Category Archives: Parenting

The Heartache of Being Half a World Away From My Family

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Photo by Topaz

Military families know all about this: It’s hard being away from family for long periods of time.

Although I’m not military, I work for the government which requires me to be deployed to remote areas for anywhere from six to twelve months.

My main heartache comes from missing my two sons, ages 13 and 11. I get a lot of benefits for volunteering for deployment, but it’s still really difficult to miss one of my son’s birthdays, to miss their summer vacation when they go with my wife to the beach or water park, and other occasions.

It’s just plain difficult not being able to see them while they’re still young.

A previous supervisor (who I hated) told me once that I should stop working volunteer overtime and go home to my kids because “they’re only young once.”

There is so much truth in that. Earlier this year I missed my oldest son’s birthday. Ever since he turned 3, he has always wanted to celebrate his birthday at a restaurant called Rainforest Cafe. We have continued that tradition up to now, except for the first time in 11 years, I wasn’t there at the festive table in the middle of mechanical jungle animals that come alive ever so often.

And later this year, my youngest, my little baby, will turn 12. 12 years old! I can’t believe it. I won’t be there for that as well.

I won’t see their first day of school; my youngest will start middle school this upcoming school year.

And, most of all, I will be breaking a promise I made to them before I left for the Middle East: I won’t be able to take them to grandma’s house for Christmas. It’s the highlight of their year.

I won’t be there to watch the final installment of the Skywalker saga, Star Wars Episode IX. This has been a family tradition ever since my mom took my sister and me to the therater to see the original (Episode IV) back in 1977.

I know it sounds weird, but I was looking forward to coming full circle and seeing Episode IX with my mom and my sons, especially my oldest who has become a Star Wars fanatic.

But none of that will happen, either.

Being in the middle of the desert, stuck on a fortified military compound (I’m still able to see the local sights; it’s just hard to get clearance, and it’s a challenge to actually get off the compound) has given me lots of time to think.

I spend my free time exercising: going to the base gym or walking laps around the compound in 110-115 F (43-46 C) heat. On weekends I’ll grab a “battle buddy” and we’ll go into the local city for shopping, going out to eat, and just enjoying the freedom to move around that the compound doesn’t offer.

Before I was deployed, my psychiatrist took me off everything except Xanax and Quetiapine. They don’t help much when I’m feeling down, though. For the most part they make me feel tired and groggy. That’s why I’m trying to exercise daily: to make up for my lack of effective medication. I’m getting by.

All I can say is thank God for Netflix. I don’t know what I’d do without it in the evenings.

My wife’s birthday was recently, and I was able to get her present in the mail weeks ago so that it would arrive on time. It was fun imagining her opening the box and seeing the gift that I bought for her over here.

This may be my last deployment. As a civilian, I have the luxury of volunteering. The money is pretty good, but at my age (and at my kids’ age), is it really worth it? I mean, it’s true. They’re only young once, and I’m missing out on some great times in their lives.

I guess the true test will be to ask myself 10 years from now: Was it worth earning a few extra thousand dollars while missing precious time in my children’s youth? Was it really worth breaking my promise by staying overseas instead of spending my family’s favorite holiday away from them?

I’ve read many studies where senior citizens on their deathbeds list things that they regret. Usually at the top of every list is regretting not spending more time with family. I think we can really learn from this.

My wife has a friend whose husband spends years at a time in Eastern Europe working for a contractor because he’s raking in tens of thousands of extra dollars per year. However, he has two daughters that he never sees.

They have gotten to the point where they’ve become numb to it; they prefer him staying there and sending all that money home. The girls seem like they’ve lost connection with their father. To me, that’s very sad. But that’s them. It’s their choice.

Speaking of Netflix, I really like a series called Black Mirror. There’s a melancholy song that is recurring throughout the series. It sort of sums up my mood. It even makes me feel better after listening to it, like I’m not the only one going through hard times. Click here to listen: Irma Thomas – Anyone Who Knows What Love Is

Stay cool.

