Tag Archives: love

More Than a Sufficient Substitute


For years now, I’ve listened to people in meetings describe our program as “a sufficient substitute.” I presume they mean a sufficient substitute for their drinking. And, I suppose, at its most fundamental and basic level, that’s an accurate description. But today, I find it hard to characterize our program as little more than a “sufficient substitute” because, for me, it is so much more.

On Friday, February 10, 2012, I found myself stuck (and heartbroken) at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. I had flown there the day before on our company plane with colleagues for meetings at our offices in Manhattan. We were due to leave from Teterboro at 4:00 pm that Friday and arrive 2 1/2 hours later in Des Moines, Iowa at 5:30 pm–in plenty of time, I had hoped, for me to attend the annual Daddy-Daughter Dance my 9-year-old daughter, Grace, and I have attended each year since she was 6. When we arrived at Teterboro that Friday afternoon for our return flight, however, we were told the company Leer had a hydraulic leak and that our only commercial options were flights leaving from Newark Airport and LaGuardia, the earliest of which would land us in Des Moines at 9:05 pm, exactly 5 minutes after the conclusion of the Daddy-Daughter Dance.

This was not an earth shattering event but one that prompted in me a dream-like desire to somehow circumvent the impossible. There had to be a way, I thought, to make it from Point A to Point B, from Teterboro to Des Moines, by 7:00 pm Central Standard Time. There simply had to be a way. The answer, the critical solution, just hadn’t presented itself to me yet. It was on the tip of my tongue, so to speak, but I couldn’t coax it out, right? There had to be an answer, an option, but what the hell was it? What was I failing to see, remember, consider? What …

I stood there in the lobby of Teterboro for a number of long minutes, oblivious to the conversations going on around me. I stood there in a circle with my colleagues who were carrying on multiple conversations that sounded like they were taking place in another room I was so completely obsessed with inventing a way to circumvent the impossible, when, of course, there wasn’t one.

For two weeks in advance of my trip, I’d feared the possibility of my not making it back in time for the start of the dance.  Who could count on leaving the New York Metro area on a plane–private or commercial–on time on any given Friday afternoon? Luckily, on Monday of that week, I’d had the presence of mind to concoct a plan B. I’d enlisted my daughter’s godfather–a close friend and a man I sponsor–to be ready and waiting for my call on Friday afternoon to confirm whether I’d actually land in Des Moines on time. If it looked like I were to be the least bit late–first for our ritual dinner with three of my daughter’s friends and their Dads at Biaggi’s restaurant on University at 6:00 pm or for the dance itself at 7:00 pm– Uncle Tom, as he’s affectionately known, was to suit up and show up as Grace’s “sufficient substitute.” The thought that I might miss not only the dinner but the entire dance, of course, had never occurred to me at all. Being late would be unfortunate, but the idea of being entirely absent was unfathomable.

Eventually I came to and realized this was the cold hard fact of the matter–I would arrive at Point B that evening moments after the main event had ended. So I began making the requisite phone calls. First, to my ex-wife and her mother, who, at that moment, would be helping my daughter primp and dress for the big event, and then to my daughter’s godfather who would have to step in and do what godfathers are “hired” to do: Play the role of father when necessary and in the father’s absence. To make matters even worse, none of them actually answered their phones, forcing me to leave messages and to wonder if those messages would be received soon enough to put our back up plans effectively in place.

At some point, one of my co-workers and I hoped in a cab and headed for Newark Airport where we’d hop on a plane that would depart at the same time the dance was due to begin and land in Des Moines only moments after the dance would end. Before we actually made it to Newark, my ex-wife called my cell. She’d already broken the news to my daughter who, when she eventually got on the phone, was unable to do anything but whimper and mumble through tears over her daddy’s inability to make it home in time for either the dinner or the dance. The sound of her voice sent me into a sad, gut-wrenching spiral that eventually inspired me to post the following lame video as a feeble attempt at an apology before actually leaving Newark and arriving in Des Moines.

I cannot sleep on planes, no matter what kind of plane, no matter what time of day. Instead, I either read or feign sleep and meditate. I’ve traveled enough to respect other people’s space in flight and rarely engage in conversation unless my seat-assigned fellow wanderer absolutely insists on a little small talk to pass the time.

