A Word, Guys

 

NOTE: This post deals with an important subject, but the more genteel among you may find some of the wording a bit coarse, for which I apologize. It’s strictly in the service of making a point.

This is the world we live in
And these are the hands we’re given
Use them and lets start trying
To make it a place worth living in.

“Land of Confusion”, Genesis

Songwriters
RUTHERFORD, MICHAEL/COLLINS, PHIL/BANKS, TONY

Published By
Lyrics © EMI Music Publishing, IMAGEM U.S. LLC

 

Well, fellas, I guess I’ll have to turn in my Man Card. Because you’re not going to like at all what I tell you next, and once you read it, you’ll probably be ready to vote me right off the island.

But, I really can’t help but say it. Sorry. Actually, not sorry.

We all, each of us (including me), need to take a very serious look at how we view, think about, and talk about women.

This year seems to have been a particularly bad one for men in the news. To wit:

A college athlete recently convicted of raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster was released from prison after serving three months of a six-month sentence, a sentence handed down by a sympathetic male judge. Oh, and in the apple-doesn’t-fall-far-from-the-tree department, the defendant’s father pled to the judge to keep his son out of jail, arguing he had already paid a steep price for (his words), “twenty minutes of action.”

My alma mater is still being investigated for, as it has been characterized, the culture of rape it allowed on its campus, particularly with regard to male athletes. The administration denied a sexual assault problem even existed on campus, and is accused of trying to repress, or even retaliate against, victims’ testimony alleging otherwise.

And a candidate for President of the United States has been heard bragging about how, because he’s a star, he is entitled to his disgusting treatment of women. By now, most everyone knows the lurid details, so there is no need to repeat them here. He later dismissed these boasts as simply “locker room talk.”

And now, he faces an ever lengthening line of women coming forward to reveal their past experiences as victims of this animal’s continued pattern of sexual harassment. He now threatens all of them with lawsuits.

We’re talking about somebody’s wife. Somebody’s girlfriend. Somebody’s sister. Somebody’s mom.

Somebody’s precious daughter.

You fellas out there with a teenage daughter, how do you suppose this landscape looks to her?

Women are people, guys. They have minds and souls. They have heartaches and headaches. They have bills and deadlines. They have wishes and hopes and dreams and victories and defeats and joy and pain and confusion and all the rest of life. They are human.

Yes, they can be quite attractive; no argument there. But…

They are not merely objects that exist in the world solely for our inspection and critique. They are not just a bunch of filthy sluts, parading around in provocative clothing which might as well include, “I’M ASKING FOR IT!” on the front, in big letters. They aren’t pieces of property for us to just capriciously go and take.

They’re not just tits and ass.

So, let’s quit talking about them as if they were.

(And I don’t want to hear about the male instinct to find a suitable mate for procreational purposes. Honestly, guys, when was the last time you checked out a woman and thought, “Boy, I’d sure like to have children with her!”)

Listen, I know how we’re wired;  I’m a guy. We are stimulated visually. We see all these shapely hourglass figures walking around, in their short skirts and high heels and low-cut tops and tight jeans and revealing swimsuits and on and on. I mean, we could see a woman in baggy sweats and the wheels still turn, don’t they? Imagining what she looks like underneath.

And then, we convince ourselves that every single one of them wants us. We smile at a woman, she smiles back, what are we thinking?

Oh, yeah, she’s into me!

Well, fellas, here’s the truth. Aside from being just plain delusional, that is disrespectful. It’s insulting. It’s demeaning.

And, if we’re around other guys at the time, it leads to talking about women in that same disrespectful, insulting, demeaning manner.

What kind of lover she must be. What we’d like to do with her, or have her do with us, given the chance.

Not to mention, the whole “bitches and ho’s” culture embraced by a segment of our society. I’m not even going there.

It’s against that backdrop that guys (not men; men don’t do this) feel entitled to do whatever the hell they want with women, up to and including rape.

And it has to stop.

I told you, you wouldn’t like this.

 

I’m not telling you any of this from up on some high horse. I’ve certainly done my share of looking at and talking about women. I’m not perfect, by any stretch. I just think I, and all the rest of us, should man up here and be more respectful.

So, am I saying, just look the other way? Never make eye contact, never smile, never say anything? Pretend they’re not even there?

Of course not.

But, ask yourself, guys, who was the last woman you looked at – who you didn’t already know – and thought of as anything other than a body?

Oh, they look at and talk about us that way, too? No excuse.

It’s just part of being a man? No excuse.

They secretly like it? They’re flattered by it?

Pretty sure that’s not true.

