Fathers and Sons

Like a lot of men, my relationship with my father was somewhat complicated.  That’s not to say that it was bad good or indifferent, just complicated.  It was complicated further by his sudden death 11 years ago at the age of 63.  He went out fishing  one afternoon and died in his boat.  In a lot of ways it fit him.  He caught his limit, and then just slipped away, the pole still in his hand when the park ranger found him the next morning.

In some ways, his death was as closed to me as his life was.  My mom didn’t have an autopsy done, and so I don’t know why he died, just that he did.  We suspect a heart attack or massive stroke, given that he smoked, had high blood pressure, and I suspect sleep apnea.   All things that are or have been part of my life.

I think sons take after their fathers in any number of ways, some conscious and some unconscious.  I catch myself imitating some of his mannerisms.  His sighs when frustrated, his tendency to say “Well…” when disagreeing with someone, his love of wit, his love of puns.  I recited the same silly rhymes to my kids, have committed the same poems by Housman and Service to memory.

With rue my heart is laden
for golden friends I had,
for many a rose-lipt maiden
And many a lightfoot lad.

By brooks too broad for leaping
The lightfoot boys are laid;
The rose-lipt girls are sleeping
in fields where roses fade.

He had a strong sense of melancholy about him, my father.  Another thing I inherited from him, though I was finally able to come to terms with the fact that it was clinical depression, and not just simple moodiness.  Being able to accept that instead of trying to justify it was one of the most important breaks I made from my father’s legacy.

Dad was distant and judgmental much of the time, I think because he didn’t really know how to be an involved or supportive father, at least not the way I needed him to be.  But then I don’t think I was the son he needed me to be either.  I wasn’t much interested in hunting, though I greatly enjoyed fishing.  Stomping around in the woods didn’t appeal to me at all.  I never really found spectator sports all that interesting.  I was more interested in politics and ideas.  His tastes in reading ran to World War II histories and biographies.  Mine ran to science fiction and fantasy.  In a lot of ways we were strangers to each other.   Long after I moved away from home (or more accurately, home moved away from me) he told my mom he didn’t think I got anything from him, unaware that I was indeed his son in temperament, in my sense of my humor, my love of language.

None of this is to say I don’t think he loved me, and I know I loved him, but I think it was perhaps a love borne out of obligation rather than out of prioritizing his family above his own needs to be alone, to have time alone with his thoughts.  I am guilty of the same things, only I think I recognize it as something I want to change about myself.

I think it would be easy to try to blame him for everything that’s gone wrong in my life, my lifelong search for mentors to take his place, but I’m not like that.  There isn’t any reason to try to blame things on him when I’m perfectly capable of accepting responsibility for my own life.

Why Is Suffering a Virtue?

I’ve had to watch several of my family members (grandparents and elderly aunts) work their slow but meandering way toward the end of life.  The thing that struck me in all those cases is that often the desires of the patient for release from suffering is in direct contradiction to the doctor’s desire to keep trying.  I understand this urge, because I go through it myself, though I’m usually working on a computer and not something as messy and complicated as a human being.

I have lost count of the times that I have spent more hours than I ever had hope of getting paid for trying to remove a virus or diagnose a hardware problem.  There comes a point when it doesn’t matter that I’m losing money on the project, I just want to beat the problem.  I think doctors must have that exact same impulse.  It doesn’t matter how much agony the patient has to go through, they want to beat the disease.  I think there needs to be some consideration given to people having more control of their own lives when they know they are reaching the end.  I just read an article about an organization called Advanced Care Planning Decisions.  One of the neat ideas I thought really simplified the whole thing was the idea of discussing comfort as an equal consideration in deciding what to do in the process of dealing with disease, terminal or otherwise.  How much medical care gets inflicted on patients because they don’t know that they have a choice?

I’m not suggesting that we legalize euthanasia or start sending terminal people off to the Soylent Green factory (Soylent Green is People! for any young people who might be reading this, young in my mind being anyone south of 30) or setting up a board to decide whether someone should receive care to stay alive.  I do believe people need to be given the ability to choose between quality of life and quantity of life.  Given the choice of staying alive for 1o years in excruciating pain and 2 years with no pain at all, I think a lot of people would choose the latter, myself included.

I suspect the reason people don’t make that choice or even ask to make it is that humans are by and large a hopeful lot.  We have been given the ability to imagine things getting better, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that there is no hope.  I think what keeps people trying is that there might be the smallest chance of getting better.  I wonder if I wouldn’t keep trying just because I’d be afraid of someone finding a cure for whatever ails me the day after I kicked off.  I have that kind of luck.