That night, on the flight from Newark to Des Moines, I sat at the very back of the plane due to my last-minute booking. And thankfully so.  During those two short hours I was able to experience fully a sense of gratitude rather than merely wallow in self-pity over my not-so-surprising dilemma and the disappointment it engendered.  Given my rather raucous youth and the exceptionally reckless nature of my lifestyle before sobriety, I reminded myself once again that I was lucky to be alive, let alone free and gainfully employed. At the tender age of 52 and 13 years sober, I realized I was damn lucky to have children at all, let alone a 9-year-old daughter who was heartbroken her father with two left feet would not be able to accompany her to the Daddy-Daughter Dance that night.  And though divorced, I realized once again I was lucky to have a good enough relationship with my children’s mother, whom I had met in sobriety, that I could count on her to explain to my daughter that I would be as pained and disappointed by the circumstances as she was–rather than a vengeful Ex who would seize the opportunity to trash her former spouse.  And I realized if it weren’t for the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, I might not have had a reliable friend I could call and count on to make every effort in his power to help Grace make the best of an unfortunate situation. And from that point on, I realized once again, as I so often do, that almost all of the good things that have happened in my life have only happened in the absence of alcohol and that Alcoholics Anonymous is the only remedy that has made that possible in my adult life. That, my friends, strikes me as far more than a sufficient substitute.

And there’s more, as there so often is once we’re able to look beyond ourselves and our most immediate loved ones. Once I landed (promptly at 9:05 pm), I called Uncle Tom and Grace, who were just leaving the dance, and suggested we all meet at Maggie Moo’s Ice Cream parlor, a place the kids and I were known to frequent as regulars. And as I drove there, I was reminded that my friend and Grace’s godfather, Tom, had never married and, though close to my age, had never been blessed with children of his own (though he has always fawned over my kids as though they were his own).  And so, if not for my own misfortune this one year (and God willing, Grace and I will have at least 3 more Daddy-Daughter dances to attend), Uncle Tom might never have had the opportunity to dress up in his finest suit and take one of the most naturally grateful little girls in the world to that place where every little girl is always the Belle of the Ball, no matter who accompanies her. When I shared that thought with both Tom and Grace moments later over ice cream, it seemed to bring a smile to everyone’s face and, without a word being spoken between us, reminded Tom and me both how truly blessed we are to possess a means to a life that is far more than a sufficient substitute for the lives we once led.

Uncle Tom and Grace at the Daddy-Daughter Dance 2012

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Acceptance, Surrender, and Renewal


Me with My Ex-tended Family at Oceans of Fun in Kansas City, August 3, 2011. Adults from L to R: Me, my friend and my daughter

My divorce has been final for well over a year now (since 7/9/10), and it’s been more than 2 1/2 years since I first launched this blog. If there is one simple truth I’ve learned over the past 30 or so months, it is this: acceptance is a matter of the mind, surrender a matter of the heart.

I’ve actually found it relatively easy to accept certain realities as they’ve presented themselves since April of ’09. I didn’t freak when my then wife of 6 1/2 years and the mother of my kids said she didn’t know if she wanted to be married anymore. I’d been there … more than once … I got it: People fall out of love. (Reality check for all who think they’ve got a lock on their spouses: You’ve got a firmer grip on the wind, my friend.) Having been fickle in love myself, I was able, mentally, to accept my wife’s twist of fate, although the thought of our kids having to go through a divorce twisted my guts into a million tiny knots. And, when the time came, when she finally said she was going to actually file, I was able to accept fairly readily what I’d suspected all along: That there was a Him, though she continued to vehemently deny it. Thanks to Facebook, I later verified pretty easily that The Him showed up oh-so-coincidentally at about the same time as the papers. Bitter? Maybe a tinge, but it was all pretty transparent and quintessentially predictable. Few go through a divorce without that little bit of added support on the side we tell ourselves we need and so well deserve. And, on the first of July 2010, when she finally moved out, it came as no surprise that it was The Him’s house that she moved into. All of this, intellectually, I was able to accept.

What threw me for a loop, what wasn’t so easy to accept and what my heart wouldn’t surrender, was that my kids would now have a new male influence in their lives. Sadly, the fact that my Ex had a Him in her life almost came as a relief; someone else would be looking after the mother of my kids in my absence (how 1950’s of me). But the fact that they, my by then 7-year-old daughter and 4- year-old son, might be influenced by someone other than me was torturous.

The torture began, ironically, with the fact that my kids liked The Him and The Him liked my kids. Intellectually, I could accept that this was, indeed, a good thing for all concerned. But at a more gut, or should I say primal, level, I’d have rather gnaw on the veins in Him’s neck like a rabid wolf than surrender to a new normal that included someone other than me winning the hearts and minds of my children—however much or little.

Luckily, The Him turned out to be a good guy from the very beginning. In fact, within weeks of the divorce, The Him contacted me on Facebook in a boldly standup fashion and suggested we meet so he’d have the chance to become something other than “the other guy” (The Him) in my mind. This won my respect instantly and less than a month after the ink was dry on the decree, I invited The Him to my house, along with my Ex, for my son’s 5th birthday party. That day he became a guy named Jason, who had two daughters of his own, and somewhere down the line, my Ex became Meg again. Over the course of the next year, we (Meg, Jason, me, my kids, and his kids) would share a number of holidays and birthdays together in the spirit of showing our kids everything was OK, and that life could be conducted in relative normalcy even if our circumstances weren’t those of the normal majority–whoever and wherever they are.

