I was born on this day 43 years ago.
I wasn’t planning on writing anything about it; but as I sat here in my chair, watching my kids bicker and play, I decided to record some thoughts.
It’s been some time since my last entry, which may be part of the reason for these notes. On some level, I’m questioning why I even have this blog. But on a deeper level, I know that I need this venue more than I realize.
I often feel invisible in a world where near infinite connections are available. There are many people living in my home, most of whom I created in part, and yet I still feel alone from time to time. My blog listens, begrudgingly sometimes, and this despite my neglect of it.
For the next few minutes, I will share my thoughts and concerns about a few of life’s many categories.
I’ve been changing diapers for over 20 years. That is far longer than I expected, and I often quip that I should have bought stock in Huggies. Then again, I didn’t know how to buy stock back then, so it really doesn’t matter.
Of my eight children, two are adults and in college in California. These two are from my first marriage, and despite the challenges inherent in divorced families, I am ever so grateful for them both. I also came from a broken home where my parents divorced when I was very young, and I remember the challenges I endured by being split between my mom and dad.
This is why I fought, and fought hard, for every moment I could squeeze out of the system to spend with my sons. In my mind, fighting for them was a noble undertaking, but I learned the hard way that I had to let them go at some point.
That heartbreaking point came when they told me that they didn’t want to visit me anymore because they had so much to do each summer. That was hard to hear, but I acquiesced to their wishes. I stopped fighting, and I felt like a failure.
I don’t often cry, usually at baptisms or when my army buddies die, but I’m man enough to admit that I cried that day. Even so, and in spite of my sadness, I was somehow released from something else that had burdened me for many years. It was hard to pinpoint, but I felt relieved on some level.
The remaining six children are simultaneously my greatest sources of joy and frustration. As an at-home dad, I am with them all the time, which is not how I imagined retirement from the service. More on that later.
I’ve learned the hard way that not everything is a big deal. For a time, I was caught in the Tattle Trap, where I responded immediately to whoever was tattling in an effort to squash problems before they got out of hand. This is likely the conditioning from my days as a Soldier and Drill Sergeant, when I felt I was always reacting to something dumb.
I learned that crying over spilled milk is not worth the time, stress, and effort required to be upset about it. Sometimes milk just spills. Or juice. Or syrup. Society today often scoffs at wise sayings from previous generations, and I’ve been guilty of that. There is something to them, though.
Patience is another area of my life that has improved as a result of parenting so many kids. I used to have a furious temper, which, when coupled with my heavy drinking in years past, made me a less-than-desirable mate. I’ve been sober for over eight years, which saved my second marriage, the relationships with my kids, and probably my life. Definitely my life.
In my house, there is a range of kids aging from teenagers to toddlers. There are as many issues as there are children, and often more. The addicting lure of screentime is a real thing, and it is a constant battle with the older kids. It may be naive of me to think that they could enjoy the same things I enjoyed from a childhood that happened before the world wide web. But I certainly don’t want them “plugged in” all the time. I like my devices, too, but I’d much prefer reading or other activities over scrolling social media all day.
Along that same vein, I understand that my children are natives to this digital environment, while my wife and I are “digital migrants”, having come from a time before smartphones, the internet, and virtual reality. We are wowed and seduced by all the shiny apps, just as our kids are; but we also know the freedom that comes from being away from all of those things.
I enlisted in the army right out of high school. It was the smartest dumb thing I ever did.
I can honestly say that I had a well-rounded and successful career as a soldier. I firmly believe that the challenges I faced in the service made me who I am today. I’m a loyal kind of asshole who always strives to do the right thing, even when no one is looking. I defend the defenseless, and while I know that no person alive today is perfect, I give everyone the benefit of the doubt until they prove me wrong.
I say “well-rounded” because my career was not without hiccups. I had a slew of field-grade Article 15s during my first few years of service because I made some dumb decisions and fought the system. While there were a couple times when my commanders wanted to boot me out, I had some great senior enlisted leaders who refused to abandon me, even when I didn’t deserve their support. I’m especially grateful to CSM Donnie B. Little and CSM William McAluffie during that tumultuous time of my life.
