Does This Devil on My Back Make Me Look Fat?

“…resulting in the elimination of your position…”  These words, echoing in my head, cutting through the fog of confusion and what-the-fuckery. “…the difficult decision to terminate your employment…”

This week I got notice of some layoffs at the company where I’ve worked for the last 13 years. More specifically, my position has been eliminated. I’m being laid off. Shock, sadness, fear – all the usual emotions one feels at times like this, yeah – check.

I’m not angry, though. I get that it’s a business decision, and I’ve been around long enough to see this a number of times. Sometimes I was even the one on the other end of the call, delivering the bad news to one of my team members. It’s no fun for anyone, but such is the nature of at-will employment. This time, I was just one of the unlucky ones.

No grudges against my company – I maintain it’s been the greatest place to work, and I believe in their vision. I chose to work there, I believe I did good work for them, and they compensated me well during my employment. I was a grateful employee during my entire run with them – I will remain grateful for the experience.

But man, it was a crappy way to start the day – and it got worse.  Continue reading

Another Middle Finger – This Time, It’s Personal

No, this post is not about my fractured middle finger from a few posts ago, though it is healing nicely, thanks for asking.

Yesterday morning, I was driving to drop off my kids at their mom’s house on my way to work. They were subdued and barely conscious, having just woken up minutes before I herded them into the car. It was a peaceful morning, and the sun was already hot as it filtered through my dirty windshield. I came to an intersection, and stopped at the red light. I tapped on the steering wheel in time with the music on the radio, waiting for the light to change.

I was in the third of four lanes of traffic, so there were two lanes between me and the curb on the right. I had a few cars in front of me, but no cars to my right, so I had a clear view of the bus stop at the corner. I wasn’t really paying attention to anything, just waiting for the light to change, as I glanced at the people waiting on the bench for their bus.

Then I saw him. Young man, mid-twenties, sitting away from the rest of the people at the bus stop. Scowl on his face, arm extended, middle finger raised in the air. Both the scowl and the finger were directed at me.

This bus stop stranger was flipping me off. Read Whole Post

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

Playa Notes

This week’s “zombie” post reminded me that writing this blog can be fun, and it occurred to me that, lately, this blog has had more emphasis on the “serious” and less on the “silly”. And the last thing I want this blog to be is something that makes people think, “Jeez, that guy’s gotten so preachy – what happened to the days when Terry was fun?”

I like to think that this blog is just a reflection of my real life, and I try to write as truthfully and transparently as possible. And the space I’m in on my journey does seem to place a lot of emphasis on the spiritual, on admitting my human frailty and flaws, on the awakening consciousness — and all that shit. But as evidenced by that last sentence, I like to laugh, I like to be offbeat, and I like to be weird. And I don’t want to lose sight of that just because I happen to be growing up mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

So it is with this in mind that I give you — the random musings jotted down in my little pink journal that I carried with me everywhere at Burning Man this year. Similar to last year’s “P.S. Bullet Points” post, these notes are occasionally cryptic even to me, but most are linked to one-of-a-kind experiences that will never come my way again, thus making them priceless memories. Read On

The “V” Word

I post a lot of personal stuff on this blog. I try to write honestly here in pursuit of my truth. And while some people might say that there’s a difference between ‘My Truth’ and ‘The Truth’, it’s my blog so as far as I’m concerned, my truth IS the truth. But honesty prevents me from getting all revisionist here and telling outright lies. What’s the point of lying on a blog? It’s about as useful as cheating at solitaire.

Anyway, frequent readers of this blog have read some deeply personal accounts and have been witness to some real growth over the past year. Most probably find it as interesting as watching a plant grow, but from the feedback I’ve received, my ramblings here have helped at least a few people to relax and watch the blinking lights.

Regular readers of my blog have read two previous posts that dealt with something intensely difficult, painful, yet also revelatory to me. The posts “A Flourish of Hate” and “A Flourish of Hate Redux” dealt with someone who –in my judgment– betrayed me. The essays did not focus so much on the betrayal as the effects that it had on me. After all, it would be –I don’t know, ‘wrong’, somehow– to use this blog as a platform to bag on someone who isn’t here to defend himself. So I focused not on the act of betrayal but the aftereffects — and the incredible lessons I received as a result. Read On

I Am The Man

So, it’s been nearly a month since I posted here. I have found myself so busy with work at my “Day Job” that I have scarcely had time to dedicate to more “artistic” pursuits.

I often joke that I “spend my days working for The Man”. I find almost everything about Corporate America somewhat distasteful, with the exception of the paycheck that I receive for doing my time. I will not find my life’s calling in an office setting, but it keeps the lights on and my kids fed.

