My Father Made Me Do It

My father and I are very different. He’s loud and confrontational and I tend to get lost in any group larger than four people. Make him mad and you’ll know. I’m the opposite. It is really hard to offend me and you would have to try really hard to make me yell.

Recently I did two things that really surprised me.

First, I was in a restaurant/bar with my daughter. She was singing karaoke and a really drunk guy kept hitting on her. He was about 40 and she was 17. When he started touching her I tapped him on the shoulder and shared a few words with him.  Two minutes later he left the restaurant and didn’t come back. I didn’t threaten him per se, but I think he saw in my eyes that he was on dangerous ground.

Today I was in my allergist’s office. They have a policy about staying there 30 minutes after an injection because you could have an allergic reaction and die if they don’t attend to you right away. It’s a bit of CYA, but I have always complied with the policy.

Right after my injection I got an important phone call that was critical to one of my girls. I can’t say what the call was about, but imagine a highly confidential call that has to be taken in that second or else.

I got up and headed for the outside door.

The nurse told me I couldn’t go outside. I told her I needed to take the call.

She told me to stay inside.

I asked, “Do you have a gun?”

She said she didn’t and I walked outside. I didn’t see her again, but the doc came out with a concerned look on his face in about 45 seconds.

Driving home I chuckled to myself about the gun comment even though I felt bad about upsetting the nurse. The words just blurted out of me and I wondered where they came from.

It didn’t take long to realize I was acting like my father in both situations. While I almost never model his aggressive behavior, when my kids are threatened, my reaction is completely instinctive. I rarely confront anyone, but my father taught me how. I should thank him for that someday.

Fiction is similar. While most of us never have a chance to be heroic, books and movies give us a recipe for good decision making in a crisis. (And you thought they were just for fun.)

If an earthquake hit or if terrorists attacked your neighborhood,  who would be your guide?

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How Many Times Have You Missed Your Chance To Be A Hero?

This week I’m celebrating the release of my short story Thugbook and last Friday the most ironic thing happened.

Before I get too far, let me tell you that Thugbook is a story about a social network that captures photographs of crimes in progress. Citizens upload pictures and the website locates them on a map, precisely where they were taken.

The cops, good citizens, and a few people willing to do anything for justice use the photos to know who the bad guys are. Some people take that information a bit too far.

It a fun, and a little bit serious, take on how we can use technology to turn our urban neighborhoods back into communities where pressure from neighbors keeps kids in line.

So Friday I was in a bar standing beside the pool table with my brother when a guy and his daughter, who was about twelve, came over. The glass covering the mechanism that holds the balls has been gone a long time. The girl reached in proudly and released the balls without paying.

Her father said to me, “They get smart fast, don’t they?”

Where was my camera?

This little girl could have been the first criminal for my Thugbook Pinboard. (Yes, I created a board on Pinterest where you can pin photos of thugs. Just like the book. )

 

Or should I have photographed the father?

How often have you seen that? A kid taking something that doesn’t belong to them or breaking something and the parent just going along. When did this become okay?

I remember another story a woman told me. She said her son was feeling down. They were in a restaurant so she told the waitress that it was his birthday so they’d bring him free cake. The kid was shocked. Me too.

These may seem like small things, but the lesson is a big one. We are teaching kids, some of them at least, that it is okay to take things we want even if they belong to someone else.

I had to wonder if some parents really have blinders on. And then I read about a teenager in New Bedford who was shot and killed by police. I feel sad for his mother, but listening to her I was absolutely stunned.

She cried and exalted her boy as a good kid who loved everyone. I characterized a family in Thugbook exactly the same way. I felt it was over the top until I saw this woman on television. She could have stepped right off the page.

The newspaper reported that her son was removed from school for throwing desks and assaulting teachers. That he was on the edge and didn’t belong in school with the general population. They put him into the public middle school because they didn’t have anywhere to put him and he ultimately found trouble and was shot and killed by a police officer.

There are two big questions here. First, how could the mother be so blind to her son’s problems? Second, how could the community not step in and help this kid learn how to deal with others?

It’s tragic that this boy died at 15 years old. He’ll never get a job and feel good about what he created with his own hands. He’ll never have the joy of seeing children and grandchildren grow.

Today I’m thinking this kid needed a nosy old lady next door. You know those women who are always in your business and aren’t afraid to tell you what’s on their mind? They expect you to behave a certain way and if you don’t they let you know.

Maybe we need more of those ladies and some large men very much like them.

Many people look down on enforcing the law for minor things, but it could be those minor things are what lead some of us to real trouble. Stepping in and stopping these kids early just might save them.

What do you think?

