Bring your own fork

October 9, 2008 - Thursday

 Freebird!

We took Zoe to her “first” “concert” tonight. “First” because her real first concert was seeing the Black Crowes at the Love Ride with me two years ago. “Concert” because this thing tonight was more like a Tiffany mall tour event than a concert.

This new “band” Metro Station put on a free show for a local radio station with two other “bands” at Universal Citywalk. Zoe and her classmates were all dying to go, so the parents surrendered en masse and let them. It was like a scene out of a Beatles newsreel with screaming girls in hysterics over sighting their idols, only in this case the “idols” are weak lip-syncers destined to be forgotten by this time next week. But whatever, Zoe and her friends had fun and were very excited by it all.

Me, I amused myself by yelling out “Freebird!!!” between songs. Nobody got it. I’m old.


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July 15, 2008 - Tuesday

 Sobriety Reboot

I’ve been sober for 21 years now, and in that time I’ve taken only two drinks, both accidentally. The first time was at a New Year’s Eve party when I was about 10 years sober and I took a gulp from my Diet Pepsi can that tasted really wrong — because it was a can of beer. I had picked up someone else’s drink. Oops. It was an honest mistake and it didn’t really phase me and I was able to put it behind me without it being a threat to my sobriety.

Last night was the second drink and it’s having a little more of an impact. I was out to dinner with some old friends, one of whom got sober about a year behind me. At one point he said he had started drinking again and motioned to the drink in front of him as proof. I didn’t believe him, I thought he was making a bad joke. Beth assured me that he was telling the truth, but I didn’t believe her either, I thought she was in on it. I think someone said “try it” to prove they weren’t kidding, so I did. I hoisted the glass as Beth and my friend both told me again that they weren’t kidding, then I took a sip and swallowed it.

It slingshotted me back twenty-plus years.

The burn of the alcohol going down, that cool hit at the back of the throat as I took a breath after, the delicate numbness around the tongue… All those things were there and instantly familiar, as though it was just yesterday the last time I felt them. Time folded in on itself and then just stopped. For just a moment. And in that moment I was totally alone, just me and the drink going down and my whole being focused on those feelings.

It was a little bit scary, actually. And I got a little bit angry, just for a second. Angry at Beth for not being more convincing about “he’s not kidding,” angry at my friend for letting me take his drink. But I let it go. It wasn’t their fault I took the drink. They tried to tell me, I just didn’t listen. And how stupid was I to pick up a glass everyone was telling me had alcohol in it and drinking it to “prove” they were lying. Only one person fucked up there: me.

Even now, the next day, I can still feel that warm burn going down that I used to love so well. It’s still on my mind, in my head. I’m not going to let it threaten my sobriety — if anything, I’ll use it as a reminder of how easy it is to fall — but it had an impact on me. It brought back some old feelings and urges that I’m going to have to tamp back down again.

My own reactions and issues aside, I’m also worried about my friend. He says he’s okay, that he’s been drinking again for three years now and that he has it under control, that it’s not a problem. He says he quit drinking back in ’89 because of who he was then, what it meant to him then, and that he’s a different person now. Now, he can drink.

Well. I didn’t make a big thing about it because I didn’t want to make for an uncomfortable evening and I wanted to believe him that he’s fine. I hope that he is. But I know he’s going to be reading this, so I’ll say here what I didn’t say last night:

Ultimately, your sobriety is your own and you are the only person who can judge it. If what you say is true, then more power to you. I won’t judge you or look down on you whether you drink or not because you are my friend and I want the best for you, whatever that may be. But you have to know that I’m worried about you.

I don’t think I can say anything that you won’t see coming. It’s all there in the Big Book, you’ve heard it all in the meetings, you’ve probably said it to others yourself. You know.

All I can do it tell you that I’ve had the exact same thoughts as you: I’m older now, I can handle it. I was a stupid kid then, I’m different now. I’m a completely different person now, I have the maturity to drink responsibly. It was a phase, it was being young and stupid, it’ll be different now that I’m an adult. I’ve had the same thoughts, the same doubts, the same questions, the same temptation.

But the answer I keep clinging to for myself is this: If I’m really not an alcoholic, then why am I trying to find a way to drink? I can’t answer that. So I don’t drink.