And that spirit, the spirit of putting the kids well-being before all else ALWAYS, is what made the picture at the top of this post and, for me, the ultimate surrender possible. At some point in the past year it became painfully apparent to me that no one was likely to do greater harm to my children than me if I didn’t get over myself. Today, every time my jealousy rears its ugly head, every time I want to take a stand of some selfish sort and proclaim myself king of the parental jungle, I simply ask myself: What will harm the children less or benefit them more, me making my point or me shutting up and surrendering my self-serving emotions to a greater good? Nine out of ten times, my ego doesn’t have a leg to stand on. And I’m happy to say, nine out of ten times, I’m able to take the high road and either catch myself and shut up or correct myself and make amends as soon after I’ve said or done something stupid as humanly possible.

The Boys Upon Arrival at Oceans of Fun in Kansas City: Adam, Jason, Me, and Tom.

Consequently, one afternoon this summer, shortly before my son’s 6th birthday, Meg and Jason and I were actually able to sit down in my kitchen and plan a trip to Kansas City we all agreed would be great fun for the kids. When my friend and Grace’s godfather, Tom, discovered the trip included a Royal’s baseball game and a day at Ocean’s of Fun, he asked if he could join us. So, on the 2nd of August, Tom and Jason and I and the kids piled into a van and drove to Kansas City to watch the last place Royals get drubbed by the last place Orioles. The next day, on the 3rd of August, Meg drove down and joined us for the afternoon at Oceans of Fun and dinner that night on the Country Club Plaza.

All the kids, big and small, with Meg behind the camera: Adam, Claudia, Jason, Me, Grace, Tom, Carter.

The Clan at Dinner that night on The Plaza: Jason, Claudia, Meg, Adam, Grace, Me, Carter, Tom.

The supreme irony: Nine years earlier, on the 3rd of August 2002, Tom had stood up with Meg and me as one of my groomsmen in our wedding, which had been followed by a brief honeymoon right there on that very Plaza in KC, and not once during our trip this summer did any of us realize that day at Oceans of Fun actually marked the anniversary (our ninth) that wasn’t—a sure sign to me a few days later that we’d all achieved an unspoken sense of closure and renewal.

Winstead

Grace and I at Winstead

Grace, Claudia, Tom shakin

Winstead

Grace and Adam at their first Major League baseball game.

Tom and the girls; it was 107 degrees farenheit at game time (7:05 pm).

Adam.

Grace.

Tom and the kids, out in left field ... as usual.

The kids and I on the Lazy River, where we belong.

Emotional Pain: A Source of Hope, A Prompt to Love


I clearly remember the day, in eighth grade, that Mary Beth H. broke up with me. I was crushed, truly devastated … or, at the very least, my ego got hammered. This meant I would no longer be seen in the hallways of McGee Junior High School holding hands with Mary Beth as I walked her to class. This meant we would no longer plan secret rendezvous in the stairwells where we could “make out,” and, as often as not, be discovered by someone like my basketball coach, Mr. G., who would later rib me about my breathless moments with Mary Beth in front of the entire squad, a ribbing which, he may or may not have known, brought me great pride because Mary Beth was undoubtedly the most sought after hand to hold in the entire school. This meant we would not talk for hours on the phone at night, mostly about nothing and until our parents told us to hang up but not before we would promise to meet somewhere in town over the weekend. Two full days apart was, of course, more than any young couple should have to endure.

Mary Beth and I had been “going steady” for well over two weeks the day she dumped me and, in my mind, reduced me to a hapless loser, a status only reinforced by the fact that she was dumping me for my cousin, David H., a veritable Fonz at McGee since he was very handsome and very cool and could grow a full mustache—no surprise since, as we all knew, he would turn sixteen in the ninth grade and have a car before anyone else.

I did everything you’d expect an eighth-grade boy to do once I’d been dealt the hellish blow—I spoke at length to her friends and mine about why, about what I could do or should have done differently, about the possibility that this was a mistake and what were the chances we’d “get back together” sometime soon. I cried openly, I hoped privately, and eventually I hated venomously with all my heart. I worshiped her very being and spat venom at the thought of her freckled face in the same breath and always behind her back.

Losing Mary Beth was not the most tragic event I’d experienced up to that point in my life, and I’ve experienced many others since that are far more tragic, but I’m not sure I’ve ever felt emotional pain as deeply and purely as I did that day.

