"As a female I had little sympathy for my male colleague at work when he said that he could not sleep because he was worrying about his family. Now I understand. Thank you for your essay and for sharing your feelings."
Having a growing family brought out the best in me. For a few precious years, I was aware, like never before or since, of my place in the world. Looking back now, I can’t believe that I was really there. Somehow I had the presence of mind to capture that time in my own words. I didn’t start out to write a book but I had so much joy inside of me that I had to express it.
Then, as time went on, other emotions involved in being a husband, father, brother and son came to the surface, and I wrote about them as well. I sent off the first essay, The Sentry, to the Globe and Mail because I thought fathers were not being portrayed fairly in the media. The ones I kept reading about were the insensitive shirkers who existed on the periphery of the family unit. That wasn’t my life or the lives of my friends.
What I found once I published the first essay was that there were many other men, and those who loved them, who felt the same way. The letters calls and comments told me that I was illuminating an area that had not been seen before. I continued to write and to learn about others and myself. Here is one of the essays from that book.
“The man who says his prayers in the evening is a captain posting his sentries. After that, he can sleep."
Charles Baudelaire 1821 - 1867
It is somewhere past two in the morning, and I find myself in the upstairs hallway going from room to room looking in on the children. There is no special reason such as a coughing spell or a call for water. I am just wandering. I go downstairs to check the doors and have a glass of milk. Sitting at the kitchen table, I listen to the sounds of our house. Creaks and snaps as the furnace heats up then the rush of air that rattles the basement door as the fan kicks in. Outside, there is the sound of the wind through the eaves and then, the unexpected rumble of a car on our quiet street. I listen until it recedes in the distance, and all is peaceful again.
My thoughts turn to the health of my family. These past winter weeks there have been more than a few types of cold and flu bugs floating around. One child in my son’s kindergarten class has come down with a high fever, and tonight I read in the paper of a case of meningitis in a nearby town. We have had our share of coughs and colds lately, but for the time being we are relatively free of illness. I remember to add vitamins to the grocery list on the kitchen counter and make a note to buy some of the new “natural” orange juice that is being advertised. I wonder what good a glass of orange juice can do against a determined virus? Maybe a lot or maybe nothing. My children, however, are in no position to judge the relative merits of various preventive therapies, and so I do it for them. They will get the orange juice, and they will drink it happily. There are other decisions that they do not take as kindly to, but my intentions in all are the same: to protect them.
I remind myself that not so long ago I would be sitting here wondering about the mortgage and deciding which bills to pay. There were many nights when my family slept, and I took out the calculator and figured out repayment schedules and various methods of gerrymandering a dollar to make it cover two. With a combination of hard work and a little luck, those days have receded. Still, here I am.
My wife has been sad for the past few days about her relationship with her mother. They don’t seem to be able to communicate. As a result, even the slightest misunderstanding quickly becomes a major disagreement. One such incident occurred last week, and it now has my mind. I am sitting here wondering what I can do to make it better for my wife. We need that. Our children need that.
These are my private thoughts. I, like many other men, keep my own counsel on many matters. I don’t mean to ruminate in the middle of the night, but it happens. Contemplation is the companion of silence. The small hours of the morning seem to lend themselves to quiet reverie.
Women are right you know; men don’t talk. At least not about what’s really on our minds. We can talk about love and feelings when the mood hits us or when we’re reminded, with varying degrees of good or bad humour, of our lack of attention. That is not what I mean when I say we don’t talk. No, it’s a lot more complicated than that. We men have a secret society that meets in the dead of night. We may be wide-awake in bed or sitting in the kitchen. We could be on the twentieth floor of an apartment building staring at the streets below or standing at the window of a rural farmhouse searching the darkness for an answer. What is it that we are keeping to ourselves?
It is our feeling of responsibility. It is the belief that, in spite of all the claims to the contrary, the burden for our family’s health and happiness rests solely with us. This may not be the feeling of every culture and every man in this culture, but it is my belief and many men share it. This is my family, and it is my job to shepherd them through this night. Through this life.
It is so easy to become complacent sitting in my now quiet suburban neighbourhood. I have no doubts that living in this place and in this time makes me one of the most privileged men to have walked on the face of the earth. My family wants for nothing physically. We have our normal conflicts, but we can always reach past the angry words or gestures and touch the love that is the foundation of our lives.
Still, I am vigilant. I take nothing for granted. It can all change in the blink of an eye. I have seen it. You have seen it. “Enjoy life, my family!” we say. “Sleep well, my family!” we say. We will watch, and we will keep it to ourselves.
I finish my milk and put the glass in the sink. Before I turn off the lights I check the doors once again. Upstairs, I look in on the children once more and then I slip into bed beside my wife. She stirs, and I shape to her body. I post my sentries and then I close my eyes and sleep.
If you are interested in reading more selections from my book, please go to Facebook and type in Husband Father Brother Son. That will take you to my page where there are many other stories and comments that you might find interesting.
Writing gives the writer a chance to explain the world to himself and to explain himself to the world.
(A personal essay about a friend who passed away.)
For An Indiana Girl... "It was brief, but it was brilliant."
I was not much of anything those first couple of years of high school. Being a new kid at University High in Bloomington Indiana I was out of just about every crowd there was. I tried out and played some B team basketball but I was still an outsider. Some very nice people finally took me “in” and I had a group of friends. The year passed uneventfully!
The next summer I was familiar with the Indiana University campus and I played a lot of ball with some of the college guys on the practice courts and I found out that during the summer, the university housed several gatherings of girls from around the state. I can’t remember what they were there for, but I made it a habit to be the unofficial “host” to show them around. I don’t know how Tom Scritchfield learned about my hobby but we got together and we both worked at being the best “hosts” that we could be. With that friendship, I moved to another group within the high school.
