Sunday, December 28, 2014

Second Chances

"You know what's rarer? Second chances. I never get a second chance, so what happened this time? I don't even know who to thank."
~The Doctor, Last Christmas

Dearest Daughter,

I've been sitting and thinking of a second chance of my own today. And unlike the Doctor, I know who to thank. You.

When your mother and I broke up, there was a great deal of anger and pain - as there so often is in these things. I doubt that, had there not been a you, we would have had anything further to do with one another once the divorce was final. Certainly nobody else I've ever broken up with has stayed in my life. More often than not, after hurts of that magnitude, people just want to get far away and forget.

But there was a you. And because there was a you and because of the love your mother and I both have for you, we each gave the other a second chance.  We worked very hard, day by day and bit by bit to rebuild a friendship.

Everyone knows that when something shatters,  no matter how painstakingly it is repaired,  it can never ever be as good as it was originally.

But every once in a very great while,  when the wind is fair and the stars align.... it can be rebuilt into something better.

So I owe you a debt of thanks. Your mother has become my dearest friend. I do not know how I could have survived without her patient support and encouragement. I know she will always have my back and she knows I will always have hers.

And that is a very good thing to know.

Second chances.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Come at Last

"So, it's come at last. At last it's come, the day I knew would come at last has come at last."
~Mae Peterson, Bye Bye Birdie

Dearest Daughter,
Well, the Terrible Tweens have begun. God help us.
I've been pretty spoiled. After the terrible, terrible fights we used to have at bedtime passed into history, things have been pretty peaceful. On the rare occasion you would suddenly go ballistic over nothing (read "my ham-fisted behavior unknowingly hurt your feelings"), once you were too old to be spanked I learned to shut my mouth and stop feeding the flames. I'd remove myself to my room and close the door and we would communicate by notes passed under the door till we both calmed down, made a joke, hugged, and life went on.
It's been peaceful and pleasant and we've been so close. Not as close as you and your Mom, but close for us. And I've loved every second of it. After the turbulent time right after your Mom left and you seemed to want to take it all out exclusively on me, it felt like I had reached safe harbor at last. But the terrain has changed now and suddenly I'm having trouble finding my footing again. 
For one thing, we don't play any more. That has been the biggest shocker - we went from playing games every waking minute to not playing at all - virtually overnight. You prefer to sit in your room and listen to music. Since I went through the same thing, I understand. But I miss the time I used to get to spend with you.  I knew I had a finite amount of time to enjoy it, I just didn't know the end would come so soon.
Harder to take is the fact that you went from calling to tell me good night every time you were with your Mom, to never calling me at all. And since you ask to call you Mom and call Larry every morning like clockwork, that one really, really hurts. Your Mother assures me when I go wailing to her that I've done nothing wrong and that tween girls just do these things. But I remain unconvinced.
I am learning to deal with the verbal smarting off though. The first time I told you to do something and you yelled "MAKE ME!!" and stormed off, I did not react well.  But I'm starting to understand that the flashes of temper often take you by surprise as much as they do me. And if I just let you express and don't escalate matters into a power struggle, within a few minutes you shake it off, comply, and life goes on.
So it goes, one halting, uncertain, confused step at a time.  I cannot doubt that I'll get it wrong more often than I'll get it right. 
But we'll get through it. And no matter how rocky it may get - never ever ever forget that I love you more than anything else in the world.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Dearest Daughter,

Weekend before last, we were having one of our periodic battles - the kind that always leave my male mind so confused because they seem to come from out of nowhere, more angry and intense than they have any right to be.

As I recall, it was about playgrounds. We had just come out of seeing Big Hero 6 at the movies and you wanted to follow up with a visit to a playground. But somehow every playground I suggested failed to meet with your approval. And then (as ALWAYS) I got lost - which did not help either of our tempers.

And at one point, you voiced your frustration that you ALWAYS had to pick. That sometimes I ought to step up and say what I wanted instead of always pushing the responsibility off on you. And after all the arguing and shouting I was just at my wit's end. And as I could not think of anything else to do, I just told you the plain truth.

I think I made you cry. I'm not sure. We were in the driveway sitting in the car and you jumped out and ran to your hiding space behind one of the bushes in the back. I am sorry for that. I hate making you cry. Eventually I came and got you and we played hide and seek and all was forgotten.

But I'm writing what I said here because I don;t want it forgotten. Long after I am gone, I want you to remember it, and I want to remember how important you are. So here is what I said (as best I can recall):

When I was little, I rarely got to play with my Dad. He was always at work. He worked long, terrible hours, so I didn't see him all that much. And when I did, he mostly wanted to be left alone to work out his stress in the garden.  When he was dying, on the very last day we sat and talked together, he told me that looking back, it was the only thing that he really regretted.

