Full fathom five

When my father died,
he took with him,
things I will never see,

Yet are as much a part,
of the man I am,
as these lungs which help be breathe.


For some reason the term Full Fathom Five fell into my head today, so I looked it up on wiki. Reading the Shakespeare poem/song that is the source brought to me a whole host of emotions, all associated with the death of my father, and my father-in-law. Hence the poem above.

As I write this, I am 48.  On the whole I have found being older to be a great benefit. Its as if the dross of your life is burned away slowly by time, leaving nothing but the hot undiluted self behind. Every year I feel like my thinking becomes clearer, at least in terms of being me, while my surety that the world runs only a particular way falls off more and more. That is, I am more sure about myself, but less sure about everything else. This I think is a wonderful trade-off, a nice balance of pride and humility. Something I actually look forward to, and see as a benefit that more than overcomes the physical imperfects that also come with age. But there are parts about becoming older that are not so fun. One of them is burying your parents.

It is easy to assume if you are male, and over 18 that you are in fact a man, but I will tell you right now, you really do not know what it means to be a man until the day you bury your father. That day, and all the days that come after. That is when you really sense the full weight of manhood resting hard upon your shoulders.

My father does not lie five fathoms down. One was sufficient. And let me tell you, that one fathom is the heaviest amount of dirt I have ever felt.

So the other evening Teri and I were sitting in the office at out respective computers, doing something like surfing the net or writing email, when Trevor walked in and start sniffing us. First he came up behind my back, and sniffed around my neck and shoulders. Then he went over to Teri, and did the same to her. Its a bit unnerving to have a 10 year old walk up behind you and start smelling you, but we are used to our son being slightly eccentric. (For instance, he will not refer to either Teri or myself as Mom or Dad. He only calls us by our first names) Since it was near his bed time I think we both thought he was tired, and trying to get our attention so we could tuck him in bed. Rather than be upset, we both stopped and turned to him asking “What are you doing?”

“I’m sniffing,” he said with a smile. “Sniffing for guilt.”

Father’s Day

Over on Facebook, a lot of people I know are replacing their photo with one of their father, in honor of Father’s Day. Its a wonderful conceit, sort of like putting up a flag on flag day (which we did btw), but it is not one I feel like doing. This post is about why.

My father was an interesting man. Strong, handsome, sharp as a tack, and oftentimes quite funny. He grew up a honest-to-goodness real cowboy, like the rest of his family. A tough independent bunch of hombres if you ever saw ’em. Unlike the rest of the family, however he also looked the part. His looks and his manner branded him the quintessential cowboy, the hero of every western. Had he grown up is Southern California, there’s a good chance he would have ended up in the movies. Unlike the popular cowboys of radio and the silver screen, Dad was also a “real” cowboy. He knew how to ride, knew how to manage cattle, he competed in rodeo events, and he won a gold medal in the FFA nationals his senior year in high school.

Growing up, he cast a big shadow.

Dad was a good father in terms of making sure there was meat on the table. He worked hard so I could go to college, and do well in school. I never lacked for much materially as a child, thanks to a large part by his efforts. I never went hungry, never lacked for shoes, clothes, coats, that sort of thing. Now mom worked too, so it wasn’t all him, but he did provide for his family.

He also was happy to lead us on summer vacations, whether it was sailing in the Lido 14, or fishing in a creek. Dad was always game for taking us to the great outdoors.

This, and many other things made my father a great father. I respect him for his efforts, and I wish he were still alive today so I could thank him for them.

When Trevor was born, and it was my turn to be a father, I had to really think about what I wanted to be as a father. Since that day (a bit over 10 years ago) I have tried to follow my father’s footsteps in terms of leadership, in terms of visiting the great outdoors, and in terms of making sure my son does not want for anything materially. But I have also been careful to not be like my father in some ways.

My son will know he is loved by his father. It will never be a question for him. Sure he will think me an ass at times (I am an ass at times), but he will always know my love. Likewise he will always know when I fail. When I have done wrong, especially when I have caused him pain, he will hear my heartfelt apology. I need him to know that being a man is not about being right all the time, but about owning your successes, and your failures, for surely there is no man alive who does not carry both. Finally, my son will always know my support. Mind you he will always know my criticism too. If he pisses off a gang of hoodlums, and they are right outside our door demanding his blood, I will call him a stupid ass, but I will do this while I am loading up my rifle. There is no direction he can go I will not back him, as long as he is not harming himself or others. Even if I think it is a damn stupid thing to do, I will support him. Why? Because no man can see the future. If Lady Gaga had approached her father 5 years ago and said, “Dad. I want to dress up in freaky outfits, and sing bizarre pop songs,” I’m quite sure his response would have been WTF??!!! Now because of her dream, he gets to choose which house he will live in this month.