I wish you the best, my friend. I’m here if and when you need me and I accept you as you are either way. But I’m worried for you.


Comments are closed because I’ve probably said too much already and I’m not interested in hearing what anyone from the peanut gallery might have to say. If you weren’t there then you don’t know.


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June 25, 2008 - Wednesday

 Lucky Thirteen

Today is me and Beth’s 13th wedding anniversary. To celebrate the day, Beth is insisting that I refer to her as “Bride” all day long. I’ve agreed to this as long as she calls me “Master.” So far nobody’s getting what they want.

So… How about a story from our marriage? Between us we’ve already told a few: Beth told about her “Fuck you” response to my proposal in Will You Marry Me in her old journal. I told the story of losing my wedding ring on our honeymoon in the Ringwrecked entry of my old journal. In It Seemed It Was About Time Beth talks about finally getting around to taking my name after 10 years. And Beth tells what may be the best story, of our song and the night we fell in love in Have I Told You Lately? But this time around let’s talk pictures.

Look around most couples’ houses and you’ll find at least one wedding photo somewhere. Maybe off in a corner or on a stairway wall or in the guest room, but you’ll find a picture somewhere of the bride and groom back in the days when they were 10 pounds lighter and wore lavender ruffles and had big hair and thought looking like total dorks looked totally cool. But not in our house. There is absolutely no photographic evidence that we were ever married. Oh, there are wedding pictures, they just aren’t here.

Beth’s dad sprung for a very nice, very lavish wedding for us, and everything was beautiful. He spared no expense, and he even hired a photographer and pre-paid the whole picture package. He made sure we’d have more wedding photos than we’d know what to do with, and extras to pass out to friend and family and even strangers. We had the super deluxe wedding package all wrapped up.

The photographer sent over two books of proofs after the wedding. All Beth and I had to do was go through them and pick which ones we wanted him to print. It sounds simple when you say it like that — “all we had to do was pick” — but that task had layers of complexity. Beth’s parents are divorced. Beth’s father and step-mother also divorced. My parents are divorced. There were grandparents from both sides. And we somehow got it in our heads that we needed to create a unique collections of photos for each of them. And then we decided the best way to do that was to send the proofs to each person and let them list which pictures they wanted in their own personal book, then send the proofs along to the next person for them to make their list, and so on and so on and so on.

This still hasn’t happened. After thirteen years.

Every time we drive past our photographer’s office — which is frequently, since it’s about two miles from our house — I point to it and say to Beth “Hey, let’s get our wedding pictures.” Beth laughs (or sometimes ignores me — more of the latter lately) but we don’t stop. We don’t order the pictures. We leave them hanging out there.

I think we’re afraid of them. Superstitious. We’ve been married for so long without the pictures now that we feel like getting them might jinx us — especially now, in Year 13. We’re both halfway convinced that if we actually did bite the bullet and went in and got those pictures, we’d be divorced within the year. So we have no photographic evidence of our wedding. First by laziness, now by choice.

Thirteen years together. We must be doing something right — despite all evidence to the contrary. Or lack thereof…


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June 15, 2008 - Sunday

 Father’s Day

This is my second Father’s Day without a father. It still seems weird and wrong even now, a year and a half since his death. From time to time I still sit up with a start thinking, “Oh hell, I have to call Dad!” just like I used to because I wasn’t very good about keeping in touch. Then I remember that those days are gone.

I don’t feel sad that he’s gone, really, it’s sort of a sense of… Emptiness? Misplacement? I feel sort of un-anchored without my dad in the world. I miss him. I’ve been thinking of having a memorial tattoo done for him. I have a vague idea for a design, I know where I want it, I think I know who’s going to do it. I’ll probably have it done on or around his birthday at the end of July.

This is me and my Dad the last time I saw him in July of 2006. I think I knew then that it would be the last time. I think that’s why I brought my camera with me.

Dad & Me

With my dad gone Father’s Day is now about just me, and I celebrated it with my family. Beth and Zoe gave me a motorcycle helmet I’d been wanting, and Zoe gave me a copy of Richard Bach’s Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah. I had given her a copy of Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull recently and we talked about how reading it when I was her age had led me to Illusions and how much that meant to me when I was younger. So it was a really good gift. I’m halfway through it already and it’s holding up well.

Then Zoe and I went out for a ride along the coast. We took this picture in Malibu.

