much anything rather than sitting in the den with a Nintendo controller fused to my palms. Still, he loved me enough to allow it.
He always provided for us, and I think that is what sticks out the most in my mind. As I think back across my childhood, I mostly remember him working. Coming home, coated in a powdering of grain dust, he’d peel his overalls off at the front door and hang them on the wall, and then head to his recliner where he’d sit and sometimes nap for an hour or two.
During harvest season, he would work twelve hour shifts, sometimes longer. He’d work long into the night, and come home for a couple of hours sleep before dragging himself up by his bootstraps and heading out again. Seven days a week.
Dad liked to fish. I remember runs in the old flat-bottom boat, his hands tracing the string of a trotline baited for catfish and the wonder I felt watching as each hook, one by one, emerged from the muddy water. And the summers spent on the sand bar, my parents fishing from the bank and my brother and me out waist-deep in the river.
We didn’t always get along, my dad and me. In fact, there were years that we got along less than we didn’t. I only had myself to blame — I was too much like him when it came to the stubbornness. I didn’t want to do things with him, and he couldn’t wrap his head around the things that I liked and we collided like bull rams, butting heads at every juncture.
We never understood each other. It was like members of two nationalities, speaking two languages, trying to work out a dichotomy amongst ourselves.
He knew how he was raised. The hardship, the labor, the work, the poverty, and he never wanted my brother or me to face the same challenges.
So, he carried all that hardship into adulthood and fatherhood, wearing his work-wearied hands and sun-blotted skin like a badge of honor. And, what an honor. Thinking back, I’m certain there were a ton of whippings that life showed up to give me. He took them all, and in stride. There was always heat in the winter, cool air in the summer, and we never went hungry.
I learned a lot from my dad. Practical things, like hanging doors and basic plumbing and rudimentary car maintenance. He taught me how to clean a fish, and how to fire a gun and bait a hook. But, with all of what the man taught me, his actions taught the biggest lessons.
Whether he was sick, tired, or hurt, he went to work. He rarely complained, and he often took care of others before himself. He never took a dime from anyone just for helping. Whether he was sharpening a lawn mower blade for a neighbor or trimming their hedges, he did it because it was the thing to do and not because he expected anything in return.
He loved my mom, and was always good to her — even at times when she wasn’t a good wife. He was proud of his sons, and proud of what he had, but he never boasted and he was the last to say he had the best of anything. He was fair. And, no matter how little he had he’d always share with someone else.
My dad was a good man.
At eight-thirty this morning, March 4, 2017, my mother called to tell me the news. My father passed away. After a short battle, cancer took its toll, and dad simply ran out of fight.
We may have never been as close as some sons and fathers, but I always loved my dad. I always appreciated the things he did and the sacrifices he made for our family, and I’ve taken those unspoken lessons with me into adulthood.
Clarence B Kelland said it best: “My father didn’t tell me how to live. He lived, and let me watch him do it.”
It’s been one full year since I last saw my daughter. The day my divorce was final was the same day my visitation began. Visitation, like I’m a prisoner and she gets to see me. Me, behind bars set in place by family court. Her, looking through a window at her father. Visiting hours as seen through a pane of glass. More like a pain in my ass. Visitation.
A full year. So many things happen in a year. The last night I had her I tucked her into bed with a song and the promise of church the next morning. She liked church.
She’s grown since them, I’m sure. Those Hello Kitty footsy pajamas won’t fit by now. Has she grown tired of the Llama Llama, Red Pajama book yet? Does she still love watching Little Einsteins? I remember pushing her in her swing, singing for her. “We’re going on a trip in our favorite rocket ship.”
She told me I was pushing her ship to the moon.
I think we would hold on to moments longer if we knew the eventuality of things.
When we separated, my ex took our daughter with her. Along with my ex mother-in-law, they found a two-bit attorney to draw up a hackneyed “divorce settlement agreement.” It was to become the divorce decree upon finalization, but served as a contract pre-divorce. I was told at that point that if I didn’t sign, they would make it so I never saw Hannah again.
Friends, my therapist, family, even other attorneys all said “what can she possibly do? The court will make sure you get to see your daughter.”
I signed. Out of fear. That, and the fact that I was promised a visit with my daughter if I signed. At this point, we had been separated for a month and I had been denied any contact with Hannah.
There were other factors as well. Our income tax return dropped in my ex’s bank account and I was dependent on them to provide my half of it. They said I would get the money when I signed the papers.