~t


Advice to My Son, the Future Soccer Pro

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I’m back in the Middle East for my job. Before I left home, I wrote a “book” for my youngest son who is really into soccer (football). It’s a book where each page is one piece of advice on how to become a pro and how to do your best to achieve your goals.

It all started when he told me that he wanted to be a pro football player someday. The kid has talent. He’s the best player on his team, and it’s in a league where he is playing against 15 year olds. My son is only 11 by the way.

Did I mention that he is obsessed with Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus?

I started giving him little nuggets of advice because I want him to go pro. What parent doesn’t want their child to be a professional athlete? I realized I was giving him so much advice that I decided I would write it all down to remember. Then I realized that if I had enough nuggets of dad-wisdom, I could print it out and bind it for him. I even made a cover for the “book.” It’s the image above of Cristiano as a badass.

Some of my advice in the book:

Don’t let anyone get in your head. Once you do, it’s all over.

Being a pro is 90% mental and 10% physical.

Always ask yourself: What would (Cristiano) Ronaldo do?

Live to fight another day. Is your game off? Live to fight another day. Your team lost? Live to fight another day. Don’t lose hope or give up.

I used the Notes app on my iPhone to record my little nuggets. While I’m watching my son in a game or practicing, a line of inspirational advice will come to me. I type it in my Notes and save it, sharing it with my son at a later time.

Someday, after I think of enough quotes, I’d like to find a publisher and put it out there in the world to inspire other kids. If I have to self-publish, then so be it.

What’s cool is that my advice can be applied to anyone in any situation like Sun Tzu’s Art of War.

It has really boosted my self-esteem and self-confidence. I go back and read the book full of my very own quotes (I don’t steal or rip off anyone else), and I feel proud of myself. I feel like a successful father helping his son achieve his dream.

I told my son that while I’m on the other side of the world for six months, I want him to read my book of quotes before every game. I told him it would be like daddy is right there with him, urging him on proudly.

~t

 


Sunday Musings: Hurting My Children

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  • I leave for the Middle East in four days. I will be gone for most of next year.
  • I was in a road rage incident with my two sons yesterday. My 12 year old was begging me to stop, but I didn’t listen to him. I didn’t stop until I rammed into the car that had made me angry. The police came, and I was in trouble. Luckily it won’t affect my business trip.
  • This is not how I wanted my kids to remember me. My oldest isn’t even talking to me.
  • Today is the fourth Sunday in Advent. I went to Mass to beg God’s forgiveness. The four Advent candles were lit in front of the altar, reminding me that God’s forgiveness is complete.
  • I tried to make sense of the readings. Hebrews 10:5-10 says Jesus overcame the power of evil that separates us from God. He became our bridge back to God when we fall into evil.
  • I got up and left before communion. I couldn’t stand it anymore. On my way out, I prayed in front of the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe. She was looking down at me as I asked her to pray for my forgiveness. I touched her cloak before I got up and left.
  • I can’t forgive myself.

~t


Movie: The Road Within

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I just discovered this movie on Netflix. As I always say, I don’t get out too often, so most of you may have already seen this film. Not only do I like indie films, but I especially keep an eye out for ones that explore aspects of mental illness.

This particular film caught my eye because it qualifies as:

  1. a “buddy flick” – and I love those, and
  2. a movie dealing with characters who suffer from some sort of metal illness.

The Road Within is about three young people who don’t know each other, but they all escape from the same wellness center (I’m trying not to use ‘psych ward’). The main character, Vincent, suffers from Tourette syndrome; Marie is anorexic; and Alex, who they pick up at the last minute, has severe OCD. So severe that he constantly wears latex gloves and opens and shuts car doors exactly five times before entering.