I did unwittingly learn a few lessons about pain management in the hours and days that followed. My mother allowed me my share of tears and a week-long period of mourning (i.e. lots of moping around), but she would not allow me to miss school the next day so I could avoid Mary Beth and the shame of seeing her walk the halls with my cousin. My father, too, consoled me as only a father who was a union foreman could: “Ah, you’ll go through a hundred Mary Beth’s before you’re twenty.” But he would not allow me to skip basketball practice that day or the next, even though my cousin David would be there to flaunt his victory … on and off the court. They were insistent I wake up each day and “trudge the Road of Happy Destiny.” Ultimately, my mother would say the one thing that would stick with me throughout my life: “Why would you want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with you anyway?”

In the eleven years since I returned to AA, I’ve watched a lot of recovering men face this type of rejection and even helped a few walk through the emotional pain that goes with it. Recently I watched a man I sponsor grieve so torturously over the end of a relationship I honestly thought we might lose him, not to alcohol but more likely to a bullet. At one point, however, I reminded him that if he didn’t hurt so badly, if he refused to open himself to the seeming agony, it would only mean that he didn’t care—not only about her, but more so about the mysteriously wonderful phenomenon of loving and being loved. I begged him (as so much spiritual literature often instructs) to embrace the pain and become one with it, not as a form of punishment or self degradation, but as an act of hope.

It’s been my experience that emotional pain is often just that, a sign of hope, hope that we will one day experience the joy and sheer bliss of loving and being loved unconditionally again—if not by the person breaking our heart, then by someone else. The pain shows we still care.

Loss of love is painful mainly because IT, the loving, once seemed so pure and unconditional. That lingering pain that follows the end of a relationship mostly represents the desire to have IT back—not necessarily the person, but the experience of IT, which, in the aftermath of a failed relationship, is falsely associated with the person who has usually long since stopped loving us in a pure and unconditional fashion. Again, my mother: “Why would you want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with you anyway?”

In the handful of suicides I’ve known intimately this past decade (all of them “alcoholic” suicides), hope of ever again loving someone else in a pure and unconditional fashion seemed lost. These suicides had lost loved ones, family members, friends and more with extreme apathy—not because they didn’t care about and love those people purely and unconditionally at one time, but because they had completely and utterly lost hope that they would ever regain the ability to love and be loved in that way. Why they had lost that ability, why they seemed to fall victim to an extreme state of anomie,* is not for me to conjecture. I simply witnessed that they had, by their own admission in every case, completely and utterly lost hope. As one of these dear friends attested before his death, there was no pain, nor was there an absence of pain. There was simply a complete absence of hope and therefore nothing to prompt or prevent any kind of emotional pain. No hope, no pain. No pain, no gain … emotionally or otherwise.

As my current marriage inches closer and closer to its own end, I hope to draw some valuable lessons from the losses I’ve both experienced and witnessed these past 50 years. First and foremost, I hope to wake each morning with a firm commitment to “trudge the Road of Happy Destiny.” If past experience has taught me anything, it’s that a failure to rise up and DO is a sure-fire prescription for emotional suicide. I continue to wake each morning at 5 so I have time to meditate and hit the gym before I leave for work at 8. I endeavor each day to leave my emotional issues at home to the best of my ability and commit my focus to work while I’m there. I continue to play, read, laugh, and work with my kids in all the ways they’ve come to expect—as much for my sanity as their protection. And, I hope, to the best of my ability, I continue to respect, and maintain an appropriate level of civility with, my wife, whom I still count as a great friend. None of these efforts is perfect nor do I perform them in absence of that often gut-wrenching pain that accompanies impending loss. I’m not always fun, and I’m not always patient. But I force myself to try to be when I recognize I’m not. I’m far from perfectly civil or perfectly respectful; I’m just as capable of anger and resentment as ever. But any time anger wells up, I try like hell to squelch it (or call my sponsor), knowing full well if I indulge it, I’m the only one who is likely to suffer. I am way beyond those days when I could unleash my own wrath and enjoy it or walk away from it without consequence. Another sign of hope, I think.

It’s also my position that emotional pain is not only a sign that we still hope to experience love in our lives—with or without the person we perceive to be the cause of our pain—but a prompt to redouble our efforts to love those who remain faithfully connected to us. Ironically, I pity those who have not loved or cared deeply enough to have experienced extreme and debilitating emotional pain. For me, not having suffered that level of loss at least once would represent a life unlived. The key is to recognize the pain for what it is (a sign of hope), embrace it, and ultimately unearth a solution from it that will propel us into yet another not-so-well-lit dimension of human experience.

* social instability resulting from abreakdown of standards and values; also : personal unrest, alienation, and anxiety that comes from a lack of purpose or ideals

Moment of Clarity #2: True Love


In true love, there are no victors and no victims—only the genuine pursuit of time well spent.