Today I Became An Old Man

Where have I been, you ask?

Yeah, I know it’s been over a year since my last post. As for the reason I’ve been away… well, you could call it a calculated absence; or you could call it lost in depression; or you could call it self-prescribed recovery time from an ended relationship; or you could call it a mid-life crisis… any of these would probably be correct.

But that’s not what I want to write about today. There may come a time when I write about what’s kept me away, but today I need to write about something else.

Today I became an old man.

It was an invitation to a beach party. An invitation! To a beach party! Who doesn’t love to get invited to parties? An annual event with people I love, I was very excited about it. I was looking forward to going the way a young person looks forward to something fun that young people look forward to (I can’t think of what that would be because, as I mentioned, I’ve become an old man.)

Dressed in my swim trunks and flip flops, I came downstairs and announced, “Kids, we’re going to a beach party today.” I gave them the news with a big smile on my face. I waited for the chorus of yays.

Instead of yays, the only sound was that of the ceiling fan, working overtime in the heat.

“It’s too hot,” came a reply from the couch, my 13-year-old son in lethargic repose.

“I don’t wanna go anywhere,” from the corner recliner, my 10-year-old daughter speaking from behind a book.

This is the way it is with my kids. Anything I think a “normal” child would be into, they avoid with prejudice. Why I continue to be surprised by their behavior is beyond me. I’ve known them awhile, after all.

I tried to keep the excited smile on my face, but after several minutes of “Are you sures” being met with “We’re sure”, it melted like a popsicle on a sidewalk. Sometimes my kids are like the opposite of fun.

I decided I’d leave them home and go by myself. I rationalized to myself, “It’s a party! At the beach! I’m not gonna let my lazy kids keep me from having a good time!”

I got my hat and my shades and my drinks and set out for some fun.


Me, when I was still a young man. It was a happier time…

I had a moment where I thought, “I should pee before I go” but ignored that thought. Turns out, that was a mistake.

The party was being held near the Balboa Pier, in Newport Beach. As I drove, I felt a little bummed to be going without my kids, but It was going to be nice to hang out with grownups – I’ve been decompressing from Burning Man this past week, and let’s just say it’s been a rough re-entry. I was glad to be headed for some fellowship.

As I neared my destination, I noticed my need to pee had increased to more significant levels. I also noticed how crowded it was in this part of Orange County. Everywhere I looked, there were cars and people. I saw lots of beautiful people in lots of revealing beachwear, and I tried to focus on that. It worked at first.

No street parking anywhere.

No street parking anywhere.

And I mean anywhere.

And I mean anywhere.

I started to wonder if perhaps I left home too late for the party. It started at 3:00, and by the time I reached Balboa, I was beyond fashionably late – it was nearing 4:00. I looked for parking everywhere. I saw none. My bladder was beginning to protest. 

One of a bajillion No Parking signs I encountered...

One of a bajillion No Parking signs I encountered…

I realized I’d have to settle for paying for parking in the lot, so I headed that way. I figured the lot was closer to a bathroom anyway and that sounded just fine to me.

I followed the signs in my innocence...

I followed the signs in my innocence…

It is worth noting that I was still in a good mood at this point. Yes, the need to pee was a bit of a distraction, but I was still looking forward to seeing friends. I was still relishing the scent of the ocean air. I was still enjoying seeing the beautiful people showing lots of skin. I was still young and vibrant.

My last view before everything went wrong.

My last view before everything went wrong.

As I turned to enter the parking lot, I noticed traffic had slowed to a crawl. I began tapping on the steering wheel with my hands, while my left foot began wiggling in what I suspect was the older person’s version of the child hopping up and down on one leg. I didn’t curse the traffic out loud, but I did mutter an “oh, great” as I crept along.

I won't comment on the poor grammar of this sign.

I won’t comment on the poor grammar of this sign.

The reason for the slow traffic was revealed shortly thereafter.

At least the grammar was less questionable.

At least the grammar was less questionable.

I may have cursed at this point, but not so much out of frustration as panic — I really had to pee! Also, in retrospect I think it was around this time that the “beautiful beach people” just became standard pedestrians that were getting in the way of me finding a space to park.

Slowly I wound my way back to the street in search of parking. Alas, all I saw were miles and miles of cars. Whenever I’d spy what looked like a parking space, I’d inevitably be disappointed. I began to mutter out loud something about the hottest weekend of the year and what a stupid idea it was to go to the beach.


Nothing but red curb…

...after red curb.

…after red curb.

Eventually, after driving a mile down the road and finding nowhere to park, something snapped. The beach and my friends the fellowship were all forgotten. The sunshine suddenly became a symbol of oppression. The citizens lining the streets became stupid sheep that didn’t have the sense to stay home on such a hot day. I saw a young woman in a neon green bikini and thought to myself, “She ought to cover up, she’s going to have skin cancer by the time she’s 30.”

I realized the thought I just had, and I think at that point, I actually developed liver spots. It also occurred to me at that moment that if I were wearing adult diapers, I wouldn’t be in such discomfort. 

