The Things We Do For Love

Burger King Sitting here in Burger King and munching my burgers, drinking coffee and cruising the net, I stumbled over an article by a “stay at home mum.” It was written by Liz Pardue Schultz and featured on Time’s website.

Her article pointed out, quite rightly, that being a stay at home parent in this day and age was not a job, but a privilege. Before I get a load of negativity passed my way, let me explain why I agree with the writer in her definition.

Back in the 1990s I had a bad back. No one could figure out why I was in constant pain and the amount of pills I took daily were ridiculous. I worked for ages, high as a kite, but still in agonizing pain. Finally, my doctor forced me to go to yet another specialist and thank goodness she did. The doctor used the latest technology to figure out what was wrong with me and how to fix it.

Despite all the bad press the NHS get, the organization saved my life twice, one figuratively and the other time literally. While I was waiting for surgery to sort out my problem, I became a “stay at home dad.” I looked after our daughter and cleaned the house. Pain was a constant companion and I was still taking handfuls of tablets but I had a captive audience for the frustrated performer that lurked just beneath my skin.

My daughter was, and still is, my favorite person in the world. Funnily enough, she was a mummy’s girl when she was very small, around nine months old or so, but when she got older, the funny chap who could do all the voices of each character in her storybooks suddenly got promoted above mum.

This guy would sing old songs, and teach them to her, and would spend hours getting her to drift off to sleep. After the surgery that completely fixed my back issues, I worked for two years at a nighttime job packaging and delivering newspapers and magazines. Six days a week I toiled and on my day off I slept.

Thee only thing that kept me sane was that I still picked up my daughter from school and had a few hours to spend listening to her day, telling her of mine, and playing games. A favorite was one where I would imitate Dean Martin and she would provide the chorus. The number one choice of song was almost always That’s Amore because in the chorus there was a woman who sang with such gusto she could have been performing for an opera. We would each compete to see who could match the singer’s range and decibel level.

After a while the job with the newspaper company got old, I had taken it to primarily get back into shape after the operation, and I learned that the Prison Service were hiring. I jumped at the chance as they had great retirement benefits in those days and it was shift work. The interview went well, although at the time I had no idea whether they “liked me” or not.

HMP/YOI Warren Hill

I took a pay drop to get my foot into the door and with the idea I could transfer from support, my first job, and become a prison officer proper, I left the nighttime job without a single doubt. Once I started my new job I realized I’d found the perfect job. Every other weekend off, many were three or four day weekends as well, the odd day off in the week and shifts that were sometimes only four or five hours in length.

Overtime was available, and necessary, when I first started. The pay for support officers was horrible and I could not wait to become a regular officer. The hours were the same for both jobs and after I was trained and upgraded to a “Guv” I still had loads of time to spend with my family.

While this was a blessing in terms of being with my daughter, it became a nightmare in terms of my marriage. My second wife had built up a lot of resentment when I was off with my back. Something faded in our relationship and she grew jealous of my bond with our daughter.

But this is not about the demise of my second marriage or my job in the Her Majesty’s Prison Service, it is about the things we do for love. The writer of the article (Remember that? Way back at the beginning of this Gone With the Wind post?) about being a stay-at-home mum not being a “job” made the point that the time she spent with her child was a privilege (I know, I’ve said that already.) but she was right.

I spent way too many years in a relationship that should have ended in the 1990s. I let a lot of overtime slip by and allowed some acting opportunities to pass because I loved spending time with my kid and when I wasn’t doing that, I was there for her when mum, or the world, would beat her up a little (metaphorically speaking) to help her understand or to just listen.

I could never understand mothers who fell apart when their kids grew up and left home. Until, that is, my own grew up and moved away to attend University. I had it easy though. I was urged to go up and visit my youngster whenever possible. This enabled me to continue playing video games with her, watch films with my “movie buddy” and learn what her life was like at “Uni.”

This worked out perfectly until she finished and by that time both our lives had changed forever. She moved in with me temporarily and then after I left the Prison Service, I moved in with her and her boyfriend. (A smashing chap who seems to have been made just for her.) The hardest decision I ever had to make was the one that took me back to the country of my birth and left my baby behind.

I have had an exciting life, nothing earth shattering, but normal? No, it could not be called that. But apart from my little adventures, lots of little things came together to make my decision to stick with a job that allowed me the maximum amount of time to enjoy my child growing up the perfect one. Sticking in a broken marriage was painful for everyone but it was still the “right” thing to do.