Father & Daughter


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March 14, 2008 - Friday

 No Jam

Driving in the car with Zoe this evening, one of those robotic, generic, breathy, wanna-be R&B songs that pass for music these days came on the radio. The following conversation ensued:

Zoe: Oh, that’s my jam.
Me: You’re twelve. You don’t have a jam.


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November 8, 2007 - Thursday

 Goodbye to The Dude

We lost one of our cats today — The Dude. We got him from the pound about a year and a half ago (check his arrival here), so we didn’t have him for very long. He was an old guy when we got him, so we knew it was going to be a short time, but I didn’t know it’d be this short.

He’s been losing weight for awhile and getting old and generally just getting more and more decrepit, until this morning when he was in an obvious bad way. I took him to the vet and we put him to sleep this evening. It was kidney failure, we think. The doc was maddeningly vague about his condition and whether or not it was time, but it was pretty clear that putting him to sleep was the right thing to do.

He was a cool dude. He made a place for himself among this madhouse of animals and fit right in. I’m going to miss his insistent tap-tap-tapping at the dinner table as he begged for food, his blatant jumping up on the dinner table when the tapping didn’t work, his falling asleep face down in my lap while watching TV at night, his drooly kisses in bed when he’d want to rub his nose against my mouth and I’d always complain to Beth that “Goddamit, honey, my cat is such a fag!” I’m going to miss The Dude, period. He was my cat and I loved him.

Here’s The Dude with Beth and Zoe this morning when we all pretty much knew how the day would end but we hadn’t taken him to the vet yet.

Goodbye to The Dude

He was loved. He’ll be missed.

Goodbye, Dude.


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October 29, 2007 - Monday

 HBD 2 Me, 2007


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September 27, 2007 - Thursday

 Marriage in Practice

I love my wife. I’d do just about anything for her. She’s always on me about my health, so I quit smoking for her a couple years ago, and back when we were trying to get pregnant I quit hot-tubbing because the doctor said the hot water was cooking my spermies. So I make sacrifices, see?

Especially in my TV viewing. When she’s not in the room I watch guy stuff like World Poker Tour and Ultimate Fighter and World’s Wildest Police Chases — you know, quality viewing. When she’s in the room it’s ChickFlick Central: Top Chef and Project Runway and Grey’s Anatomy. Sacrifices.

But last night… Last night was big. The Grey’s Anatomy spinoff, Private Practice. I’ll admit it, I’m not proud: I watched it. Sacrifices. Big ones. But a man has limits. Sometimes you have to put your foot down, draw the line, take a stand. Well, this is it: I will NOT watch that steaming pile of Shondaland ever again.

And Dancing with the Stars is right out, too.


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August 11, 2007 - Saturday

 Colorado Trip, Part II

Day 4 — Continued
In and around Big Thompson Canyon, CO

The first half of the day was the fun — riding the Glen Haven route twice — once with camera, once without — enjoying the view in Estes Park, being out and about in the Rockies on my bike. Fun. But the halfway point of the day was when the universe decided to, as they say, bring the pain.

First was the flood victims memorial flyer that I came across in Glen Haven. I asked around after I saw that, asking locals if anyone else knew about it — nobody did. The universe just put that out there for me, I guess. All this time I’d known I’d be there at the river on the anniversary of the flood — hell, I stayed on the river for the anniversary of the flood in some weird form of tribute — but it never occurred to me that there might be some kind of ceremony or service. And yet there it was.

But before that I had family business to deal with: scattering my dad’s ashes in the river and seeing my I-guess-you’d-call-them-estranged half-sisters in the process. We stay in contact, but very minimally. So that was a guaranteed good time.

Charlene, me, Christine

Charlene and I email occasionally, but I have virtually no contact at all with Christine. There’s a weird, fucked-up dynamic between them out there and me and my immediate siblings here in California, and I think much of it is driven on their end by assumption (I’m assuming) and misinformation and resentment and I don’t know what. For me personally it’s more about just being tired of all the tension and perceived anger and my natural first instinct to just pull back and isolate myself from it all. For my brothers I think there’s resentment toward my father that is bleeding over onto his 2nd set of kids (Charlene and Christine), coupled with some anger at them for some things they’ve done and said in their own anger and hurt. And as for my sister out here in California… Well, who fucking knows. She’s an alien to me and I am baffled by the way her brain works. So with all that, my brothers and sister here in California didn’t come out to Colorado to scatter our father’s ashes, it was just me and his 2nd set of kids in Colorado. So I was meeting up with Charlene and Christine with all that as a backdrop, so I was looking forward to that.