Terrorism, Loneliness and where we go from here

Loneliness has always been a problem for me.  I’ve never felt particularly accepted in any group I’ve been part of, regardless of other’s efforts to the contrary.  My dad was the same way.  I think we both just preferred our own thoughts to having to figure out what other people were thinking or to feign interest when our mind was elsewhere.  Oddly enough I think a lot of people might have considered both of us extroverts in a lot of ways, though I think in both cases, it was as a defense mechanism rather than any innate desire to put ourselves out there.

In my darkest hours, I’ve never considered hurting anyone else because I felt isolated and alone.  I guess I’m not built that way.  But I can understand how someone more vulnerable to peer pressure or the influence of other people might be pushed to doing something horrible.  In looking at the horrible events of the past few weeks and months (Aurora, Sandy Hook, Boston) I don’t see a political problem, I see a cultural problem.  We have become so isolated from each other that it just becomes much easier to lose track of our collective humanity and empathy for each other.  The Me decade of the 70s and the elevation of selfishness to a virtue in the 80s are leading us to the disintegration of our culture and our society.

Lest you think I’m being too harsh, listen to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity or any of the other people who seem to spend most of their time telling their listeners that they are the only ones that know the Truth and that everyone else is a liberal stooge or worse a sheeple.  Or listen to the conspiracy theorists who feel so insignificant and small that they have to invent conspiracies that only they know about to ease those feelings.

But if you’re not involving yourself in your community or with other people on even a minimal basis, you’re part of the problem.  Hell, I’m part of the problem.  My wife and I made a new years resolution to do at least an hour of community service a month, unfortunately, that has turned into another paving stone, but now that I’m starting to feel like I might be able to get out of bed without being in agonizing pain in the morning (Get Off My Lawn!) I might just be able to manage going out and helping someone else feel better instead of feeling sorry for myself.

I Lost My Brother to Hate and Fear

John (not his real name) and I were very close friends in college.  He was the closest thing I’ve ever had to a brother.  I think he felt the same way about me.  We drank together, laughed together, and I was the first person he came to see when his mom passed away.  At the time, I was still inhibited enough by my midwestern upbringing that I wasn’t really comfortable hugging another man, but I did, because my friend was hurting.  As he sobbed in my arms, I rubbed his back and let him know I loved him.  After that, we always ended each phone call with “I love you man!” and although we were referring to an old Budweiser commercial, we both knew that we would each do anything for the other.

John joined the Navy after college and we lost touch for a while, until one day he called me out of the blue.  It was a happy reunion and it seemed like we had never really parted company.  I had gotten divorced and was living a pretty dull existence other than going to work.  It was the mid 90’s and my life consisted of going to work, coming home to surf the web and play computer games, and going to bed, only to repeat the same inane activities the next day.

As the years went by, John tried to get me to move closer to him, but I didn’t want to move away from my kids, since I didn’t get to see them very much as it was.  It became a sort of joke between us.  He would do his best to lure me with promises of good trout fishing and a ready supply of new people to meet, and I would put him off with the same answer, I can’t move that far away from my kids.

When Anne and I met, and finally got engaged, my first call was to him to be my best man.  I had always regretted that he wasn’t able to be my best man at my first wedding.  He came and it was like we hadn’t been apart at all.  We still finished each other’s sentences and could riff off each other with the same old jokes.  I was really glad that he was able to be there.  He mentioned preparing for the turn of the century, convinced that he needed to be ready in case the year 2000 bug caused a total collapse of society.  Being in the IT industry, I tried to reassure him that the problem was not as severe as he feared, but he seemed more dedicated to the fantasy of being one of the survivors than he was in critically considering the possibility that nothing was going to happen.

Fast forward 9 years.  I am not sure what changed.  I had always thought of him as pretty sensible, a good critical thinker.  He had always had a bit of a tendency to feel that feminism and political correctness had gone too far, which wasn’t necessarily something I disagreed with in some respects.  Of course my idea of a rampant feminist was someone like Andrea Dworkin, who was not so much a feminist as she was a sexist.  I have always disliked extremes, in politics, religion, philosophy or anything else, simply because they so often make their adherents blind to other possibilities.   Where we parted company was that he increasingly felt that white males were becoming an oppressed underclass.  My sense was that while they were not an endangered species the way he seemed to feel they were, they were in the process of losing their assumed privilege  which I wasn’t really sure was entirely a bad thing.

