Of Puppies and People

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As has been evident from my past posts and book, The Freshly Single Man, my wife of 25 years died six years ago. I was left with two sons and a dog. My existence was a mess. I was thrown into a life altering situation where I had to learn quickly how to manage my son’s lives, a household and a dog while continuing with my professional career. It was not easy, but over time, I learned how to survive, and I prided myself in taking command of my new life.

A year ago, my dog, Cinder, died. That dog and I went through a lot together. After my wife’s death, she wasted away to nothing, depressed that her main care giver was no longer there to care for her. But, she and I formed a new bond, and when my sons’ left for college and law school, that dog and I were there for each other. After Cinder’s death, it took a year for me to reach the point of even considering a new dog. Not only was I morning her death, but I had developed a new life. I could do anything that I wanted to whenever I wanted to. I was foot loose and fancy free. I was not sure that a dog would fit into this new lifestyle of mine.

But, there was something missing in my life, and I was becoming so regimented in my habits that any little intrusion into my daily routine would become a great annoyance to me. I did not want to admit that there was anything that I could not address quickly and get back to the routine that I had developed. My life had fallen into a rut. Perhaps I was not as foot loose and fancy free as I thought.

While my youngest son was home from college for the summer, we began talking about getting a puppy. I told him that I did not think that I was ready but that I would look into it. As any good college student would do, he got on the internet and found a dog breeder with a litter about to go home. With more than a little trepidation, my son and I drove to New Hampshire and I got a puppy.

My life was turned upside down! The routine that I had developed was gone. The puppy, Rory, was not housebroken and really had little desire to make inroads in that direction. Every waking hour was spent feeding, walking, cleaning up after or watching the newest member of my family. It was like having a baby again. I became very depressed. I began to think that I had made a huge mistake in acquiring this “8 pounds of hell”.

As a few weeks have gone by, I am beginning to learn how to deal with this puppy business. It has not been easy, but we are making headway. She at least seems to understand outside from inside and that what I expect her to do outside, I do not expect her to do inside. It is a start. More importantly, she clearly wants to please me. There is nothing more gratifying than looking down into the face of a puppy and realizing that they will do anything just for a little attention. We are bonding.

Now, in looking at the bigger picture of my life, I needed a puppy. I needed something in my life that I could not fully control, something that would shake up my life, something that would cause me to reassess what is important to me. It has not been an easy thing, for change brings insecurity and insecurity brings discomfort and sadness. But, it also brings a new beginning, a new way of looking at things, a reordering of life. Now and then, a puppy is not a bad thing.

For more information on how to address life’s issues as a suddenly single man, read my book, The Freshly Single Man.

Band-Aids and Christmas Trees

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The other day, I was taking down the Christmas tree and a tremendous sadness overcame me. I knew why I was sad, and I knew before I started the task that I would be sad. You see, six years ago my wife and I were taking down the Christmas tree and she had a seizure. We both knew the cause. Six months prior to that Christmas, she had had surgery to remove a brain tumor. After the surgery and extensive radiation therapy, we were foolishly convinced that the tumor would not return. The seizure was the first indication that we were wrong. Nine months later she died.

When I was a young boy, I always had a fairly extensive amount of hair on my legs and arms. Whenever I would cut or scrape myself– which occurred frequently with two older brothers–I would place a band-aid over the wound to stop the blood. Band-aids are extremely effective for this purpose. But, the band aid must eventually be removed. I learned early on that there are two ways to accomplish this removal: by lifting up one edge and slowly pulling it off as it sticks to each individual piece of hair, or by rapidly yanking it off all at once. While there might be room for reasonable debate as to the best removal method, let me just say that I prefer the latter. I have no stomach for delaying the process. In the end, rapid removal is no more painful, but the process is over much more quickly.

Which brings me back to the Christmas tree. Christmas came and went this year, as did New Years. The day after New Years I knew that I had two choices when it came to the dried up tree: I could find things to occupy my day and stall the process, or I could just get it done and move on. I did the latter.

So often we avoid direct confrontation with our inner demons. We delay and convince ourselves that there is no hurry, no reason to disturb the emotional band-aid. But, what I have found is that emotional scars, like band-aids must eventually be dealt with. The question then becomes, should I do it slowly, or should I rip it off all at once? Only you can make that decision, but moving on is impossible until the whole band-aid comes off.