When they showed up at the river with Dad’s ashes in a box, and with his old friend Vic’s widow Pauline in tow, I wasn’t sure what the mood would be. Thankfully, it was friendly and low key. Whatever differences they had with me and mine were put aside, at least for the day. I was relieved. I felt a little bit awkward with them, given all the above, but I think we all came together well.

Scattering Dad's Ashes

We took the box with the ashes down to the riverside and I opened it up with a pocketknife. As I did so, I took a moment to note how surreal it all was — to be standing in that spot, on that day, with all that history, with my dad in a bag in a box, cutting it open so we could throw it in the water… The 13-year old I had been living there in the canyon 31 years before never could have dreamed this would be waiting up the road. It’s two weeks in my past now as I write this and it still doesn’t seem real.

My Dad in a Box

We each took a handful of ashes and threw them into the wind and the river. Me, Charlene, Christine, and Pauline each took our own moment, said our own goodbyes, took my dad in our hands, and scattered his ashes. We were surprised at how much was left after we had each taken our turn, so I poured about half the remaining ashes into the river and we watched as they formed a gray cloud in the water that bloomed as the current carried it away.

Dad's Final Resting Place
Dad's Ashes
Dad's Ashes

We stood there for awhile afterward, just talking and thinking and absorbing the sights and sounds. We shared memories about my dad, laughed a bit, I think each of us shed a few private tears. Then we drove back to my motel where we sat around and continued talking and reminiscing for awhile before it started getting late. They had to get back down to Loveland and I had to get ready for the flood victim memorial, so we said our goodbyes, promised to keep in touch, and they left.

After they were gone, I performed my own private ceremony with the remainder of my dad’s ashes. I had written a letter to him the night before saying all the things I wish I could while he was still here and saying my goodbyes, and I took that letter and his ashes down to the banks of the river directly across from where the restaurant once stood. I read the letter out loud to the river and to him, then I burned it and let its ashes blow into the river and poured the rest of his ashes in the river after it. It felt like the right thing to do. It felt like a good goodbye to my father.

Dad's Ashes

Then I went to the flood victim memorial service, where I got another kick in the emotional nuts.

There are two memorial sites set up for this in the canyon, but I had somehow never found this one before. The first site, which I’d been to twice before on previous trips and can’t find a picture of now, is a tribute to two police officers who sacrificed their own lives saving others in the flood. This memorial was a tribute to all the victims and I don’t know how I had missed it before. It’s exactly what I always throught the other one should have been.

Big Thompson Flood Memorial

144 people died in that flood, including 8 people who were in my dad’s restaurant, The Covered Wagon, that night. Three of them — Martin and Frances and their son Adam, were like family to me. They’re why I decided to scatter my dad’s ashes there in the river, and on that date.

Big Thompson Flood Memorial

So I’m standing there at memorial, waiting for the service to start, and people kept eyeballing me. It’s a rural area and most of the people knew each other, so I was out of place because I was a stranger. Eventually an older woman, Barb, asked who I was and who I’d known in the flood. I told her my dad had owned the Covered Wagon and she immediately knew who I was. Apparently my sister Christine had spoken to her once about buying a brick in our dad’s name there at the memorial and she put the pieces together from there.

With all that I’d been through that day and all that I had on my mind as I stood there at the memorial, I was pretty much on the ragged edge, emotionally. Barb knowing exactly who I was and what my link had been to the flood was hard enough and I was sort of struggling to keep it together. I wasn’t crying or teary-eyed, but I was close.

And then she said “I have some pictures of Adam to show you” and I just fucking lost it.

First of all, I hadn’t said a word about Adam, only that my dad had owned the restaurant, so her knowing that I knew him blew me away. Secondly, learning that there were pictures of Adam there was like a punch in the gut — I’ve only seen him in my memories for 31 years and I didn’t know pictures of him existed anywhere, let alone here. It was all too much — I had started the day thinking all I had to deal with was scattering my dad’s ashes, then I learned about this memorial service, then I met this woman who knew who I was and what I was carrying with me, and then I found out she had pictures of Adam.

