Be Careful What You Wish For

My wife and two youngest kids were gone for 3 days this week, and my oldest son was also gone two of those nights. So it was just me, two dogs I don’t particularly like, one cat I’m OK with, and a lot of quiet bordeom. I mostly held the couch down and watched more TV than I should, and noticed that houses seem to grow bigger when there’s fewer people in them.

But when the kids and dogs are running around screaming and barking and messing up the house, I want them all to quiet down! Then when they’re all gone, it’s too quiet.

So this morning was the first morning everybody was back. And wouldn’t you know, the two young ‘uns woke up at SIX A.M.

Daddy, however, needs a little quality time with his coffee and his paper, of a morning. Nice, quiet, quality time. Sans kids. My own Dad always got up early, and now I know why.

I’ll be the first to admit that I need time to be alone, and some find that annoying. Nobody in my wife’s family really understands it. I don’t know why, but I just do. I get stressed out easily, by noise, by chaos, by messiness. Sometimes, just by people in general. Probably have a touch of ADD and OCD. I need some quiet, some routine, some solitude, or I don’t adapt well.

But some years ago, before I was married, I had plenty of quiet, way too much routine, and tons of solitude. Way too much solitude. I felt cut off, isolated, adrift.

I’m apparently one of those people who must tread a fine line socially: I like contact with people, to a point, then I need less. Then more, then less. Even in my own family, which drives my wife batty. My kids seem to accept it, and I know my oldest son (17) is built somewhat the same, though he is more social and less bookish than I. The two young ‘uns have just learned that Mom is more patient and understanding, Dad more demanding and judgmental. Sort of like it has been since time immemorial.

But I do have my own ways that I bond with my kids. I often call one of them over just to give them a hug and kiss, or whisper “You know what? I love you” in their ear. I make jokes with them, and call them silly names like “Hammerhead” and “Crazy Brain”, and try to laugh at things they say and do whenever possible. I talk to them as little people sometimes. I rub the top of their heads, or squeeze their thighs right by the knee like my dad used to do to me.

When my hands are cold to the touch, I stuff them under their shirts and put them on their warm bellies — this creates howls of giggles and screams. We laugh, and life is good.

And I also bond with them by demanding more of them. Few things say “I care about you” more than pushing you to live up to an ideal.

So when they’re gone, I can’t do any of that. I miss it. It creates a hole in my heart, however tiny, that can’t really be filled.

I need my kids, and I know it. They inspire me.

This might sound strange to some people. I’m sure lots of parents and non-parents alike think that in the “needs” department, it’s pretty much a one-way street. Kids needs parents in many ways, we all know that. But I’ve learned over the years that I need them too, to teach me things about life, to keep me centered, to keep my heart open, to look forward to tomorrow.

So, even though I’m not as social as some Dads, and have to manage my needs a little more than most, I try to let them know that I love them in my own unique way. Because, I do.

Sometimes I find myself wondering how they would remember me after I’m gone. Nobody likes to ponder this, but it happens, as my wife knows firsthand; her own Dad died of cancer when she was 20 (he was 50). I never had the pleasure of meeting him, but they were close, and she depended on him for guidance and strength, even though there were some fireworks because they were both probably a little too emotional.

His name was Dave, and his life was defined by tragedy. He lost two younger brothers in adulthood to strange, sudden death: one drowned in his own bathtub during an epileptic seizure, in his early 20s, and the other died of a brain tumor that lay undiscovered for years and then suddenly claimed his life within a few months (he was 36). Within a couple of years of both of these deaths, Dave lost a nephew to suicide, at age 18. Two brothers and a sister’s first born son, all within two years.

Dave was a man’s man and liked to drink a little bit, and my wife has told me stories of times he would come home after one or three beers too many and play a certain song on the stereo that he knew would make him cry for his brothers, and his nephew. The song is “Daniel” by Elton John. Sometimes he’d even come in and sit on her bed and cry in front of her. She tried to console him, and hated to see him in such pain – who wouldn’t hate that? – and to this day does not like that song because it dredges up painful memories of him, grieving in his own way, by using both alcohol and that song to plumb the depths of his broken heart. I can relate completely, and suspect I might choose the same anesthetic.

Dave was also a basketball coach, and a teacher. He was very good at both, and at his wake, hundreds and hundreds of people showed up to pay respects to a man who helped them somehow. Talk about a legacy. I’ve learned a lot about him over the years, but I’ll always regret that I didn’t ever know him.

My wife was permanently affected by his early death, as I suppose any child would be. Loss is a funny thing; those left behind often feel exactly that. Left behind. Abandoned. This creates feelings of anger, which we realize is irrational, since the departed didn’t choose their fate in most cases, but the feeling persists.

So if I kicked the bucket while my kids were still young, would they cope? I wonder.

Would I become a guardian angel for them, and communicate with them from the great beyond? Would they feel my “spirit” residing within them? Would they find the strength to get through rough spots in situations where they otherwise would have turned to me?

Would they be basically OK, as time went on? Will they find their needs met, especially those that I saw as my responsibility to teach them, but hadn’t gotten to yet?

My birthday is tomorrow, March 31st. In three years, I’ll be the same age Dave was when he died. And in a really strange coincidence, he died during the night of … March 31st, twenty years ago. I really try to avoid thinking too much about mortality, but avoiding it is really not an answer either. It’s always there, whether you’re ready for it or not, so I use it as a way to keep my life’s goals in check: the idea that you could die tomorrow surely does cast a harsh light on decisions made today.

So, you know, all in all, I’m glad the wife and kids are back. 😉

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