Amazingly, it was my daughter who helped me, inadvertently, to “man-up” and finally leave. God bless her and two close friends at work who helped me to grow up just enough to make my escape.

I still miss my “kid” but I know she’s in good hands, hers and her fella’s, and even though I miss her so much it hurts, we are both where we need to be.

I think.

Still, the things we do for love make up a lot of our life’s big decisions. Sometimes they are the wrong, or incorrect, thing to do, but often they turn out just right. Even if it takes years to figure that out.

Reborn on the Fourth of July

RAF Mildenhall
RAF Mildenhall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The USAF sent me to the United Kingdom in 1982. It was not problem, I had volunteered to go. My first marriage had died a pretty messy death and the airbase I was at held too many harsh memories. My unit commander had suggested I put in a transfer request. He said that he happened to know there was still a place or two left open in England.

Alamogordo Air Force Base in New Mexico was my first assignment in the Air Force. I had just changed jobs and my new commander was a “re-tread” an officer who had been promoted from the enlisted ranks. He was one hell of a guy.

He had been stationed at RAF Mildenhall years before and had loved it. His idea was to get me away from the memories that were making my life a misery. I put in for a transfer and got it. We were a small career field  so it was a bit easier to get ‘choice’ assignments.

I drove my immediate superior’s car to Dover AFB. She was being reassigned to Germany and wanted to ship her car. On my way I stopped by and visited with my son, my parents and the rest of my family. Sad, bitter thoughts kept me from enjoying anyone’s company too much and I was anxious to “get going” and start forgetting.

I flew into England via the “Freedom Bird.” The Freedom Bird was usually a stretched commercial aircraft, stretched meant that it had moved the seats closer together so they could fit more military personnel on the flights. It was cramped and uncomfortable. This commercial aircraft was dubbed the Freedom Bird because it, or another one like it, would be the aircraft that would take us back to the USA when our assignment was over.

The minute my feet hit the tarmac in England I fell in love. Instinctively I felt that I this was the place I had always been looking for. I had conflicting emotions running through my head. I was excited, relieved, expectant, and sad all at the same time.

I was also jet lagged.

England was a welcome change for me. I got the chance to ‘live’ my life again. After a few years I fell in love with a girl from Cambridge. We tied the knot and we moved to The Netherlands for four and a half years. While we were there she gave birth to our beautiful daughter. And we made plans to move back to England when our stint in Holland was over.

Then I got out of the Air Force in 1993 (under the downsizing drill in 1992) and made England my home. I became a British citizen and my visits home had to stop due to lack of funds.

Fast forward to 2011. My second marriage was over. Thankfully for different reasons than my first one, I’d learned that much at least, but it lasted a lot longer than my first marriage. The first thing I knew I had to do was to go home and visit.

My daughter and I flew over for a two week ‘rest period’ and as luck would have it, we would be in the USA over the Fourth of July.

English: Downtown Miami on July 4, 2007
English: Downtown Miami on July 4, 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We spent the holiday at my brother’s house with his family. He went all out for my daughter’s first 4th of July in America. She saw her first baseball game and saw her first firework display at the ripe old age of 21. She fell in love with ‘live’ baseball and America. She will be coming back to live and work there.

She also saw her first Rodeo and got to see a lot of the places I’d lived and visited when I was a whole world younger. She also got to visit family she’d either never met before or she’d only met when she was too little to really remember.

Something else happened on that flight home. Something important.

It started on the flight over. I sat (watching one of the in-flight movies) and my eyes started watering and I got a lump in my throat. I was going home. I hadn’t been there since 1990. It was a little overwhelming. The culmination of this feeling came on the 4th itself.

As we sat watching the brilliant firework display put on by the town of Coppell, Texas tears ran down my face as I ‘taped’ the colourful explosions. I suddenly remembered that I was an American.

It was like being reborn.

I had spent so many years ‘overseas’ that I had forgotten what I was, where I was from, and who I was deep down. I had begun to think of myself as a citizen to of world and of course I was an British citizen as well.  I think that visit helped both my daughter and me a great deal.

We still live and work  in England but life has changed. We both discovered our ‘roots’ last year. My daughter for the first time and I got back in touch with mine. So while I’m setting here writing this, I am reliving last years 4th of July celebrations. The smell of the popcorn and other delicious foods at the ballgame and the sounds and smells of the fireworks.

So even though I was born in September, I was reborn on the 4th of July.