I lost it. In a controlled manner, of course, but I did lose it. I had to turn away from her and walk back to my bike and I stood there for a few minutes fighting back tears and trying to get myself back together. And of course she followed me and was comforting and caring and reached out to me saying, “Oh come here, you’re not too big for a hug” and that just made me lose it worse, and then the fact that she was fighting back tears too just added to the party. So we had us a good hug and I went with her after the service to see Adam’s pictures.

He looks just like I remember him, but also younger. He was only 8 at the time, and I was 13, and childhood memories aren’t the most reliable, but those pictures were definitely the Adam I knew and remembered and still miss. He was a good kid. I’m glad Barb showed me those pictures.

By nightfall I was pretty much wrung out and just wanted to get back to my room and get to bed. I was checking out the next morning and considering heading south to Cortez, CO, which was near my dad’s last hometown of Dove Creek. I was debating heading down that way and maybe making a pass through Dove Creek as one final goodbye to my dad. So I broke out the Zumo GPS and my atlas and started planning.

And now, I’m going to wrap this entry up. Days 5 & 6 come in the next one.


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February 18, 2007 - Sunday

 Long Live The Lizard King

My dad died today.

I’m not quite sure where to go from there — “My dad died” pretty much covers it pretty well. Seeing the words on the screen like that… Wrong, yet inevitable. I’m sad and numb and tired and … I don’t know. Dead inside, a little.

My relationship with my father has been long and strange and taxing and has felt very much one-sided for a long, long time. My parents split up about 30 years ago, and my brothers and sisters and I lived in California with our mother while my dad lived in Colorado and started a new family there. I have been the glue linking these two sects and practically the only open line of communication between them the entire time. It has been frustrating and tiring and taxing and thankless — and now it is over.

I’m feeling a lot of guilt and regret right now, but I think that’s inevitable, especially in estranged families like mine. I think the only way you could possibly have someone die and not feel any “I wish I’d done it differently” would be for them to drop dead while you were hugging them at the end of a marathon “I love you, let’s clear the air, here’s all the things I wish I’d said and all the apologies I wish I’d made” session. Which, let’s face it, just doesn’t happen. At least not without a murder charge to go along with it.

I’m feeling guilty because I sort of started turning my back on my dad over the last several months. After more than a decade of being the only one keeping the lines of communication open between him and my siblings — and doing it partially because I didn’t want them to regret not having had a relationship with him after he passed — I had finally gotten tired of it. I never did it for anyone to thank me or owe me anything for it, but in the end I did get tired of the thanklessness of it. My brothers didn’t appreciate it — I think they resented my making them feel guilty when I’d remind them of his birthday and urge them to call him, or telling them he was sick and he’d like to hear from them. My sister couldn’t care less, since she completely internalized my mother’s accounts of his many faults and wrong-doings and had written him off years before. And my dad… Well, there’s some resentment from me there…

I honestly can’t say that my father loved me. I like to think he did, but I don’t know it. I certainly never felt it. And toward the end, I started to wonder why I even bothered. In nearly every telephone conversation I had with him he would eventually turn the conversation toward my brothers and sister and basically complain that he hadn’t heard from them or that they hadn’t visited or that they hadn’t reached out to him in some way. There was always some almost petulant complaint and then a sigh and “Well, they know where I am if they want me…” Never any kind of thanks that I was making an effort to stay in his life, only regret that the others weren’t. And it was always me calling him. Practically the only time he ever called me was when he needed something. It was as if his phone was incapable of making outgoing calls — at least to California.

Phones only working one way: that’s how it always was with him. The mountain had to come to Mohammed. I was 13 when my parents split up, my brothers were 11, my sister 10. We were kids, and yet somehow it was incumbent upon us to maintain a relationship with him. And in later years, when there wasn’t a relationship, there was never any regret from him that he hadn’t done more to stay in touch with us or apologies for how he had shut us out of his life — only resentment that we hadn’t reached out more to him. He would complain to me that my brothers or sister hadn’t called him and I would bite my tongue — at least until the last year, when I started saying, “Well, your phone dials too, doesn’t it?” And he’d get quiet for a minute and then “Yeah, but…” and change the subject.

