My Wacky Brain: I Swear It Could Give Me An Aneurysm

It's funny. When single, I always thought I would end up with a cute, Jewish girl from NYC who had a split-your-sides sense of humor like Sloane Crosley or Sarah Silverman (I would've included Tina Fey, but she's not Jewish). Turns out, I did waaaaay better: a beautiful, quick-witted, part Cherokee woman from Oklahoma who suffers from seizures and has a mother who narrowly escaped an aneurysm. Lucky indeed!

Take this weekend for instance. Sunday I walked into the kitchen and chuckled, relaying to my wife that I kept having these strong moments of de'ja vu and couldn't get this burnt hair smell out of my nose. It was like someone had set fire to a barber shop and I'd seen it in my future. This inexplicably caused her to spin around in her chair. "What did you say?"

Oddly enough, these are related details, as are the constant headaches, restless sleeping, tingling in my fingers, stiff neck, nausea, extreme fatigue (even my fingers are tired), and that five-hour dizzy spell with the goofy blurred vision I experienced the day before. Who knew? (My wife for one)

Growing up, if you needed medical attention, the mantra was: if you're not bleeding, then you're not dying. (Incidentally, I've heard they're trying to fit that statute somewhere into the universal health care legislation.) This is why it usually takes something fairly definitive to get my family into gracing a waiting room with their presence. According to my wife, this was definitive, and she made an appointment with a neurologist first thing the next morning. I guess the neurologist concurred by the way she kept nodding her head and scribbling in my folder before ordering a battery of tests that are strung out over the next few weeks. (Had my first today--strobe lights can mess with a brother's head.)

I hesitated in sharing all of this with you--one, because as part of our "hardened" childhood, eliciting attention from your aches and pains was frowned upon as being commensurate to instigating a holocaust; and two, there are several doctors and medical professionals who read this blog and who I don't want thinking this is my passive aggressive means by which to solicit there expert advice (to do so puts them in a position of liability and that's just rude on my part). My neurologist is quite on the ball, and I'm confident with her judgement. She's made me aware of what the possible diagnoses we're looking at, which I'm not going to share at this time because I'm not an alarmist.

The thought that finally influenced my decision to pass this along was that I felt I owed it to the people who read this blog and to those whose blogs I read, many of whom I've built good friendships with. What I mean to say is this, I'm taking a break from blogging--oh, I'll still read blogs and leave comments--but when it comes to posting regularly here, it's going to be sporadic at best. The extreme fatigue I mentioned is stronger than anything I've ever felt, like having an invisible force field holding you in place as your eyelids bounce up and down. Trying to blog on top of writing professionally (for pay) has become too much, which is why I've done a poor job keeping up with blogs and returning comments.

The thing about blogging that makes it so different from just writing is that it's about community, and community requires interaction. Right now, my ability to interact is, for the moment, limited. The blogging community has become very real to me, almost as real as calling up people that are physically in my area, and meeting them for lunch; in some cases I interact with blogging buddies more than my own extended family.

So, what am I getting at? I'm just setting an expectation that I won't be around consistently, at least on the blog. I still plan to keep up with Facebook and Twitter. (So if you haven't already "Friended" or "Followed" me on those two, please do so. Still trying to figure out Skype, but I'm on there too.)

Anyway, I've already taken up too much of your time, so I'll finish by saying thanks for understanding, for reading, for commenting and for allowing me to be part of your community. This isn't a farewell--more of a leave of absence if you will. I'll still be around. I'm always around. Thanks.

- Ron


"Twilight" For Girls? Dad Bloggers Share Their Thoughts

Have you hear about this story called Twilight? It's about vampires. No? Well, walk into any Target, WalMart or Borders Books, ask a store clerk and note their facial expression as they wonder if you've been living in a remote cave for the past five years. Yeah, it's that big, and with the series' latest movie installment, New Moon, hitting theaters, the story of forbidden love between mortals and vampires will reign eternal (at least until the day Twilight-related merchandise is marked for clearance after the next big thing comes along).

As part of a consortium effort known as the Twilight Dad Bloggers Experiment, participants were asked if Twilight is appropriate for young ladies. So, would I expose my stepdaughters, ages 7 and 6, to a story about girl notices boy; boy acts mysterious, girl steps in front of van, boy saves girl by using his hand as a telephone pole; girl finds out boy is not boy at all, but a vampire; vampire and girl fall in love; bad vampires show up and attack girl; girl almost ends up a vampire but boyfriend vampire rescues her (again, because that's what he does); girl and vampire attend high school prom together? In a word: maybe.

What I mean to say is that it depends on which Twilight we're talking about here--the movie or the book?

Given the girls' ages, the movie version is a bit scary. Seen as how Coraline made them leery of tiny doors, talking cats and large men with thick accents, vampires and werewolves most likely will send them into therapy. The magic of CGI is an awesome thing considering we once used paper plates on strings to depict flying saucers, but it's also a bit too realistic for girls who believe dogs can actually talk when humans aren't around.

