The top ten behaviors a man should practice after his wedding day to hopefully create a successful marriage/life.

Summer is upon us and with it a cavalcade of weddings adorning our handheld devices through many wonderful social mediums. A wedding is truly one of the most beautiful moments in a person’s life. The coming together of a young couple, their families, friends, associates all in the name of love. Both young and old find some nurturing aspect of these long held rituals. Whether it be a remnant of time gone by, the same warmth felt from that very day as you hold your partners hand many years later or simply the romance associated with watching others in love. It is all there for those who love, love, the idea of love, or being in love. Even the most cold hearted cannot help but smile as two become one in a union of souls and adoration. It is also a very special day for divorce attorneys as another crop of prospective clients march bravely into the streets!! Wow! Sorry got off track rather quickly on that one! In poor taste?? Oh well I apologize, now where were we? 

The thing is, what happens the day after your wedding? Is there an instant change in the relationship? Most say being married is just like dating, only now you share a name whether hyphenated or not, and a bank account. Life before marriage was perfect and arranging this union was the mere icing on top of a proverbial cake when it came to building a life together. There was and is that feeling of; nothing could ever tear the two of you apart and marriage was simply the concrete or glue needed to bind this relationship.

I know this all to be true because I felt exactly the same way, not once but twice.

My life has been filled with many ups and downs, hell some would say it has been quite the roller coaster ride! At 50 I am pretty sure I have experienced more than most, yet still less than others. There have been more tears and moments of doubt than I care to recall. I spend quite an amount of time wondering, contemplating how to make the lives better for those around me and am constantly trying my hardest to learn something, anything from any and all experiences I am exposed too.

When it comes to marriage as with most men, I am no genius. But I have and always will love the idea of being in love. There is someone for everyone, I truly believe in that premise. Sometimes it is not the person you are looking for and love will come up and slap you in the face! Your relationship blinders having been so thick and narrow you couldn’t see it coming! But there it is and all of a sudden you are awe struck/smitten. Sometimes it’s a feeling or a premonition or you even feel as though God or some form of higher power is steering you in that right direction. A perfect union that becomes love, eventually with a little luck becomes marriage and then when all is right, it becomes a life. Something to be proud of, a traveled road with a gigantic footprint left behind, hopefully a footprint of love pointing the way for others within your family to walk proudly in those very same steps.

No matter the journey traveled how do we get there? How do we have, or create a successful marriage? Television and the movies would have you believe marriage is either a gigantic disaster waiting to happen or sprinkled with chocolate upon the gilded wings of angels. Nice picture huh? MMM chocolate..

The fact of the matter is marriage is work, at times extremely hard, emotional work! You see the thing is as I asked previously; what happens the day after? And after looking at all the lovely wedding pictures on FB today for some reason I thought maybe, just maybe some advice whether warranted or not from a man who has gotten very lucky twice in his life when it comes to marriage might do the trick! Advice from a man who is still madly in love with his wife and the very spirit that drives her every day regardless of everything that has happened in our lives would or possibly should be in order. We learn from those who came before us and regardless of the age there are some basic strategies that I believe hold true no matter how old or young you have become. Strategies or an ideology that hopefully can be built upon and passed down to your children should you make that colossal child bearing mistake! I mean devoted loving moment that will fill your life with so much joy (misery), happiness (frustration), fulfillment (you’ll never be alone again) and love (feels so good when they say I hate you)!!

That was pure sarcasm so no one get their undies in a bunch!!! I absolutely couldn’t live without my children! (No seriously they are part of my retirement plan) Hee, Hee, hee!!!

Ok I’ll stop now.

So after much thought and deliberation, dwelling on the many times I have failed to follow my own advice, here are the top ten things in this man’s eyes, from obviously a man’s perspective that you must do to even attempt creating a long and happy marriage. I am sure some will disagree, but so far by following these simple rules my marriage has indeed been the highlight of my life.

  1. CONTINUE DATING

That’s right kiddo’s, just because you are now married does not mean dating stops! I know you youngsters are saying right now; duh! We date all the time! Well wine tasting weekends, sports venues, concerts, and even burning man will all fade away with time because children, finances and career choices seem to take its place so make it a priority. Year 1-5 will be easy! Its every year after that life seems to continually get in the way! Don’t let it! And if you make a set date night, keep it!!! Or at least do your very best to keep it! There are exceptions but don’t make them the rule, keep them the exception. Listen, date night doesn’t have to be at the Fairmont! A walk at the beach together, a night under the stars, a movie, heck even just shutting off all electronics and talking over dinner. (We will get into talking over dinner later) Just make it happen, you both need it!

  1. LIVE WITHIN YOUR MEANS

I think for men this may be the hardest! Let me break it down for you boys, just because you are now married does not mean YOUR income has doubled!! Oh I see you wringing those fists together thinking that new Malibu Wakesetter is on the way!! Or it might be time to upgrade from the old Ford Focus to the BMW M5! Here’s the sales pitch; I mean come on honey it will be a sweet luxury car you can drive too!!! Hey I know, now that we have combined our money we can put a swimming pool in the backyard and then all your hot friends can come swimming!! And about that pool thingy we need to buy a house so we can have a pool! Let’s get on that shall we!!

Yeah, ahhhhhhhh NO! STOP!!!!! It starts from day one, yes you now are a part of each other’s financials and that does make a difference in both your lives and the decisions that need to be made, but they are decisions made together, as equal partners in a hopefully thriving business (your relationship). Work together on all big purchases and decide together how, where and when any monies will be spent. Keep your expenditures to a minimum and never, ever live outside your means. Just because you have credit, and together your credit score is off the charts does not mean you need to use it!! The more money saved the better! Always have a minimum of 6 months’ salary for you both squirreled away somewhere and an emergency fund with a set minimum decided by you both that is for nothing but EMERGENCIES!! Just to help you out with that last one gentlemen, running out of beer on poker night with the boys is not considered and emergency! Are we clear on that? Your car breaking down (you know that four wheeled object that gets you back and for to work) when you’re short of cash between paychecks, that lads is an emergency!!!

So play it smart kids, save, save and save! Start a ROTH IRA early if you can, and save some more. Put a monthly set amount in an interest bearing account and trust me when I say; you’ll thank me for it later!

  1. ONE PERSON DOES THE BOOKS

Ok this one is up for debate, and I am sure many of you are saying right now; OH HELL NO!!! But I have found if the both of you in your love lorn, twitter pated state decide to combine finances (some couples don’t, keeping separate checking accounts and that’s perfectly understandable and ok too) then together determine who is better suited to manage those finances and assign that person to do so. There are those that believe every bill should be gone over together or splitting the bills like roommates is the perfect fit. You know if that works for you fine, but I am here to tell you, life between the two of you will be so much happier if only one person bears that monotonous monthly barrage of bill paying splendor! Then at the end of the month the two of you can discuss expenditures together if you chose to do so, ensuring your finances are still on track. Bills being paid on time will become a learned habit by one person and there will never be any miscommunication about how, where or when something should be paid. Now of course it also frees up that partner of yours to live their life very much like my wife does. She says she lives like a mafia wife. She don’t know where the money comes from and she don’t care, she knows the house is stocked and foods on the table, and that’s all that matters. So what if Jimmy Beans took one in the head for not delivering his monthly vig, he should of fucking paid up so mamma can get a new pair of shoes damn it!

  1. BE SUPPORTIVE

So here is one that’s going to be hard for some of the men to hear. Wait, no they will hear it, but not understand it, no wait! They will understand it but the definition of what it truly means to be supportive will be lost on them. Ok I am being tough on you guys with generalizations but it comes from a place of experience, understanding and acceptance of my failures as a man.

This was one that was hard for me because what I thought was supporting was in fact me devaluing her attempts at whatever it was she was attempting. Right now you are thinking; huh?? Let me explain.

Example; your wife comes home and states she would like to go back to school, adding onto her degree would help fulfill her desire for higher education.

Great! Right!

So you tell her you are behind her 100%! You tell the world how awesome she is for doing this and you expound all the benefits both didactic, mentally, professionally and emotionally she will receive by attempting this profound journey! Yep you are showing support.

Really you aren’t doing a damn thing but giving lip service.

Where are you when the laundry needs doing? When her dog needs walking, when she needs help juggling work and classes? Where are you when her study group goes late? Are you an understanding partner by having some dinner ready when she gets home, some alone time for her to decompress or do you play word games of guilt with her mind. Oh you think telling her how much you miss her since she has been hard at the books every night is supportive but the reality it is, you are whining and selfish. Afterwards she ends up feeling bad, then after a while she begins feeling so bad she starts slacking on school work needing to be done or she slowly starts resenting you for the pressure put upon her and your relationship. She knows going back to school has created an added strain to the relationship, but she doesn’t need you showing just how much on a regular basis. Now in a strong relationship she really misses you too and will definitely let you know without prompting. She will do her very best to keep date night in the forefront, alone time between the two of you is always in her thoughts, even just being together at night watching a movie should be considered a treat! But don’t throw guilt, even unintended guilt around like its everyday fodder. Don’t let your insecurities come across as support. Because it’s not.

