Monday, June 23, 2008

Coming Out

My brother called me on Saturday. His voice was tight, arrow sharp. Driven.

"What's dad's number?"

No hello, how are ya? "You sound angry."

"I want to talk to him before he dies."

"I don't understand."

"Just give me his damn number!"

"Hold on." I looked it up on my cell phone and repeated the numbers. He dismissed me with a half mumbled thanks.

Neither of us got the better deal in the high stakes parental lottery. We have different mothers, he and I, but our father is one and the same. His mother was my first (and long time ex) step-mother, the one who has inspired more than a few posts and a short story on the subject of abuse. She favored my brother John and beat me for the crime of being alive. My father, on the other hand, favors me and completely ignores my brother and my sister, but cries on holidays that nobody calls.

When my brother John was a boy, I'm guessing around middle school age, my aunt told me that when she asked John about his father, he simply started bawling. A little boy whose father totally abandoned him. No calls, no support. Gone.

I've asked Dad several times. What don't you call? Because, he said, he's got nothing good to report. Believe me, I've tried to reason with him, that the simple regard would be enough, an assurance that he was thinking of his son. Love doesn't have a price tag. It simply is, and only needs expression to be real.

Now his son is almost forty. And in most ways I still regard my brother as that little boy who never grew up.

Until now.

He called back an hour later. I can't reconstruct the conversation we had. My brother is a lot like his father. In some ways a carbon copy. He has a little girl that he adores and takes care of, but he has another little girl that he won't acknowledge. A little girl that will grow up resenting the father that abandoned her. The girl's mother was a one night stand. One night of mindless drunken fun with a lifetime of consequences.

Might he get an angry call years from now? Will the pieces come together in his head? Will he regret and make amends, or will he turn away unable to bear the weight of a lifetime of wasted opportunities?

My father is getting old. He's lived in the shadows, evading creditors, many of whom used to be his friends—and most importantly the government. He's volatile, turning on those closest to him with irrational anger and sometimes violence. He calls me regularly, and wants me to move my family near to him. I don't have the heart to tell him no. But I won't say yes. How could I sacrifice the house that love built on the altar of dysfunction and delusion? I love him, but not more than my children. I made a plan with my brother to go into business with him in Houston. My wife is on board, and we are just waiting for the real estate market to rebound enough to make it possible to sell our home and make the move.

But I haven't told my father. He has so little. It's his own damn fault, but guilt tears at me like a desperate drowning cat.

It turns out that I don't need to worry about it anymore.

It's taken care of.

My brother did it for me.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Father’s Day

I had big plans to write a long post about my special Father's Day, but I have a small problem: my memory ain't what it used to be. Although several New Years resolutions have been made, I still don't carry around that notebook to record those cute little moments, nor do I used the digital hand-held tape recorder my wife gave me two years ago that I swore I would always have at my side. So I have to rely on this rusty bucket called my head that retains memories like a strainer holds water.

The day was about the little things. No big presents or grand gestures of love. Nope. But lots of little ones.

The store bought card (pictured) from Jackson was perfect. At a glance it might seem that he picked a card off the shelf at random, but far from it. I like to sit on the diving board of our swimming pool, feet dangling in the deep end, while I play and sing to the kids while they splash around at the other end. When Jackson was a only three or four, I would play a little as he went to sleep. I've never considered him a fan, and I've never gotten a request, so this card is nothing short of perfection. Gee, you're great Pa! Now can I have some money? Look out world; he's one smart kid.

From my wife the card said simply: Sometimes I can't believe how lucky I am to be sharing my life with you. Sue me, but I got a little choked up. It's official. I'm getting old.

One of the highlights of my day, besides sleeping in and playing Call of Duty while the wife was doing yard work, was my little Emmett sneaking up behind me while I was sitting at my desk. Buck naked—as usual. He lifted his left arm and pointed at his arm pit with his right index finger. "See, daddy? I'm growing some fuzz." And for the record, not even close!