It was these experiences of being on the army’s bad side that ultimately made me a better leader once I got my head screwed on the right way. I had my share of challenging soldiers, all of whom I gave every possible chance. They didn’t all succeed in turning their lives around, but they all had my support.
On a shadier note, while I was fighting the system as a young soldier, I read the Manual for Courts Martial in its entirety, something most soldiers never do during 20 years of service. I learned what it meant to “interpret” the UCMJ, what it meant to break any of the articles it contained, and how to identify any grey areas in its wording. I won’t say how that was useful, but it certainly helped as my career progressed.
I was medically retired after donating a kidney to save someone’s life. I was found unfit for continued service as an Infantryman, which was really hard for me to hear. After a couple deployments, I still had a lot of fight left in me even if I was missing an organ. The transition from soldier to civilian was a challenging process and one that is ongoing.
Since I enlisted right out of high school, I didn’t go to college. So, I immediately started college after I retired and completed a bachelor’s degree four years later. For some reason, I thought that being a retiree and having a degree would net me some cush government job, but that was far from the truth. It happens for some of us, but not all of us. After a job search that lasted nearly two years, and one that included every resume class I could attend, I abandoned the search and went to graduate school.
It was in graduate school that I (re)discovered my passion for writing. I did a LOT of writing for my master’s degree, and I began to love the research/writing cycle that’s part of academic existence. Shortly after I completed that program, I started my own freelance writing business, which is currently my full-time adventure.
While I hope to scale my business over time, I rather enjoy the writing life I’ve created. I have enough work to pull in a decent living, but not so much that it occupies all my time. I am, for better or worse, with my kids more often than my parents were with me. What I love most is that I can do this job from anywhere. Right now, I’m living a stone’s throw south of DC, but I will still have employment when I move out into the country someday. It’s a blessing.
From Now to Then
I don’t know where I’ll be one, five, or ten years from now.
I used to worry about the future, and it’s stressful to worry about. Doing life is stressful, especially these days. There’s all the usual suspects: jobs, money, relationships, sex, addictions, politics, family. These have been around for ages. Then there’s new things that plague us. Things like the pandemic and its vaccine mandates. Or the need for approval on social media. Suicides are up, and ideas like Bitcoin confuse me.
By this point in my life, I’ve realized the futility of stressing over things I can’t change. I read a book that said something like that, and I didn’t buy into it until a few years ago. It seems that society needs to embrace that same idea because a lot of people are stressing over things that shouldn’t be an issue. I can’t control the world, but I can control how I respond to it. Kindness is a choice.
What else can I change?
I can and should change how I spend my time. I used to be on social media years ago. I had the Facebook and Twitter, but I let all that go. Why? Because I was losing time, wasting moments of life that I can’t get back. I was hypnotized, and that scared the hell out of me. So I dropped it.
Reading. Right now, I read for an hour or two a day. That’s not enough for me. I want to double that, at least. I have stacks of books lining the stairs, and other stacks on flat surfaces around my office and bedroom. I have plenty to read. But I’m still wasting time on stupid things that don’t matter.
Coming To The End
It’s taken me most of the day to write this. The little kids have been a handful and it’s been a long day. I want to thank you for reading this far. I’m not sure what I envisioned when I started this morning, but this is what I have and I’m going with it.
I just want to end with this, as we’re getting close to Thanksgiving:
I am very blessed in my life.
I have a great family, and I am married to the best woman in the world.
I have more kids than I bargained for.
We’re not rich, but we have everything we need.
I have a small circle of very close friends.
I love my country and all who serve, past, present, and future.
I have faith in God.
Also, I don’t know you, but I genuinely care for your wellbeing. I want everyone to find the peace that I find in the chaos around me. My life is far from perfect, but it’s perfect for me.
I hope you have many more birthdays, as I hope to grow so old that I forget how many I’ve had!