A supportive spouse is there as a partner! Be supportive in any way possible. Remember guilt is bullshit and talk is just that, talk…

  1. WORK SHOULD NEVER COME FIRST

I know, I know, it’s a career thing! We should all retain that hardened resolve to succeed. In my chosen profession as a firefighter the building is filled with Type A personalities so it appears that working hard to obtain that next step, notch in the old career belt would be an absolute! One pitting themselves against the other, striving for success and always giving every ounce of what you have to become the very best you can be.

But there is something you should know now while you are young that may be really hard to understand. You cannot get back time you never held. From the time I left home as a young lad I have worked my ass off! Sometimes there were three jobs at a time, me scratching, clawing, working my way towards something anything! After marriage it was no different. My excuse was always centered on building a life for the two of us. Then I was trying to provide for the three of us, for a house we had purchased, and not long after I was providing for the four of us. I was never home, ever…

When I became a firefighter after years of working a fulltime job, a part time job and volunteering. I swore I would never put my family last again. I made a promise to my wife I would put her and the kids first no matter what! That first year and a half, I worked every overtime shift, every strike team assignment and went to every week long class I could attend. It never stopped, or should I say I never stopped. Promise after broken promise all under the guise of bettering our position through hard work and laborious conditions.

My first wife passed away that year.

She never reaped any of the benefits I promised. She never had any of the time I swore was coming, we never had any family vacations, time away just the four of us. There was never any special memories made, just memories of her life, my life and the two of us passing each other on the way in or out, me coming home from work then her heading to work. Me heading off to work then coming home one, two sometimes four or even seven days later. Her frustration and sadness was written all over her face. I could not get back that time I never held.

Her death taught me a lot about myself. What a selfish jerk I had been, that I was not who I thought I was but was exactly what everyone else made me out to be! It was painful to recognize, a horrendous image in the mirror looking back upon myself. Greedy and self-centered, a man caring only about his personal ambitions. I promised if I was ever allowed the privilege to do it all over again. Things would be different. A life that would be vastly different. I would no longer turn my back on those I loved for selfishness.

My family would/will always come first and to that end I have kept my word. I did remarry and my wife is a selfless, amazing human being. I don’t know where she came from or why she chose me. I don’t know where I would be without her and I have worked very hard at keeping my promises while always working on becoming a better man. I screw up time and again, after all I am a man! But make no mistake, she and our children have always been the first priority in our lives!

OT up on the books? Only taken after talking with my wife, my kids. Checking to make sure there are no family commitments that precede it.

Family vacation planned? Plan it! Take it, do it, enjoy it, and create those memories lasting a lifetime!

Kids are participating in school sports? I am there! No work or project will ever stop me if I can help it! From standing at the sidelines, cheering on my children or simply standing there quietly where they can see me and smile knowing dad never let them down.

Now don’t get me wrong, in my profession there are definitely times where it just cannot be helped and I am at work whether I like it or not. It is part of the emergency services life. But I chose, work for and have stayed with a department that is close to my family, their schools and sports activities. So even while I am at work, occasionally I am able to still participate depending on the activity. I am one very lucky man in that aspect. I am keeping my promise.

I will preach it a thousand times! Family, your family, your wife should always come first.

  1. TIME APART IS GOOD

Ok I know she is your best friend, the two of you do EVERYTHING together! She is the sunshine in your morning the heavenly silver lined cloud that adorns your evenings. When you look at her your brain turns to mush and your heart beats to no end. She is the non-existent unicorn you have captured and she is all yours, no one else’s. Skittles and ice cream for everyone!!!! Yay!!!!!

But who were you before her?

It is a valid question. Think about it.

Yes the two of you will grow as human beings together. There are parts of you both that will change over time as your lives expand and your beliefs change. But I ask the question, who were you? What were you? What were the things you loved to do or partake in that developed the person she fell in love with in the first place?

There is nothing wrong with a weekend away fishing or hunting. Poker night with the boys or wine tasting with friends now and again. There is nothing wrong with loading up the horses with a few buddies to disappear into the hills for a day or two! Still participating in the activities that made you well uh YOU!

For me it is fishing and riding motorcycles.

If I can get away fishing for a day or two I reboot my brain. Remember why I am who I am. Reflect on all that has happened over the last few weeks while finding where I have either failed or succeeded. It is that opportunity for me to remember who I am, while doing what I love with no expectations or assumptions.

The same goes with motorcycle riding. If I can disappear for a day or two, the open road helps me find myself. The solitude in combination with that motor humming beneath me, the openness out on the road, an ability to be one with my surroundings, smelling the air, feeling the temperature changes as I ride! I find myself very quickly. Motorcycle riding and motorcycles in general is something I am very passionate about, I have been riding motorcycles since I was 15. So you can see it is one of my activities that allows me to remember who I am, where I came from, cleansing my soul and regenerating my resolve.

So find that thing that is you! Keep it, hold onto it, and use it when needed. Your wife will understand, it is the reason she needs a girl’s weekend, rides that triathlon, participates in marathons or has bunko night and time with her best friends. We all need that something that defines who we are while allowing us the freedom to grow.

Now if your thing that defines you is bars and strip clubs! Buster you are on your own!

  1. CREATE YOUR OWN UTOPIA

This one to me is very important! So many of us live together as couples/partners but really we are living apart. We rent, we own, we live in a van down by the river! But we treat these places as stop over points, places to rest our heads at night, a place to keep us out of the weather and nothing more. All that is good and fine, but the reality is, as a married couple or partners your domicile should not only be a reflection of the two of you but a place you look forward to being!

Seriously, when you are at work you should not dread going home! Your home, no matter where it is should be your vacation spot before you even actually have a VACATION SPOT!!!!

Your mind is blown right now huh?

Think about it, don’t you want to live somewhere that you cannot wait to get back too? I know I do! Our house is exactly what we always dreamed it would be! Yes I totally need to remodel the kitchen and we need new carpets, ok the entire interior needs repainting, (shit feeling kinda bad about our place right now) but when you pull into our driveway and look around you see something we have worked very hard for, a place our children will remember the rest of their lives, a place where I can sit under a tree and watch the dogs run about. A place where my horses walk up to the back fence and say hello. It is not what everyone would want, it is more than some and less than others, but it is our place. I look forward to going home and being there and if I never was able to travel on vacation again it would be fine. You see I can simply move the trailer out back and build a campfire. We are there because it is our vacation spot before we had a vacation spot! It is our utopia.

Find what makes your place special and expand upon it! Dream it together, build it together, live in it together and before long it will be your utopia, your special place filled with love and personal growth! A place you long for every moment of the day.

  1. Children

I have talked about children a little in this list, as if it’s an assumptive equation. You know like;

Billy + Sally = Baby Dudley

But here is the thing and I cannot stress this enough if you decide children are for the two of you! Do not under any circumstances if at all humanly possible have children before you are ready! Ok that might have been a little strong, but here me out. I understand there are times accidents happen both pre and post relationship solidification. And you know what, if you are ready to meet that challenge head on then you do you and do it damn well!! Good on ya! But there is a family dynamic that has bugged me from before I even understood what it meant.

Family members that start pushing children the minute you get married.

Mom, dad, Auntie Bee, Uncle Rufus they all miraculously become that stock trader with the inside scoop on child rearing. Pulling you aside and whispering in your ear that little insider trading nugget that will undoubtedly enrich your lives.

Things like……

Hey buddy listen, you and the misses should really be getting to knocking boots seriously right now! The quicker you have kids the sooner you can retire without having to pay for the little shits anymore!

Or

Hey girl, you know if you have a couple little dumplings right away you will be young enough to rebound that body and still have time to rock a career after they get into school!!

Or

Hey guys my wife Gertrude is pregnant so why don’t you two get pregnant as well then we can raise our kids together!!! Doesn’t that sound like fun???

Or-and this is my personal favorite

Hey kiddo the faster the two of you procreate a couple of tax deductions the better off you’ll be financially. You know what I’m saying?

Why yes, yes I do because I speak English too… Ugggg!!!

Each one of those lines has been used on me over the years so the names have been changed to protect the innocent!

Here is the deal. Have children when you are ready. I know you are thinking; when will that be? Trust me you will know. Like dropping a hot iron your foot you will feel the pain and know the time is right. On the first round we waited five years. We decided we wanted to build OUR life together before bringing another life into the mix. It really bothered some of our family but we didn’t care. Also if it happens it happens and that’s ok too, just have the resolve to do it your way, the way the two of you want to make it happen. Everyone means well but sometimes you just need to remember that following your own path is alright, regardless of the popular consensus.

Also, and this very important as well.

Once you have children. Never, and I mean EVER let those cute, cherub like bundles of love divide you.

My wife comes before my children. Always! If there is no us then there is no them. Children are like sponges, absorbing everything they see and hear. By placing my wife first all the time it teaches them the importance of having respect for one another. They will do everything they can as they grow to wedge themselves between the two of you, to get what they want at all costs and most of the time they don’t even know they are doing it! But if much like the war, you are a united front then the enemy will never get through! Once they feel the repeated habit of unification they will understand its importance and actually relish in the reliability of two parents on the same page. It becomes a feeling of safety for them because they know both parents care enough to keep the emotional ship on an even keel.

