Life, Stories told

Adjusting to the changes as court-ordered parenting time ends

Meet my youngest son, Garrett, who turned 18 yesterday. It’s a big milestone for any kid. But it’s also a different milestone, a sad one, for me.

Garrett

It’s the end of “parenting time.” That’s what they call it here in Indiana, the court-ordered time a noncustodial parent spends with his children. It ends at 18.

The parenting time guidelines grant every Wednesday evening and every other weekend during the school year, plus holidays on alternating years, half of winter break, all of every other spring break, and half of every summer. We were fortunate: our judge also ordered parenting time every Monday night and an overnight stay every Wednesday when school was in session.

I have not needed to be compelled by court order to spend time with my sons. I always wanted to live with them every day of their childhoods. Parenting time limited me, constrained me, bound me. I always ached to be present with my sons more often.

Obviously, I could have had every day with my sons had their mom and I worked out a healthy, happy marriage. We were not capable of it. Our destructive relationship was ruining us all. We are all healthier and happier since it ended.

I reminded myself of this each time I pushed through the worst rush-hour traffic in Indiana en route to my sons. Each time we left for their suburb at 5:30 am so they wouldn’t miss their school bus. Each time my sons went home at the end of our time together, leaving me alone in my empty house. Each time they had an especially good, or an especially bad, day and if we could talk about it at all it was over the phone or via text. Each time I did alone a thing that would normally be done as a family.

Yet this yin met its yang when I put to good use the time I wasn’t actively being my sons’ dad. Half of my days I could behave like a childless man, directing my energy to my own interests. Photography and blogging. Deep involvement at church. Founding and running a nonprofit. Doubling down on my career, which really took off.

I’ve felt guilty that I did these things rather than being home with my sons. Yet I’ve also reveled in these things. Fortunately, I processed those conflicting feelings years ago and have found contentment in this life.

What I have not processed yet, what I have experienced as looming for months, what is now irrevocably here, is loss. The loss of my decade-long routine with my sons, a routine to which I clung, around which I organized my life. And anew, the loss of what I never could have but desperately wanted for me and my sons: the ability to be a present parent every day. It was never going to happen,

Now it’s up to my sons and I to figure out how and when to see each other. My older son, Damion, has been very good about making time for his old dad. Will Garrett do likewise? I hope so.

There are no state guidelines for mapping adult relationships with your children. No court can compel it. And I have no personal experience to use as a guide. My parents are still married, more than 50 years now. When I was college-aged their home was always open to me. It was where I returned on break, and our normal family life largely resumed as if never interrupted.

That’s what I wanted for my sons. More than that, it’s what I wanted for me. But it’s not what we got.

We will make the best of this, too.

I’m sharing two bonus posts later today, reruns of stories that involved Garrett. If you’ve read my blog for a long time, perhaps you will enjoy now seeing Garrett’s face as you revisit those stories.

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Life, Stories told

Happy life in a modest neighborhood

It’s a modest house in a modest neighborhood. Isn’t the aspiration supposed to be for more, for a fresh build in a tony suburb? But I’ve been happy here, surprisingly so. It has been a good place to rebuild my life after my first marriage crashed and burned.

My humble home

The homes here are ranches, usually faced in brick, largely built in the 1950s and 1960s as people moved out of the city proper. But a couple lots remained vacant until almost 1990, which is about when the golf course was built behind us, putting an end to flooded back yards on each heavy rain. And the cornfield across the main road finally succumbed to suburban sprawl in about 2010 when the megachurch went up. Thanks to the city’s MapIndy site and its historic aerial imagery, you can watch my little neighborhood go from farmland 80 years ago to what it is now.

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I’ve been here ten years now. I probably shouldn’t have bought this house; my divorce left me broke. But I’d moved three times in three years and I craved permanence. And this house was less than a mile from where my sons lived with their mom. And my credit was very good. So I got an ill-advised 100% mortgage and moved in.

I couldn’t see the looming housing bubble about to burst. I couldn’t see my ex-wife soon remarrying and getting that fresh build, that tony suburb, 20 miles away. I wanted to move to live closer to my sons, but my house was suddenly worth less than what I owed on it. And so I remained.

