When You’re Out of Answers

When You’re Out of Answers

I’ve come to a point in life where I’m truly between a rock and a hard place. My whole life I’ve been able to come up with solutions to some complex problems, but I find myself suddenly stuck with no way out.

I have no one to turn to, no safety net and no one but myself to save me. I’ve tried to prepare myself for any emergency, but this one is stripping me of all my resources and leaving me completely vulnerable.

I’ve asked my tiny family for ideas to remove me from this position, and it has resulted in nothing more than a pat on the back. So now I’ve decided to ask the world, via the internet, for solutions.

Here’s the problem that needs to be fixed:

I am a recently divorced father of a wonderful 4-year-old who has found himself in a city where he doesn’t belong: Louisville, KY. But this is where we landed so that my ex-wife could begin her teaching career, and is where my daughter was born, and will likely have to stay, unfortunately. Away from family, away from where I grew up in South Carolina, and away from my reality.

All savings went to divorce lawyers and staying alive.

I’m 50 years old and have spent much of my time learning to prepare myself for the working world. I’ve held a lot of jobs along the way to make ends meet so that when I entered the workforce I had some experience.

So, I’m educated and experienced. Perfect. Not quite, apparently.

I’ve pulled every string and applied to every company in a 30-mile radius, and remotely, and the response has been chilly. Lots of nibbles thanks to having an MBA. But no curious interest beyond that. It makes a person wonder.

It leaves me with no income yet I still have responsibilities, such as taking good care of my daughter, paying weekly rent to a very gracious landlord, utilities, food, toilet paper and so on. So I systematically relinquish my limited and cherished possessions in exchange for money to survive. But I’m quickly running out of road and I can only see three exits, which is always the good, better, best scenario:

  • Best case: Job falls in my lap from my hundreds of applications. Unlikely.
  • Better case: I find a job that will allow me to get back on my feet and move along. Although I’m willing to do anything, there are areas that I’m trained in (marketing) and I must earn at least enough to pull me out of this pit. Because of circumstances that are now out of my control, I’m fixated in a lease that requires $2000 per month, which I’m paying weekly, so my daughter and I at least have shelter. I’d like to move to another house that’s less expensive but I haven’t the necessary funds to do so. That’s a tight knot.
  • Good case: No job is found, I’m evicted and cannot see my daughter anymore. Homeless wretch, a possible suicide.

So that’s where the puzzle presents itself and I turn to the world for solutions. What says the world?

Michael and Cecelia

Cecelia and her Daddy

POSTSCRIPT EDIT OCTOBER 7, 2019:

Well it’s been a week and I have my answers.

It was interesting to see who responded. This post was a distress signal. An emergency SOS cry for help, for anyone that couldn’t figure that out. When you open yourself to the entire world and plea for some help, there’s no road left and life has become dire.

Who came to help were my longtime friends from boarding school. No one from my family popped up to see what was the matter. No ex-wives who pledged to be by my side through thick and thin and obviously didn’t mean it. No drinking buddies from decades past when such things bound men together. I’m not mentioning them to shame them. That’s their decision and I try not to judge others when I don’t know what they’re thinking.

But the men who came to my rescue didn’t surprise me. And the way they did was no surprise either. When someone’s drowning, giving someone your phone number and telling someone to call you who’s going down for the third time isn’t going to save them. You have to reach out a hand, as hard and exhausting as it may seem because you don’t know what you’re going to be grabbing. It may be an easy lift up, or it may require all your resources and then some. But usually, it’s somewhere in-between those two extremes, of course. And how much it taxes the person reaching out is a measure of how strong they are and how prepared they are to handle such a rescue mission, from staying fit in the ways that matter leading up to the save. For men, it means a display of character. I didn’t expect any women to come to offer real help, because it’s rare they do. That may sound very sexist, but in my 50 years of life, that’s what I’ve experienced. You’re free to change my mind.

The men that answered the call all grew up with the same sense of honor and commitment that I did. It’s no surprise that we all went to the same boarding school, and shared the same life experiences, and learned to become a man the same way. We learned through teamwork, playing sports. We learned through leadership. We learned through having to be independent, away from our families. We grew to learn how to respect each other and how to behave in a healthy society and be there to help when another schoolmate needed it. It was a tight-knit community and always has been. It’s why it will always remain all-boys, all boarding, and relatively small, with 400 boys in 3rd through 6th form(9th-12th grade).