  1. LEARN TO ACCEPT CHANGE

Life is about change, the sooner you figure that out the better off you’ll be. We grow older and our bodies change. The sun moves around the earth, time moves on and our jobs change. We wake up every day and our moods/tastes change. Our union or marriage will endure change time and again. I mean you aren’t still wearing that Cosby sweater from the early 90’s are you? No you changed and your taste in clothes has changed. Or at least I hope so because nothing is more sad than that 50’s something guy with a mullet still trying to rock the members only jacket and parachute pants from 30 years ago. No sir you can’t touch this! Nor does anyone want too!!!

Accepting change can be a daunting task at times, but accept it you must. To fight against the hands of time is ludicrous and I can say from experience that in the long run most times change is good. Yes some times change can be bad but after careful consideration I am sure you will have learned something along the way.

So remember it may be same as it ever was but in the end, change gonna come.

Embrace it.

Well Gentlemen! Here it is! After much thought and consideration, countless reflections and several self-inflicted go fuck yourself moments! If you are still reading this long ass diatribe written by someone with no real credentials and an incredible ability to sound important when in reality I am nothing more than a hack sitting alone in my basement!!! I bring to you the number one most important thing you as a newly married man can do to ensure a successful marriage with many years of unrelenting happiness falling upon your freshly adorned virgin feet of gold!!!

Are you ready? Can you feel it’s importance???

  1. LISTEN, PARTICPATE THEN RECIPROCATE

What? You already listen you say? You are the best listener in the world? You are a solid participant in your marriage and of course you love to reciprocate right? Of course you understand reciprocation is completely different from procreation? You got that? Yes?

A little confused right now? Let me help.

Us men are fixers, we love to fix everything! If we can’t fix it with our hands then of course we are going to fix it with sound advice, if we can’t fix it with sound advice then of course we will do our best to fix it emotionally. If we can’t fix it emotionally then we pretty much say fuck it and have a beer, it wasn’t worth fixing anyways!

Here is the problem fellas. If you want to have a blessed, wonderful marriage learn first to LISTEN.

Listen with your ears not your mouth. That’s right, one thing I have learned through many hard headed interactions is my wife 99% of the time does not want me to fix the problem, any problem. Nope she simply wants me to listen, quietly, without a response of any great magnitude. You see she already has the answer, she has already worked the problem out in her head, she has already taken the emotional steps to remedy her current situation, and she only needs me to support her by listening. Quietly, carefully, cautiously, while looking into her eyes with great interest. Don’t have a response ready, don’t talk Just listen.

She also needs you to PARTICIPATE.

You want to know why things have been a little, well shall we say, ICY between the two of you lately? Caught yourself holding in your stomach while gazing into a mirror wondering if she is no longer impressed with that ever changing bod of yours? Thinking maybe the fire is slowly dying because you cannot seem to get her in the mood? You have been married or partnered up for just over a year now, five years, ten years, twenty years! Can things really being going south?

PARTICPATE!!!!! You know what gets the old juices flowing with the supposed love of your life? Let her come home to find you vacuuming!!!! Want to see her strip those clothes off and jump you? (ok this is my fantasy but I think it fits good here) Let her walk in while you are folding the rest of the laundry no one could get to all week! Wanna see her smile and give you that adoring sly look she uses so well to weaken your fortress of steel? Have her come home from a long ass day surrounded by morons to a well cooked meal (Sorry Boston Market doesn’t count) and a glass of her favorite wine? You do know what her favorite wine is don’t you? If not you have some fucking homework to do!!!

That’s right fellas a marriage is a two way street. There are days it’s going to suck for you and there are days it’s going to suck for her! So be a team player my friend!!! After all the last time I checked the two of you were part of a union! A union by definition is the act of uniting two or more things! So start acting like it!!!

Kids need a ride to school? No problem, you got it! Participate!

Dry cleaning needs dropping off? Damn straight it’s on your way to work! Even if it isn’t!

Doctor’s appointment? Hell you will drive her! Of course unless she really doesn’t want you too then uh, hey how about we meet for lunch after??? Don’t know, I am winging it on that one! I said I was a hack working out of my basement so let it go, it’s still great advice!!

You see where I am going with this? Participate, become part of the solution not part of the problem. You no longer live at home with your mommy and if you decided marriage was for you so a woman or partner could cook, clean and do your laundry then you just married your mom! Uh GROSSS!!!!!

So get off the couch, clean up, do some laundry, make some dinner, and be a part of the great team you envisioned when you said; I do.

RECIPROCATE or to give and receive. For all that she gives you, brings to your life, shares with you unconditionally. Give it back and more. Living the selfish life is no way to live. Living it while married is a recipe for disaster. She fell in love with you just as much as you fell in love with her. You joined together, whether under the eyes of a God or the powers of the universe. For every little moment you share, a touch of a hand, sweet kiss or even just that special way you gaze at each other from across a room. Reciprocate, give it back, and then give it back some more. Never stop giving, never stop touching, never stop saying you love each other, never stop holding hands. Some days it will be hard, you may be mad at her, she may be mad at you, heck you both may equally want to throat punch each other! We are human, we are an imperfect animal. But where we can fix that is by always showing a love for each other. Remembering why we became a union in the first place. What it was that created this love and if we stop reciprocating on one side, the other or both, then the love dies. Boooooo!!!!!

No matter how mad I may get at my wife, or mad she may get at me. We have always done this one thing, this one simple thing and the minute we do it, we instantly begin to feel the love we have for each other, we start looking into each other’s eyes, and then we begin talking. Once you start talking the problem can be solved and even if it’s not solved you know what you just did? Right? That’s right gentlemen, you listened, you participated and then you reciprocated. BAM!!! IN YOUR FACE!!!!

That one thing we do? We hug.

At some point either she or I will say; do you want a hug? Sometimes it no, I am not ready. For me I am a hugger, it is who I am so I am always ready for a hug. I may not really want it yet, but I’m ready. It’s ok if neither person is ready. I wait patiently, and after a bit of time, we see that look in each other’s eyes and we know, we are going to hug it out! It’s only a matter of time before we are laughing and watching The Walking Dead or Americas Got Talent together!! Whoop, Whoop, case closed.

So there it is, just in time for the summer marriage season! I apologize if this was no help at all or you were looking for advice to help you with Farmers Only dot com.

I’m just a man, an imperfect being, trying my best to make the next day better than the last. If I can drag you along for the journey all the better. Learning is so much more fun in a group than all alone.

Good luck.

 

Remember if you like my page then PLEASE hit the like button! If you think my story is worthy, then please by all means share it with the world!

But if you hate it! Really hate it, well then, I have a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you like my article, well then, that will be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not social media stalk you. But if you hate it, Really hate it! I will look for you, I will social media stalk you, I will find you and I will leave you with a very nasty emoji…

 

 

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Hi ho, Hi ho, its off to work I go…..

firetruck-fenders-2-S

It felt strange pulling into the parking lot and I have no idea why. I have stopped by a hundred times over the last few months, yet walking into the building it was as if a giant weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Moving effortlessly down the hallway with the lightness in my step of Danny Kaye (only us old timers will understand that reference). I opened the door to our day room and was instantly greeted with the boisterous banter of a warm firehouse. The back and forth one liners that are often associated with this type of setting are what in-house legends are made of. My smile broadened.

Individually guys would walk up to say welcome back, I greeted them with: hey I am the new guy James, nice to meet you, division sent me down so anyone know where I can put my stuff? A couple good chuckles were had, I grabbed a hot cup of jo and sat in a very familiar chair. I was home again, with people who have supported me as only family could. Sighing a very heavy sigh, at that very moment all felt right with the world.

Friday was my first day back in the firehouse and I was shocked at how much I missed it, all of it! The chores, the calls and of course the guys! Two months are a long time to be away from work, let alone people you consider your second family. But here I was, knocking the dust from my helmet, going through my turnouts and checking all my gear. I was smiling, actually smiling and feeling the warmth that came with that smile. Gone for a few moments was all the worries associated with my life, it felt great.

That feeling was short-lived as before we started our day I gathered everyone around to give them an update on Jacys condition and where we were in regards to treatment. It was an awkward silent time. I understood. What do you say when a co-worker/friend gives you that much information? They all feel my pain and understand it is very difficult for me to adequately express those feelings while meeting everyone else’s emotional needs. But one thing is always a constant when it comes to this family, each one has my back, as I would have theirs in a similar situation.

We ran calls, did chores and by mid-day ended up downtown for the annual Downtown Business Association Halloween hand-out! How fun! Handing out candy to hordes of kids all dressed up in their Halloween costumes! Meeting people, talking with kids, joking around and generally having a good, old-fashioned normal day, as if nothing else was happening in my life.

That night was hard. I didn’t sleep well, tossing and turning in my now unfamiliar bed. When I did sleep I awoke confused, disoriented and afraid. Worried that something bad was about to happen, scared that my kids needed me, panicking over an inability to just drop things and leave in case the phone did ring.