How many times have you missed your chance to turn a child around?


A Mother’s Day Tribute To My Hero

On a warm day in 1996 I launched my third home run of the day in a coed softball league. It was one of those great moments that makes you feel like a million bucks. The opposing captain had waved his centerfielder back three times. He’d seen me hit before and he knew right where the ball was going, but the guy out there didn’t believe, even after the first two, that I could hit it that far.

When the third one went over his head, the captain jumped up and down as I rounded first. The game wasn’t a big deal. It was just for fun. There was no umpire. And the pitchers lobbed the ball in. But guys like to win and trotting around first feels mighty good.

I’m not going to tell you that I was a great baseball player, because I wasn’t. I never hit a fastball well. That day, standing on the field, I finally realized why I could hit the ball that far, and when I understood, the realization changed the way I looked at the world forever.

To get some perspective, let’s go way back to 1943.

My maternal grandmother died soon after giving birth to my mother and my grandfather had his hands full with five children, one of them an infant. With little money and no skills to care for the children, my grandfather sent my mother to foster care.

It was then she met my hero, Doris West. Grandma West had a gift for raising children and the stories of the amazing things she did with sick or troubled kids are too numerous to mention. One of my favorites is the story of her own son. He was born 1.7 pounds and given no chance to survive because incubators for preemies hadn’t been invented yet. She placed him in a shoe box, wrapped him in cotton and kept him warm on her oven door. He lived well into his eighties thanks to Grandma West being clever enough to keep him warm.

Her gift to all of us was patience, kindness, and caring. She taught life lessons that changed the way my brother, sister, and I view the world. We’ve passed those lessons on to our children and soon they will pass them on further.

If you think this is a big impact, you are right. But we were just the beginning. Grandma West cared for 56 babies as a foster mother. Changing the lives of 56 children and their children and now their grandchildren. Grandma West had a bigger impact on our world than anyone I’ve ever met.

When I began writing, I took her name to honor all she had done for me.

I left another tribute to her in the first book in my Randy Black Series, Sin And Vengeance. There is a hidden code that is a dedication to her memory. Search the book for her last name with an exclamation point after it “West!”. The message begins with the next letter. If you cross out the following ten letters and keep the eleventh and do this over and over, the text will reveal a message that is surprisingly long.

If you have read the second book in my Randy Black Series, you’ve met Grandma West. She’s pictured in Chapter 21 of A Demon Awaits as Di Stowers, a little old woman who cares for dozens of small children. Her house is lined with Mother’s Day cards because Di Stowers is a mother to many. If you unscramble the letters of her name, they form Doris West.

So what does Grandma West have to do with softball?

When I was one year old, Grandma discovered that I loved to hit a Wiffle Ball. She lobbed pitches to me for hours. She did this so much that even more than thirty years later, when a ball came in the way she tossed it to me, I couldn’t help but smash it. This wasn’t the biggest gift she gave me. Not by a long shot, but it was the one that helped me see what a blessing she had been to us all.

Grandma has been gone many years now, but her legacy will live forever.

Happy Mother’s Day to you and your hero!

I hope you can see the ripples she’s made in this world for a long time to come.


Who Makes You Blush?

Come on in. Pretend you’re a date or a golfing buddy. Your choice.

The first thing that happens when you walk into my parents’ little cape, after you shake hands and sit down is the start of embarrassing story time. This tradition goes back as far as I can remember. Since gas prices are so high, why not come for a virtual visit?

One of my dad’s favorite stories of all time is the fishing song. He’s told it to every woman I’ve ever invited over to the house and he’s told it to my children so many times that one day my daughter mentioned it in a radio interview… She actually sang part of it!

The story begins one January day when we were going to catch eels on the ocean. It was around thirty degrees, maybe colder. If you’ve spent time on the ocean you know that with the whipping wind in winter, it gets mighty cold.

Before we left, my dad checked inside my shirt and saw I didn’t have long underwear on, so he sent me back upstairs to get them. I was about nine years old at the time and for a nine year old I was a tough kid. Dad had us hauling firewood in winter, working in the garden in the summer and working on whatever other projects he could find in between.

So… as cocky nine year olds do, I went upstairs and waited about five minutes and came back down. Sans long underwear. Of course dad didn’t check. You didn’t mess with dad or you got smacked. So we loaded the aluminum boat and away we went.

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About an hour later, dad is standing in the water spearing eels, and catching a bunch. The wind is whipping off the ocean and the aluminum seat is conducting freezing temperatures right up my behind. I’m colder than I’ve ever been in my life. The problem was that dad was catching lots of eels and there was no way he was leaving.