Horrified at this chain of thought, I finally said, out loud, “That’s it! I’m done!” and stopped searching for a space to park. I sped through the streets in search of a bathroom, and finding a Jack in the Box, pulled in to ease my suffering.

Once relieved, a voice in my head –a hopeful voice, the voice of my youth– spoke up and said “Now we can go find a place to park. Right?”

That voice was drowned out by a new voice. A voice that sounds frighteningly close to that of a grumpy old man. “Oh, no. Screw that,” this voice said. “I’m not goin’ back to that foolishness. No way.”

Young Terry said, hesitantly, “But – but the party! The people! The fellowship! They’re all waiting for you!”

But it fell on the ears of a deaf old man. “Nope. No way. We’re going home.” (Yes I know it’s interesting that it was “we’re” — as though I was speaking to a car full of people. Don’t psychoanalyze me.)

So, because I failed to find a parking space, and because I had an overactive bladder, and because I apparently crossed over into the land of No Fun For Old Men, I went home. No beach party, no fellowship, no seeing friends I had wanted to see. Just me and my grumpiness. And my new liver spots.

Now with 30% more gray in my beard...

Now with 30% more gray in my beard…

I headed home. As I drove, I realized that the “old man” part of me was just hoping there would be kids on my lawn.


If There Are No Coincidences, What Do You Call It?

All right, full disclosure: this wasn’t the post I’d planned.

I had planned on writing a post on an entirely different subject. It was going to be insightful, thought-provoking, perhaps a bit controversial, given the subject matter… it was going to be something you’d remember.

But this isn’t that post.

Why? Because I’m a lazy ass.

Well, two reasons: One, because I’m a lazy ass. And two, because I just got one of those “whoa” moments. Read On

The Middle Finger

So my last post was on my birthday, and I wrote about gifts and sharing good things and all sorts of warm, fuzzy stuff.

The girl at the Carl’s Jr. counter was also celebrating a birthday on July 8th. She gave me the number associated with my new age; she didn’t notice I was displaying alternative burger chain loyalty in my choice of hats…

Yeah – here’s what happened after I posted that: Read About the Trauma

Delivery Squid

freckle-cheeked and
blue-eyed girl,
pencil in hand,
and paper
a blank canvas
to convey images
unique to her,
ideas as strange and
as all those born of
whose minds are not bound
by the limits of reality
but instead exist in a
where birds carry umbrellas
and flowers are
as large as trees. Read On

A Thanksgiving Story

Today is the first Thanksgiving I have ever spent alone. In all of my forty-something years, I have never found myself on the fourth Thursday in November with no family nearby with whom to share the holiday. I knew this would be the case, so it’s not a sudden revelation. But while a month ago I was fine with it and felt no sense of sadness (or self-pity) at the idea of being alone on Thanksgiving, I must admit the last few days I’ve felt a change.

It’s probably because every time someone asked me, “What are you doing for the holiday?”, I found myself without an answer. I’ve always had an answer to that question. I’ve always said, “getting together with family”, regardless of the venue or the attendees. I also usually got to brag about my mom’s fabulous made-from-scratch pumpkin and pecan pies that were fixtures of the holiday. But this year those pies are 1000 miles away, as is my family. And since my own kids are with their mom today, I am alone.

My mom’s pumpkin pie is better than this. Though there’s usually more whipped cream.

Or, put differently – I am free. I know I create my experience of life, so I realize I can choose to create today as a day of “loneliness”, or I can choose to create it as a day of “freedom”. It really all depends on how I look at it. Sometimes, though, I need to look really hard at something before I can see it differently.

Here is a true story of something I experienced once upon a time. Nothing has been changed in this story – not even the names. It happened exactly as I describe it here. It was the first time I was shown how God often finds unique and surprising ways to speak to me. And the message I got on this particular night was: gratitude can be found anywhere.

One night, several years ago, as I was trying to get to sleep, a dog started barking. Read On

The Perfect Father’s Day Gift

I gave my dad an onion for Father’s Day.

As Father’s Day gifts go, it was unusual, to say the least. Generally speaking, produce is not commonly given as gifts to anyone, let alone men on Father’s Day. But it is true – my dad got an onion on Father’s Day some thirty-five years ago.

I was six or seven years old – about the age my daughter is today – and holidays were special occasions. Father’s Day did not seem to have the same importance to me that Mother’s Day had, and I attributed that to the fact that I saw my mom regularly every day. I had a relationship with her. I felt close to her. So it was natural when Mother’s Day came around, I would want to honor that. I may not have understood what “honor” meant at age seven, but even a kid knows how to express love. But Father’s Day was different for me, and at the time I didn’t know why. It just wasn’t as big a deal. I wanted to get my dad a gift for the day, but I had no idea what to get the man.

Because I did not know him.

I did not see my father regularly every day. I did not have a relationship with him. I did not feel close to him. And as a result of this, I did not have any idea of what kind of gift to give him for Father’s Day.

At seven, I understood that gifts should be made of things the recipient likes. In that sense, Mother’s Day was easy, because my mom loved flowers, and she loved the artwork we would bring home from school (at least she acted like she did!), so I remember making paper flowers for her one Mother’s Day – yellow daffodils –  and she demonstrated love and appreciation in return.