The second day was fine and the second night not much better. My worrying seemed to be getting stronger, I consoled myself that there were only 6 or so hours left and that my children can make it without me. I have raised them to take of themselves and I know Cody will do a great job! Hell in the 1800’s dad would leave the 8-year-old in charge of the 6-year-old for a week! It all turned out ok most of the time, right?

When I got home the next morning my overall feeling was of relief. I had made it through a 48 hour shift without losing my mind. I had proved to myself it could be done, that letting go of some of my worries must happen. My heart was filled with joy over the reunion of my crew and the interesting calls we had run during our rotation. It felt good to have my mind and body back in a normal groove.

I spoke with Jacy this evening. Her prognosis is still the same as things haven’t changed much. She still smiles and see’s the positive outcome although we have started talking more about the “what if’s” with her doctor. I don’t like “what if’s”. They weigh heavy on my soul, leaving me nervous and gun-shy. Once the lights go down late at night after I say a prayer or two the “what if’s” start gnawing away at my insides. Eating at me, taunting me into believing they are real, testing my faith. It’s like they are a broken/scratched record playing over and over again in my head. Certain nights they bring me to tears as I drift off to sleep. I awake several hours later in a cold sweat, face and pillow soaked as they play out their dirty little mind games while I dream. I don’t particularly care for being the unwilling participant in these dreams so I struggle to stay awake staring at the ceiling and wondering why?

Faith is a tricky bitch. You must hear any and all negatives to fully understand and reinforce any positives. To have faith is to attest unconditionally that through faith only one outcome can become a reality. In turn you must suffer through many negative thoughts processes to achieve faith. You must sort them into categories, holding onto only those entrenched in reality. Once they are in a neat little folder wedged inside your mind you can proceed to judgement though careful, faith driven evaluation of any situation. The tricky part is understanding the importance of negatives while never allowing them to overtake your positivity based upon faith. Some nights that is harder than others.

Tonight as I write, the empty sound of my house is deafening. The dull drone of silence beats loudly in my ears. It is time to go to bed and I tire of my best friend not being there when I turn off the lights. Like a small child clutching their blanket or bear to keep away evil spirits at night; how I wish my wife was here so that just one night I could clutch her while sleeping peacefully, be protected instead of the protector, guarded from evil dreams continually questioning my faith. Only then could I awaken the next morning to find this was nothing more than a really long, extremely bad nightmare.

But that is not to be so I toss and turn some more, constantly fighting faithless thoughts in the dark while counting down the minutes until I can hold her again.

I love you honey, please come home soon….

When a mullet is more than a mullet.

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It came from my mouth like venom through a snakes bite. Over and over again I struck, not just during one opportunity but through countless encounters. My victim continually wandering into my lair, setting himself up for attack, never backing away but every now and again wincing just a little. It was cruel and at first unintentional, but intentions can change with the wind, leaving the recipient wondering what the hell. Soon every attack had intention and meaning, usually in front of others as if it made me a better person for calling out my victims perceived flaws. It didn’t. My strikes were evil, demeaning and showed that I was nothing more than a full-grown bully. Others would join in and like a pack of hungry dogs we feasted upon our victim’s distress. Gnawing, tearing away at his very fabric, and never once thinking about the consequences or where it may leave him emotionally. All in the name of the past, our perception and what we felt was humorous.

Last night, awake, staring at the ceiling, my mind raced over the last few months and how hard it’s been for me to keep mentally strong. Focusing directly on each child’s needs, where I may have succeeded and where I have failed. Wondering about the future and what it holds for this family I continue trying to plan the next step. Our children will need their father to be overly understanding as emotions are high. My game needs to be spot on as to not let them get away with things they shouldn’t all while easing up just a bit allowing them to feel whatever emotions they feel in regards to their mothers absence.

My daughter and 15-year-old son have presented the largest challenge.

Parker knows who he is and is very comfortable with himself. He tells you how he feels and makes no bones about you overreacting to any portion of his mental/physical/educational progress. His mind in some areas is a bit regressed while in others he is wise beyond his little 10 year old years. Lately though school has been a significant challenge for him. Myself, the school and a dear friend who has been assisting him at home have all come up with a solid game plan to keep him in play. We want him to rodeo badly as we think it will be a good distraction and it is after all what we do as a family. He wants nothing to do with rodeo and fights us at every corner. Frustrating to say the least.

Jessica my 11 year old daughter is coming into her own. Straight A student who always strives to please. She is currently expressing herself by being defiant, to everything, and I mean EVERYTHING! She has a problem controlling her weight, it is a giant burden for her that she takes very seriously. Since mom has gone back into the hospital and been gone for these four months I recently found she is sneaking food at night again. A sort of coping mechanism for her emotional status. She hides the food out of fear. Fear that she will get in trouble for eating after hours. There was a time when this was a huge issue in our family and we even went as far as building caged doors for our pantry to keep not just her but all our little vultures from eating us out of house and home. She is struggling hard, not just with the eating, but back talking, arguing, and picking fights like a drunken sailor with only hours left on shore leave! Somedays she marches around with her fists all balled up and you just know, like a back alley brawl it’s about to go DOWN!

Our rodeo cowboy Jake has also been “bucking” (see how I did that?) the system as well! He hits everyday toes turned out, hand locked tight ready to turn out and hit it hard. More times than not he hits the dirt hard, but the boy saddles up and just keeps trying. Jake too has been working at finding his place amongst all of this family drama. He carries a lot of responsibility when it comes to the ranch and he is such a large man sized boy I often forget he is just that; a boy. He struggles with his grades, constantly. He is also struggling to make the right decisions when it comes to friends and after school extra-curricular activities. We have all been there and I think it’s why we want better for our children. I have made no secret about my past, about my high school experience. I chose the easier way out and I need them to learn from those mistakes. Taking the easy way out put me close to ten years behind in life. Unfortunatley like his father he has this need to experience things, to learn the hard way, and it scares the shit out of me. We have been butting heads very hard over the last few weeks to a point I feel like we were going nowhere. Lately besides grades, his behavior and his decisions when presented with an opportunity to run astray with his friends have not been good. I have also been riding him pretty hard about his new, old school hairstyle. Emotionally he looks like a beat dog.

So here is where I am going with this whole thing.

Today as we are preparing for a family visit with Ms. Jacy my gander hit the fridge. There upon it is 20 or so pictures of our family from over the last two years. Do you know what I saw? Our kids, our happy well adjusted, personable children. Smiles on their faces, hugging their bald mom, laughing with each other, holding up trophy buckles, works of art, hugging the dogs, yes the dogs are family too! Our children that I spent all night worrying about how I was doing as a father all looked ok. Each one showed their own style! Their own version of who they are at the very moment a shutter froze them in time. I saw four individuals, four young people choosing their own paths regardless of anyone else’s wishes and doing it with confidence. It was an amazing moment filling my heart with joy! But you know what stuck out the most? Jakes mullet.

Jakes mullet stuck out like a white flag waving from the trenches! Telling me it was time for me to wave that flag, surrender and ask forgiveness. For you see each one of our kids has something I constantly pick at, like a good parent should! You know, a slight course adjustment or suggestion to help them understand they aren’t fitting into a classification, a social mold if you will. A couple of things dawned on me in that very moment. One, why should our children fit into any classification? Are we not supposed to allow them a certain freedom to find out who they really are? If that means some heartbreak now and again then so be it! It will teach them how to handle themselves in tough emotionally charged situations. And two, no matter the other out of the norm issues I had in fact been particularly hard on Jake and for what? A chosen hairstyle?

When Parker said no to rodeo, claimed art as his thing and took to ditching a ball cap in favor of a flat brimmed drivers cap making him appear very artsy in deed, did I scoff at the notion? Hell no! In fact it is 100 percent ok that he hates rodeo, horses and all that goes with it. That is his choice. He has tried it, given it a good go and ended up in the hospital a few times! Trust me his thought process may change at some point and if it doesn’t so be it! That’s who he is, we love him for it and by the way the kid is very creative! His art shows a caring heart, personality and great love for all things.

When Jessica started stealing food from downstairs to hide in her bedroom. Eating at all times of the night even though we spent countless hours chastising her for such behavior did I freak out? Well YES I freaked out! I freaked the hell out! Worried my daughter’s weight issues would expand, she would be uncomfortable with herself and have huge body issues as the result of bullying! But somewhere along the line I realized the problem was not all her, part of the blame was us, more importantly me. So I pulled her aside and let her know it was ok to eat. If she felt hungry, just eat, take what you want and eat it. My only rule? Let me know you are going to eat so I can approve it or find you an alternative. She looked shocked as though the words coming from my mouth were some form of cruel joke! But nothing shocked her more than when I told her as long she is comfortable with herself, as long as she can look in the mirror and love herself for who she is, then who cares what anyone else thinks. My job is to educate you, help you make the right choices and hope you come away a strong and confident woman. If that strong and confident woman is what society deems as overweight or out of the norm then tough shit! I told her I loved her and gave her a hug. She left with a huge smile.

