Erin has never had the stomach for battles at the dinner table. She has always felt that having the family gathered around the table was far more important than what was being eaten. Because of this for a long time we would often cook three different meals each night. Luke would have his chicken nuggets, Noah would have oatmeal or an egg and Erin and I would have whatever had tickled my fancy that week when I’d made the menu.
As they have gotten older and we have traveled more, we have worked at doing away with different meals. This effort has proven trickier than I thought it would. Not because the boys refuse to eat what we’ve made, though that does happen. Rather it is because I often forget that I am buying for more than two people and when the boys do like something they have been known to eat a lot more than one would think an eight and ten-year-old could. This leaves us with no leftovers, as I had planned, and Erin and I haggling over the crumbs of the meal. It also seems far more complicated and time consuming to cook one meal with sides than it ever did to cook three. Our short order days were so ingrained that it seemed like far less work. Whereas trying to come up with and remember to make a side dish might as well be akin to asking me to solve a quantum physics problem.
My memories of nightly family dinners growing up are of candles on the table, my mom’s salad and a different main course every night. I am not sure how my parents did it. They both worked, and take-out was something we only saw on TV. There are nights I can barely muster the energy to feed myself, let alone the family, and I don’t work outside the home. To that end, I came up with the idea of what I like to call Lazy Parent Night. The concept is simple, I will make them whatever they want as long as the meal involves only one pot or pan. So if Noah wants french toast sticks, which are far more involved than they sound, he is out of luck. A boiled or grilled hot dog, you got it, grilled cheese sandwich, eggs, chicken nuggets, waffles (frozen of course) no problem. But nothing that requires too much effort either in the making or the cleanup. The best part of Lazy Parent Night is that we get to eat in front of the TV. When I was a kid I got to do this one night a week, when Disney had their Sunday night movie. My dad would even deliver me my fried-egg sandwich. It is one of my favorite and sharpest memories from childhood. I hope Lazy Parent Night is that for the boys for it is the simple things that can ignite the greatest joy.
In college and for a handful of years afterward, I self-medicated with alcohol, not that I understood that then. During this time, I was more apt to go out drinking than participate in other activities. I stopped drinking to get drunk in my early thirties; my body no longer could tolerate it–for the life of me now I cannot understand the appeal. I do know that I got drunk in my twenties because I did not like the person I was. Drinking encircled the darkness and quieted the demons. It allowed me to be someone else. Not that I really liked that person either, especially when I woke up the next day. I’ve come to conclude that only by the grace of God, did I not go down the path of alcoholism.
My drinking settled down after I met Erin, though it was still a major social activity in our lives. It slowed a bit more when Erin became pregnant if only because I was now drinking alone. Still, I would come home every night from my job as a creative director and have a drink or two to unwind. That is what I told myself anyway. In reality, I was still fighting with myself. I did not know then that I had depression, so I would have a drink because it helped me to create the false image that I had finally made something of myself and I deserved a drink. Alcohol is hubris’s best friend. Erin told me later that I was drinking more than I realized, that my drinks were often far more rum than tonic.
For various reasons, alcohol took less and less of a priority in our lives. When we did drink, though, I found that I was always wanting more and that scared me. For a long time, I tried to figure out how I could stop drinking completely. It had been such a part of my life for so long that I was not sure how to go about it. What would people think? My therapist helped me along by telling to me that it made no sense to be taking an anti-depressant and then going out and taking a bunch of depressants. It is no wonder I would feel like mental crap the day after I had a few drinks. This way of looking at it gave me the ability to stop drinking.
Because I was drinking so infrequently at the time it was not that hard for me to stop. I did long for a drink now and again but not enough that I was willing to go out and buy something. The cravings were far less than when I quit smoking so I knew I could handle them. There have been a few special occasions with family that I have shared one nice glass of whiskey or wine. Though the last time I did this at a dinner celebrating my in-laws’ 50th wedding anniversary, the slight buzz I got left me feeling so unsettled at the seeming loss of control that I am not sure I will even do it again. At first it was far harder to find the right words to tell people that I no longer drank. As has often been the case, I fretted more about what people would think than anything else. In the end, I decided that being upfront and honest was the only way. After all, having depression or choosing not to drink is not something to be ashamed of.
It’s the day you died.
Three years ago.
I didn’t remember,
Until I started writing about you.
I’m wearing your sweater.
I think about that day often,
But won’t remember the date.
From the age of sixteen until one Sunday morning when I was thirty-one I looked for God. Then on January 11, 2009, I wrote in my journal: I went to church today, alone, [Erin would have been working] it needed to be done for reasons I am having a hard time understanding… I have been feeling so down lately and everything is so great. Couple that with an overpowering urge to worship and it could no longer be ignored. It was as if God knew it was time for me to realize the next step. It was as if the sermon was directly for me…There seems to be a weight lifted off of me now.