We learned that when times get tough, the tough get going. You don’t sit around and ask questions and talk, you start acting and doing. It’s what separates the men from the boys. I’ve known the guys that responded to my question for around 35 to 40 years+ now. And although none of us live in the same cities or even states, they didn’t think twice about being there when the alarm sounded. It’s truly amazing and demonstrates what a strong bond was formed back when we were boys. Our school’s mission was to transform us into honorable and respectful men of moral purpose. Something to think about.

 

Robert Hunter

Robert Hunter

Here’s an ironic bit of foreshadowing I stumbled across tonight. Something I wrote obviously about 2 years ago prior to my stepdaughter’s mother divorcing me. There are 2 passages that are particularly ominous, which I still hold to be true. And has become reality, as I haven’t seen my previous stepdaughter since June, 2017. I wrote this when she was 14. I last saw her when she was 15.

A Shoutout to All the Stepparents

One of the most thankless jobs in the world is that of a step-parent. Sure, praise is awarded when she or he goes above and beyond expectations from time to time, but generally, the role is status-quo. And the expectations are usually pretty high to begin with. At least those of the biological parents. And, of course, those standards vary wildly from person to person, but most parents at least consider their own parental standards to be high, even if in the scheme of things they aren’t.

I don’t write this to pat myself on the back, having been the surrogate father for a girl from age 4 to age 14. If you’re accepting the role for the accolades, you’re going to be highly disappointed. And that isn’t what the job is about anyway. The job is its own reward. Or at least that’s how I view it. You really have to, anyway. It’s a critical and very important job that has been awarded and should be viewed as a privilege. Same as I view my role of parent.

Stepparents have no legal rights regarding the children unless for some reason there’s adoption involved. That’s rare, however. So your input can be viewed as ancillary by some of the legal parents if that’s the view they’ve chosen to take. I’m sure every situation is different in what the agreement is as to how much influence the stepparent’s opinion and decisions have in the arrangement. It’s a discussion that must be initiated, an agreement must be made, and the situation evaluated, reviewed and tweaked as necessary through life as the child gets older and family dynamics change.

One of the most challenging aspects of being a stepparent is not having legal rights. So you don’t have any skin in the game to begin with but you’re doing at least all the work of a legal parent. You’re doing the job for the sake of wanting to help raise a child properly, in a home with a stable family consisting of a mother, father, and child. So it’s a rewarding job in that respect.

Depending on the age of the child, that aspect can be extremely important, and in the case of divorces, is a horrible reality the child must face day-in and day-out. There is no father in the house along with a mother, and the fact the parents don’t show affection or love towards one another surely causes psychological problems, or will cause relationship issues of their own when they get older. A small child sees nuclear families as the norm everywhere they look, except for their own new set of houses(they have no one place to consider “home” any longer), and they aren’t a part of such a traditional arrangement. There’s a lack of love that exists in the triangle. But that’s a whole different post.

Depending on the age of the child, that aspect can be extremely important, and in the case of divorces, is a horrible reality the child must face day-in and day-out. There is no father in the house along with a mother, and the fact the parents don’t show affection or love towards one another surely causes psychological problems, or will cause relationship issues of their own when they get older. A small child sees nuclear families as the norm everywhere they look, except for their own new set of houses(they have no one place to consider “home” any longer), and they aren’t a part of such a traditional arrangement. There’s a lack of love that exists in the triangle. But that’s a whole different post.

So not only is the child not genetically yours, which may even be a fact you’re reminded of from time to time by the child, parent, or other parties for any number of reasons(sometimes just to be rather rude), but you perpetually must walk a fine line with what type of input you give. Even figuring out if the input is needed or wanted can be difficult. As a natural parent, of course, you give it. But as a stepparent, it may be crossing certain unspoken or spoken lines. What you deem as support can be viewed as criticism or in any number of unexpected ways by the other parent and/or child. And then relationship problems may emerge between husband and wife where there were none. Minefields everywhere for the stepparent.