My father (and my mother) taught me a lot, and gifted me greatly, but when it came down to how I wanted to parent, I needed to toss some of their ideas out the window. I can only hope that my own son, when he becomes a father, will have the wisdom to do the same.


Today, a little tool that looks like this saved my life.

Well, not really my life, but it did save my shoes.

You see, I have me a bit of shoes. About 10 pair or so. The problem is they all reside in a vary narrow closet space, stored in sort of an amorphous pile. This was starting to annoy me as some of them would fall out every time I opened my closet door, so I thought I would build some shelves to corral those suckers (maybe it was from reading This Old House Magazine on my lunch break). Anyway, I went out to the garage to look though the spare lumber pile, picked a likely piece, and prepared to start cutting. Seeing this, Teri came over and casually mentioned, “what about your old shoe rack? You know, the one collecting dust in the garage?”

“Oh yea,” I said intelligently as I went to go look for it. “The shoe rack.”

Now this shoe rack was a hold-over from our old house. It was sitting in the garage because it could not fit in the narrow (23.5″ wide) closets of the new place. I intended to sell it off at the next garage sale. That was 10 years ago when we moved here. So I pulled the rack out, and looked it over. Besides it’s width, it was perfect. The problem was that the darn thing is made of metal tubes with plastic interlocking end pieces. Somehow, the metal tubes had to be cut.

I don’t know if you know anything about cutting metal tubes, but they can be a right pain in the ass. Put too much pressure on them, and they deform (meaning compress). After that, they are a ring-tailed bitch to get the ends round again. The problem is, the ends needs to be round so they can be pressure fitted (read jammed) into the plastic end pieces.

Enter the tool: The Superior Tool model # 35030 Mini Tubing Cutter. I bought my Superior Tool tubing cutter to cut the small brass tubes used for converting the motors on CD-ROM drives into model airplane motors. That was about 8 years ago, and the darn thing has been spending all its free time hanging out with the other model airplane tools. So I dusted it off, attached it to one of the metal tubes for my shoe rack, and gave it a go. Sure enough the darn thing worked flawlessly. Not only did it cut the tube without deforming it, but it also rolled the ends of the tube inwards so they would be easier to fit in the plastic end pieces.  Within an hour I had cut all 8 tubes, filed and sanded their edges, and reconfigured the new thinner shoe rack in my closet.

Boy my shoes are happy right now. And I feel like a manly man. The best part is there is one less thing in our garage I have to deal with. Until we move again, that is.

Darn that life thing, it so gets in the way.

I’ve been very busy for the past couple of months, and have neglected my poor blog. All two of my fans are now obviously despondent. Sigh.

The reality is my Father-in-law passed away a while back, and we’ve been spending all our free time out at the Davis Ranch (where my lovely Mother-in-law lives) trying to help her get a handle on the drifts of interesting stuff he left behind. And I do mean drifts.

The main priority has been to get her a running truck so she can drag stuff to the dump, and generally be more independent. Of course, because it is this family, the beater truck is a 56 Ford with a big back window. Like the photo below, only more beat, and with a hood that open the proper way. Just working on it is pretty cool, and the luxury of all that space, and the absence of computers makes it a project perfect for a poorly trained shade-tree mechanic like myself.1956 Ford F-100, big back window

A real blessing is the ability to work with my delightful brother-in-law, Rob, on this project. He and I have always clicked, from the day we met, and we seem to work well together, which makes the process so much more fun. He also knows about a billions times more than me about cars and such, growing up with his hot-rodding father like he did. I got some of that growing up, but not nearly the same super sized helping of advice and tool use.

Father Juan and the novel is going a pace, I’ve got two new chapters, and a few corrections to put up. I also last week, put together a time line in which the whole novel plays out. The was needing a backbone to help locate the various bits in time and place, and I think I hit just the right mix of structure and open endedness to make it work. This will mean minor structural changes to all the chapters, adding in some details early on to fit the story to that backbone. The basic story will remain the same, but now much of it (hopefully) will benefit from a more concrete context. time will tell.

Now son…

I had a dream last night about my father. He and I were doing a late spring hike to the top of a peak in the High Sierra’s. Not all that safe a proposition as there was a lot of snow, and avalanches were a concern. As we went along, he counseled me with his “worried” voice. I know that tone, I use it all the time with my son when I think he’s about do to something stupid, and I want to help him make a good decision.