It would seem logical that something that brings me such comfort and hope the way the Lord does would not be something I would so easily dismiss. But we are fickle creatures, quick to dismiss that which we cannot see in favor of our freewill and hubris. Like a sulking teenager who thinks he knows it all and does not want to share or connect with his parents, I tend to turn away from God— most often in the times I need Him the most. When this happens, I am at war with myself, simultaneously telling myself I can go it alone while berating myself because I know I’d be better off if I just reached out and connected. Acting like that sulking teenager is a sure sign that my depression is leading the tango.
This happened most glaringly after my father’s death in 2012. I thought because I had known death before and because I was a follower of Jesus, I would have an easier time with his passing. This hubris created a false hope that left me unprepared for the hurt, anger and crushing emptiness that consumed me. I had prayed to the Lord to take his pain away and now my dad was gone, and my mother was alone. I thought that surely I had hastened his passing. With all these thoughts reeling and depression staunchly in control, I pushed God away, certain I could wade through the grief and life without Him. Eventually, I found my way back, but I am no less fickle. With the heavy bouts of depression I’ve experienced over the last two years, I have frequently found myself trying to go it alone. When the cycles of questioning and berating have been particularly brutal and chaotic I’ve even wondered if I believe in God anymore.
Thankfully God is always there for me, and like that parent I don’t want to talk to, He is looking out for me and waiting for me to come back to him in my own time. Coming back to him does not mean I need to spend hours studying the bible but, it does mean I need to pray. The length of the prayers does not matter only that I do it often. I need to slow down and breathe deep. He knows full well I am a sinner, that I stumble, that I fall and at times I wallow in the mud. Yet He still loves me and wants to be a part of my life. The chances of me losing touch again are high, but I can take comfort in the fact that God will always be there for me and is willing to meet me where I am, even if that is face down in the mud.
I have a general fascination with and an affinity for tattoos. I cast sideways glances at any that I notice and wonder about their placement and if they represent a deep meaning or story, as mine do, or if they were done on a whim and spark regret. I wonder these things out of a general curiosity for fellow humans, but also because over the years I have tried to hide behind different personas and I wonder if people get tattoos to hind behind the way I’ve thought of doing but thankfully never did.
My first tattoo was born from grief. It was a way to honor and remember my friend Jarrod who was killed in a car accident a week after we graduated from high school. At the time, I was very much into the spiritual ways of the Native Americans —one of the stops on my journey to finding God. Therefore, the tattoo is a combination of two drawings of turtles from a book on Native American art. The lines of its shell are done in purple, Jarrod’s favorite color. Like many first tattoos, it is not very good and I have debated for many years about covering it up. The reason I have not is I have honestly worried that covering it up would be perceived as disregarding Jarrod’s memory. I’ve worried I would offend his mother and some of our mutual friends who I am still close with. My wise mind knows these are irrational and foolish thoughts, yet they persisted until the summer of 2019.
My other tattoos include a tribal design my brother drew and had on his right calf. I got mine in the same place around the time he shipped out to the war in Iraq. Somehow I felt it brought me closer to him. I was also afraid that he was not coming home. I have the first two lines of Psalm 49 on the inside of my right bicep, the words humble courage written in my father’s hand and hold fast as if typed from my typewriter are both on left forearm. My love of words extends to my body art. The boys’ footprints, in their original size, have been “imprinted” on my left arm and a tree on a cliff overlooking the sea and a rock cairn cover most of my right.
My tattoos spark joy, they remind me of where I came from, who I was, who I am and who I need to be. This, however, does not mean that a tattoo cannot be changed or covered up–as I would like to do with the turtle. The night Jarrod was killed I walked out of the ER after seeing his body and sat down next to my dad and told him I no longer wanted to do search and rescue. Up until that moment I had had a vague plan to move west and become a professional rescuer, maybe a wildland firefighter. I abandoned that dream sitting there that night. At one therapy session, after concluding it was ok to cover up the tattoo, I tried to talk to the part of me who was that horrified kid sitting outside the ER. But a protector part blocked my way. It told me I was not ready to deal with that moment. Maybe I’ll never be, or perhaps I will when I finally cover up that tattoo.
This essay started with the idea that my tattoos were a way of reminding me of my journey–a map of sorts. I never imagined that the map would lead me back to a galvanizing moment in my life that nearly twenty-four years later I am just realizing forever altered my trajectory. Not the moment Jarrod was killed, as I’ve always thought, but the moment after seeing his body that I spoke to my dad and abandoned the thin plan I had; and then floated unmoored in the sea of life until I found my ballast in Erin and the love of family.