In addition to that problem, the stepparent doesn’t just have inlaws. He/she now has a whole, strange family to contend with in addition to her/his in-laws. The biological father/mother may be a fine person, but because of the disposition of the divorce(in most cases – you may have married a widower/widow, but that’s a rarer case) that led to the child being separated from one parent for at least half their lives, there’s usually some friction that exists already which you’re now a part of. Differences of opinion and arguments arise between the biological parents that you get stuck in and must help mediate, and some tricky negotiation often is necessary.

And it’s not just the other biological parent. Their parents, or the other, 3rd set of grandparents(at least, depending on your spouse’s family’s family tree), are involved. So you have two sets of in-laws, one of which you had no intention of dealing with. Can it get any better?

As you help raise the child/children as a stepparent, you have to keep a focus on the reality of the bond that’s established as well. You obviously can’t love the child to the degree a natural parent would, and even trying or allowing oneself to would be dangerous. That’s a bond that will be destroyed in a catastrophic way if you get divorced. That child or the children suddenly are no longer part of your life. It’s as if they’ve died since your involvement has suddenly been reduced to zero, and you likely won’t see them much again, if at all. And once again the piece of the family puzzle you’ve existed as in their life has been removed from the child’s life suddenly, and not in a loving way, to say the least. Needless to say, this has negative consequences for the child.

That’s a bond that will be destroyed in a catastrophic way if you get divorced. That child or the children suddenly are no longer part of your life. It’s as if they’ve died since your involvement has suddenly been reduced to zero, and you likely won’t see them much again, if at all. And once again the piece of the family puzzle you’ve existed as in their life has been removed from the child’s life suddenly, and not in a loving way, to say the least. Needless to say, this has negative consequences for the child.

These are all factors that the biological parent may realize but probably doesn’t dwell on much. Why would they? But for a person to accept the role of a stepparent, as much of an honor as it may be, is agreeing to add a whole universe of strangeness to a marriage. I don’t mean the child is strangeness, of course, the role of substitute is unchartered territory.

father daughter dance

Apples

Apples

As we head into fall, there will be no lack of pumpkin-spiced everything and fall harvest motif junk at every turn. But apples become a big thing and are a big thing year-round. They’re cheap and plentiful and can be used, like pears, as a base for a lot of juices and recipes. And when you walk into a grocery store or market, you’ll see a dozen different varieties offered. And I’ll bet most of the time, if not always, most people just walk over to one section and ignore the rest: Red delicious. That may be untrue in parts of the country where apples are grown a lot, but in the South where I grew up, Red Delicious was the standard and staple in every lunchbox and used for everything, no matter what. The rest were exotic.

Which would make a good behavioral study, as to why we go decades, if not our whole lives entrenched in such a decision when there’s absolutely no reason. We’re creatures of habit, but this would seem extreme. Nonetheless, hopefully, this post will change that.

Different apples are good for different purposes, from baking with to eating as a snack. And adventuring out of the Red Delicious routine is something that should be done immediately. It’s probably the lamest of the apples, once you start trying other varieties and seeing what you like better. There are sweeter ones, and ones whose cell composition are better-suited for cooking with. And the prices don’t veer that much, meaning you aren’t going to have to pay a fortune for a Gala, which is what I prefer for eating.

Here is a graphic which outlines the different types from most sour to sweetest. But again, their crunchiness and composition are slightly different as well, which should be considered when baking or cooking with them.

apple types

Something I plan on making with my daughter this fall are baked apple doughnuts, which I’m sure involve brown sugar, which she’ll like. She’s part hummingbird, I’m convinced.

Potatoes are another pantry staple that I think people don’t venture out of their ruts with. Most everyone grab a Russet potato, and that’s that. But the differences between the many potato types make all the difference in the end. Some are more starchy and some are better for mashed and for stews and so on. It’s worth taking the little amount of time to learn the differences for what will change your cooking for the better forever, I think.

 

 

The Power of The Internet

The Power of The Internet

The Power of the Internet

Everyone knows how huge and powerful the internet is, to a degree. It’s so large in scale and scope it has gone beyond most people’s understanding, which is no surprise. And it’s only just begun. It’s in its infancy, which is scary and exciting.