Happy New Year.

For more information about surviving life’s tragedies, read my book The Freshly Single Man.

Holidays and Ponies

IMG_0019Ahh, the holidays are here again. While joyous in many ways, holidays present intense emotional challenges, particularly when a loved one is no longer with us. The worst time is the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We have survived Thanksgiving dinner, but now we face a build up–the endless preparations, anticipation and reminders of Holidays past–to a crescendo at Christmas. We think of whom we were with in years gone by and how happy we were then. How could we ever be that happy again? But, this can also be a time of great optimism. A new year is just around the corner and with the beginning of a new year, the possibility of greater things to come.

I recently ran across the following story:

A family had twin boys whose only resemblance to each other was their looks. Opposite in every way, one was an eternal optimist, the other a doom and gloom pessimist. Just to see what would happen, on Christmas day their father loaded the pessimist’s room with every imaginable toy and game. The optimist’s room he loaded with horse manure. That night the father passed by the pessimist’s room and found him sitting amid his new gifts crying bitterly. “Why are you crying?” the father asked. “Because my friends will be jealous, I’ll have to read all these instructions before I can do anything with this stuff, I’ll constantly need batteries, and my toys will eventually get broken.” answered the pessimist twin. Passing the optimist twin’s room, the father found him dancing for joy in the pile of manure. “What are you so happy about?” he asked. To which his optimist twin replied, “There’s got to be a pony in here somewhere!”

This time of year, it is easy to become the pessimistic twin, to cry over things that we cannot control, over situations in which we find ourselves through no fault of our own, and to worry about what others will think of us. But does it help? Of course not!

Be the optimistic twin. There is a pony in the manure pile. Survive the end of this year and look ahead, not back. Reinvent yourself for the New Year and many new years to come.

To learn more about surviving difficult conditions that we face in life, please read my recently published book, The Freshly Single Man’s Guide to Household Survival.

Of Heroes and Pink Flamingos

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I recently had the opportunity to run a 5K road race to honor and raise funds for charities started by the friends and family of a young woman named Vickie Soto. Vickie Soto was a young first grade teacher at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Vickie Soto loved children and loved teaching them. She also had a penchant for pink flamingos. For those of you who still do not recognize the name, Vickie Soto was killed when a deranged individual shot his way into her school with an assault rifle. He killed 26 people that day, including 20 first grade children in two classrooms. Vickie Soto was the teacher in one of those classrooms. While we will never know exactly what happened during that shooting rampage, all indications are the Vickie Soto died attempting to hide and protect the young children in her class.

They called her a hero. But what is a hero? Mark Twin wrote, “Unconsciously we all have a standard by which we measure other men [and women], and if we examine closely we find that this standard is a very simple one, and is this: we admire them, we envy them, for great qualities we ourselves lack. Hero worship consists in just that. Our heroes are men [and woman] who do things which we recognize, with regret, and sometimes with a secret shame, that we cannot do. We find not much in ourselves to admire, we are always privately wanting to be like somebody else. If everybody was satisfied with himself /herself], there would be no heroes.”

The day of the 5K run was rainy, windy and cold. Nearly 3,000 people, many dressed like pink flamingos, sodden and shaking with cold, waited at the start line. And then we ran. And as I slogged through the puddles, my toes numb with cold, I wondered to myself why I had not just rolled back over in bed that morning. What was the point of running on that dreadful day? I knew that I could run 5 kilometers. The question was, why do it on that cold and miserable occasion?

As I ran past the plastic pink flamingos used to mark the course, it occurred to me that the reason that I was running that day was that I was not satisfied with myself. That as I shivered from the cold and the wind, I could not possibly be what she was. That I could never demonstrate the courage that she demonstrated that fateful day, that day of her death. I was running because I wanted to be more like Vickie Soto.

Thank God for heroes and pink flamingos for without them we would have no reason to strive to be greater than ourselves. We would have no reason to get up from our warm and comfortable beds. We could not survive that which appears to be beyond our ability to withstand.

To learn more about surviving difficult conditions that we face in life, please read my recently published book, The Freshly Single Man’s Guide to Household Survival.

What heroes have inspired you?