One thing I have repeatedly told all my children is find who you are, embrace it, make the most of it, discovery is how you find yourself so that when you are an adult you can be happy with the person you have become and you will never shrug off reinventing yourself. Yet here I was tearing apart those very values by continually ridiculing, mocking, terrorizing and just plain bullying my son over a stupid haircut! Now let’s be frank, the mullet is hands down in my opinion the dumbest looking haircut around, conjuring up images of Billy Ray Cyrus in two sizes to small faded jeans jumping around like an idiot! But that’s just it, it is my “achy breaky” image of what that haircut means to me. To him it represents several of his rodeo heroes, men he looks up too, that he wishes to emulate! I am sorry that just isn’t a bad thing and if it is what defines him as a person right here, right now, then so be it! This is how he takes those words of advice and runs with them, learning, crafting and molding the person he wishes to become! Somewhere I lost that, somewhere I felt it was ok to tear him down over and over again. On the fridge there was a card with a picture of him with both long and short hair. You know what? He is the same kid! The kid I love for who he is, not what his damn hair looks like. Today I sent him this text.

“Hey, just wanted to tell you something that’s on my mind. I know things have been rough lately between us, I hope you are learning from each encounter as I am learning from them as a father. I believe you are trying your hardest in school so don’t let yourself down. Continue to strive to always be a little better for yourself, not for me. I realized today I need to lay off you about that damn mullet. I have spent my whole adult/fatherly life preaching to you kids to be your own person and yet I contradict myself by giving you crap! If that hairstyle defines you right now then so be it! I apologize for all the grief I have given you. I am proud of you for being comfortable with who you are and that is one of the most important things for any young man to achieve. Keep up the good work, have a fantastic day, I love you…”

He replied by saying thanks dad, it’s just a rodeo thing and I don’t care about the mullet grief. I am working hard on my grades and I love you too.

Maybe it was just me.

So bring back the mullet son, business in the front, party in the rear! Either way, a mullet, a few well-placed photographs, and a sleepless night all combined so I could learn when fatherhood crosses the line into parental bullying, ending with the discovery that your child, hell your children are really doing just fine…

The man in the mirror, the dad staring back….

man in the mirror

Every day starts out exactly the same. Rising from my bed, a slow shuffle carries my hurting body into a bathroom where I come face to face with the one person I fight with the most.

Me.

It doesn’t matter whether I am at work or home, this process is exactly the same. Some days I like this person more than others, but for the most part we argue and fight constantly. I don’t know where my inner animosity arises but it is a part of who I am, what I will become and it stands in the way of every decision ever made in my life.

And I wonder.

Am I the only person fighting this inner fight? There is no guide book to a person’s life. Yes there are numerous books one may immerse themselves in to obtain information, but a reality remains that we as human beings spend our entire lives accumulating information making informed or by the gut decisions. Then we log our successes or failures away in that little brain of ours for which we only use a tenth of its actual power only to repeat the process all over again. Some will triumph and some will continue to flounder, drowning in the very mediocrity forced upon ourselves through a lack of conviction and confidence. Many will rise above, hearing the honesty associated with help offered while others will hear only what they want to hear. The wall of pride and stubbornness combined with an ever increasing annoying little voice in a man’s head telling them when they to look in the mirror; they are doing it all wrong!

I am a combination of both.

Pride, unearned, inexperienced, accumulated pride has kept me from growing to a potential that for some strange unexplained reason I know is within my reach. So how do I overcome this mountain placed before me?

There is a yearning deep inside my soul to help people, it has always been there, whether through deeds or a good story which may make them smile. My need to make someone feel better, help them through a crisis, fix a problem and carry their weight has indeed been a blessing and a curse all at once.

Since I was a small child fear ruled my life. The fear of failure, embarrassment or someone calling me out publicly kept me largely in the shadows. As I grew I found storytelling to be a release from the doldrums of my normal life. Real stories, occasionally twisted and spun with colorful exaggeration enticing a listener to pay attention, find something they could relate too or swim within the humor associated. As an adult there was more than storytelling needed as I began to feel a yearning to “walk the walk” instead of merely talking the talk. More action, challenges, more times I was told; you can’t. This of course only drove me to prove not only “I could” but I could do it better and faster sharing my experiences along the way hoping to entice others into taking a chance.

Writing came back into my life (Thank you Pam Adams SVHS creative writing teacher) and awakened something left for dead a long time ago. Words, the English language, a glorious medium to share, read, listen in one’s own voice and learn. Where else but through the written word can one interpret their very own story or piece of advice and come away with a mental picture that belongs solely to them? Definitely not by having it prepared for the recipient by a producer or videographer. That is left for the movie makers who wish us to just sit and absorb. Never questioning what we are witnessing with our eyes, for we are their captives, listening, absorbing exactly what ever feeling, emotion or storyline they the producers wish us to walk away with. Slowly becoming mindless drones.

So here we are today. Before I sat down, I was yearning for a story, any story, I have over ten written and carefully placed in file and yet not a one of them in my opinion are good enough for anyone else’s eyes. Walking into the bathroom to wash my hands before sitting down this afternoon and type, I find myself staring once again at the man in the mirror. A Walter Mitty like expression cast upon my face. But what does this man staring back want from me?

It is a known fact this man doesn’t have all the answers, he stares back with the very same intensity thrown his direction. Brow scrunched down, eyes on fire, wrinkles now taking the place of what was once smooth, chubby skin. He no longer feels any burden to prove anything to anybody but instead wants desperately to help someone, anyone, learn from all his mistakes (and there are plenty). The argument begins! How do I do it, why do I want to share and does anybody really care?

Then like a slap across the face it comes to me; what if there were fathers like myself, men staring in the mirror trying to find an answer, tired of listening to educated prophets explain what their inner most thoughts should be. Exactly how you are supposed to behave, picking roads you are supposed to travel, explaining the experiences and stages of life you are supposed to partake. What if dads or soon to be dads just wanted to hear from someone who has experienced portions of life that in fact may relate to them on a more personal level? Made mistakes and found answers the HARD way and although success is a measurement only you as a person can scale. Maybe just maybe someone might learn something that sounds reasonable. Not contrived or demeaning.

Stories and advice that are important and ring true; not because someone holds a Master’s degree and spent $100,000.00 dollars doing so (something I haven’t nor ever will do). But advice given and received in turn from someone simple, someone struggling, someone who believes the best knowledge gleaned comes from a hands on approach, a set of listening ears and a kind heart.

Someone who stares into the distance and wonders why?

That is what drives me to write, what I personally want to share, and that is why I started this blog, started chronicling the journey my family has taken through my eyes.

Please share your experiences on my blog, please share so others may share too. My wish is one day this blog has so many dads, moms, parents talking and expressing themselves over every decision, choice, rant, story involving our lives, our children that we can all laugh, cry and share our time as one, as a virtual family, then maybe there will be a few less men staring in the mirror, looking at the deep lines in their faces and the grey hair upon their heads wondering if they have done it all right.

The man in the mirror will be someone they really want to see…

man in the mirror two

 

#dads, #stayathomedads,#sharinglife

Being Thankful-One year and seven days later

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone. I browsed briefly through many blogs this afternoon all touting the importance of being thankful and although I hate jumping on any blog bandwagon (Ferguson), I find that this evening in particular thankfulness shall abound and with good reason.

One year and seven days ago I stood in an arena, working a cute grey mare, getting her in shape to practice hard during the off-season. At 11:40 am my phone rang and through trembling voice my wife informed me she needed to head towards Vallejo Kaiser immediately or she might die.

Think about that for a moment.

A seemingly perfect day, slightly overcast and a little chilly brought to a screeching halt, turned upside down because of one single phone call and the words “I might die”. I have been dealt this card before so my recollection powers are incredibly strong and as I type the smell of cold wet sand and winter eucalyptus trees fill my senses. A moment captured forever deep within my brain.

One year and seven days ago our world changed forever. Although we try, it’s like the ghost in the closet, the elephant in the room, the fat lady who hasn’t sung yet. It is just there.

One year and seven days ago, I didn’t know if there was going to be a forever for her and me. I cried, hard, then did what I always do; Sat down, absorbed all the information, shut my mouth for a while, and developed a plan.

One year and seven days ago my friends, people I have known and cared about knocked on my door, called me, walked into my home and said nothing more than: how can we help? I have never been good at accepting help, I am a helper by nature not a recipient, but all that changed and they assured me with love that I had no say in the matter.

One year and seven days ago my children sat dumbfounded, confused, and unable to comprehend exactly what was going on. Words like chemotherapy, drugs, cancer, Leukemia, blood cells, and sick all became a staple of conversation in their worlds. They never quite knew how to take it all, the thought that their mother might die, but they did in their own ways. It changed them a little, I am not sure what the lasting effect will be, only time will tell.

One year and seven days ago a six month odyssey began with month-long stays in the hospital, missing most of our high schoolers senior year, juggling a family with the help of friends, multiple midnight runs to the emergency room, nights alone wondering if she was going to die, nights in bed with her wondering if she was going to die. Days knowing she would be alright only to be slapped in the face with another trip to the hospital. Days of triumph and love, nights of cursing our life and the strain it was bringing to our family and to her. Nights of praising God for the reprieves, and slowly understanding things were going to get better.