This is not to mention the thematic elements in the movie version. Thanks to Disney (which has since been banned around here), their mother and I already spend enough time debunking the fallacies of friendship, love and high school in general. The girls were crushed after learning students don't flip around and sing in choreographed medleys during lunch; once they find out cute vampires with supernatural hair won't save them from run-away automobiles and other mean-boy vampires, then I might as well start preparing for a future living with clinically depressed, disillusioned zombies for the next 10 years.

However, if we are talking about the book version on which the movie is (loosely) based, then I have no problem once they are old enough. Why the change? For one, it means the girls are reading, and as long as it's not smut, then I'm all for them keeping their nose in a book.

Secondly, the screen version deviates by a wide degree from Stephenie Meyer's written work, or as my wife's put it, "It blows compared to the book." Why? Mass market appeal. Critically acclaimed writing has to be watered down to draw in the biggest audience possible in order to make money. Twilight as a book, however, requires effort, and there's a tangible benefit (see earlier point), as opposed to being eye-candy.

Along these same lines, Twilight is modern take on a timeless story that strongly appeals to women. Meyer claimed that she wrote Twilight inspired by a list of classical works to include: Romeo and Juliet, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights. As a English Lit major, how can I begrudge that?

Finally, there's one element in the book version of Twilight, that I think all fathers will agree is a positive message to our daughters: abstinence. Believe me I'm preaching this one until my stepdaughters find a nice vampire to settle down with and have little blood suckers of their own. One note: there is some controversy on this particular point, but at least it give parents a potential springboard for approaching the subject with their kids.

In fact, my stipulation for allowing the girls to watch the movie will likely be that they have to read the book first. Once they can do that, then they'll be ready for the movie.

Make sure you read these other dads' take on Twilight for their daughters:



Mad Men = Bad Parents? My Essay on Babble

With another season of Mad Men over, my wife and I are left with a big hole to fill in our entertainment schedule. This constitutes a real problem. We're talking about Mad Men — not some cream-puff comedy easily replaced by a few rounds of Wii bowling. Night after night we have sat on the couch, she holding a tumbler of scotch, the day's newspaper folded neatly in her lap, and me in my apron, swirling my third glass of merlot. If that sounded backward, then allow me to explain. While my wife brings home the organic, hormone-free turkey-bacon, I am a stay-at-home dad (or SAHD). Our dynamic is not atypical for today, but back when the word "stereotype" might be confused with a brand of Hi-Fi radio and helicopters were odd enough without associating them with a type of parenting, the concept of a father as the primary caregiver would have raised the suspicions of both men and women. Read the rest at Babble...


My Stepdad's Not Mean, He's Just Adjusting

My wife and I were bored the other night and decided to pull out an old DVD (I suppose in a broader sense, DVD's in general are old these days). After 20 minutes of deliberation, we finally settled on Death to Smoochy staring Edward Norton, Robin Williams, Catherine Keneer, Jon Stewart and Danny DeVito (who also directed it). If you've never seen Smoochy, it's a dark, farcical comedy about the kids entertainment industry (but it's NOT a kids movie).

In one of these scenes Norton sings the song, "My Stepdad's Not Mean, He's Just Adjusting," which I totally forgot about. Ash and I rolled on the floor for another 20 minutes, laughing till our guts ached. What made it so funny, aside from the subject of the lyrics, was how the message directly related to me.

I wish I could say that I was immune to the frustration in adjusting to my role of stepdad (which ironically coincided with me also losing my job), but I wasn't. There were a lot of moments when the girls thought, "This guy's a nut-case." Thankfully, I made it to the other side, and being a SAHD turned out to be the situation that helped us all through that transition--that and a sense of humor, which when Sugar Milk hits stores (it's about to go into production, so not much longer now), you'll see a lot of examples of this.

Kind of like the song.

There's quite a lot I've learned about being a step-dad, enough to start sharing more of it with others. The article link below is something I've written on how to deal with the other dads in your kids' life. If you like it, I'd ask that you please forward it around to others who you may feel it would benefit. Thanks.

Dad in the Middle: A Stepfather's Strategy for Co-Parenting with the Biological Father

This Fatherhood Friday post brought to you courtesy of the great bunch at Dad-Blogs. If you haven't joined Dad-Blogs, head on over and join the community.


Halloween Geek Out

Here are a few pics of the girls from Halloween. In the morning we hit the comic book store a did a little Christmas shopping since wearing a costume got you a 25-30% discount. (kids make great coupons.) Yes, I know; the Clark outfit is a rerun, but the girls were begging me to wear it, so I obliged.

And in the late afternoon we hit a Halloween festival put on by the local church. Loads of fun. However, I have to say, for as cool as the girls looked, their candy collecting efforts can only be described as "deplorable."