Patience

imageSurvival guides describe a horrifying scenario in which a car you are driving runs off the road and lands in a body of water. The electric windows have shorted out and no longer function. As the car sinks further into the water, the pressure of the water outside makes it impossible to push the doors open. You are trapped with a limited supply of oxygen as you watch the water rise higher and higher outside the car. Claustrophobia sets in and you begin to panic. You have to do something quickly to survive!

What you learn from these survival guides is that you have one technique available to you; you have to wait until the car fills fully with water so that the pressure of the water inside the doors equals the pressure of the water outside the doors. They will then open. Can you imagine the patience that this would require? To wait there quietly as death approaches. To prepare yourself. To take a deep breath. To wait there for just the right moment to act.

Fulton Sheen once said that “Patience is power. Patience is not an absence of action; rather it is ‘timing’ it waits on the right time to act, for the right principles and in the right way.” How seldom we recognize this principle. We expect immediate results. We demand, not only of ourselves, but of others, immediate action. When something is broken, fix it now!

But, not everything can be fixed so quickly. Why is that? As in the case of the sinking car, some things are beyond our control. We cannot control the laws of physics; it is only when sufficient time has passed that the pressure on both sides of the car door stabilizes and permits it to open. An easy enough principle, yet one so often forgotten in our daily lives.

My last post, “Freedom”, highlighted the importance of redefining our lives, of determining anew “what we have to lose”. At the top of my list of things important in my life is having a supportive relationship with my sons. God knows the issues that I have encountered in raising them on my own since my wife’s death! Sometimes I wonder if such a relationship is possible. As hard as I have tried quickly to fix the offending issues, the fix seems simply beyond my control. But, I believe that the end game is worth the effort. So, I will not admit defeat; I will “wait on the right time to act, for the right principles, and in the right way.” I will have patience, for patience is power!

When was the last time that patience provided power in your life?

To learn other important tips on household survival, see my book, The Freshly Single Man.

Freedom

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Both of my son’s were moving back to school the other day and I spent a rather melancholy afternoon by myself. My mind flashed back to a property law class that I attended many years ago in Denver. Property law is a study of an archaic group of rules dating back to our English ancestors. I will spare you the details of this tortuous endeavor, with one exception; the concept of fealty or allegiance to the feudal lord of the manor.

The property law professor was of no particular note as a teacher, a rather condescending individual who loved nothing more than to spew forth his knowledge of antiquated legal concepts that he was in the process of capturing in a textbook that he was writing at the time. But, I will never forget one particular lecture where he explained the system of fealty. He demonstrated how the king would meet with the soon to be designated lord of the manor on the designated lands and pick up a handful of dirt. After saying a few appropriate words, the king would hand the dirt to the lord. The ceremony would bind the two to each other and to the land. To make a rather long story short, the bargain was as follows: The King was providing the lord with the land, along with all the buildings and workers associated with it, for his unfettered use. In exchange, the lord was agreeing loyally to support the king. Now, loyal support meant not just telling everybody what a nice guy the king was, but providing a certain percentage of the grain and produce from the fields, and also, more importantly, raising a fully outfitted and provisioned army of knights to defend the king whenever the king requested.

At the point in the lecture where the professor was stressing the extremely onerous and expensive nature of having to provide a fully battle ready group of knights, a rather inquisitive fellow student started to squirm in his seat.  He could not quite understand the motivations here. He raised his hand and asked why the lord of the manor would agree to this tremendously onerous undertaking. Would it not be easier, he asked, just to say “no”.

It was the professor’s response that I will always remember. He quoted a line from the old Janis Joplin song, “Me and Bobby McGee”. The line, to which only Janis Joplin could do justice, was “freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.” The simple point that the professor was making was that the lord could have said “no”, but the consequence would have been the receipt of no land and no title from the king. Yes, he would have been free from his feudal obligations, but his life would have been devoid of all wealth and stature.

Well, my wife died a while back. The dog died a few months ago. Both sons have moved back to school. I am free! But what is “free”. Is it just another word for nothing left to lose?

Every few years, survival requires that we reinvent ourselves, that we determine what is important in our lives, that we refocus ourselves and that we determine what we have left to lose.

For more information on survival see my book, The Freshly Single Man.

When was the last time that you reinvented yourself?