I'll end this with something Jackson did for me in his second grade class. The paper is titled, "Top 10 Reasons Why I Love My Dad." Each of the top ten was started for him with a blank underlined portion for him to fill out, similar to the concept of a Mad-Lib. Here is what he wrote:

10. I love my Dad because he reads me stories.

9. I love my Dad because he helps me do my homework.

8. I love my Dad when he makes me laugh by when he says jokes. And tickles me.

7. I love my Dad because he taught me how to read.

6. I love to hear my Dad sing everything.

5. I love my Dad because he finds time to play with me.

4. I know my Dad cares because he is my father.

3. I know my Dad is smart because he is my daddyo. ( I read this out loud originally as "he is my daddy, yo!)

2. I love my Dad because he works so hard at work.

1. I love my Dad because he's the BEST DAD EVER! (Ok, this line was preprinted as is, but I'll take it anyway)

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Picture Paints a Thousand Words

OK, I Won’t Keep You Hanging

Sorry about the brevity of my last post. Yes, it's more soccer drama, and at the time of posting, I just didn't have the energy to write the words. Now that the weekend has passed, I'm back on center.

I live in a small town. This has some well-documented disadvantages. You never know who you can trust. Before the soccer board meeting I had sent out an email to my friends to come and support my candidate for in-town soccer coordinator, a position of which whose occupant was in contention. The other candidate was part of the problem and frankly had to go, but he was also in all other ways a good guy. My wife and I were conflicted, felt bad even, that we would be standing up publicly against him. He left the soccer board meeting when I showed up, throwing in the towel as it were, which elated my wife and me.

Well, that person directed an email to me on a distribution list that includes a great many people in this town that was similar in nature to that of Coachzilla's earlier email to me, except this one was even more pointed. At this point however, after enduring the personal attacks to date, I found myself strangely calm, almost numb, objective even. I simply took it in and wrote back to the list. I will not respond to personal attacks, but will gladly take it offline. My only concern is for the kids of our in-town program, and how best to create balanced teams for the enjoyment of all. I refrained from saying more. Believe me, there were lines that were written and deleted, written and deleted, edited for neutrality.

For some perspective, this man was the coordinator of the under six soccer teams, Coachzilla of the under eights, and both are together as coach and assistant coach on a team (with their own kids as members) in each. Both teams have the best talent, and in each case, there are a string of complaints from parents and coaches about team stacking. I won't go into all the examples, but when I heard that the same pattern was being repeated by this duo in the under six league that they have been doing together in my son's league, I had to take action. The difference in the case of this guy and Coachzilla is that I actually think he is a decent guy who is either behaving badly or is being used. Either way, he had to go.

He got wind of what I was doing, so a good part of this town has labeled me as trouble with a capital T. I have become a divisive character that has come to represent the numerous folks that have had enough. Fine. When I really think about it, I prefer having the reputation as someone who will stand up for himself and his beliefs than someone who sits idly by, complaining about everything and doing nothing.

I saw him at the final soccer event on Saturday and walked right up to him and told him that I hoped someday we could still be friends, that if he walked away from the soccer board because of me it was a mistake, that he should come back. He told me that he heard I had a problem with him every time he went to the grocery store or the post office, and that he was sick of it. Then, I said, we should talk about it some time.

And that's where it is. I'm not sure if I got through to him or not, but I hardly think you should condemn someone based on what some gossip relates to you third-hand. Some of what he says is technically true, but I am perfectly willing to speak to him about my feelings. But I think he knows that. And I further think that he was just using me as an excuse. Because, as I said before, I've come to represent a group of people whose voice is growing in volume. He wasn't running from me. The man saw the writing on the wall and spared himself the indignity of being voted out.

One of my soccer mom's told me that Coachzilla confided in her that she (Coachzilla) felt bad about our recent falling out. My answer: "And you believed her?"

Strangely though, throughout this most recent development, Coachzilla has stayed out of it. There are three possible explanations. The first is that she really does feel bad and has come to realize the error of her ways. The second is that she lost her cool in the last meeting and got slapped around like a pinball, deciding now to let someone else carry the torch. The third, and most likely, is that she is biding her time, a lioness crouched and concealed in the waving grass by the watering hole, waiting for me to placidly dip my head for a drink.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Drama’s Not Over Yet

Let's just say that I've made some enemies here in my small town.

Stay tuned…

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Bit Geeked

It's getting to be that time of year again. Can you smell it in the air? Football season is almost upon us. Well, maybe not for most people, but for pigskin-heads like me there isn't any other sport. So while the NBA finals have the rest of the country glued to their sets, I am combing my favorite Dallas Cowboys websites for any information about voluntary workouts, waiting with baited breath for training camp to begin.