It’s worked out; my sons and I have been happy here. But now my sons are grown and all but gone. And the housing market has recovered. And I’ve remarried; my new wife and I would like to share a roof. This one is too small and would take her youngest son out of his school, so now I’m preparing to put my house on the market.

I’m thrilled to move into the next part of my life, but sad to leave this home behind. I’ve been so content here. Preparing to leave has me in a reflective mood, which drove me to look through my photographs. I was surprised by how many I’ve made around the neighborhood. Could this be the most-photographed neighborhood in Indianapolis? Let me share it with you.

The homes are spaced wide and set back deeply on broad streets. Lots are about a third of an acre.

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In the late autumn and early spring, when the trees are bare, the neighborhood looks dingy and tired. That’s in part because so many houses here have become rentals and receive minimum care. Strangely, all corner houses here are duplexes and have always been rentals. And during the worst of the housing crisis a good number of these modest homes went abandoned into foreclosure.

My front yard

1967 Ford F250

In my neighborhood

But the neighborhood wakes up in the spring, thanks to so many flowering trees the original owners planted.

Spring flowering trees

Spring flowering trees

Spring flowering trees

And a few owners have taken great care in their landscaping, which looks best during the summer. And even now, after so many dead ash trees have been removed here, the neighborhood remains heavily wooded and deeply shaded all summer.

Neighbor

Home in my neighborhood

Home in my neighborhood

Home in my neighborhood

Because of the tree cover, autumns here can be spectacular.

Neighbor's house under the yellow canopy

Neighborhood trees

Autumn leaves

Autumn Street

Even the wintertime has its charm as the snow hangs in the tree branches. However, the city has plowed our streets but one time that I can remember, making it challenging to get in and out. One snowstorm a few years ago stranded me at home for a week — the snow was simply too deep for my car to cut through.

Snowy day

Mild winter in old suburbia

Snowy day

Snowy neighborhood scene

Down the street

It’s quiet here. Neighbors mostly keep to themselves; I know few of them. But I guess that’s the age. It’s also safe here — crime is very low. About once a year I drive to work and forget to close the garage door. Never once have I found anything missing or even disturbed upon return.

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I won’t miss a few things. The houses that need upkeep but never get it. The one fellow who parks his giant trailer on the street; it’s so hard to see it at night. The neighbors who forget to keep their storm-sewer grates clear, leading to flooded streets under heavy rain. I certainly won’t miss going out in my raincoat and waterproof shoes to rake the drains clear in front of their houses. But I’ll miss a lot of the rest.

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Life

On enhancing a home’s appeal

It’s funny what house problems a person will adapt to and not notice anymore.

My brother lived for years with a bare wire sticking out of the wall over his kitchen sink. He kept meaning to install a new light. But the kitchen’s ceiling light lit the room well, and other more urgent jobs kept claiming his time. And soon he didn’t even see that wire anymore, even though it was a foot from his face when he washed his dishes. But then he got the itch to move. Facing putting his condo on the market, he decided it was time to deal with that wire. One thing led to another and he ended up remodeling the whole kitchen. New cabinets, new appliances, the works. He barely got to enjoy it all before he moved out!

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Near the end of the bathroom remodel

I’ve done a lot to improve my house in ten years. Still, I’ve never addressed a couple things that I hardly notice now, but which you’d notice the second you set foot in here. The previous owner did a criminally lousy job of patching holes in the walls before painting them all (and every ceiling) a sad, yellowy beige. Before painting the kitchen, they stripped off some (but not all) of the wallpaper. And the carpet is obviously 20 years old.

When I moved in I had to immediately fix a couple serious problems. I removed a closet to make one tiny bedroom big enough to hold a bed, a job without which this house wouldn’t have worked for us. I also did a quick and cheap remodel to make the bathroom not frighteningly awful.

I also removed some ugly bricks the previous owner inexpertly and inexplicably used to widen the end of the driveway. The asphalt driveway badly needed resealed, and the deck badly needed re-stained, so I did both jobs. (Both need it again already.)

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Hardwoods in my home office

I feel good about the work I’ve done here. Repairing and remodeling some things that truly badly needed it make a bad, boring paint job and worn carpet seem acceptable somehow.

I did finally take up a little of my carpet. My now-departed dog loved to lie in my home office, and thanks to the problems of being elderly she stained the carpet in there so badly it finally wouldn’t come clean anymore. So out it went.