One year ago today we had Thanksgiving in our house. The meal was completely prepared by friends, family and strangers. It was amazing that so many people cared about us, our family and our children to the extent of ensuring we had a thanksgiving meal. We Facetimed with Jacy that night and before desert could be dished I was back on the road, heading to Kaiser to sit with my wife, thankful to be able to do so thanks to a rapid diagnosis by an extraordinary young doctor and a myriad of family and friends watching my children.

Tonight, my wife lies next to me asleep from a long day of travel and family. She is not perfect, she may never be the same as she was before, although it won’t be for a lack of trying. Her emotions are still raw from 6 months of chemo-hell, her brain struggles with the after effects of chemotherapy at times which leaves her frustrated and her body is always doing strange things. We don’t know how long chemo-brain will last, we don’t know how long her body will continue to hold her down when it comes to strenuous activities and we don’t know if the leukemia will come back in one year, five years or never. But put all that aside and what you’re left with is one mother of four who can hug and kiss her children and to date is cancer free.

For that, on this Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful….

The Fire Service saved my life/The Fire service is slowly killing me….

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The Fire service saved my life.

The Fire service is slowly killing me…

When becoming a firefighter in 1995 it was clear to me this choice would forever change the course of my life. No longer would my family wonder when daddy would be home, no longer would stressing about paychecks, health care, retirement, and the ability to actually take a vacation fall upon my shoulders with such weight. There would always be adventure, excitement and the repeated knowledge of a job well done for me to submerge my inner ego or satisfy the adrenaline junkie long hidden deep inside.

Constant education, growth (both inner and professionally) a career tailor made for a lost soul looking for something, anything to help define who he is, what he is, while allowing his search to encompass a life with honesty and compassion. Two emotions he knew he possessed but could never quite get to emerge.

You have not truly lived until deaths hand has been held. I know that sounds hard and cruel but looking into deaths seething eyes while your team members rip away a life chosen, robbing deaths intentions, handing life back to the living, one cannot help but leave feeling a tad bit invincible. This euphoric high comes from helping someone on the “verge” and it must be ten times more potent than any other drug. There are different levels of euphoria achieved through a job well done. Whether it be a successful extrication, saving a life, any life from fire or re-starting a heart then witnessing a human being trying their hardest to breathe again; to feel the warm soft touch of an elderly persons hand in thanks for helping them back into bed after spending an unwanted night on the floor, or calming a new mother who has called 911 for nothing more than cough, or sniffle. Changing a smoke alarm battery at 2 in the morning because the occupants are scared there may be a fire somewhere in the residence, or simply smiling and waving to a kid on the street as their eyes light up watching us drive by. This job has saved me, it took a man filled with pride, and no idea how to harness an energy created by his abrasive personality and shaped me into what those who love me, hoped I would or could always become. Yes this job saved me, from no one person or anything other than myself.

This job is also killing me…

Every day I hurt, something hurts, my back, my neck, my shoulder and some days my heart. I carry with me the pain of every person I have ever comforted or held, I remember locations in town by the severity or need. I have a job that is very emotional and yet we can show no emotion while on scene, many times stepping outside for just a moment to swallow hard, retain that granite exterior the public expects, then walk back inside to do your best. I know I have spoken of this in the past and it’s no different for any other person who works hard every day, struggles with life’s ups and downs, but it seems that writing it out always makes me feel a little better. This job, this blessed job, with the ability to touch so many lives, garner respect that you often wonder is really deserved, this job is slowly killing me. I stay in shape, both physically and mentally. It is a requirement if you chose this career path. To believe it is not is pure naivety usually held by the young and brash. This entire writing came about due to a realization two days ago while driving home that in fact some days are better than others and some days it just isn’t my fault for the way I feel.

In the fire service we work very hard at creating awareness. Awareness of our surroundings, including people, places, weather, traffic, building size etc… Basically we teach what is known as ‘size up” from the moment we leave the station on a response we are constantly sizing up the situation. So imagine everyday you are at work the captain is preaching size-up, analyze the call, the updates, the appearance once on scene, your immediate surroundings. Now being a good new guy you start sizing up everything throughout your day because well practice makes perfect. Yes? So at lunch you size up the structure, pretend it’s on fire, what is the occupancy load, what time of day is it, who is or is not inside? Now since it’s my fantasy fire there is flames ripping from the A/B side of the structure and in my little fantasy world I need to determine manpower, resources, plan of attack, do we go offensive or defensive? Should I up this alarm or can we handle this fire at the current alarm status? What are my needs and the needs of my men and am I able to adequately relay those needs?

Do you get the picture? Day in and day out we do this as good firefighters sharpening our skills, keeping us ready for any contingency, setting ourselves up for the next promotion. To ultimately become the very best we can be. Then over time practice slowly becomes filled with little doses of reality.

A few days ago while driving home gazing into a perfect beautiful blue sky, a light wind is blowing, temps in the mid 60’s, tail of a slow moving front pushing through (see still sizing up) off in the distance there is a plane banking off to the left or southwest. It looks so serene pressed against such a glorious sky. A sigh of contentment as I stare at this military giant cruising through the sky. Then it happens, all my eyes see is a plane, wing separated, spiraling into the ground with smoke billowing from its fuselage. Explosion, location, the farmland and house it has leveled, people inside the plane screaming as gravity takes hold. A shake of the head, the plane is still aloft, safe as it has been a thousand times before. It is the epitome of size up combined with real life past experiences. Because during this planes imaginary corkscrew into the ground my brain instantly went from size-up mode to reality. Visualizing one of the many plane crashes I have responded to including one where I witnessed the plane fold up and plummet straight to earth! So in my brain the process continues, what would I see, what resources would I need etc..

I feel at times as though I can’t do a thing or listen to any conversation, idea or verbally expressed thought without instantly ruining it with my engrained fear. Every car crash, house fire, CPR that was unsuccessful, suicide, fall victim, shooting victim and person assaulted or raped have all left an indelible mark upon my heart, mind and soul. It has created a better firefighter, it has created a person who can share their experiences freely, openly with others in our ranks, but it has taken a toll.

My children can’t do anything without me overanalyzing, my poor wife, no matter what fantastic idea she comes up with gets shot down immediately because in seconds I see the tragedy associated with whatever her plan held if something were to go horribly wrong. Odds are something will never happen, but for me the responses are always the same and hurtful. My parents are aging and somedays I wonder if their passing will affect me? Not that I won’t be sad, but am I so callous towards the face of death that I fear I will be the one comforting others instead of allowing others to comfort me?

Driving my family anywhere is reserved solely for me; the fear of relinquishing the steering wheel is too great. While driving down the road my mind visualizes every guardrail, ditch, narrow road, blind intersection, car alongside and where we would go in a collision. It is hell, a 2-3 hour family trip feels like an eternity in my mind.

Over the years there have been many coping processes but in the end just being quiet although irritating to those who care about me, has been the best. Writing about my experiences has helped immensely as has drinking copious amounts of alcohol. (Just kidding, couldn’t write this whole piece without one smart ass comment) Humor has saved me as well, although some of my humor is not fit for the public as we need to laugh at times at the public’s expense. It is not as though we are heartless, but there are things we see as funny and if we can’t laugh at them or our own stupid responses then this job would quickly become unbearable.

The good runs, lives saved, houses saved, humans touched by our service definitely keep things in perspective. I am surrounded by a loving and incredibly forgiving family and a choice group of friends who understand to the very core what we go through. People who I can speak openly with about the real horrors of this job. It is by far still the greatest job in the world, the fire service did truly save my life and I am forever grateful for all it has afforded me. A great career, bountiful memories, wonderful friendships and a feeling of success. But I would love just once, one single solitary moment where I don’t look at something fun and see only the tragedy.

That is how the fire service is slowly killing me..

Lip Foliage

kid stacheIt started out strangely enough as an act of laziness.  It had been 4 days since my last encounter with a razor, the face had become stubbly and rough.  There was no ill-intent, no malice aligned discord, no social stance of support or injustice to be had. Instead it became nothing more than a middle-aged man deciding he just didn’t want to shave anymore.  Besides, it could never happen anyways, my entire life at one point or another had been spent trying to grow one! Secretly hoping and praying as a lad that one hair would turn into two, two to four and four to a five-o’clock shadow!

So with the skill of a veteran barber from the old neighborhood I shaved it all…..except what lay conspicuously over my upper lip.

Maybe this time will be different I thought! Maybe it will grow and look really cool? Yeah…. Cool like Clint Eastwood or no wait; super cool like Rollie Fingers, Tom Selleck, or maybe even Wyatt Earp!! Oh yeah I could see it now, laying there across the upper regions of my mouth, big, bold, so tough it carries its own zip code! That’s it, I must try! But WAIT!! Do I quaff this soon to be surely beast with the stylish subtleties of a Ron Burgandy or stretch her out sly and snakey with a hint of country charm like Sam Elliot? So many choices, such inner excitement at the mere prospects laying before me!

Over the next few weeks every morning I rose from bed, walked into the bathroom and carefully started cultivating my follicular garden of manliness! I am not sure if I could really witness its progression or wanting it to finally happen so badly was allowing my vision to become superhuman! Zeroing in on one hair after another choosing them for a specific length, size and girth! But there I stood, staring, combing, wondering, if this would be the day? Oh don’t get me wrong, I had tried many times in the past, only to feel like a freak show! A clump of hair here, a spike or tuft there, some of it red with Irish rage and other portions brown with a Caucasian curse.