But, you know what? Let’s open the floor to everyone, here. Male or female, if you want to weigh in on this, I invite your feedback. Let’s hear from each other on this, and see if we can’t all learn something. (Let’s try to keep it somewhat civil, though, shall we?)

Because, it should be obvious to everyone at this time in our journey, something definitely has to change. And it’s up to us, guys, to play a significant part in fixing this problem. Because we created it.

Women everywhere are standing united to declare, “Enough is enough!”

I’m gonna stand with ’em. How about you, dude?

 

My (So Much) Better Half

 

What attracted me first was the eyes.

I met her when we were in our early twenties, in the college age Sunday School class at our church. I led the singing one Sunday, when I was home from school, and she played piano for me.

Then, I traveled back to school later that day, and pretty much forgot about that encounter. So, our story really didn’t begin there; just a footnote, more or less.

Fast forward a couple of years. I was graduated and back home, and we were in a different Sunday School class together. She was having some of us over to her apartment for her birthday. I was the first to arrive, and so we had time to talk awhile.

And that’s when I noticed those eyes. Those big, beautiful eyes. The kind you could just gaze into all day.

And, as we talked, I noticed a few other things. Her intelligence. Her honesty. Her smile. Her sense of humor. We had a pleasant conversation that afternoon.

And it still took me another month to ask her out (!) That’s how fast I moved.

But, it was the second best thing I ever did for myself.

The first was marrying that girl two years later.

 

The month of July is a significant one for me for two reasons. One of them is my birthday, which is sort of good news/bad news these days. It’s a commemoration of another year lived on this planet, and a reminder that I’m another step toward the grave. I’m on past middle age; I don’t imagine myself living to 114. I’m on the downhill side of my life, which explains the increasingly rapid pace at which it passes. Still, I try to be grateful for every year I’m still here.

(Incidentally, there are plenty of other July birthdays in my family. Apparently, October was quite an active month.)

The second big reason is my wedding anniversary. This year will mark our 32nd.

Incredible. It went by like nothing, but it’s also felt like we’ve been together our whole lives.

image

The fact that this woman has put up with me that long is worthy of a medal, if not a parade. Ain’t no doubt, this boy won the Lottery on his wedding day.

The wedding, incidentally, was somewhat eventful. Love birds escaped their cages and flew around awhile. A groomsman fainted just as I was kissing the bride.

Oh, well, give the people their money’s worth, right?

So, that’s how we started out, and it’s been a wonderful ride ever since. The more I’ve gotten to know this lady, the better I like her.

I’ve never known anyone so thoughtful before in my life, who thinks of other people’s needs as often as she does, and is so willing to do what she can to help.

She has a terrific sense of humor. She’ll come up with stuff sometimes that simultaneously cracks me up and makes me envious that I didn’t think of it first.

Like me, she’s a sucker for animals. She’s got a tender heart for cats, dogs, and all baby animals. (“Aren’t they cute?”)

She is absolutely devoid of pretense; she’s genuine. What you see is what you get. She’s honest to a fault. (As is the rest of her family, as I learned)

She has a very strong sense of fairness, and bristles at injustice anywhere she observes it. She believes in, and respects, the dignity of every individual, and treats them accordingly, as she would want to be treated.

And she loves me, as she’s proven over and over again.

And, oh yeah, she’s pretty, too.

 

We’ve had some wonderful times together. Over the years, we’ve been fortunate to visit several places across America, see beautiful things, and have unforgettable experiences. One that stands out to me is standing on the balcony of our hotel room on Waikiki Beach and watching the sun set over Honolulu. Never thought I’d actually get to do that. It’s just one of many dreams come true in my life.

image

Of course, we’ve had some experiences that were not so pleasant; such is life. But we’ve been there for each other through it all, and we always will be.

Does she drive me nuts sometimes? Sure.

Do I return the favor, in spades? Bet all your money on it.

But we both know, we’re in this thing for the long haul. We made a commitment to each other all those years ago, in front of God and several credible and semi-credible witnesses, to be with other for as long as we both shall live. And, 32 years later, here we are, looking forward to more wonderful years together.

And her eyes are as beautiful as ever.

Happy Anniversary, darling. Thank you for being my wife. You’re my very best friend, and there’s no one I’d rather hang out with. Thank you for sticking with me through bad times, as well as good. Thank you for your devotion and support. Thank you for your patience, which I constantly put to the test. Mostly, thank you for loving this lucky guy for all these years.

I Love You so very, very, very much.

 

Those Words

 

Hot summer evening in Texas.

I’m about nine years old, I think, outside in the front yard with Mom and Dad. They’re probably finishing up yard work, and I’m just playing, like nine-year-old boys do on summer evenings.