And after I signed, I tried for the visit with my daughter I was promised. I was told “wait until the paperwork is finalized and then you can see her.” And then, my ex offered to let me have a visit with my daughter but only if the ex could stay the night, too. I opted against that.
Prior to the paperwork fiasco, my ex had offered to bring Hannah to see me on the stipulation that we would have sex. She begged. Her plan was to put the baby gate in the hallway and have sex in the bedroom while Hannah watched cartoons. I refused. That was the last time she was in my house save returning to remove nearly every item from my home — including the curtains.
I didn’t mind the stuff being gone. I missed my daughter. But the abuse my ex had put me through for the past few years was over. Along with that stuff, I lost a huge weight from my chest. But, nature abhors a vacuum, and the grief of being without my daughter slipped in to fill the void.
I remember the afternoon I found out the divorce was final. I phoned my ex’s attorney, because there was nothing in those atrocious papers that indicated when visitation was to start. There was some back-and-forth before the attorney called and said the visitation would start that night, on the stipulation I not have Hannah around any other adults.
I can have visitation, but only if I agree not to have Hannah around any other adults.
I took the offer. For what it was worth, I wanted to see my daughter.
The visitation went well. Hannah was excited to see me, and I to see her. We were both sad when I dropped her back with her mother on Sunday evening, but I made sure she knew she would see me again in two weeks.
Sunday night I went to sleep satisfied that I had gotten to see her, content that things might stabilize to normal.
Monday afternoon the silver bullet hit. Not fired from a gun, but through a phone call. Until that afternoon, an unknown number wasn’t something I worried about. But when the voice on the other end of the line introduces themselves as being with the Crimes against Children Division you suddenly realize the grave weight of the situation. And there you have it. The answer to all of those “what could she possibly do to keep your child from you?” people. She could use the silver bullet.
The investigator was congenial enough.
Did I want to know what the allegations were?
Yes, of course.
Could I meet the following morning at nine-thirty to answer questions?
Sure, can do.
I called in to work, explained in earnest the situation, and went to sheriff’s department, my heart in my throat.
I was meeting with two investigators. The first was with the Crimes against Children’s Division, while the other was with the Sheriff’s Department. They mirandized me, but made sure I understood I wasn’t under arrest. They questioned me, the tape recorders rolling. I had no problem answering their inquiries.
Had I ever touched my daughter’s vagina for sexual pleasure?
Had my daughter ever seen my penis?
Had my daughter ever seen me urinate?
Not that I know of.
Did I force my daughter to touch my penis?
Of course, not.
I left with a handshake and a promise that a polygraph exam would be scheduled.
It was. I passed.
The examiner was a retired State Police officer. After the exam, I was in his office waiting, and he came in beaming. “Well, you passed. But I was pretty sure you were going to anyway, based on our pre-exam interview.” It must mean something when the polygraph examiner finds you to be “extremely honest.”
That should have been it. The State Police investigator filed her report. DHS dropped their case against me. The Ex Parte was lifted. That should have been it, but it wasn’t.
The same day the Ex Parte was lifted by the court, my ex hired an attorney who filed a new Ex Parte, using the same information as the first one. They failed to show that the case had been dropped or that the investigators involved had deemed the allegations unfounded.
By this point, three months had passed since the divorce was finalized. It would be another month before a hearing was scheduled. The details aren’t important from that point. Suffice it to say, the judge ordered supervised visitation. That was eight months ago. My ex hasn’t allowed a single visit to occur. And I’m still waiting for a response on a contempt motion that was filed six months ago.
The silver bullet, that’s what they call it. For good reason. It doesn’t matter how loving a father you are. How dutiful you were as a husband. How many abuses you suffered at the hands of your ex. How many hours you worked to put food on the table for an ungrateful mother-in-law, who tucked her knees under the dinner you cooked night after night with nothing but complaint on her lips.
None of that matters with the silver bullet. It’s easy. It’s free. It’s effective. Accuracy isn’t important.
The silver bullet. Even when it doesn’t kill, it cripples.
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We lived poor, my ex-wife and me. I should say, my wife, her mother and me. There were three of us in the household. Three grown adults, with three hungry mouths and three backs to clothe and three pairs of feet to shoe. Three gaping chasms of requirement, and only one pay check. I broke my back so that we could break bread.