Inevitably they all met the same fate, to spikey, to scattered, to ragged; all of their untimely ends were met at the hands of Gillette.

Then one day I woke up, made my way into the bathroom as I had done so many times before, partook in the very same ritual as any other day, but this time I could see it without the light on!! Yep that’s right, a natural wonder in the making, right there, just under the confines of my inhalation portholes, perched upon the ledge of a saliva sanctuary, running down both sides of the devils curl lay what I had been dreaming of since puberty!

My very own mustache!!!

And not just any mustache mind you, a super MANLY mustache, the kind of mustache that makes women quiver and men perish from envy! (not really it just sounded good) Best part? It was mine!! A fine cross between Sam Elliot (Ok if Sams was a little smaller and well not quite as thin) and Officer Dangle from Reno 911 (but only in color, not the whole looks like Ned Flanders thing)! Yes sir this thing, much like an unattended garden was owning my face!!! It felt great! It felt AWESOME! Like; like I should ride a horse with a cowboy hat on (oh wait I already do that) or maybe throw on a “cut’ grab my Harley and ride!! (Hmm I kind of do that too) Gosh I really feel like I am not getting anywhere here? Maybe, it’s cool enough I can finally be in a band? Yep that’s it, new cool handlebar mustache obviously means I should be in a band! Right! There are lots of cool singers with big burley manly mustaches like this one! Let’s see, I know there are at least a couple? Think…. Think….

I got it! Freddie Mercury Yeah that’s it!!! He got tons of looks with his mustache! It made him cool! Didn’t it? Ok he was kind of wafey looking, and a little pale. Hmm. How about Frank Zappa? No, no maybe not so much, he was kinda weird too. Or Hey that Biker dude (Glenn Hughes) from the Village People! Yeah that’s still kind of cool isn’t it? Isnt it?? Man maybe not so much….

I know!! I can look like a FIREMAN!! FUCK!!!!!! I have got that one nailed and I didn’t even need a mustache!!!

Huh? What the HELL was I thinking?

After all those years of trying, having a mustache just wasn’t that great. The dog growls at you, the kids think you look weird, everyone greets you with “hey what’s that on your face?” Which is usually followed with the obligatory; Ah yeah man it looks, ah it looks g r e a t? And last but not least the wife stops kissing you. Something about having a brillo pad rubbed across her lips while a porcupine simultaneously wrestles with her cheeks! I don’t know the kisses felt the same to me.

So in the end my great mustache went the way of all my other feeble attempts, landing one grainy strand at a time in the bottom of a bathroom sink, taking all hopes of testosterone filled adventures and adoration from those around me with it.

All I am left with for reflection is a quote by the great scholarly mind of one Mr. Peter Griffin; with great Mustache comes great responsibility.

No truer words have ever been spoken.

Sadly I just wasn’t up to the task…..

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A boy finds a horse…or did a horse find a boy?

When the dust had settled he stared into the soft, red dirt scattered around his partners feet.  Frustration filled every fiber of his body, anger brewed deep inside as he coiled up his rope slowly, deliberately as if this woven, intertwined piece of apparatus had feelings to be hurt by such forcefulness.  He had missed his throw again, leaving his header dragging the steer alone. Team Roping* is his new rodeo sport of choice, it has a pretty big learning curve and right now this boy is bearing that weight.

Looking at his partner from a distance the appearance was one of a nervous looking paint horse standing silently, waiting, hoping not to fall upon the wrong end of youthful rage.  But nothing could be further from the truth. The boy leaned over gently petting his friend, his amigo, letting him know that he (the horse) had in fact done his job, and done it quite well.  The sole responsibility fell completely upon the boy and as they rode out of the arena only a blind person could not see the anger this boy had within himself.

Toowey is a 12-year-old paint, purchased for the staggering sum of $5 dollars.  Toowey was born to be a cutter * He was purposely bred from a fine stallion to a mare of substantial quality all in the hopes he would someday reign king of his craft. But for poor Toowey that was not to be, for this horse was a thinker, so much so that he repeatedly would get into his own way, not allowing the natural course of action to take place. Thus leaving him without a job. A sorry thing for a horse with such a sharp mind. That was until three months ago when a proposition was laid before this young lad; You need a horse to rope from and this horse needs a job. The owner absolutely loved this horse and could not bear to part with him. The deal was simple, if he works he is yours, if Toowey cannot do the job, bring him home, no questions asked. And just like that a union was formed, and my family is forever grateful for this amazing gesture.

Now don’t think for a second it was that easy, you see two months ago I may have paid $10 dollars to send him home. (joking) But you see the thing about Toowey that makes him different from every other horse (besides the astronomical purchase price) the thing that continues to amaze me about this very animal is not that he needed a job, but that he needed a boy.  You see as I previously stated; Twooey is a thinker, he is also a very fast learner, and yes his ability to over think a situation still gets him into trouble on occasion, but he has an uncanny way of saying he is sorry. Roping gives him the release of responsibility that cutting does not and that fits this horse just fine.  He is also incredibly loyal.

That’s right I said he is loyal, loyal like an old bloodhound or your best friend.  I have been around many, many horses in my 48 years and yes they are all different, they all have personalities; traits we love, behaviors we try to correct and we may even like some more than others.  But I have never seen a horse that loves and loves to be loved by just one person like this horse. I am not talking about leaning into a good scratching or nuzzling up I am talking about devotion shown directly towards one human being.

Twooeys engine is huge! He can go and go and go, and just when you thought he was done, he would go some more.  When we sent him off to roping camp I warned the trainer about the size of this horses engine. It was big! Two weeks in, after checking in with the trainer it was confirmed just how big this horses motor was by him stating he almost gave up. But then like a light switch Twooey started to give, and just like that, everyday he learned more, became faster and stronger, and calmer all at the same time. Twooey finally had himself a bonafide job.

When we went to see him the first time is when I noticed Tooweys love starting to show.  As we walked towards the arena his head hung low, he sat still not a muscle twitching (unusual for him) and then he heard Jake’s voice. The boy who brushed him everyday, rode him in countless circles, walked him in the back and talked to him on the way back towards the paddock.  Tooweys head popped up, ears twitched forward and a loud whinny echoed across the arena.  As Jake approached Toowey could barely contain himself, scooting from side to side, licking his lips, quivering his lower lip.  Jake slowly reached out, placing his hand on Tooweys face and neck, slowly stroking him, whispering; hey buddy I’m here.  The horse stopped moving, dropped his head and leaned into my son.  A heavy sigh released, an eye softened and for a moment all was right in this animals world.

It broke my heart to leave him that night, as we drove back I could tell Jake missed his new buddy as well. Two weeks later when we picked him up, I have never seen a horse jump into a trailer so fast, ready for the long ride home, ready to be back with his rider.

Since that time it has been non stop practices and one official rodeo. There have been little successes here and there as far a this young boys roping goes, but no matter what happens or how it ends each afternoon after leaving it all in the arena; no matter how upset this boy becomes with himself or his performance his horse is there, always leaning into him, sighing heavy, lip quivering, happy to be his partner, his friend.

To have that kind of friendship with an animal as a young boy fighting the throes of testosterone coursing through his veins, competition, hard work and the sting of failure is priceless.

It appears as though the boy didn’t just need the horse, but the horse needed a boy. Some matches we just don’t understand, like a 5 dollar horse who unknowingly needed a home, a job and a frustrated boy who unknowingly needed a new partner and a friend. I believe the lord works in mysterious ways…

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*Cutting is an equestrian event in the western riding style where a horse and rider are judged on their ability to separate a single animal away from a cattle herd and keep it away for a short period of time.

*Team roping also known as heading and heeling is a rodeo event that features a steer (typically a Corriente) and two mounted riders. The first roper is referred to as the “header,” the person who ropes the front of the steer, usually around the horns, but it is also legal for the rope to go around the neck, or go around one horn and the nose resulting in what they call a “half head.” Once the steer is caught by one of the three legal head catches, the header must dally ( wrap the rope around the rubber covered saddle horn)and use his horse to turn the steer to the left. the second is the “heeler,” who ropes the steer by its hind feet after the “header” has turned the steer, with a five second penalty assessed to the end time if only one leg is caught. Team roping is the only rodeo event where men and women compete equally together in professionally sanctioned competition, in both single-gender or mixed-gender teams.[1]

When did I become the “old guy”

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Silence interrupted by deafening sounds created within a brain refusing to disengage from endless chatter bleeding forth through a radio stationed not far from where my head lays motionless. A county never sleeps, fire departments responding here, rushing there, fellow brothers and sisters not even being afforded the very moment my stupid brain will not allow me to enjoy. Head filled with echo’s of each and every call they’re responding too, returning from or currently enveloped. Where is my family? Are they home yet? Which district boundary are they traveling through? Or have they nestled peacefully into bed? Whose family is wondering the very same thing without the same general knowledge my ears are so privy too at this very moment? It is my curse, my sleepless, frustrating, torturous curse.