I’ve spent plenty of money on this house: new sump pump, new heat pump, new storm windows, roof repairs, connection to the city sewer, and removal of 21 dead ash trees. The total bill exceeds my equity. But except fot the ash trees, all of this is invisible.

Now that my wife Margaret and I are moving toward living under the same roof, it’s time to make strong progress getting my house ready for sale. I need to make visible improvements that make the house look better.

It’s a modest home. Its modest neighborhood gives people of modest means a way to put their kids into a still-desirable school system. It has that going for it. But in ten years I’ve seen signs of slow decline here. Several homes have gone into foreclosure and a couple have been outright abandoned. More homes are rentals now, probably one in four. Several properties look shabby: chipping paint, sagging gutters, weedy yards. It’s not surprising that home prices in other nearby neighborhoods recovered faster from the housing crisis than those in mine. According to Zillow, for what that’s worth, my home became worth what I paid for it again only about 12 months ago.

So it doesn’t make sense to dump tons of money into the house. I won’t get it back in the selling price. All I want to do is increase curb appeal and remove obvious reasons for buyers to say no.

I actually started work last year, focusing on landscaping. Thanks to the sewer and ash-tree projects the yard was a right mess, full of bare spots. Seed worked in some spots but not in others. So I laid about 70 rolls of sod.

Wagon Full of Sod

Wagon full of sod

One great thing about owning a small, battered station wagon with north of 180,000 miles on it is that I don’t much care how dirty it gets. I had no idea how much sod I would need, so I brought it home one wagonload at a time until I’d completed the job.

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Sod freshly laid in the back yard

For about six weeks this autumn I came home every Tuesday night with another wagonload of sod and laid it. Then I watered that spot twice a day until the next Tuesday.

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Bordered front bed – thanks Mom!

Also, thank heavens for my mother, who’s old enough to have a 49-year-old son but is in good shape and loves to work. She’s done a lot of jobs small and large around my house. Two summers ago she scrapred, reglazed, and repainted all of my exterior windows. Last summer she cut and placed spare landscaping timbers to create definition around all of my front beds, and did a fair amount of planting and replanting in my beds. Everything looked fabulous during blooming season.

And now she’s asking me what jobs I want done around here this year. The first project: scrape my interior windows and get them ready to be painted.

Weighed down

Weighed down

I got one other job done last year. I’ve never liked the giant overgrown evergreen bush/tree right outside my front door. The thing had to be 20 feet tall and it looked terrible. It was trussed up inside to keep it from splaying under its own weight. It did splay every time we got a heavy snow.

While I stopped seeing my yellow-beige walls and my worn carpet, I noticed — and grumbled under my breath about — that tree every time I exited or entered my home. The only good thing about it was that it blocked the view of my front door, hiding any packages UPS or FedEx drivers left on my stoop. But I’ve always wanted that tree gone. But it looked like such an ugly job to remove it that I kept putting it off.

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Going, going…

And then one day last summer when I was working from home, someone knocked on the door. A fellow covered in what were obviously prison tattoos, weilding a chainsaw, wanted to know if I had any trees I wanted removed.

I almost never hire people who knock on my door looking for work. I appreciate their eagerness and drive, but I don’t like the risks. What if they get injured or damage my home? There’s no way they’re bonded and insured. And what if they’re quietly casing the joint while they work? No, I’ll research and find an established contractor or company to do any needed work, thanks.

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…gone.

But I thought this might be my chance to be rid of that tree at a good price. And it should be a straightforward enough job, and it’s not like felling that tree could cause it to land on anything valuable. I decided to take the risk, and we quickly struck a deal.

He husled hard and within 30 minutes had the tree down, cut into pieces, and loaded into the back of his truck. I was thrilled to hand him his cash and watch him drive away.

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Filling in the space

I wondered what I would put in the empty space until I happened to be at the Home Depot one day late in the autumn when they were clearing everything out of their garden center at fire-sale prices. For next to nothing I picked up three little bushes that ought to grow in a couple years to fill this space and even probably hide the old tree’s stump.

I think I’ve done enough on my home’s landscaping. There are a few jobs left to do out front, including fixing some serious cracks in my driveway and resealing it, and painting my front stoop to hide its surprisingly unattractive concrete.