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I told him I was freezing and I wanted to go. To understand what that meant to nine year old me, you have to hear another story that I’ll tell you later. Trust me for now, I didn’t complain a lot. Almost never.

Dad came over to the boat and checked again to see if I had my long underwear on. He might have taken me home if I’d had it on, but probably not. When he discovered that I’d tricked him he did what I thought was the cruelest thing in the world.

He started singing…

Chrissy Martin don’t wear drawers
won’t you kindly lend him yours…

(Chris Martin is my real name)

Not very imaginative. One verse. Over and over for hours. I never heard the end of that song. He’s told that story to everyone I’ve ever brought home and now I’ve told it to you.

For years I left the room whenever he started on that story. It infuriated me.

A few years ago my oldest daughter realized how much it drove me nuts and started singing it to me. That’s when I did something about it. I thought long and hard about that day. There was a lesson and I learned it well. It certainly could have been taught in a kinder way, but what had been a lightning rod for negative emotions for years lost its sting once I thought about it. It may sound easy, but it actually took a while.

At some point I think I realized that my anger was that he sang the song, not that it was particularly embarrassing. I was just a kid being a kid. That’s a mistake I can live with.

I typed this whole blog and didn’t bang one key, so I guess I’m over it.

Don’t tell that to Charles Marston, the father in Sin And Vengeance. He messed up and paid for it dearly. I wonder if I was channeling that song when I wrote him? Maybe it’s a good thing my dad doesn’t read my books. Or my blog!

What’s the embarrassing story your family or your spouse tells about you?

Does it still drive you crazy?


Did You Marry The Wrong Man?


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The garage door rolled up with a faint buzz that signaled to everyone inside that Sam was home. The Volvo wagon rolled to a stop in front of the second fridge and Sam climbed out and hefted a bag full of documents inside.

Chelsea sat in her usual seat with her back to the door, facing the television. Chris sat at the head of the table, face in a laptop, dinner done, just waiting for his daughter to finally give it up and eat her vegetables. Sam avoided a barrage of requests for intervention on both sides by heading upstairs to prepare a bit more work for the evening.

William yelled from upstairs, “Can someone help me with algebra?”

Chris headed up, peeking into the master on the way, “Can you keep an eye on Chelsea? She still hasn’t touched her peas and corn.” Not a single question about the workday. Not a single thought to what they might do later. Never a plan for a sitter and time alone on the weekend.

If Chris made more money, they could have taken a vacation together just the two of them. But writing hadn’t panned out yet. Sam had asked Chris to give it up a dozen times and get a real job but nothing ever changed.

Chris could have come in for a hug but that never ended well. Best to attend to William’s homework.

When the door closed upstairs, Sam came down and microwaved a pork chop, corn and peas.

“Do I really have to eat this stuff? It makes me sick,” Chelsea said.

Sam walked over, took Chelsea’s plate and scraped the vegetables into the garbage like she did every night. If Chris knew it’d spark a huge fight. Vegetables were important for the kids, but not important enough to fight with them every day.

A few hours later Sam tucked into bed with a novel in the master bedroom while Chris went back to work in the guest room he’d converted into an office.

Several people had told Sam that sleeping apart from her husband had them headed for trouble. But he snored and always worked late. He wanted sex whenever they were in the same bed and he just wasn’t giving her what she needed. He should earn more. He should care more about her and what was going on in her life. All he ever did was take care of the kids and the house and write those damned novels.

Chris worked late into the night and crawled into bed only when he couldn’t stay awake anymore. Still he felt the sting of rejection every night he slept alone, but at least at a distance it was bearable.

Psychology Today had a great article by Rebecca Webber that suggests a successful marriage is less about finding the right mate and more about becoming the right mate. The couple in the scene above illustrates two key points Ms. Webber makes in her article.

First, that we tend to idealize relationships and expect our partner can and should make us happy. When the one we marry fails to make us happy, we blame our unhappiness on them. Ms. Webber suggests that when we get to the point of disillusionment, we have found our chance to grow and become a better spouse but for most of us it is hard to see the role we play in strained relationships.

The second key point in the article is that couples that “turn toward” each other will work through differences and grow together where couples that “turn away” from each other as Chris and Sam do, are headed for disaster.

While thinking about this article today I considered the romantic relationships in Addicted To Love and how men and women tally the good and bad. According to Ms. Webber, women measure their spouses on various criteria including communication, income, romance and any number of other things important to them. They talk to their friends (and commiserate) about how their spouses fall short. Men it seems only do this in one area: sex.

Not surprising that women more often find themselves dissatisfied with their marriage and initiate divorce twice as often as their husbands do.