The dream left me with the distinct impression that he was even now looking after me, trying to keep me from doing stupid stuff (good luck with that). Even now, it is his voice I hear in my head when I’m about to do something dangerous, like ride a skateboard. “Now son…” he would say, and nothing else was necessary. The tone alone was sufficient to carry the message.

It’s been 8 months since he passed away, and I am now at the point where I am starting to miss him. Near Easter we realized we needed to cut down one of the trees in the back yard. I found myself wishing I could call him, and ask him to come down and help with the tree. Had he been alive, I’m sure he would have turned down such a request (his health was not all that great near the end), but I still felt the inclination.  Funny how after someone dies we try and fit them in our world anyway.


We’re on vacation in another town, have been since Sunday. The vacation started out sucking big time, Trevor came down with a cold, and then Teri and I both got sick after he recovered. We spent the first three days at a nice vacation rental hating life. Finally we got well, and my parents arrived soon after. Since then we’ve been having a good time.

Tonight my parents went out to visit with some friends out here, and invited me along, Their friend is, among other things, a novelist, and a pretty good one; someone an aspiring writer like myself would like to meet. Well I turned it down because I was feeling still a bit tired, and wanted some more happy family time.

So we decided to go out to the pool and play some. When we got there we jumped into the jacuzzi to warm up before going into the pool. Not a bad idea when the outside temp is pretty low. There were a couple of guys sitting in there, so I said hi. We talked back and forth for a bit, and then the next thing I knew we were having a great conversation. Hank, his son Dan, and myself talked for a long time. Far too long as it turned out. As I write this they are likely being chewed out by Hank’s wonderful wife (he was quite specific how great she was), and I know Teri is rather pissed at me. Why? Well because I pretty much ignored my son, ignored his need to play, ignored anything and everything about being a dad, all so I could continue to talk.

By the time I got home, they had both gone to bad.

Well this is not all that new. I am gregarious by nature, not always, but sometimes. When I am in the mood, call it manic if you will, I can be quite charming. This is not to brag, it is not something I am able to always turn on or off. It is more like something I can do, if given the right circumstances. The funny thing is, I didn’t think I was in the mood to be gregarious, or I would have gone out with my parents. Teri would not have minded because she knows I sometimes go out with friends to do the same thing. But because I stayed, she was left assuming I would be around to help, and I didn’t.

No two ways about it, I blew it. Big time. Since she is asleep I can’t go in there and grovel on my knees which is something I rightfully should do, without waking her up, and making it ever worse. So tomorrow I’ll be doing a whole lot of apologizing to her and to Trevor.

Since I have the time to write about it now, it made me start to think about the process. What is it about talking with an adult that is so alluring to me that I can sometimes forget my son, completely ignore him, in order to talk to a complete stranger? I mean that is pretty bizarre, isn’t it? The guys I talked to were very nice, and our conversation was great, but they were not family, and it is not particularity “sane” to put talking with a stranger over the needs of being with your child. Yet I have done exactly that twice in the past two months, one time tonight, and the other time with a neighbor I hadn’t seen in a while.

In the proper context, this behavior, at least the socializing aspects, are normal and healthy. I remember living in an apartment in my single days, and meeting people all the time in the jacuzzi, and having fun talking until all hours. However, it is not cool to disappoint your family in the process, and I do not think it is, even though I just did exactly that.

What can I say? Sometimes I blow it. Fortunately, Teri loves me regardless, or in spite of, my mania. I am a lucky man for that.

Also, I hope Hank and Dan didn’t suffer too much for their sins. They were great men, and we had a good time talking.

On My Father’s Passing

Yesterday, my father died. It was not sudden. We had been expecting it since mid May when he was told he only had a few weeks to live.

Beside the grief, and all the family phone calls (why do my sisters and I need to savor every detail?), and such, there is something else I am feeling right now, at that is relief. You see, from this day on, no one will expect me to have a normal relationship with my father. And that is a relief.

You, out there. Yes you. Chances are, you have or had a relationship with your father. It may have been a great one (I hope so) or it may have been a crummy one with alcohol, abuse and all kinds of other ugly stuff, but you still have one.  You still have a relationship. If people ask about your father you can actually answer. “Oh, he’s in Antwerp, on sabbatical,” or “He’s at home watching Fox news right now, and cursing at the tv.” What your father is doing doesn’t matter, so long as you know. And that’s what you have, that knowing.