During the run up to the 2008 election, we had several conversations, and it became increasingly apparent that his view of the world and my view had diverged not only radically but somewhat violently in the interim.  I was not a George W Bush fan because I felt he had been a bad president.  Many of his decisions seemed to me to be poorly thought out and knee jerk reactions rather than plans with the consequences considered and accounted for.  While I supported the actions we took in Afghanistan, the diversion of men and other resources to Iraq seemed to be the most foolish thing we could do when we were already fighting one war.

I was an early supporter of President Obama.  I liked his pragmatism.  I liked the fact that he was cerebral, that he appeared to be someone who thought things through before taking action, the exact opposite of many of the people he ran against in both the primaries and the eventual election.  John McCain scared me, not because he was a strong supporter of the military, in fact, I had considered if I would have crossed party lines to vote for him if things had turned out differently.  But he made one decision that led me to believe that he showed incredibly poor judgement, but that he was also a coward.  I refer of course to his selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Sarah Palin scared me.  She seemed to me to be the literal embodiment of everything that George Bush and Dick Cheney had wrought on the body politic during the eight years they were in power.  The contempt for critical thinking, the dislike of science or anything else that meant that someone might actually have an idea of what they were talking about.  People that actually had expertise were “elitist”.  In other words, she hit every hot button that every conservative white male in America had exposed.  She confirmed a great deal of their preconcieved notions and in fact told them that they were the ones being persecuted by the liberal elites, the media, and anyone else who didn’t think the way they did.

John and I sparred a few times over politics, him insisting that liberals were beneath contempt, myself arguing that neither side had a monopoly on truth but that it was important that they talk to each other and try to solve problems.  It became apparent that he had become “radicalized” when he started quoting World Net Daily writer and well known conspiracist and birther Jerome Corsi as an expert on President Obama’s motives and background.  When we talked about terrorism and Islam, he was prone to quoting people like Robert Spencer, a well known Islamaphobe, whose Stop Islamization of America organization and Freedom Defense Initiative were both designated as hate groups by the Anti-defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center.  It became increasingly apparent that he had somehow bought into the hateful rhetoric of the far right.

He seemed to buy into every crazy conspiracy theory about President Obama that the right wing was tossing out.  For a while it seemed like people like Rush Limbaugh and others of the right wing noise machine were throwing whatever rhetoric they could just to see if anything would stick.  And it did, but only among those who were already convinced that someone who didn’t look like them running the country was some sort of disaster.  Old prejudices about minorities of faith or race came boiling to the surface, enhanced by those who fanned the flames of old resentments into white hot fires of anger and fear.

They were made to feel like a persecuted minority, when they were simply being forced to compete on a level playing field against people of color, women, and other people that they had always assumed they were superior to.  I think it scared them as it still scares them today.  Change is hard, especially when it feels like it’s imposed from without rather than embraced from within.  I’ve always said that the only person who likes change is a baby with a full diaper, but even they will scream bloody murder until the new diaper is safely on and fastened up tight.

Things continued to get worse.

I won’t dismiss my role in this whole thing.  I was as absolutely convinced I was right as he was.  My sense of correctness didn’t come from knowing I was right, but because I was willing to admit that I had no way of knowing if I was right or wrong about much of anything except that I had empirical evidence on my side and a willingness to consider evidence to the contrary.  Absolute certainty about anything tends to make me suspicious.  That’s perhaps a personal failing, that inability to have unquestioning faith.  Frankly if you think you’re right regardless of whether there is evidence to the contrary your grasp on reality is a bit loose.

Finally, it became painfully apparent that John lumped me in with everyone else who didn’t share his beliefs and thus was not worth consideration.  I was the one that ended the relationship, in what was perhaps a fit of pique, but I’m willing to own that.  We’ve not communicated for 3 years now, and I feel his absence every single day.  I also realize that I just need to grieve because he’s not coming back to sanity anytime soon.

I have looked him up on Facebook a few times, and what I see tells me he’s not gotten any better and in fact gotten much much worse.  His friends are all like minded “patriots” and talk shows specializing in crazy conspiracy theories and fearmongering.  The amount of hate and fear is overwhelming.  I don’t go there very often.  It hurts too much, like losing someone to a cult.

So that’s that.  John I’m sorry.  Sometimes you have to accept that while someone will always be in your heart, you can’t have them in your life.

I’m losing my mind

Ever have one of those experiences that lead you to believe you are absolutely losing it?  Here’s what happened to me.  I’m very fond of listening to music at work.  Being ADD, it really helps me concentrate and stay focused.  It’s not so much a matter of even really listening with any intent, just that I’m able to ignore any other stimuli that might get me off on another tangent, or cosine as the case may be.