English: A chocolate cake during the 4th of July
English: A chocolate cake during the 4th of July (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cameras in Your Home, Could You?

My daughter and I were talking about the reality television show The Family. I have never seen the program…Nor do I want to. If you look it up on IMDb, it states that this is the program  that started the reality TV invasion. Well, IMDb didn’t say it was an invasion, that word was mine. I actively despise reality TV. And to think that the first iteration of this ‘reality’ show began originally in the ’70’s. But I digress.

What we were talking about was the idea of having cameras in your house. Not just a few, but as many cameras that can be placed without intruding (if that is possible) on your lifestyle. When The Family was re-done in 2008, the family themselves acted differently when they first started “living” in front of the cameras. Then as they became more accustomed to having them there, they relaxed and began to act more naturally. According to my daughter Meg, it was interesting to see.

We then started speculating about what we would do and how we would act if cameras were put in our home. The first thing we decided was that it would be a comedy. My daughter and I have a brilliant repartee. A lot of good natured piss-taking and a lot of amusing idiosyncrasies. We don’t clash very  often, if we do we apologise and just get on with it. We laugh quite often and row very little, in essence we are very good at sharing our house, our space and our opinions.

But in reality (no pun intended) I would not like to live my private life in front of a load of cameras. Cameras that would be letting the world see me and my family going about our daily business of living. Both my daughter and I are very private people. We only let people ‘past the wall’ when we get to know and trust them. I can not imagine ever getting used to having the things in the house and I’ve worked in front of them.

Working in front of the camera is very different from living your private life in front of one. Working entails being someone else, playing a part; not being you but a different part of you. I even have trouble relaxing and just being me when I do my YouTube videos. I am getting better at relaxing and enjoying myself rather than feeling that I am working. But, again, I am choosing which part of my ‘private’ life I want to show while in front of the camera.

I would not want the world to see me at my worst. I have a cornucopia of bad habits, bad attitudes and other foibles that I am aware of and accept as part of my personality. That is not to say that I would be comfortable with the whole world knowing about them. In private when I act like an idiot and lose my temper or swear like a twenty-year sailor (no offence intended to those Naval folks out there) the only other person who observes this behaviour is my daughter. She knows who I am and generally laughs at such improper actions or tells me off. I may or may not listen. But, if I have been an ass, I usually apologise and then we can both have a laugh.

When I was in the USAF one of my jobs was to watch other people work. Not as easy or as much fun as it sounds, believe me. When I first entered the work centre everyone was very busy. There was not a lazy or unproductive person to be found. After I had been there for a while and the folks I was watching got used to me. It was a different story. All those lazy, unproductive  folks came out of hiding and the people I was watching started relaxing and acting like they normally did. The old story of familiarity breeding contempt is true. And that is why I would never want anyone to film my private family home life.

I don’t want to discover any bad parts of my personality that I am not already aware of.

I’m Doing this Right Now…..Not

 

Cover of "Bring on the Empty Horses"
Cover of Bring on the Empty Horses

I am writing a book! Well…I’m trying to write a book. It should be really easy, but… The problem is with me, amazing how much that sounds like the classic break-up line, “No really! It’s not you, it’s me.” I love writing; always have. But I’m suffering from the ‘David Niven‘ syndrome.

David Niven (1910 – 1983) was a wonderful actor. He won an Acadamy Award for his role as the faux military man in Seperate Tables. Niven was an extremely articulate and intelligent individual. I have always admired the man, even when he worked in some of the most execrable films ever made. He had that certain something that set him apart from the other folks in the film.

Niven was a brilliant story teller. He was at his best when regaling people with amusing stories of people he had met, or worked with, or knew. It was these stories that he finally, after much prodding from friends, wrote down and they became – The Moons a Balloon and Bring on the Empty Horses. Faintly auto-bigraphical in nature and wonderfully funny and sad, these two books stayed on the bestseller list for ages.

It has been argured that David cribbed a lot of the stories in his books. It has also been said that he embellished the tales to make them more interesting or funnier. How tiresome. I really, and I don’t think any other fans of the book do either, care. What he was good at was both telling stories and then (later) writing about them.

I am sure he embellished a lot, if not all, of his of his “cocktail party” stories. I remember reading in another book on Niven’s life. Someone famous (don’t ask me who, please don’t, because I’m damned if I can remember) listened to Niven recount an amusing episode at a cocktail party. At the end of the story, he scratched his head and said, “I was there! And I don’t remember it being that funny!”