I won't bore you with it; I promise!

What is interesting though is a new blog by Dallas middle linebacker Kevin Burnett, who gives the inside scoop of the off season, and fields questions from his readers. And what he is discovering is that his fans are very well informed. It's amazing how much football knowledge is out there. I don't even bother to comment. Burnett has been stunned by the responses, and even comments at one point that some of the fans should coach. I thought he might have been facetious.

So saddle up. If you have a favorite team that is not from a certain Texas town that doesn't start with big D, then my condolences. Our major weakness, our only weakness, i.e. our secondary, was plugged in the off season in a most unimaginable way, with a first round draft pick and the free agent signing of the equivalent (legal troubles aside, see Tank Johnson for historical precedent), not to mention a seventh round pick that many experts say might be the steal of the draft. All our skill players at every other position are back and signed long term. So mark it down. The Cowboys will DOMINATE. I'm biased of course, and I think I might have said this last year, but this is not drug induced.

Toke. Strained voice. Cowboys. Superbowl. Champions. 2009. Nobody even comes close.


And cough.

Now back to work.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Ramping Up

My writing instructor and friend, David Daniel, has just published his latest novel, Reunion, which is available at bookstores and online. I encourage you to pick up a copy and give him a read. He is a brilliant writer, with such a knack for turning a phrase. As a young man he published somewhere in the magnitude of eighty short stories, though that number could be much greater. It's funny, but as a wannabe writer it would make sense if I were a better observer, so that factoids like the one I just "quoted" could be a bit more reliable. Let's just say for argument's sake that Dave has written a shitload of short stories. The man is a machine. His prose at times has a poetic lilt. He's given me permission to take an expression of his and mold it into my own, but to me it just feels so, well, not right. He insists that as long as you don't copy another's works, if you pull it with your own strings, it transforms into something uniquely you. "Call it inspiration," he said with a paternal smile. "Art imitates art, and we are all inspired by others. Nobody writes in a vacuum, and all authors were and are all readers first."

At his Reunion launch party, I met some of his closest friends, guys he met in the service back in the days of Viet Nam. By the way, David is a conscientious objector, and did not suffer the horrors of that blight of a war. In fact, the theme of his latest novel is about the loss of innocence, in those far away high school days before the world would change forever. But as I was saying, many of his friends are poets and writers at various levels of success. Most have books you can pick up at the local Barnes and Noble. One in particular is a columnist, whose columns my wife has read in our local town paper.

The question was always posed to me that night: "Are you writing?" No, I would reply, I'm taking a break. "Why?" I lost my confidence and my way. I told them how my self-doubt had stopped me cold, how what others thought of my writing became more important to me than my own opinion. One man in particular really let me have it. "What the fuck are you doing writing for the sake of other people? Huh?" His face was in mine now, his anger genuine. "Why do you write stories? What made you want to put something down on paper?" Because, I said, I have something to say. I might not know what it is, but when I'm writing it, and I'm in that zone, there is no better feeling in the world. Like free-falling. "Then sit your ass down and write, and don't give a shit who's going to read it. Do it for yourself." He accented his last syllable with a thumping finger poke to my chest.

I bought him a beer, which tamed the savage beast.

It helps to be surrounded by people with like interests, because they just understand.

And they know just what to say to get you through.

Oh, and if you do pick up a copy of Renunion, take a look at the acknowledgements section. You might see a name you recognize.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Let There Be Justice

I'll be damned if there isn't justice in this world after all.

I really don't have a lot of time, so here it is in a nutshell. Last night only four more parents showed at the Soccer Board meeting (besides us), so our numbers weren't strong. But I think it intimidated the competition because he shook hands with the board president and said, "I think it's for the best." So it was no contest. My man got the job. Now Coachzilla will be a coach like any other, not only lacking control over player placement, but now she has an enemy in the captain's chair. We'll see what kind of coach she is with a normal team of kids—which may just work out in her favor, she being an excellent skills coach.

Towards the end of the meeting, and right before the elections, the president asked if anyone had any observations about the past season, things they would like to see changed. When nobody offered anything up, I said, "Ok, I think there needs to be more parity in the league. There's clearly a handful of teams that have all the talented players—"

Coachzilla interrupted. "Oh, like there hasn't been any effort to balance teams!"