I am sure that many people can explain the dynamics of the “cliques” that existed within the school but having been in 2 or 3 of them, it was obvious to me that one of them was based on sports and then there were all the others. For some reason, the sports guys and their girlfriends / cheerleaders seemed to think that I was OK and so I started to hang out with them. There were many smart and beautiful girls around the school but Sherry Sheridan occupied a special place in my mind. I say in my mind because she was Fred Jones girlfriend and if I had even sighed around her he would have turned me into a goalpost ornament. (I have to say that Fred, our high school star Fullback, was just about the friendliest intimidating guy I have ever met!) So I kept my mouth shut and admired from afar. Then in November of that year, 1962, I heard that she and Fred had “broken up”.
I had read somewhere that there are very few women on earth who can look in the mirror and be happy; all they see are faults. However, even the homeliest scrawny guy looks in the mirror and sees Paul Newman. That was me. And so unbelievably I asked her to go out on a date with me and even more unbelievably, she accepted! The date of Friday December 7th 1962 was to be my glory day. Of course I don’t have to tell you that when the guys asked what I would like to do on Friday night, I played it to the hilt.
“Sorry guys, I got a date”. And I was nonchalant.
“Who?” several voices spoke up!
I let the silence hang out there and then finally, “Sherry Sheridan.”
Ok, I have had a pretty good life with all kinds of accomplishments, but that moment is among my Top 10. The effect was immediate! Instant pandemonium in the hallway! Several guys wanted me to get last rites because once Fred found out they were sure I would be deceased. The other half thought I was lying but my stupid grin told both groups that I was going out with Sherry and should Fred beat me up, I was counting on sympathy kisses!
The big night came and there was no use in me washing the Rambler because it was an off and on cold rain mixed with snow all day. When the sun went down so did the temperature and it quickly dropped to the low 20’s and then the teens. I was ready several hours early and so I went over to Lee Ballinger’s house to listen to Dick Dale with him and have a Blatz beer. (I only had one!). Then it was time to leave and go to pick up Sherry. As I made my way out of the subdivision bordered by East 3rd and the Bypass, I drove very slowly because the cold temperatures and the wind combined to turn some of the roads to ice. As a new driver, I was going to be cautious.
No one has ever fully explained to me why some of the soft easy turns in Bloomington are banked like the Indianapolis 500 track, but they are. As I rounded a corner near Hillsdale on the high side of the bank, that Rambler started to slide oh so slowly down the banked road right towards a US Mailbox. I hit it with a loud clank. I was flummoxed, but not stuck. I put it in reverse and slowly started to back up. I was going to be ok. That is, until some “parental type” came running out of his house to see what the noise was. I got out of the car, I was ok, the car was ok and the mailbox was just fine. The parental unit wasn’t.
“You have to call the p(oh)lice son”. He said in the time honored Hoosier drawl.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because hitting a US Mailbox is a federal crime.
”Ok, 50 years later I can say “BS” but back then I had pictures of me going to jail, Sherry getting back with Fred and my parents deciding to trade the dumpy Rambler in on a 409 like Jerry Hartsock had! Needless to say that the police were very busy that night and did not show up for 2 hours and then got mad at the guy for making them come out there. I was 1 ½ hours late to pick up Sherry. Remember, no cell phones in those days and I didn’t think that I would be so long that I should call and cancel. As a matter of fact I would have rather served time in jail than cancel that date.
When I showed up at Sherry’s house around 9:30 and explained what had happened both she and her mother had a good laugh and Sherry said she thought that I had stood her up! I think that actually put me up a notch in her book. But even though that night was a disaster, it was the beginning of a beautiful few months in both of our lives when we would go out Haunted Housing on the Indiana back roads or to the Starlite Drive-In. Or maybe just drive into the country and explore the world in a way that neither of us had been able to until we were 16. We learned together. It was brief but it was brilliant. I would like to think now for her as well as for me and I have heard third hand that she too treasured those days and her time with me. You are only 16 once.
When I heard that she had died, I cried just as I am doing now. I don’t really know why except that someone that beautiful, inside and out, should not grow old or should not pass away. That is why I am writing this tonight. Much as Thomas Love Peacock wrote Youth and Age to commemorate a love of his life, I am writing this to commemorate Sherry. She was not the love of my life but she was a love in my life. And as much as she may have thought of me, she eventually had a wonderful life with a man whom she loved very much. That made me happy when I heard that.
At the time I learned of her death, I wondered “what can I do” to honor her. I learned that she had a soft place in her heart for Feral Cats, ( of course she would!), and so I sent $32 to a place in Bloomington that looks after them; 16 dollars for her and 16 dollars for me to celebrate the age that we were together. A few nights later she visited me in my sleep and she was much older than I remember but her smile was just as beautiful and she stroked my cheek a few times and then she was gone.
To An Indiana Girl (For Sherry Sheridan Sammis)
With Hoagy Carmichael’s ghost singing
In the deep December forest,
we flew together across wooden bridges,
past haunted houses,
down dark sparkled roads that led away from town,
in our 16th year.
Driving along the precipice of all the sadness yet to come,
we sang Moon River to the pure black night
that hid the bare branches
of dreams past their glory,
and songs sung long ago,
from innocent eyes.
Now, years later,
the sun rises on a grey day bereft of promise,
Hoagy’s bones are dust, and I am alone in this field,
anguished by time,
singing our songs to an empty road
Thank you for a beautiful hello and a gentle goodbye.
It was so you.
God bless you and rest in peace sweet Sherry.