The point is, as I said earlier, that Niven was good at the telling of and later the writing  of these wonderful stories. *Yes, I know that I’ve called the stories wonderful several times now*  But, where the stories were easy to tell, they were much harder to write about. He liked writing in the garden, but this favourite spot was filled with diversions. Niven himself mentions in one of the books that: “I can always find something else to do. ‘Oh look at that bird.’ ‘Oh what a lovely butterfly.’ Even the sight of an aeroplane passing overhead can take up huge portions of my time.”[sic]

Now I am not saying the book I am writing is going to be anywhere near as good, or amusing, or popular as Mr Niven’s. I do suffer, though, from the same problem. If I listen to music for “inspiration” whilst writing, I have to be careful to not really listen or I will get caught up in the music and stop writing. I also suffer the same problems in the garden; not secluded by any means, but it can offer a lot of quiet. It also offers – birds, bees, wasps, butterflies (although not many), planes, or helicopters flying overhead. All good for allowing my grasshopper mind to wander. It seems that my brain cannot wait for the chance to stop thinking about the things I really want to write.

I have two books going on at the same time, I like to write the same way I like to read, one short story and one book with a collection of short stories. Not a problem. But…But… I also have three blogs. don’t get too excited, I usually write the same item and copy and paste it to the other two sites. I also follow a few blogs and I have to comment on the ones I’ve read and liked. Oops, my coffee cup is empty, must go and refill the kettle and make another one. Oh look how filthy that television cabinet is looking, I’ll just go sort that out. Oh look, someone else has subscribed to my small channels on YouTube, I must thank them. Ah! Someone has commented on: my channel, my facebook page, my Twitter, my…Well you can get the idea, I am sure.

My daughter (Meg) is a great Dad cheerleader though. She keeps reminding me that I am supposed be working on the book(s) and not mucking about with all these other things. It helps. And I figure if David Niven could combat the distractions, so can I. I seriously doubt that anything I write would even be published, but I will have the satisfaction of finishing it and having at least one person love it as much as I do.

But first I just have to post this blog and then copy it…

Happiness – A State of Mind or Pocketbook?

The weather turned today. Instead of dark, dank days full of clouds and cold winds blowing it actually felt like a summers day for a change. Taking advantage of the sunshine, my daughter and I did garden maintenance.Cutting the grass and trimming the hedges always puts me in a brilliant mood. Well, it does if the weather is nice. I am definitely a “fair weather” gardener. So today was an excellent opportunity to rev up the old energy level and get the garden sorted. Despite my back and legs signing Aye Marie while we were sorting things out, I did not mind the discomfort at all. I can put up with quite a lot of things if the sun is shining.

My daughter and I broke for lunch. We were both happy and relaxed. I then remembered the state of my finances and immediately started losing that feeling of well being. I said as much to my daughter. She just looked at me for a minute. “You know that this is a temporary situation,” she said. I replied that hopefully that was the case.  I then took a minute to moan about the time off I’ve had from work. I felt that this did not help our situation very much either. “It feels like it is taking forever to get the problem sorted,” I said. Again my daughter, the voice of reason, told me, “You know that it will get sorted, just keep exercising and walking, it will get sorted when it gets sorted.” I  allowed that she was again correct in her view. I then sat and listened to the quiet of the neighbourhood and relaxed.

I have been fighting the battle for happiness for about two years now. When I realised  that I could no longer live my life as I had been for over twenty-five years and struck out on my own, I felt nothing short of euphoric. Well it was euphoria tinged with a bit of panic. When I left, I took all the big bills with me along with the credit cards themselves. I knew I would need them to set up my new life.

It was costly.

Everything was expensive, even the cheap things. I will admit that I did go a bit mad with spending, but not by much. I was really banking on getting a bit of overtime to help defray the cost. What I did not count on was getting injured at work.  I am covered for six months at full pay, after that it drops down to half. While thats all well and good, it does not give any scope for overtime.

So the costs keep mounting and I slide further in debt while scrabbling to keep my credt rating up.


But.

I am still happier than I have been for years. I am more settled and feel free. So I guess I would have to say that happiness is a state of mind. Because everytime I start to feel panic set in, I think of all the other things I have going for me. The main one being my freedom.

I also wonder when my daughter grew up and became so wise. I think it must have been when I was so busy worrying about everything. I do have a sneaky feeling, though, that she has been that way for a long time now.