Dad loved working in the yard. Loved it. He took great pride in having a terrific-looking landscape, and he busted his butt for hours to achieve that goal.

This great love for yard work was a gene that definitely did not duplicate to any of his sons, I assure you. Just sayin’.

Anyway, our dog, a little toy fox terrier, is out there with us. Not a good thing; he’s supposed to be in the backyard with the gate shut, or else, he’s got the green light to take off down the street, with me in hot pursuit. So far, fortunately, he’s chosen to just stay close to us in the yard, so Dad tells me to grab him (the dog, not Dad) and return him to the backyard and close the gate. (which, by the way, yours truly probably left open, causing this situation in the first place. oh, well…)

One problem: Just as Dad’s telling me this, the dog decides he has to pee.

So I stand there and wait for him to finish. Rude to interrupt him, don’t you know; I certainly wouldn’t want anybody grabbing me when I’m right in the middle of taking a leak. Besides, some of it may get on me. Ewww.

Well, you know what comes next. Soon as he finishes, he takes off running, and my chance to just grab him is lost. Great. Now I gotta chase him again.

That’s when I hear Those Words. The words that have stayed with me from that day to this:

You idiot!!

Why are you such an idiot??

 

Ah, fathers and sons. A historically complicated relationship.

My father was a good man. He truly was.

He worked hard all his life to provide for his family. He was determined his sons would all get a college education, something he never got; he knew a degree would open a lot more doors of opportunity for us. He had a big heart for people (and animals), and would help anyone in need as much as he could. His faith was a huge part of his life; he loved God and did his best to be a loyal follower.

He also had a wonderful, wicked sense of humor, always making wisecracks and playing pranks. He couldn’t help being the naughty boy. He was the court jester, providing those around him with a good laugh.

He took me to ball games. He took me fishing and swimming at the lake. He played catch with me. He played board games with me. He patiently listened as I recited TV commercials and comedy routines I had memorized. And he laughed at the punchlines.

He told me he loved me. Often.

I feel genuinely sorry for all the people who had fathers who beat them, or molested them, or abandoned them, or neglected them, or always came home drunk, or in any other way put their families through complete hell. I know I’m one of the fortunate ones; I was raised in a stable, loving family environment, for which I’m so glad. And my father was one of the main reasons for that.

I loved him. I looked up to him. I wanted to be just like him. He was perfect in my eyes. So, what happens when such a person looks you in the eye and calls you an idiot?

When you’re nine years old, it totally crushes you.

I went into the house and fell on my bed, crying. I was certain I had just failed him beyond measure. I hated myself for being such an idiot.

Unfortunately, as I grew, it was hard to shake that feeling. See, Dad had this…tone sometimes when he talked to you. It was very condescending. You could ask him a question, and he would answer in a way that made you sorry you asked. You would end up believing he thought you really are an idiot, whether he actually said it or not.

So I resolutely held on to the belief that he thought his youngest son was the dummy of the family.

And no amount of “I love you”‘s and “I’m proud of you”‘s could totally wipe that away. I still could seldom times look at him without imagining him looking back at me and wondering how he could have been stuck with such a stupid son.

If he ever told me he thought I was smart, I don’t remember. Selective memory, I guess; it wouldn’t have fit my perception of what he actually thought of me.

And, see, I know he didn’t mean what he said that day; he was angry, and don’t we all know, we say things in anger we never really meant to say.

But that doesn’t make it hurt any less to hear.

Now, please understand, this isn’t a Dad-bashing. I really loved the man, and am forever grateful to him for all he did for me. I don’t hate him. I don’t resent him. I’m not blaming any failures or missteps in my life on him; I own all that. I’m not wallowing in self-pity over a “troubled childhood”.

I just wish he’d never said Those Words. Or, at least, had apologized for saying them.

So this is for all you dads out there, about to enjoy Your Day. Even though I’m not a father myself, I had one once, and I’m telling you…

Please, please choose your words carefully when you talk to your children, even in anger. Especially, in anger. If you say something you don’t mean, apologize, and reassure your child you love him or her. Those Words have a much greater impact on a child than you can ever imagine.

Oh, and all you sons (and daughters) out there: show some love to your dad this weekend, and the rest of the time, too.

Happy Fathers’ Day, Dad. Sixteen years after your passing, I still miss you.

And I still love you. Like always.

I Hope You Knew

 

image

 

I had a terrific mother.

She took really good care of her baby boy. She cooked what I wanted to eat, even if it wasn’t what everyone else was having. She looked after me when I was sick, which was pretty often. (Of course, it helped that she was a registered nurse.) She took me to school in the morning and picked me up in the afternoon. She tucked me in my bed and kissed me good night. She held me when I cried.