So I tried to think of what my father liked. And at seven years old, I could think of only two things: cigarettes and beer. Both of those were out, of course. Too young to buy either, even if I had the money to do so, which I didn’t. But what did he like? What did he enjoy?

The only thing that came to my mind was an onion. This is because I had seen my father eat onions all the time. The cutting board of our kitchen frequently smelled strongly of onions, for he would slice off the ends of the onion, then peel the papery outer layers of the onion and leave the remnants on the cutting board, much to my mother’s vexation.

My father would eat the raw onion like an apple — biting into it whole.

At the time, as a kid, the only thing I thought about this was, “yuck”. (Actually, as an adult, I still think “yuck” at the idea of eating an onion like an apple.) But he did a lot of things that I considered “yucky” when I was a little boy – he hunted and killed deer and elk; he fished for trout and salmon and all manner of water-dwelling creatures whose taste did not agree with me; the smoking and drinking were very unappealing. So it was just one more thing about him I didn’t understand.

But I figured, he liked onions – I’ll get him an onion. So a few days before Father’s Day, I got the biggest onion I could find in the onion bin at the grocery store, and in order to make it a surprise, I hid it behind the couch until Sunday morning, and gave it to him as a gift.

I remember the appreciative look on his face, a sort of tolerant detachment that he always seemed to favor me with whenever we did actually interact. He thanked me for the onion, saying it was “real nice”. Eventually, he ate it.

It was not until many, many years later that I learned the only reason he ate raw onions was to mask the odor of alcohol on his breath when he went to work.

My father drank, and my father experienced much loss through the years related to his problems with alcohol. Whether he recognizes the loss of a relationship with his youngest son, I don’t know. He doesn’t really talk about that.

Today, we speak at holidays and such, and when we do, we speak of surface things – the weather, his boat, any luck he may have had at the casino recently… He’ll ask about me, and I’ll give him the “bird bath” version of my life (not going very deep), and he may ask about his grandchildren, depending on how the conversation is going. Eventually, one of us will mention the time and how we ought to let the other one go, and we say goodbye and hang up. And that brief, awkward interaction will last me for another six months, or until another holiday comes around.

No, it’s not the kind of relationship I want with my dad, but it’s the relationship I have. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to “fake it til I make it”, but no matter what I have done, I’ve never been able to cultivate any sort of bond with the man. I’ve tried, but I can’t conjure something from nothing. I’m not that good of a magician.

I spent many years in a lot of anger and sadness about my father. I felt like I got “ripped off” in the dad department, when I’d see my friends with dads who participated in their lives and I had a man who lived in the same house with me but was completely unavailable.

I felt like my father never gave me anything other than a legacy of wreckage and loss, of heartbreak and missed opportunity. Gifts no child would want. As an adult, I came to feel such resentment over this – and of course, that resentment was only poisoning me.

When I learned that “forgiveness” was something that I do for myself, and not something that I bestow upon another person once I deem them worthy, I took a big step forward in my emotional growth. A wise person once pointed out to me that to forgive simply means “to see it another way”. If I can see something from another viewpoint aside from my own, it allows space to breathe, to contemplate, to release.

How I could “see it another way” in my father’s case was, “He did the best he could, and his best wasn’t all that good — according to me.” And – he was a sick man, a man with his own wounds, and was unable to give his youngest son what he needed most. But he did the best he could. The truth is, if he could have done better, he would have.

Today I’ve gotten to the point where I am “okay” with this. It is not what I would want for myself, but it’s okay. But every now and then, I get into a little bit of self-pity, and I go down that path of “I didn’t have this, I didn’t have that, I missed out on this, I wish I could’ve done that…” Pointless wallowing in my own disappointment and sadness – it’s a slippery slope into a trap, and I best avoid it at all costs. For when I fall into that trap, I get stuck, and misery ensues. I’ve found the way out of self-pity is to be of service — to get out of self, and into others.

Today, I have two kids who know their Dad loves them completely. They have seen their father dress up in costume, play games, have impromptu Saturday Night Living Room Dance Parties, teach them about life, hug them when they cry, blow raspberries on their bellies while they giggle and squeal, race with them, help them make good choices, talk to them in funny voices, introduce them to art and music and nature and Spirit, dazzle them with my vast knowledge of the universe, and–if I’m lucky–get them to eat a vegetable once in a while.

Nobody taught me how to do this. Nobody told me this is what I should do for my kids. I didn’t read this anywhere. All of this came to me from a simple question: what did I want my dad to do when I was their age? From the time they were babies, that has been my guiding thought in how best to serve my kids – to be the kind of father I wanted to have for myself.

And I’m a fantastic Dad. In a way, I have my father to thank for this — for it was his parenting that engendered this vigilance I feel to be that fantastic Dad. Because of the example he provided in how not to be a father, I have become a better dad, and a better man.

I guess he did give me a worthwhile gift after all. Maybe I’ll thank him for it when I call to wish him a Happy Father’s Day.