I got online in the mid- 1990’s with AOL and Netscape and a dial-up modem. It didn’t take long for us to get things up and running so that we could access it with decent speeds and tools that made it usable in ways we only dreamt about. I’ve learned how it works and how to use it probably more than most people, and I spend a lot of time using it, looking for ways to optimize my life and those I love, like my daughter. I’ve seen some things on it I’d rather not have come across, and discovered some things that I would have never been able to see, or “experience” otherwise, even if it’s not first hand. It’san amazing learning tool. And for someone who’s insatiably curious like me, it’s a wonder to behold.

I laid in bed at night as a child wishing with all my heart and dreaming for things to exist, like being able to listen to a song or view a cartoon whenever I wanted, and the internet has made that possible. If I wanted to see a Christmas Peanuts cartoon, I had to wait a year for when it came on at a certain time on a certain channel, and if I missed it, I’d have to wait another year. People of this age will never know what it’s like to go without. Just to be able to hear a certain song or read a certain book when I was growing up took some work and a lot of time and cost. Now you just go to the internet archive, Spotify, Youtube, or any number of websites to pull it up in any number of formats. It’s unbelievable. It’s magical.

So I appreciate what’s possible now and use the internet to fill the voids I had growing up. When I want to know something I go find it. When I was young, I had a set of 1965 encyclopedias at home which was the best resource at hand.  Our school library was meager, and the city library was decent but nothing like what Google offers by a longshot.

I have a Google Home speaker that you can ask questions to, and my daughter thinks it’s amazing, which it is. You can ask it anything and get an answer immediately, to any question you have. In any language. And I think I paid $20 for it. Incredible.

You’d think with such tools and resources available, society would be brimming with knowledge and we’d be speeding through the galaxy at full intellectual speed. Instead, we’re arguing about petty superficial issues and worrying about things that have been long-solved. We’re burying history we don’t like only to try and repeat it with different results. We’re forgetful. We’re lazy. We’re complacent. We’re human.

Every now and then I find something or someone online that makes me stop suddenly and reassess things. I find it’s becoming rarer and rarer as time goes on that I discover such things, however. That’s for a few reasons I can think of, but when it happens, I love it. It’s like finding a new band that is unlike anything you’ve ever heard, or a new jewel or creature in the sea that you never knew existed. It’s a pivotal moment, in other words, and you can recognize it, and it’s exciting. That’s what happened when I came across this guy one night, out of the blue.

It’s nothing that will really change the course I’m on, but it’s fully reassuring that I shouldn’t ever stop believing or give up hope. He and I share a lot of traits and have had a lot of the same obstacles in life. His optimism and faith and “damn the torpedoes” attitude is what some people like me need during times like I’m currently facing. And interestingly enough, he’s in Atlanta, where I was born and have lived along the way and consider a home of sorts. But we share the same love of music, type of music, and appreciation of life and have a similar perspective that allows us to keep going through the bad times.

 

And this is the song that you should always remember:

Tidying up The Office

Tidying up The Office

My daughter, who is now 4 years and 2 months old, has been making some noticeable strides in her development, both mental and physical. It’s a joy to watch and be astounded when she, for example, takes the DeWalt electric driver from my hand and removes the battery cover from an old broken-down Little Tykes play table, then removes the batteries and tries to replace them, and then screws the cover back on to test the unit out. No luck, as expected. So she removes the cover again and digs out the new 4 AA batteries we tried and put the cover back on.

That might not seem like much, but she overcame her fear of the “loud” noise the electric drill/driver makes enough to actually hold and use it, correctly, and I stood by her quite impressed.

Then today she decided to organize her “office” which is a workspace I carved out for her in the den. It’s just a play desk and until today, has been where piles of half-cut-up construction paper and lots of writing, drawing, and coloring utensils have been randomly dumped. No more!

She suddenly decided that she needed a proper workspace and went and got a wastebasket, cleaned and organized everything laying around her desk.

Cecelia's workspace

She also decided to straighten up her kitchen, which was no easy chore. It’s a small space with a lot of stuff scattered about. But she did it:

She runs the kitchen with a store on the right with the ice cream counter and has a cash register. It’s something to watch her in action. She has the whole operation down pat. Those are lemon play-dough cookies she made in the blue Tupperware container in the bottom right of the photo, for sale. She has menu boards up, a pantry, little lights and decorations up around it and sweeps it to keep it clean. 4 years old. I’m impressed. When I was 4 I was still trying to eat rocks and frogs. Next, she’ll be trying to Six-sigma the thing.