After the divorce he started a new family in Colorado, where he had two more daughters and ended up raising them himself. He was a completely different father to them than he was to me and my siblings. It was like night and day. Completely different. He doted on them and loved them unreservedly. He was, to put it bluntly, a model father to them. Everything he never gave us, he gave them in spades. It was almost as though he took all the love and care he never gave us and gave it to them, so they got two families’ worth of his Dadness.

I can remember an incident from when his “new” daughters were kids that illustrates this perfectly. After years of trying, I had finally brokered a breakfast between my dad and me and my brothers and my sister. He and my siblings had been completely estranged with no contact at all for five years or so, during which time he had had these two new daughters, and I had finally managed to cajole him into coming to California to visit and my brothers and sister to agree to have breakfast with him. I have a photo taken of all of us together that day — my dad, my siblings, his two new daughters — and I always refer to it as my proudest moment, the day I got them all together again.

Anyway, we’re all having breakfast at this coffee shop in Pasadena, and his two newest daughters who were probably 5 and 6 years old were all over him — climbing in his lap, crawling on and under the table, eating with their hands, eating off his plate … it was one of the most impressive displays I’ve ever seen of children with absolutely atrocious table manners and a doting parent letting them get away with murder. It was the kind of thing where if they were at the table next to you, you would have been muttering snarky comments about poor parenting and giving them dirty looks.

And me, I was utterly shocked at the display. When I was their age, my dad ruled the dinner table with — Well, I was about to say “an iron fist,” but that’s not true. He ruled it with a butter knife handle. Kids spoke only when spoken to. Your glass of milk could not be drunk until your plate was cleared. You did not get up from the table until your plate was cleared, and if you didn’t like what was served you ate it anyway. And the butter knife handle? If one of us kids reached for something rather than ask someone to please pass it, or if we put our elbows on the table… THOCK!!! He would whack us with the knife handle. And let me tell you, that shit hurts, especially if it hits a knuckle or the bony part of your elbow. That kind of thing will get your attention — and it’s why I have the excellent table manners I enjoy today. So I was absolutely stunned to see them getting away with such behavior. When I was a kid that kind of thing would have just about landed me in a full body cast, but these two girls were getting away with it with a smile.

I think the difference was that he loved these two girls, absolutely loved them. I don’t know why he was different with them, but he was. He loved them without question, but he had … well, nothing for me and mine. I don’t know why and I never asked. It was what it was.

But I don’t think I resented it — at least not until the last year or so of his life. And that’s where the guilt I’m feeling comes from. After playing the Good Son for so long, I basically ran out of gas in the last year. I got tired of the complaints about us never calling him — but never hearing regrets that he never called us. I got tired of the guilt trips for the rich life he imagined we had here while he lived in poverty there — especially after I asked him last year to come live with me and he never gave me an answer, just kept saying he was thinking about it.

And you know, I think that really is where things changed for me. His health was failing and he was living all alone, across the state from his daughters who he loved so much, and the Colorado winters and the altitude were really hard on him. He needed help, so I offered to move him out to California and have him live with me. He never really answered me; over the course of several months — and through another winter that was the whole point of my offer — he kept saying he was thinking about it, that he wasn’t ready to move yet, that he’d let me know. I thought it would help him live more comfortably and be a great way to bring the two factions of his families together and help him get to know his grandkids and yadda, yadda, yadda. It was an idealistic move on my part that he just couldn’t accept, and it eventually became clear to me that, as the song goes, “When you choose not to decide, you’ll still have made a choice.” He didn’t choose me. Instead, he chose to live out his days near his daughters in Colorado. Away from me, away from us, away again, still, always.

And that’s when I started shutting down towards him. After choosing not to make the California part of his family a part of his life time and time and time again, he made that choice one last time and it finally hit me. And I started shutting down. And now he’s gone and I regret it. I worked so hard for thirty-some years keeping the lines of communication open so that my brothers and sister wouldn’t regret not talking to him, and now he’s gone and it’s me who regrets not talking to him.

I wish I had sent him the pictures of Zoe that I never got around to sending. I wish I had taken Zoe to visit him like I had planned to do “someday.” I wish I had been closer to him and he closer to us.

I wish things could have been different.

Dad & Me
Charles Atkins
7/31/22 – 2/18/07


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