But otherwise, it’s time to turn my focus to my home’s interior. It’s finally going to get that coat of paint and a few other cosmetic improvements.

But a couple big jobs loom. One is to repair a water-damaged spot in my bathroom floor and put down a new floor covering. Another is to do something (I’m not sure what yet) about challenges with my tub and surround, some of which led to the water-damaged floor. I jury rigged a solution to prevent further damage, but I need something permanent and attractive. Finally, I would like to strip the painted wallpaper off the kitchen walls, re-mud, and repaint.

I have my work cut out for me. Fortunately, my mom and Margaret both are waiting for instructions from me about when and where they can pitch in.

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Faith, Growth, Life

The sacrifice of thanksgiving

As we head into our Thanksgiving holiday tomorrow, here’s a rerun from 2013 that seems extra relevant now. There’s always something wrong in our lives and in the world. Sometimes it threatens to crush our spirits. Can we pause for a minute to reflect on what’s good and right, and be grateful for it?

I’m not by nature a happy person. That doesn’t mean I’m an unhappy person. I just don’t go around all day thinking sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns. I see the good and the bad.

I’m also a bit of a type-A personality. I have a considerable internal drive to make things better and to fix what is broken. I spend a lot of my time frustrated because I just can’t fix it all. Sometimes the problems are beyond my abilities, and frequently I lack the resources I need.

So you see where my focus is: more on the bad than the good. I’m aware of the good but I feel the bad.

The other day in some words in a psalm caused me to stop dead. From Psalm 50, verses 14-15 and 23:

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and perform your vows to the Most High,
and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.

The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me.

sacrifice of thanksgiving? I know all of these words individually, of course, but strung together in that order I struggled to understand them.

So I asked, because this came up during Sunday school. And the teacher said, “One way to look at it is that you’re giving up ingratitude. But thanksgiving itself really is a sacrifice.”

It left me more puzzled than satisfied.

But as I studied it and thought about it, I came to see that just because something is always wrong, and some things are very wrong, it is a sacrifice to set it aside for awhile and be grateful for what is good and right.

This helped me realize that I had lost touch with something important. A dozen years ago, my life fell apart. And as I put my life back together, the bad days and bad things dwarfed the good. I had to search hard for the good. They were usually very small things, and they were always very few in number. But I looked for them, because finding something good in every bad day was the knot at the end of the rope to which I clung.

My living room in the morning

One small thing for which I am frequently surprisingly grateful: the morning sun streaming through my front windows. I love how the warm light plays against the wall.

Thanks to a lot of hard work over the past several years, there’s way more good than bad now. But I’m still that guy who wants to fix and improve things – and often that’s all I can think of.

It’s hard to sacrifice it and offer up thanksgiving to God.

Perhaps that’s why it’s a sacrifice. When things are truly going poorly, when the biggest thing I have to be thankful for is mighty small, it can really hurt to thank God for it. And for some reason, at least for me, when more is right than is wrong it’s easy to focus on the wrong. It is still surprisingly hard to thank God for what is good.

And a sacrifice – you should feel it. Otherwise it’s not a sacrifice.

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Life, Music

What heavy metal music has to do with Donald Trump and our nation’s disaffected working class

You might think that heavy metal music faded into irrelevancy after the big-hair 1980s. That is, if you’ve even thought about heavy metal since then! Well, I have. I’m still a fan, and I still buy the latest music from the bands I’ve liked all these years.

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That’s right: a handful of those loud, hard bands are still at it. My favorite, pioneers Iron Maiden, have been recording and touring for more than four decades now. Their sixteenth studio album arrived in 2015, and a world tour followed promptly. My old buddy Michael and I caught them in Chicago last April. I took these photos from our nosebleed seats at the United Center. This is what a sold-out show looks like.

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It’s not just the geezer bands that keep metal going — new bands have been forming, recording, and touring steadily all these years. Clearly, heavy metal isn’t dead!

But how could it possibly endure? I have a theory.

Metal is overwhelmingly a white, male music genre. When I go to a concert, the audience is easily 80% white men.