They steal/borrow Vincent’s father’s Mercedes and head for the coast to spread Vincent’s mom’s ashes. Along the way they encounter adventures and moments of self-discovery and heartfelt sharing.

It’s not the typical buddy-movie formula: these characters are deep and they’re hurting. They just want and need some help and someone to love and understand them.

I didn’t realize this before watching the movie, but I didn’t know that anorexia was a disease of the mind. I was ignorant like most people probably are.

Alex tells his new friends that his OCD keeps him trapped inside a world of rituals that he cannot escape. He even pays a gas station attendant to chase him out of the store to make it look like Alex ran away without paying. He later confesses to his friends that he did this “to look cool” and to feel normal for a change.

Vincent explains that his Tourette syndrome is like a sneeze: you can’t stop the tics and outbursts of vulgarity no matter how hard you try.

One moving scene in the film shows Vincent’s dad confessing to the boy’s therapist where he went wrong:

It’s awful to say, but I was embarrassed by him… I wanted a different boy. And he knew it. He could see it on my face.

This film doesn’t offer any answers or self-help advice. It’s just a movie about three individuals who are not like the majority of society and how they learn to cope with and eventually rely on each other. I highly recommend it.

~t


How (I Think) I Ruined Easter for my Kids

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twiniversity.com

It was a day that my wife and I had been preparing for. Easter morning. Our two sons, both on the brink of still believing in the Easter Bunny, awoke at 7:00 am to search for their baskets.

Let me backtrack a bit. Friday night, I took a full dose of an antipsychotic drug that my doctor had prescribed. I had held off on taking it due to its potency (even after cutting it into fourths).

As a result, I awoke on Saturday morning as a zombie, not able to get out of bed or form a coherent thought. It also happened to be the morning that we were supposed to go to the animal shelter so the kids could walk and play with their favorite dog, Bee. It was their second time to walk Bee. She saw my boys approaching and became so excited, jumping up and down inside the cramped kennel.

See, I was supposed to go with them on Saturday, but due to my medication, I had to cancel that morning. My youngest son, who is 8, came to my bed. “Daddy, are you coming?” It was nearing the time that we were due to leave. “No, buddy. Daddy’s not feeling very good.”

My son sighed. “OK. Next time I guess.” And he and the rest of my family left. I remained in bed where I lay passed out from my drug-induced slumber.

The effects of the drugs were so great that they lingered on even into Easter morning. My heart was not into the tradition of watching the boys look for their Easter baskets that “the Easter Bunny” had hid the night before. When they finally found them, I was thinking about crashing in my bed and certainly not thinking about my kids’ joy in discovering their baskets and opening the toys inside.

I dragged myself to Mass that morning, not wanting to go because of the crowds; one of two days that the “C & E” (Christmas and Easter) Christians would attend, swelling the attendance and leaving the sanctuary standing-room only.

I hurried back home for the egg hunt that my wife and I always do for our kids. Reluctantly, I helped her to hide plastic eggs around the backyard, the whole time my head spinning around and focused only on the thought of my comfy bed.

Kids can tell. They know when something’s not right. Our kids, 8 and 10, wouldn’t let on that daddy’s heart just wasn’t in it; but they had fun, and my wife made up for it.

Afterwards, my sons wanted to hide eggs for my wife and me to look for. At this point I flat-out refused. My wife talked me into in (in front of my sons, I might add). I went through the motions, forcing smiles and filling my own basket with plastic eggs.

Finally it was over. I immediately went back to bed and tried desperately to sleep off the meds. I was awakened at dinnertime, the whole day pretty much gone.

Here it is Monday morning, and my heart aches for my two sons. They seemed to have fun, but their daddy didn’t display the interest that he normally does.

Yesterday is gone. I can’t get it back. My sons are getting old enough to remember things like this. Their days of innocence when they didn’t realize what a jerk I was have come to an abrupt halt.