Me, I didn’t know. Only it wasn’t just me. It was pretty much everybody, even people who lived with him. That “not knowing” thing was pretty awkward to. It meant I didn’t like to talk about him because every time I did I would have to explain to one of you “normals” why I don’t know anything about my father. Why the simple act of trying to call him on the phone could leave me shaking in frustration. Why he would occasionally hang up on me because there were certain topics that he simply could not talk about (with no way to know in advance which topic was the “bad” one). Why he never called (he called us twice in the 12 years I’ve know Teri). Why we never saw him at Christmas or the holidays. Why I finally stopped even sending him birthday cards.

You see, you could never have a relationship with my father. There was no “there” there.  You could talk to him, and sometimes have engaging conversations about something in his interest, but at some point you’d start to realize there was a limit. A line at which he would not cross; a lack of empathy or emotional commitment. Since I ride the bus frequently, I often talk to strangers. Talking with my father was exactly like talking with a stranger. The same rules, the same expectations. You could talk blithely about any topic, but not in detail, and not with any emotional depth. Poking fun at Obama was okay, but the same was not true for poking fun of prop 8. The weather was always a safe topic. We talked about the weather a lot.

One of the things we do in America is to not really deal with the issues around mental health. If you have a mentally ill member in your family, then that topic is not acceptable in public. People do not understand, or want to, as near as I can tell. They’ll give you pity, but not empathy. It’s too scary, or too weird, or too whatever. Well there is mental illness within my family, and thankfully I have some pretty ballsy nephews who are not interested in covering it up. Quite the opposite, in fact.

In my father’s case, he was likely a narcissist (the clinical term is Narcissistic Personality Disorder). I say likely as I really do not know, and mental illness are notoriously difficult to determine outside of strict tests. Regardless, the name means very little, the effect is what is important. Living with my father was like living with a stranger.

My sisters and myself tried all kinds of ways to get our father to care about us, to act more like a dad. They never worked. Its possible he really wanted to be more loving, and was simply unable. Worse still, because of his mental illness, he was unable to see himself as the cause. It was always someone else’s fault. So even if he could understand the underlying problem, he was incapable of seeing the only possible solution.

So I went for years without talking to my father. We hardly spoke of him at home, and my son only got to meet him by the slimmest of luck.  He never really knew the rest of his grandchildren, and worse still, he didn’t seem to care about them.

So now that he is dead, I’m in the rather envious position of no longer having to explain about my father. No one expects me to carry on a relationship with him anymore.  I don’t have to take parents aside and say, “we can’t really talk to him” when questions come up about grandpa (we’re lucky also in that we have two sets of  parents which are normal, and with which we have normal relationships). All I have to do is sadly smile as say, “I’m sorry, he’s passed away,” and the expectations end.

A Day at the Aquarium

Originally written on 5/25

Trevor and I went to The Aquarium of The Pacific down in Long Beach today. The drive was fast, both ways, the weather was nice, if a little cool, and there were about a gazillion people to share the experience with. Joy!

As before, the experience was outstanding. They really know how to run a place, and even with huge crowd, things went smoothly. Honestly, my only complaint is that the eating area is small enough that it can be difficult fiding a spot to eat. And if that is all I have to complain about, then that is saying something.

Trevor really loved a few of the exhibits; more than half our time there was spent at 4-5 spots. This was the first time he really got into observing at one place, which is a lot more interesting to me. You really get a better feel for an animal once you see more of it’s behaviors, and it gave me a goodly amount of time for people watching (one of my favorite pass-times).


Yes that fish is larger than you!


Jelly about to crash.


Open up and say Ahhhh


I just like the colors in this one.


Don’t jump. Don’t jump.


Cute kid. This is the only shot I did with a flash.


The boys are back in town.

Why I Love My Son

There’s a dead bird on the mantle tonight, and tomorrow morning we’ll be burying it in the back garden. How it got there, goes like this.

Trevor was out playing in the front when he noticed a small house finch that wasn’t flying off like the others. He called to Teri, and she went out and looked. The bird was a bit small, and was not able to fully fly. It could flap it’s wings, and if put up someplace high, like on the bird feeder, it could fly/crash gently down, but that was about it. We put it in our butterfly cage, and brought it inside. It was getting late, and we have several feral cats around, so leaving it out was a clear death-sentence.

We tried to give it something warm to lay on (an old towel), and feed it some crushed up bird seed, but nothing seemed to help. About a hour later I found it dead.

When Trevor found out, he was very sad. I asked if he want to help me bury it tomorrow morning (something we’ve done before), and said yes. It was then that he suggested the back garden as the burial place, a touching idea as this is a nice place for birds to come to. By then he had tears in his eyes, and even though he was crying, he still was brave enough to make this suggestion.

I love that my son can care for a finch, to the point of tears, even though he’d never seen this particular one until late this afternoon.