I felt my face turning red. It's a flaw of mine. But I pressed on. "I realize that there has been some effort," I partially lied here to keep it clean, "but—"

"You have no idea how I have busted my ass to make this league right," she screamed.

Another parent, "Coachzilla, you need to let him finish a sentence."

"But he's accusing me of—"

"Nobody is accusing you of anything, Coachzilla," another voice chimed in.

"There are a couple teams that are really struggling," I continued, "such as Coach D and Coach…" I drew a blank.

"DON'T NAME NAMES, SCOTT!" She was getting shrill.

"Coachzilla," another parent chimes in, "you need to calm down."

I continue. "I'm not here make accusations, my only interest is making a set of teams that are roughly equal so that on any given Saturday they might win. Nobody is getting steamrolled, and no one is mowing."

"Oh, and I suppose we should just ignore parent requests then," Coachzilla supplied. "What do you do when a parent doesn't want to play on someone's team? Huh?"

"You tell them," I said, "that you will take that request into account when you make your final roster decisions, that although you respect their wishes, your first priority is to the kids, that creating equal teams fosters a better and more friendly environment for all."

More guffawing and jawing and huffing and puffing etc.

"Listen," I said, "by the time the kids are 8, we as coaches have spent three years with them. After peewee, we sorta know who the players are, U6 even more so, but by U8, there is absolutely no excuse to have overloaded teams."

This went on for some time, and I rarely got to finish a sentence, and what you see above is my reconstruction of a lot of bickering, so it wasn't all so smooth. But a few voices from the board, voices I have known and didn't think supported my way of thinking, spoke up that night. From now on, before a new season begins, all the returning coaches will get together and talk about rosters and what can be done to equal things out.

And no more parent requests.


So a major victory was scored by the good guys last night. No more nepotism in this league. I have to give a special thanks to my wife who made all the phone calls, who organized our strike, who got me going on the path. Last night I discovered that if I keep my head and speak my mind, that others actually do listen and respond. Who'da thunk?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A New Sheriff?

Against my better judgment, we played Coachzilla last weekend and got our butts stomped six to one. It would have been worse, but the game was called in the early fourth on account of thunder showers. During the game, Coachzilla recused herself to the sidelines, giving the reigns to her assistant coach, who is also the coordinator of the entire in-town soccer league, meaning he has the ultimate power to move players from team to team. My wife was appalled that Coachzilla didn't actually coach the game, and it was concerning to me too. I was sure that somehow it was a manipulation on her part to make me look like a bully, that I had cowed her into submission.

So my wife called the assistant coach and asked him point-blank why Coachzilla sat with the parents. He claimed that he wanted to coach the game, that Coachzilla was doing him a favor by letting him.

Silly man. Doesn't he know that this is a small town? That people talk? Turns out that Coachzilla openly admitted that she gets too worked up when she coaches against me, and that she gave herself a timeout. Isn't she a noble beast?

My heart wasn't in the game, and neither were the kids'. And Coachzilla's team was possessed, running like their asses were on fire. And up six to one, they were still playing for blood. My defenders for some reason ran to the other side of the field, so Coachzilla-Junior sent his son to our side of the field to camp out, waiting all alone for the ball to come his way. The kid scored twice this way. In the big leagues, this is called being offsides, and I would never condone our kids playing like this. But technically it's legal at this level. Again, my heart wasn't in it. As I saw this happening, I could have prevented it by calling it out to the defenders, but a part of me just said, "Take the victory then leave us alone."

But tonight there is a big vote coming up. Parents of children that play soccer can attend. Coachzilla-Junior wants to continue having control over the league, and Coachzilla wants a power position as well, so she can continue to gather the young talent on her PeeWee and Under Six teams, cutting out the players that can't play so well. A coach from Under Six is running for the position of in town coordinator. My wife and I have called all our friends, including parents on my past and present teams, to come and vote against them. I don't think the opposition even knows we're coming. It's going to be an eye opener when so many people come to this meeting to voice their strong desire for change. The new guy wants to institute a system that we currently use for baseball placement. Have an evaluation day then divide the teams up equally, giving all the kids the best chance to have fun, not to get blown out or to blow away, but to compete on an even playing field.

How novel.

So cross your fingers that we have enough kick to buck these crooked cowboys. It's high time we had a new Sheriff to clean up this town.