She had a great sense of humor, which was essential for life with our family, ’cause Dad was a practical joker, and my brothers and I were all smart alecs. She loved to laugh, and did it often. And she had a smile that could only be measured in megawatts. Honestly. You could see the room brighten up when she smiled. (I submit the above photo as Exhibit A, B, C…)

She was a very warm, very giving person, always concerned about others’ welfare, and doing whatever she could to help. She saved a woman’s life once who was having a heart attack in church. She looked after my two oldest nieces one summer while their mom was in the hospital. Those are just two examples. She was so compassionate and caring.

She came to me one day when I was eight, and told me she’d signed me up for piano lessons. I remember my exact response as, “You what??”

I mean, come on! Eight-year-old boys don’t take piano lessons! Eight-year-old boys play ball, and other boy things!

But she saw something in me. She saw I had a knack for music, and she wanted to see me develop that. So she saw to it that I practiced regularly (which I hated!) and she came to all my recitals, and she envisioned me becoming a concert pianist one day. (That, of course, didn’t pan out, but that’s another story.)

But Mom loved me very much. She loved my two older brothers, too. Her boys meant so much to her.

I just wish she hadn’t died when I was sixteen.

 

It was a hospital screw-up.

She had gone in for back surgery. While she was in recovery afterward, someone had administered phenobarbital to her as a sedative. Problem was, no one bothered to check to see if she was allergic to phenobarbital.

Which she was. Highly.

Needless to say, that set off a chain reaction of calamities that ultimately led to heart failure and death. (I’m the same age now she was when she died; just realized that. Kind of a chilling thought.)

I didn’t even know about any of this until many years later. I was told not to come to the hospital that afternoon; just go next door and hang with my best friends until someone came home. I didn’t know anything had gone wrong at the hospital. All I knew that beautiful, starry January night was that my brother came home to tell me Mom was suddenly gone.

People started coming by that night to offer sympathy and support. Dad finally came home, slowly shuffling in with the longest face I’d ever seen on a person. He and I walked straight to Mom and Dad’s bedroom, knelt by the bed and prayed. I think I was basically numb through all those hours after I first received the news.

I couldn’t cry that night. I tried to, but only managed a few perfunctory tears. Maybe I was just too shocked. It probably still hadn’t hit me with full force what just happened.

Until the next day.

I went to school, and spent the whole day in some sort of fog; I was there, but not really. I came home and spent the afternoon with family, and later they went to the funeral home. I don’t recall why I didn’t go the same time as them, but I’ll never forget what happened later that evening. I walked tentatively into the room where Mom lied, my father and my brothers and their wives waiting for me. I started to sign in, like a guest, and one of my brothers gently told me, “That’s all right, little brother, you don’t need to sign in.”

I slowly approached the casket, where my sweet mother lay in peace. I looked down at her beautiful face, absent that megawatt smile.

And that’s when the floodgates opened. I just broke down crying, and kept it up the rest of the night.

It finally hit me. Mom was gone. Really gone.

 

She called me the morning of her surgery from the hospital before she went into surgery and I left for school. She told me to always be a good boy, and that she loved me.

That was the last time we spoke. Forty years ago.

And I didn’t tell her I loved her.

And the thing that has haunted me to this day is: I never told her. Not once. Not even in response to her saying she loved me. Not even that day. It never occurred to me that would be my last chance.

You know why I didn’t? This is so stupid. I was embarrassed.

It embarrasses me to tell someone, “I love you”, except for my wife. I don’t know why; maybe I feel like it puts the other person in an awkward position. Maybe I’m afraid there will be tears, which makes me feel awkward. Maybe I worry the other person won’t say it back.

But I let those excuses hold me back from saying what I should say more often, to more people. And it held me back from saying it to my mother.

And now, I don’t even have the chance. And believe me, I would give anything to be able to look her in the eye just once to say, “I love you, Mom”.

So, for Mothers’ Day, if your mom is still around, please tell her you love her, while you still can. Even if it embarrasses you. If she isn’t, then wrap yourself in the warm memory of the time she spent with you, and all the many ways she poured her love out for you.

And if you truly don’t love her, perhaps because you feel she’s never loved you, my heart goes out to you; that is a pain that I, luckily, never knew. I wish you comfort and, maybe, even resolution one day.

Happy Mothers’ Day, Mom. I Love You. I always have.

I hope you knew.

 

P.S. – To my wonderful stepmom: Happy Mothers’ Day to you, as well. I love you very much. I am so glad you came into our family’s life. You are one of the kindest, friendliest, happiest, most down-to-earth, most relentlessly optimistic people I’ve ever been lucky to know. Always know how special you are to me. Blessings on thee.