My favorite album right now is called Piramida by Efterkleng.  If you really like music that takes you places, this is an excellent choice.  I originally heard about it on NPR.  It is ethereal, mysterious and melodic.     I really enjoy it.  It’s one of my favorite albums from the last year or so, and I’ve been listening to it for a good long while.  However, I could have done without thinking I was losing my mind.

I work in a satellite office for the company I’m consulting to right now.  Often times, there is no one there, other than an engineering intern from the university.  I kept hearing someone say “Are we going?” and a voice responding “Yeah.” Except because of the earbuds I wear at work, it sounded like the voices were coming from the cubicle next to me.  Except no one was there.  It took me a while to figure out that it was happening during this one song.  Which was a relief, because I really thought I was losing my mind, auditory hallucinations and all.

It’s funny what we think is real when we’re not really paying attention.  George Takei recently posted something on Facebook that said the following:

Keeping the image of how our life should be often distracts us from being able to accept and embrace what life is.  Admittedly, it is nice to be able to escape to what life could be, as long as we don’t let ourselves fall into the trap of becoming angry and frustrated that life isn’t that way already.  Acceptance is something I often struggle with because I think “It shouldn’t be that way, it should be this way!” Railing against things you have no control over is essentially mental masturbation only without the payoff at the end, just endless wanking over missed opportunities and nursed grudges and injuries.

I’ve been an aspiring Buddhist for a long time (don’t have the discipline) but I think the idea that coming to terms with and gaining control over one’s own desires has a great deal to be said for it.  It’s not that you are detached, but that by becoming detached from your own ego, your own desires, you free yourself to attach your self to the rest of the world at a deeper, more fundamental level that you could have ever hoped for.

Despite being an agnostic for the most part (I define that as thinking finite creatures trying to define the infinite are incredibly narcissistic.)  I do think Jesus had it right.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and in fact, go one step further, do unto others as they’d like you to do unto them.

Yes, I am rambling but it’s my blog.  If you want coherency, go somewhre else, you won’t find it here.

Paving Stones of Good Intention

1960 Chevrolet Corvair

I had every intention of writing something here everyday when I started this over 2 weeks ago, but life and inertia have a way of getting in the way.  Between a project that’s 2 months past due (an artificial deadline that was meaningless in it’s impossibility) and looming unemployment at the end of said project (money ran out, and I’m a contractor), other urgent priorities have been taking the place of time spent writing.

The project was one that appeared disarmingly simple to begin with, a white expanse of pristine spreadsheets, only to reveal a hull rending disaster of requirements once the project started.  I was hoping to be the King of the World, but instead ended up going down with the ship.

I take that back. Despite the overlong delivery process, the end users are much happier with what I built and I think management will like the reports as well.  I think the problem is that they just wanted it yesterday rather than a few days from now. Thankfully I’m almost done.

I think there are an awful lot of things that look simple and then turn out to be just horrific, just as there are many things that look horrific and turn out to be rather simple.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of looking past whatever it is that you see immediately and trying to look for other things that aren’t readily apparent.

That applies to a 50 year old body as well, or I should say a 51 year old body, as I have now passed another year of existence and must either celebrate having made it this far, or bemoan my existence, which I prefer not to do.  I feel like a 1962 Corvair that is still unsafe at any speed and whose engine needs a complete overhaul.  However the owner simply keeps changing the oil and calling it good.  I backfire, I burn oil, and my undercarriage is rusting out, mostly my knees.  I suspect I”ll need knee replacement surgery eventually, but I think I can last a while longer.

I went to the doctor last week to see the diabetes specialist.  I’m not diabetic yet, but I’m edging into it, and am starting to have some of the symptoms typically associated with it.  Diabetes is a lot like global warming, it sneaks up on you.  You know you should do something about it, but it’s just easier to deny it and keep doing the same bad things you have always done.  Now I’m starting to suffer the consequences.

Thursday my blood work came back and I apparently have a vitamin D deficiency, so they have me on 2000 mg of Vitamin D every day until I get back into the normal range.  This probably explains why I’ve been tired, and hurting all the time for the last year or so.  I also have a low testosterone level, which means the boys ain’t working quite so well.  Although being 180 pounds overweight, and not exercising at all (because I hurt and because I’m always tired) are both prime contributors.  I’m a little apprehensive about going on hormone replacement therapy, so I’m inclined to try changing some habits first.

So I’m going to try like hell to get back to writing every day again.  I have a short story on my Alphawriter Neo that I’m working on, and I think if I just sit down and write for 20 minutes, I can get 500 words down without killing myself.

Now to just do it.