If only I could make it up to them. I want to blame the damn pills, but it was my decision to ingest them Friday night. It was for a good reason, I keep telling myself. But at what cost? My sons’ 2016 Easter is now a memory, and I wasn’t at the top of my game.

As my boss says when I linger in the office too long after class: “Your kids aren’t young forever. Go home.”

Try harder next time, I tell myself. That’s all I can do.

~t


Divorce and Marriage: Things Missed and Things Taken for Granted

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Source Unknown

My sister posted this on her social media account recently. It speaks for itself and needs no introduction:

 

As the one year anniversary of my divorce is approaching, I’ve made a list of things that I miss and that were taken for granted while being married (beware: it’s a long list). I’ve become an even stronger person and I’m doing great at handling everything. I’m Supermom. smile emoticon

-Having someone give me their honest opinion about anything.
-Having a date for every function.
-Family nights.
-Going to dinner somewhere other than McDonalds.
-Sending out Christmas cards from the four of us.
-Knowing certain little things/quirks about him that no else knows.
-Reminiscing about the 25 years we spent together.
-His friends and family.
-His sense of humor.
-Countless numbers of ‘inside jokes’.
-Being silly and immature together.
-The smell of his cologne.
-His back rubs.
-Having an adult conversation with someone in the house.
-Helping the kids with homework while I do house chores.
-Our own language/lingo.
-Spending 7 days a week with my kids.
-Having someone to share my good and bad news with.
-His muscles to lift heavy objects and move furniture.
-When I’m sick or injured (I’m clumsy), having someone to run errands, make dinner,    take the kids to their activities and laundry.
-Knowing that I have someone to grow old with.
-Our family summer vacations.
-Having someone ask how my day was and hearing about his.
-The security of a two-income household.
-Both of us watching the kids open presents on Christmas.
-Decorating the Christmas tree and talking about the significance of each ornament.
-The kids having both of us together at their birthday parties.
-How easy it was to get things done and being a ‘team’.
-His health insurance.
-Having someone clean out the vacuum cleaner (ha ha).
-Having someone to help with car maintenance.
-Fixing things around the house.
-Helping me take care of the dogs and their vet appointments.
-Sitting down as a family at dinner and hearing about the kids’ day
-Sitting on the deck and drinking a beer on nice summer evenings
-And most of all: Missing him.

~t


Not-So-Holy Family

Wikimedia Commons

In the Catholic tradition, today is the Solemnity of the Holy Family. This morning at Mass, the homily really struck me; the Spirit called me higher in my own life: fatherhood, marriage, my responsibility as the head of the family, and so on.

During the homily and after, not once did I try and justify myself. Normally I would only pick and choose what to apply to my own situation, in my mind knowing that my wife is a non-believer and that’s why my kids are not being raised in the Catholic faith.

On the contrary.

Amen, I was saying to myself, listening to the points that were being driven home by the priest. I’m gonna start getting my kids involved in my parish. I’m gonna live out my faith to the very best of my ability so my wife will see the Holy Spirit in me.

All these are good things, right?

Well, before I even walked through the door after getting home from Mass, my wife blurted, “You need to fix the refrigerator ASAP. It’s not cooling properly. Call your brother.”

I always go to my younger brother for any handyman-related problem. A firefighter/paramedic, he has that manly “gift” that somehow bypassed me.

Before I called him, I took a drink of bottled water from the fridge. It seemed cold enough. Then I opened the freezer and took out one of those plastic bricks that substitutes for ice in our cooler when we go on picnics. “It looks like it’s working.”

That set my wife off the deep end.

So there I was in a yelling match with her while the kids were in the very next room playing. You’re really putting today’s homily into practice, I kept thinking to myself.

Without playing the blame game, let’s just say that I could have prevented the huge argument.

A heart check from God? Probably. It really sucks, though. What sucks most is that I haven’t seemed to learn anything from our 12+ years together.

Like the rock band Extreme lamented in the 90s: “Am I ever gonna change?”

~t