He said that back when he was growing up, that's what they were taught a good dad did - he worked and provided for his family. So he had always tried terribly hard to be a good dad the only way he knew. I told him that I understood - and I did and do. But he looked so sad as he was talking that I promised myself that if I ever had kids I would not make that same mistake.  And I've made LOTS of mistakes - you know it and I know it. Sometimes quite dreadful mistakes. But not that one.

There's so much I've wanted to give you growing up but was unable to because we never had much money. So I have given you time. I gave you every minute that I could.. to play... to go places.. to explore (and to be just plain silly at times).

Because I like being with you more than anything else in the world.

I know I frustrate the hell out of you when you keep asking "but what do YOU want to do?"or "What park do YOU want to play at?" and I have no good answer. And I know you are just being thoughtful and trying to look out for what makes me happy - because you are and always have been a good and thoughtful person.

But you see - that's just the point. It doesn't matter. I don't care where we go or what we play - cards, Barbies, tag... whatever. As long as I'm playing it with you - that's all I care about.  You don't have to worry about it.

If I'm with you, I'm already happy.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Wicker (2000-2014)

Dearest Daughter,
I have just come in from burying Wicker in the backyard – so my thoughts are likely to be a bit scrambled and my emotions more than a little frayed. But I have developed a bad habit of not writing, and Wicker deserves better from me. She always did, though regrettably she seldom got it.
Your mother decided when we were first married that I needed a dog. I told her I didn't.. but you know your Mom once she makes up her mind to something :)  And so early one morning we found ourselves out in the arse-end of nowhere, looking for a breeder down winding, wooded country lanes that bore no relation to either the lines on our map or the instructions your Mom had taken by phone. There were false starts, reverses, close calls, and a very great deal of inventive and heartfelt swearing before we finally, finally found the farm.
I was not in a good mood by then and wandered off sullenly while your mother talked to the dog breeder. And when I looked down, there was a tiny ball of red and white fluff trying to climb onto my shoe. I picked up a tiny cocker spaniel puppy and it looked at me with dark, solemn eyes before reaching out a tiny paw to pat my cheek gently as if to reassure me that everything was going to be all right.  By the time your mom and the breeder came around the corner of the farmhouse and tried to give me the dog they had selected, it was a done deal. I had already lost my heart.
So we took our ball of fluff and headed home.
Somewhere along the way our puppy was named “Wicker.” For years people have asked us why. And for years, I've had no answer. It was rather like the scene in “Harvey” where the doctor asks Elwood P. Dowd why he chose to call his invisible rabbit companion “Harvey.” And the answer was simply “Well, Harvey’s his name.”  Wicker was just Wicker.. and that was it.
She cried all that night in her crate in the kitchen. We tried everything we had ever read: hot water bottle wrapped in a fluffy towel, ticking clock. It was finally the stuffed frog that did it. She snuggled down content and for the next several months, froggy was her constant companion.
Well.. till she ate him.
Wicker never complained about out eclectic household. Not when your Mother brought Duncan kitty home (after I had told her that under no circumstances were we going to get a cat – and she not only picked one out at the shelter, but then got me to go and pick it up). In fact Wicker mothered Duncan, laying her head flat so the tiny kitten could climb up on top and groom her shaggy spaniel ears while Wicker lay immobile with a look of pure bliss. And years later when Duncan was lost in the woods it was Wicker who dragged me frantically at the end of the leash through the brambles till we found her.
Nor did she complain when Simon kitty came into our lives. Early in the pre-dawn darkness while Wicker was selecting the perfect spot to relive herself (a process that could take 15-20 minutes on a good day) a dark gray, homeless cat came out of the woods and approached Wicker carefully. They touched noses gently and then Wicker went on about her business while the cat purred around my ankles. Some sort of silent permission had been requested and granted and we repeated that same ritual greeting every morning at the same time for months until the morning Simon came to us injured and thus became absorbed into the interior life of our home where she lives still.
Nor was Wicker fazed when Pops gave us a domestic rabbit he’d found abandoned on his land (though Simon was terrified of Hetty bunny), and many’s the picture I have of Wicker up on our old bed, dozing intertwined with the other critters (and occasionally you) for warmth and for comfort. In fact your arrival was the only thing that upset Wicker, but only when you cried. She would paw at your crib and whimper until we came to comfort you. And somehow comforting you comforted her.
Every day after I picked you up from daycare, our ritual was to go home and see how many rabbits were in the yard. We’d feed the fish in the fish pond. And we ‘d take Wicker for a run/pee.  Then we would all sit on the front porch - me, you and James Bear, and Wicker dog. And in companionable silence we’d watch the cars go past until it was time for dinner. It was perfect peace – what I call a “snapshot moment”. And I hold the memory close and dear.
The one problem we had with her was her absolute unwillingness to let us know when she needed to go outside. She was the most silent dog I have ever known. On at least one memorable occasion when she was young your mother and I sat on the kitchen floor on either side of her trying to teach her to bark by modeling “proper” dog behavior. So for about half an hour we took it in turns to growl, woof, and bark while Wicker's head swiveled back and forth between us with such a clear look of “what in the sphincter of hell is WRONG with you people?” that we finally became too embarrassed to continue.
And so we lost many, many thing to dog pee. Rag rugs, expensive carpets. At one point the dining room floor became so saturated (she got good at peeing in out-of-the-way locations) that the handsome hardwood turned black. We tried training pads. We even for a time swaddled her in dog diapers (and it was a near thing as to who hated the morning ritual of putting them on her more, Wicker or us). We tried taking her out more and more often, but to no avail. I sat and watched one day, having just brought her in from a good 20 minutes of fruitless waiting for her to pee – only to have her squat immediately on reentering the house and saturate the dining room rug. 
Unfortunately in despair I turned to punishment to try to resolve the problem. There was yelling and sharp slaps on the rump. And as our marriage disintegrated and I turned to drink to dull that pain, I became like - so many drunks - a bully and my bullying focused on my disobedient dog. That is my greatest shame in this life. I hated the son-of-a-bitch I became. I still do.
And so when your Mom left to go live with Larry, it was right that Wicker go with them. Larry was always far, far better and more patient with her than I had ever been. And when on occasion in later (sober) years I was called upon to dog sit, I did my best to make up to her for all the unkindness.
And she was friendly enough. I think I was forgiven, though we both knew I would not be her human ever again. I indulged her with treats and with lots of runs. Lord how that dog loved to run. When we had our country acreage, whenever I got home from work I’d put her leash on and run with her for as long as I could keep up – from one end of the property to the other, tracking rabbits and possums and God knows whatever else her busy nose could detect. She could never get enough running and I’d have to force her to stop and drink before she keeled over. I can still see her in my mind’s eye when we would visit Nana and Pops – the only time when we could let her off the leash without fear of cars. And she would tear off as far and as fast and she could go, great shaggy ears flying out in the air behind her and her sense of pure joy palpable.
And even in age, when she grew infirm and deaf and half-blind, the sheer exhilaration of running seemed to make the years fall away (See the entry "Snapshot").  The very last time that your Mom and Larry brought her to me to dog sit while they were out of town, Wicker and I trotted the perimeter of my back yard as hard and as fast as our wheezing lungs and old arthritic legs would go. Then we huffed our way into the family room and cooled off by eating crushed ice (which she loved as much as I do).
And finally the time came to lead her to her rest. 