And then, our daughter was born. With all the good things Hannah added to my life, she also added need and hunger. A warm, living need that loved and grew and yearned, the brunt of which I felt heavy on my shoulders. I drew my back straight against the load and shoved on.
I became a servant. More than that. Caring for the lawn. Housework. Caring for Hannah. Then there was the job. Ten hours a day, fifty hours a week. Extra in the evenings working for cash. All the while, my ex-wife resented me for the time I was away. Neil Gaiman said that Hell is something we carry around with us. I carried guts full of it in those days.
The work I did for the women was never enough. Floors weren’t swept clean enough. They could always find a spot of tall grass on the five acres after I mowed. Though I tended to most of Hannah’s care, they rarely agreed with my methods.
Problems came, each more daunting than the last. Dropped on me one after another. For each one settled, a new emerged. They fell against my head and swiped against my neck. Still, I managed to continue. Alone in a crowded house.
I told myself that failure wasn’t an option. Promised the sky and the walls and the steering wheel of my car on the drive to work that the one thing I would never do is fail. Failure. Wasn’t. An. Option.
Aside from that Hell I was carrying around with me, there was a Hell in the home as well. I didn’t always see it when it was happening, but with counseling and rather deep soul searching, I slowly saw the truth: My wife was abusive.
Emotionally, verbally, physically.
The burden of strength is this: men aren’t supposed to be abuse victims. Especially at the hands of their wives. Men are the strong members of the marriage dichotomy, and for them to be subjected to victimhood somehow emasculates them. What’s more, a man is weak if he doesn’t provide for his family, suffer the slings and arrows of his wife and in-laws, tend to his chores, and still find time to spend hours alone with his spouse.
The abuse. The Hell of it all. The long nights and early mornings, the three A.M. bottle warmings while my unemployed wife slept through the night uninterrupted, the sleepless days at work because for hours before I held an inconsolable infant in my arms while her mother slept in the next room. I was going insane. Exhausted. Nearly broken. Still, the mantra played through my beat-down head. Failure. Is. Not. An. Option.
Until it had gone on too long. Until I was battle-weary, bashed against the reef and left afloat in a sea of loneliness, no shore in sight.
Suddenly, failure seemed eminent. But, after so much time invested. So much scar tissue. And Hannah. Even knowing what had to be done, I was left with the burning question:
How do you fail, when failure isn’t an option?
Failing is a lot like falling. It’s not something you do. It’s something that happens to you. Failing — or falling — says little about a person. It’s what you choose to do next that defines you.
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Day jobs are double-edged swords. With my day job, I can pay bills and contribute to the household. But the day job sucks me dry of my creativity. It bleeds me of my energy and gobbles up a large chunk of my waking life. I do not like having to have a day job.
But, my writing squeezes itself in when it can. The writing invades my working life as brief tidbits of story, plot, and character development that bounce around in my little head all day. This often moves the work day along at a decent pace.
My day job is NOT fun. I work in a facility that processes large chunks of rock into stone products — in particular, stone products for sharpening knives. We cut the stones with automated machinery, using oil as a cutting coolant. At the end of each ten-hour day, I am drenched in it. My skin is greasy, my pores filled and brimming with the stuff, and I’m dead tired to boot.
Not just a standard physical tired. The level of planning, the attention to detail, the sheer amount of technical decision making required leaves me mentally drained. This is before you factor in the people problems, the poor planning and execution on the company’s part, and the fact that the company lacks certain benefits such as paid leave for illness.
This is the point where I would feel remiss if I did not express the fact that I would never intentionally slander the company I work for nor my direct supervisor. However, this blog is about honesty and it’s my personal page, therefore I feel I can discourse with candor regarding my feelings about my day job. I am writing with full knowledge of the risk associated.
Three weeks ago, my direct supervisor came to work with a severe cold. I’m talking, chest-rattling, eye-gushing, nose-fountain cold. My supervisor, who has on multiple occasions requested that any employee infected with a contagious disease stay home for the day, decided that he would work through the duration of his illness. After working in proximity of this spewing geyser of sick, I came down with the same cold.
Flash forward one week. Monday, and I’m down with it bad. Snot running, eyes pouring, muscle pain, fatigue. I’ve been sick before, but this one took the cake. I dragged myself to work by my bootstraps. My ears were roaring and full of fluid. I did NOT want to be there.
I persevered until three. Nine hours. My feet ached. My nose resembled raw hamburger meat, my head clamped in some invisible vise. Enough fun for one day. I notified my supervisor and left.