I don’t really feel like I’m working for “The Man” the way I used to. I recognize that I’m fortunate enough to have choices, and that I have chosen to work where I do. I also recognize that I’m blessed to even be employed, so I’m not complaining about the work. Also, it seems that my resistance to “the powers that be” is fading over time — it’s not as objectionable as it once was. Whether that has to do with my age or my position, I’m not sure.

There are individuals who report to me at my place of employment. I’m not wild about managing people – it’s not fun, it’s not easy, and it’s sometimes not pleasant — but it’s part of the job and so I do it. There’s a part of me that thinks it is silly for a grown person to be subordinate to another grown person, but that’s the nature of work: someone has to be in charge.

I recently had a situation at work where I became privy to electronic conversations that were not meant to be seen by me. The “how” and “why” of it is a long and boring story, so I’ll just say this: if one sends personal e-mail from one’s work e-mail account, one really ought to be smart and delete these messages, for one never knows who is going to read them.

I discovered these e-mails in the aftermath of some personnel drama at work, and I’ll admit that –at first– my ego was a bit stung. To find out that these people, with whom I spend so much time, have less-than-favorable opinions of me was a little hard to accept. While some of them are people who I hardly know, a couple of them I know well – they report directly to me. And the tone and tenor of the e-mails I read was incongruent with how these people interacted with me in the office — at least to my face, anyway.

Eventually the initial sting of the discovery started to fade – after all, what I read wasn’t “fact”, it was just gossip, and I simply heard things I wasn’t meant to hear. But after the shock wore off, what was left was a genuine sense of confusion.

These people that I work with viewed me as “The Man”.

This probably should have occurred to me before, but it honestly never has. I’ve managed people for over twenty years, and this is the first time that it occurred to me that any of them might see me as a symbol of oppression. Maybe it’s because I never looked at these people as “below” me, or as “under” me – I really have always looked at my direct reports as team members, with me being the guy who usually had to deliver the bad news or enforce the unpopular policies (and occasionally being the guy who gets to promote someone or give them a raise).

Really? Me? A symbol of oppression? The Man keeping you down? Are you kidding?

I still shake my head at the thought. I mean, I’ve stopped clinging to my belief that I’m a “Nice Guy” because I’m not. I used to think I was, but really that was just a lie I told myself to justify some sort of inaction or piece of denial I was holding on to. I can be a real asshole sometimes, intentionally or otherwise, and so if I can own that, why is it hard for me to own the fact that I could be seen as an asshole at work?

That’s a question that has answers, but to go down that path will just have me chasing my own tail. I am a man who tries every day to be kind and respectful and honest with people; some days I succeed, and some days I fail. There are no absolutes – I’m not “always” this way or “always” that way. The important thing is that I know who I am, I know what I am, and I keep trying to improve.

So if I’m doing my best (and I’ve come to believe that every person, every day, is doing the best they can on that particular day), then why should I care if someone comes along and thinks that I’m a jerk? It’s not as though their thoughts can harm me (unless I let them).

I’ve learned that what other people think of me is none of my business. I can try to deal in that business, but the cost is my own inner peace. I usually end up on the losing end in those transactions.

Although I’m usually kind, respectful and honest with the people I work with, those people don’t “know” me. They have no idea who I am, where I’ve come from, what I’ve been through, what I value, what I fear, what I love. They have no idea of the man that I really am.

They see the corporate representation of myself that I put forth Monday through Friday. They don’t see me as I am in “real life”. They see a man in Dockers and Clarks and a button-down shirt, not the guy in cargo shorts and flip-flops and a well-worn t-shirt that is my uniform for my off-hours. They see a man who sits in an office at a desk that holds photographs of children. They don’t see the guy who is up all night when those children are sick, who wants to weep when they are hurt, who lies awake sometimes worrying about their future. They see a man who enforces policies that sometimes make no sense. They don’t see the guy who struggles with enforcing rules with which he doesn’t personally agree.

Some people want to have someone to rail against in their work lives. Maybe it helps them feel bigger, more powerful, to build themselves up by tearing someone else down. Maybe it serves them to paint themselves as victims, as being held back by forces beyond their control. Maybe they’re just not happy unless they’re miserable.

I suppose it could be worse – they could be like me. I want everyone to like me. I want everyone to love me. I want everyone to be my friend. I want everyone to want me as their friend. I want adoration. I want fame. I want a following. I want groupies. I want awards. I want songs written about me.  I want to be a legend. I want to be everything to everyone. I want to control the universe.

See where this thinking gets me? If I think that I’d be happy if everyone liked me, I’m just fooling myself — I always want more. Because for me, more is better.

I know me. I know what kind of man I am. And it’s only my judgment of me that really counts. Other people’s judgments of me don’t matter. They are going to see what they want to see. Some see me as a good person, a kind and caring father and friend. Others see me as – well, as something less noble. They see me as “The Man”. And that’s okay.

As far as I’m concerned, they’re right: I am The Man.

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.