Your Mom and were both with her at the end, holding her and stroking her head and telling her what a good girl she was until she slipped quietly away. And then I brought her home. With your Mom and Larry thinking about selling their house, I could not leave her there where she would eventually be among strangers. And so she sleeps now in a sunny spot outside my bedroom window, near where she and I used to run.
I have done what I could for her. Later we will make a small monument to mark the place and plant some flowers.
Enough. My heart is sore. I need to sleep now.

Friday, June 20, 2014


Dearest Daughter,

Well, for the first time this year, we had Easter without the Easter Bunny. And now we've lost a tooth without summoning the Tooth Fairy.

But just like at Easter when you shyly asked if we could hide eggs anyway, and I said we would hides for as many years as you wanted, you got some cash for that tooth anyway. Because when every day brings changes – this year alone you've had to deal with a new school and school friends, with Mommy and Larry’s breakup, and with the slowly encroaching changes in your body – there’s a great, reaffirming comfort in the rituals and traditions of childhood. And I’m absolutely okay with that.

This will be the first year without Santa too. You took that quite bravely, I thought. You seemed quite pleased with the idea of being able to be Santa yourself now.. to be part of making the magic now for Max just as he’s becoming old enough to believe.

I shared my favorite quote from Terry Pratchett’s book “The Wee Free Men” with you when we talked about Santa. – one that is dear to my heart:

 "It doesn't stop being magic just because you know how it works." 

And it doesn't.

 I love you. May there always be magic in your life, kiddo.

Thursday, January 2, 2014


Dearest Daughter,

Not sure if you remember when we made this for Nonny, you and I. We mixed up a tub of casting gel in a bucket in the middle of the kitchen floor, held hands, and plunged them in the goo.

And waited. You were so very patient and so careful not to move while the gel set. The we wiggled our fingers and inched out a tiny bit at a time. Not something I'd want to do every day, but the results were perfect.

And long after you are grown and I have become just a story in your head, we'll still be holding hands

Love, Daddy