Then it happens, as it has thousands of times during my 19 years of service, the warble tones scream, letting everyone know to cease radio traffic for another 911 call is being dispatched, you wait and wonder? Will it be our tones? Is it our turn? And then our tones ring, forceful and true, setting off a chain of events that could only be described as a technological ballet. A printer springs to life, chattering away, printing the story of our impending response; a light shines brightly inside each and every room of this glorified 6 car garage/hotel, awakening us, blinding us from darkness in conjunction with a horrifying bell whose sound is remnant of electricity coursing through your veins. Doors open, computer screens spring to life and it all crescendos with us, moving from the dead to the undead or in my case no man’s land, the neutral zone, or as some would say; a grey area of lifelessness. Yes we all begin to move, from those who actually are blessed with an ability to sleep at the drop of a hat to station zombies such as myself. We move, swagger, stagger, stumble and charge forth like an attack straight from “the living dead”.

Meet at the map board, wipe the sleep from your eyes, then identify a map page, cross street, address number, a house, business, parking lot, freeway, intersection, country residence. How do I get there, which way is fastest, what type of call is this? Is it a medical aid, structure fire, vegetation fire, vehicle accident, mutual aid, automatic aid, haz-mat, or a public assist? Is this another call we will see in our dreams for years to come, will we return home feeling accomplished as our training has once again paid forth with huge dividends or will we laugh at some absurdity only humanity or the human spirit can bring during a ride home?

Through the final door, at the rig, is everyone here, what gear are we donning, is everyone seated, are seatbelts in place, have I unplugged the shore lines, opened the bay doors, started the engine so Cap (the captain) can get on the radio? So many boxes to check off a list wedged inside my head.

Making a right turn onto the main thoroughfare, I grab a glimpse of the two seated directly behind Cap and I. They look like kids. It’s hard for me to believe this time has passed, I am no longer the fresh-faced lad; heart racing before each call, nervous to ask questions, pie eyed wondering what will await us upon arrival. They look so young, so damn young and yet even though I joke about my age on a regular basis (I am only 48), in reality I am not that old; I do not feel old in any way shape or form. Yet here we are inside this Engine, I seated in the engineers position and one of my closest friends now my boss seated to my right wearing the “red hat” or Captains helmet. WE are no longer the long-term future of this department, the up and comers buried in classes, spending thousands of hours and dollars obtaining every certification we can load into a leather binder for future uses. WE instead are now this department’s core, the steady, the constant, dare I say it? (Swallowing hard) The old guys…

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My graduating academy class 1995

In what feels like a millisecond I went from riding backwards to driving, from taking classes to teaching classes, from becoming an Engineer to an Acting Captain. Some days I am considered middle ground between Cap and crew other days I am the Captain with those around me looking for direction and advice. Are you kidding me? When did all this happen? What myriad of events led to someone handing me a red hat and saying today this crew is yours? What person ever thought of placing me behind the wheel of a 44,000 pound rig, then running it code three (lights and sirens) through the busy streets of town unabated? It is lunacy I tell you, pure lunacy!

I talk with college kids, fire academy kids, our new kids, probationary, first year and second year firefighters too. They all look so fresh-faced, innocent, not damaged by what is to come. They all retain the very same attitude we had, the same attitude those who came before us had, and the same attitude all that will ever pass through these hallowed halls after us will have. One of ignorant bravery, one of unabashed cockiness, an attitude that says I am here to help, to learn and nothing will ever hurt me. How little do they know, for no matter how much you inspire, mold, guide or lead “it” (that attitude) will be with them until one defining moment in time forces them into change.

It is the same for us “old guys” we see it in each other’s eyes, feel it through our words, and absorb it through a hug, a hand shake, a nod, a bad joke, a look. It comes with time on the job, experiences that for some may seem the same but in reality each and every experience in this line of work is dependent on the job. Each wrinkle upon our faces has been earned, each grey hair grown from the memory of something we’d rather forget. Eyes once steeled, are now softer, kinder a tad more gentle. We can’t talk about some portions of the job with anyone else but our peers. They are the only ones who understand and where a young one will sit and listen to tales with dreams of someday having stories of their own, us old guys hope they do create stories of their own, yet secretly hope in the same breath some of those stories never come true.

The young guys are loud and brash, quick to jump on a topic, any topic and beat it up with theory, formulas and standard operating procedures. Watching them from a distance I can only chuckle as they work out their problems and only through the rationale of an old guy are shown an easier, faster, less labor intensive way of completing the very same job. The young ones, smash and break things to reach their goal, the old ones walk gently, using a “try before they pry” philosophy. The young ones talk loudly, while drilling each other for knowledge, the old ones walk softly and speak only when needed. The young ones let everyone know when they are promoted things will change. The old ones let anyone who asks know; when they retire things will most certainly change.

The fire service is a young man’s game there is no doubt, but you need the wisdom of the old guys to not kill yourself participating in such a wonderful career. Creating memories of your own is important, good bad or otherwise but developing a bond with these people, this second family, well that’s what lasts a lifetime. I love these guys, would do anything for them, passing on that aspect of the fire service is every bit as important as how we do the job.

I don’t know where I am going with all this, it just seemed odd to me as another night passed, another round of service calls were answered and as I looked into the baby-faced gleaming eyes of those young firefighters surrounding me. That I in fact had transitioned from a young guy to one of the very guys we looked up to 20 years ago and now these kids are now looking up to me. WTF!

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I hope, no I pray I can do a good job filling those boots.

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48- How did that happen..

James Franceschi (AKA- Betty)

Born August 19, 1966

Chosen Profession (note I said “chosen”) Firefighter

Dream profession Writer

Betty is now 48 years old.

That is right 48 years walking this spherical hunk of rock, dirt, sand and water! 45 of them I didn’t even know I was a Betty! Pretty strange huh?

30 of them spent learning and trying to understand the world. 18 of them raising children, doing my best to be a father with no guidebook to help. 19 of them as a firefighter dealing with the very worst of someone’s day on a regular basis. 10 of them spent behind the wheel of a semi truck crossing the highways of these western United States. 8 of them (because that’s the farthest back I can remember my brain acting this way) praying to be able to shut my brain off with no real success…

So what’s a guy to do now that he is 48?

I have decided to make a list of things to accomplish before I am 50 years old. The half century mark, gateway towards my “golden” years, the beginning to a silver lining covering my head and beard, doorstep to AARP, Social Security, and the old folks home.  Thank goodness for Dentu-grip, Efferdent, Ben-Gay and the Clapper! Bring forward the oatmeal cause Wilford Brimley said so, find me a no slip tub and time to obtain a reverse mortgage right after purchasing my Life Alert so when I have fallen some one can get me up! Anyone have the number for a Lark distributor because according to my co-workers I will be in need of one very soon.

Anyways I am a list maker. If it is not written down it was never said, implied, intended or goal driven to completion. Therefore a list of awe-inspiring, door stopping, jaw dropping exploits shall ensue. (ok not really but here’s the list anyways)

  1. Jump from a perfectly good airplane. Been a motto my whole life, why would anyone wish to do such a thing. Well time to conquer my fear of dying and just do it.
  2. Climb to the top of Half Dome. I made it all the way to the base, started up and had to come back down because we were sliding so badly on the granite, my ten-year old son was terrified, so I gently coaxed him back to the bottom where we patiently waited for the remainder of the group. I must stand at the top and survey all before me.
  3. Score a 72 on a cutting horse. Unless you have ridden a cutting horse or are a fan of cutting horses, you will not understand just how important this really is to me.
  4. Finally quit putting everything aside for everybody else and purchase a jeep. I have wanted one for well over ten years and every time I get close we find something else we need, or something breaks, or I need to use the truck replacement fund plus money set aside for this all terrain, topless wonder to repair, replace or re-use something else. I quit riding motorcycles, sold my bass boat and it is has become a personal quest I must complete for me. Its selfish, but I don’t care, after all I am almost 50.
  5. Run the Tough Mudder with my son. My wife and I competed in one and completed it, Cody was to young and I made a promise we would do one together. I need to not let that promise go by the wayside and follow through.
  6. Write a book. I have several avenues to work on, I just need to quit making excuses as to why I can’t, and start focusing on how I can.
  7. Go hiking more. It’s not a big one, but our country is beautiful and it just can not be seen from the windshield of your car.
  8. Ride my mountain bike more.  Now I know this also isn’t a big one, but according to statistics, my ability to do so shall dissolve within three to five years. (hence the need for a Lark)
  9. Zip line over a forest canopy. Once again fear of things out of my control.
  10. Lose thirty pounds! I am overweight again and it seriously is affecting me both physically and mentally. If only I could just put down the fork at dessert time!

Bonus listing: Learn to forgive myself. Not sure the next 50 years will be any fun until I figure out how to do that one little thing.

So there is ten things for me to work on.  I am sure other goals will be set and a few of those will be destroyed, but they are written down and if history has anything to do with it, when ever I write something down, nine times out of ten I complete them.

What kind of lists have you written, are there any goals you aspire to complete?

Wish me luck only 728 days to go….