Also, metal appeals most broadly to the working class. (At least in North America. Across Europe, it enjoys surprising popularity among the wealthiest, best-educated countries. I can’t explain it, so I’ll just focus on North America.) It’s impossible to be certain of any metal concertgoer’s socioeconomic class simply by looking at them, especially since our “uniform” is faded jeans and a black metal-band T-shirt. But a fellow so clad is more likely than the average man to be working class or close to it, or to have working-class roots (like me).

I think it’s fair to characterize the working class as having roughly high-school educations, working low-status occupations, and earning below average incomes.

I think it’s risky, however, to characterize the working class’s views and ways, as any socioeconomic class contains diverse experiences and viewpoints. But I’m going to try anyway, because given my working-class roots and my involvement in a church that serves the poor and working class I think I have reasonable insight into it. I experience the working class as much more likely than higher classes to view the world in right/wrong, black/white terms. The low-status, low-wage work the working class finds limits their agency, often placing them at the mercy of their employers, their creditors, and even their government. As a result, they are likely to experience the world as stacked against them. The working class is simply more likely than higher classes to experience life as brutal and unforgiving. And working-class people generally don’t understand how the higher classes function (and vice versa), which makes it harder for them to break into higher classes even when opportunity presents itself.

It’s a life that makes one more likely to be nihilistic. If you tread water some or all of the time and daily living is this hard, then what’s the point of life?

And that’s enough to make a fellow angry. Deeply, smolderingly angry. This is where heavy metal music comes in. It’s a fabulous way to release that anger.

It’s what attracted me to the genre. I was a pretty angry fellow, deep down, in my late teens and early 20s. Nothing vented my steam like some blazing metal! Even today, a good headbang deeply presses my internal reset button. And in metal circles I meet other men for whom this is also an acceptable emotional outlet. It bonds us.

It helps a lot that metal’s favorite song subjects tend to emphasize a black-and-white, low-agency life — dystopian futures, the futility of war, the inevitability of death. Or they deal in subjects that provide fantasy relief from that life — stories of sword and sorcery, boats of personal power through might, and glory in drugs or sex or fame.

I think this is what attracts the working class more readily to Donald Trump than to Hillary Clinton. Trump is almost like a heavy metal song, with his black and white rhetoric that effectively labels the current system as dystopian, and with his direct declarations of power and mastery over perceived and real threats.

I think it reaches the same anger that draws white, working-class men to heavy metal music. White, working-class men make up a large portion of Trump’s base. That’s not to say that most of Trump’s base listens to heavy metal, but I’ll bet there’s a strong affinity between metalheads and those voting for Trump.

That’s not to say I’m falling for it, by the way. I find Trump to be horrifying.

Trump becoming President won’t magically resolve this anger. Electing Hillary doesn’t make these disaffected people go away. Our next President needs to work to create opportunities, perhaps even outright create conditions, that let working-class people move from survival mode into greater security and upward mobility. Because they’re righteously pissed, and that’s not going away on its own. If the next President ignores this, the election that follows will make this one look like a walk in the park.

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Growth, Life

49

My hair is thinning on top. I wondered if this would ever happen. It started happening to my dad when he was in his late 30s, and he tells me his dad went bald in his 20s. Now it’s my turn. I’m glad I’m tall, or everybody’d be able to see through to my scalp. My eyebrows are thinning, too; my height doesn’t mask that. At least you have to look really hard to notice my gray hairs. They don’t show up at all in this photograph!

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I can no longer deny that I need reading glasses, but I forget to carry them most of the time and so look at my phone at arm’s length.

My new normal weight, the one my body defaults to when I don’t overeat, is 10 pounds more than it was 10 years ago.

And I tire more easily now. My athletic friends have complained about loss of ability and stamina since their early 30s. An advantage of being mostly sedentary is that there’s a lot less to lose, and you lose it a lot later.

I’m lucky: I’ve aged physically a lot more slowly than most of my age peers. Yet each of these changes in my body has come with some feelings of resistance and loss, and has taken effort to accept.

I decided a long time ago not to fight physical aging. I’m not going to resort to Rogaine or hair dye, and certainly not cosmetic surgery (tempting as it may be as I really hate how my right eyelid has gone droopy). A little more exercise would do me good, though.

But no regrets, because I’m happy and content now. That wasn’t always true when I was twentysomething and thirtysomething. I say it every year at this time: you couldn’t pay me enough to go back.

Happy 49th birthday to me!

 

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