The following morning I hadn’t improved, and I called in sick. Mind you, we have no paid sick leave and so we must decide to use vacation hours or have a short check. I chose the short check. I returned to work on Wednesday, still feeling ill but managing with the help of Dayquil to finish the week out. A LOT of Dayquil.
I’ll be honest. I was pissed. More than pissed. At this point in the story, I feel that “my supervisor” is getting repetitive. For obvious reasons, I can’t use his real name so let’s see. How about Dingleberry McTurdboggin? Yes, that’s fitting. I was pissed at Mr. McTurdboggin. After all, his standing policy has been “If you’re sick, don’t bring it up here.”
That’s wonderful, Mr. McTurdboggin, if you follow your own advice. Did I mention I was pissed? The man infected several employees! To top it off, he complained about the number of absences due to illness the following week. I digress.
Flash forward one more week. Monday. I’m feeling great, no more illness. But that stinging anger still had its searing finger right in the middle of my chest. I didn’t realize how angry I was at Mr. McTurdboggin until then. Sure, it was immature of me, but I gave the man the cold shoulder most of the day. To top it off, he berated me with pointless nagging criticisms of some of my work. Things that would have otherwise been overlooked. This exacerbated my irritation.
Monday passed — finally — and Tuesday rolled in. More cold shoulder. More anger. More irritation. More unnecessary nagging. Tuesday afternoon, and twenty minutes before quitting time, Mr. McTurdboggin lets me know we need to have a meeting in the office.
After seven years without as much as a disciplinary warning, and Tuesday afternoon I received a formal write-up. I was floored. Now, before you say “But Joe, you were being an ass. You most likely deserved the write-up,” let me say this; The write-up was for having a disorganized work area. During the meeting, my supervisor acknowledged the work area looked good and had improved over the past few weeks, and he went as far as admitting that his own work area needed as much attention or improvement.
The part of the story I have yet to mention is that three weeks prior (remember when my supervisor spent the week sick at work and served as patient zero in distributing a horrifying plague of snot and tears?) I submitted a formal request on behalf of myself and my coworkers. It stated the desire for an earnest consideration of adding a paid sick leave policy.
So, here’s the timeline. Three weeks ago, I submitted a formal request for paid sick leave. The same week, Mr. Dingleberry McTurdboggin was ill, and infected myself and a few other employees. Two weeks ago, I missed eleven hours due to illness. Last week, I received a write-up for having a disorganized work space.
To quote Hamlet (something I do seldom) “There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark.”
Returning to my beginning thought: Day jobs are double-edged swords. No, not a sword at all. Swords put a quick end to your suffering. Day jobs are crushing things. My day job is a rock. And working on my craft, trying to build an interested readership, attempting to make an honest run at surviving on just my writing? That’s a hard place to be.
Those are my thoughts for the day. Stuck here, between a soul-crushing rock, and a dream-squelching hard place.
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I’m writing a novel. That is, when I’m not working my day job or adding to the blog. My priority, however, is my family. My beautiful fiancé. She’s this amazing woman who is my dawn, she is my dusk and her love is my everything in between. She works hours that most people can’t fathom working, and few people realize the time and labor that she puts in to her business. She owns a bakery, which may be the most amazing bakery in the entire world! Well, perhaps that’s a bit of hyperbole, but quality workmanship the likes of which she puts out the door is rare in today’s age, regardless of the industry.
And then, there’s this amazing boy. Her son. There’s never a time that I’m around him that he doesn’t make me smile, and most of the time I’m full-out laughing. His view of the world is so amazing. It opens my eyes to new perspectives daily, which is saying something for a man who once thought he had all the answers.
So, mother and son, and a plethora of friends who have inherited me, so to speak. After my divorce, it was more the adoption of a rescue pet than anything else, but regardless as to the what, the why is because they are all amazing, loving people.
I’m certain that this blog will often return to posts regarding my past. Times that shaped me — the way a hammer shapes metal, but without the control and temper of forged steel. My past has been one tumble down a rock-strewn hill engulfed in wildfire after another. Ugly, vulgar, and mean.
That’s what started me blogging in the first place. The ugliness of things. The world in the shadows that we veneer over with a thin layer of denial, glued with the adhesive of embarrassment. After all, who wants to tell the world their uncle Marty touched them inappropriately?
The blog is about the ugliness I survived. I can only discuss it openly because I have found the beautiful I can’t live without.
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