Pride Comes After A Fall

Last week Ashley and I attended a fundraising event put on by the Young Professionals of Houston in support of city mayor, Bill White’s bid for the U.S. Senate. Our presence wasn’t due to our rampant political activism per se (I was surprised to learn that Mayor White was a Democrat, this after he’d already completed two terms as mayor.), but because of Ashley’s work in designing the invitations. In recent month’s Ashley has been doing more and more freelance work, growing a client base that now spans across the country. The increased demand, by her admission, is baffling, but not to me. What separates Ashley from the myriad of others able to navigate the incalculable nuances of graphic design software is a little something known as flair, an assertion I am fully qualified to make as a former marketing professional completely free of the biases from being her husband. And despite Ashley’s tendency to downplay this, many, from customers to casual observers, feel the same as I.

The greater significance in this goes beyond the cursoriness of simple success warranting the typical congratulatory remarks, but in knowing the fuller circumstances of Ashley’s story: A substance-abusing father who died of a drug overdose in her teen years; the cheating husband who abandoned her, the struggles as a single mother with two small daughters; the blatant job discrimination and string of lay-offs as a result, the strength she provided to her sister after their mother barely survived an aneurysm amid the afore mentioned hardships; the constant threats of creditors and landlords bereft of compassion in demanding payments, the tormenting forces of anxiety, depression and loneliness. Anyone of these events would be enough to push the sanest of people to the brink of their emotional faculties—me included.

It was befitting then to hear Ashley’s name being applauded in recognition for her creative contributions the very moment after the lady holding the clipboard like St. Peter at the pearly gates asked if she were on “The List.”

“That would be me,” Ashley replied with a blush as the clapping faded.

“Oh, you’re actually a co-host too,” the gate keeper said, a hint of surprise spiked the pitch in her voice as if a member of the royal family had just revealed themselves to her. “And you?” she asked turning to me.

“I would be the ‘Plus One.’” Referring to myself by numerically rather than by my birth name should’ve seemed odd, especially when I’ve had the more experience introducing Plus Ones than in being one myself. Usually I’m also the one playing locomotive to Ashley’s caboose in navigating our way through crowded rooms, but Ashley needed no one to lead her anywhere that night and doing so would’ve proved futile since every time I looked over my shoulder, Ashley was engaged in conversation with someone or another. My function for the evening was relegated to ordering drinks, protecting orphaned purses and learning how to operate the photo function on an innumerable cell phones—duties I performed without complaint.

Returning with another round of vodka-laced beverages wedged precariously between my overextended fingers, I was stopped by the sight of Ashley conversing with Mayor White. There was no anxiety in her face or nervous signs of fidgeting, only poise, and a resplendent comfort in her surroundings and with her current company. Rather than insert myself into the scene, I stood back, content in acknowledging the senselessness of stealing a second of Ashley’s celebrity even in handing her a drink without a word.

Since the day when our bread-winning roles were reversed, Ashley has made a name for herself at work receiving a personalized mention in her company’s annual letter to its stockholders; making her own network of friends (Hi Beth, Liz and Lauren); and as a result gaining a confidence that continues to carry her towards new opportunities. When I congratulate her on these successes Ashley counters with reminders that her achievements were in some way predicated on my presence. I disagree, and furthermore, for me to think so would only be foolish and arrogant on my part. At best, my role is auxiliary to Ashley’s work, having nothing to do with the talent, creativity and know-how that has earned her the credit she has, for years before me, been due. The fact that the Mayor personally asked Ashley in their conversation to do more design work for him in his senate campaign further proves my point.

Towards the end of the night, I joined my wife and her friends outside for a cigarette. (Yes, I know, but we belong to that nefarious group of commitment-challenged individuals responsible for the creation of that category known as “social smoker.”) As people sauntered up to our little huddle social smokers, Ashley and I were limited to only visual contact. From my vantage point on the other side of the awning where we were all gathered, I could see Ashley chatting away with those that surrounded her, and mentally I rehearsed the dexterous mannerisms of Don Draper wielding a Lucky Strike. As I continued to entertain myself, a young blond asked me for a light to which I obliged with all the coolness of a true gentleman from the late 1950’s. This in turn lead to a conversation over the course of which, I noticed my wife flash her eyes at me in an amused expression as if to ask, “Who’s the bimbo?”

The smile on my face must have tipped off my present company, and she turned to look over her shoulder. “That’s my wife,” I explained holding up my ring finger.

“Yeah? And how did you meet?” the Blond asked blowing smoke from the long unconcerned drag she just took.


“So that really works, huh?” There was a skepticism in her voice, the source of which I had difficulty attributing to either her own unproductive experiences with e-dating or her questioning the validity of the strength of my marriage.

“Heck yeah!” I responded. What followed was a fifteen-minute oral history of my relationship with Ashley finishing with the purpose behind our presence this evening. I’m not sure if it was the part about me staying home, the five kids, the minivan, or my claim to being a writer (an admission that by itself indicates the number of Absolut and soda’s with lime I had downed), but somewhere along the way, the Blond’s interest seemed to wane. Or maybe she realized her function equated to that of an out-of-date magazine lounging in a dentist office, a mere time-filler for a man in love with his wife and proud of her for getting up after every fall.

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