Backstory

Hero’s humble beginnings.

Thanks For Mom

In a movie every character is important. Every line has meaning towards developing a character or moving the story forward. If one character doesn’t play the part correctly then the story will fall apart. Next weekend is Mother’s Day.

Mothers are the main characters in most life stories.

Since I was little I knew different aspects of my mother. Everyone always let me know how smart she was in school. I could see myself her being beautiful and compassionate. The one thing I have never really known is her backstory or the difficulties she faced before I was born. I’ve pressed her to tell me histories and fill in the blanks but she has always been hesitant to share. Last week she sent me an email with a personal story from her past. I found it interesting, emotional, and reflective. She made me think about how our stories are woven with other people. How endings are beginnings in disguise. And of course, I wanted to share it.

Here is what she wrote:

For every damn thing I went through in my youth and as a young adult, I’m talking stressful or traumatic events, I just had to suck it up. Truthfully, I never realized there was an option. That’s why I have a difficult time relating to the younger generation who feel the need to cuddle and drink hot chocolate when things don’t go their way. I don’t think cuddling and hot cocoa are necessarily bad things. As a matter of fact, had I been able to cuddle and drink cocoa I’m sure my behavior would have been much better. That’s all I have to say about that.

                There are things that have been erased from my memory. I’m sure that is a self-preservation quality of my brain. Other things I have absolute clarity about. Moments I can replay in my head in slow motion; smell scents, see sights, and experience emotions. These moments are often turning points. One in particular is an event that put me on a path to hope. You may not have realized it had you been around then, it took some time for hope to grow into something more. This is the event I wish to share today.

                A series of events led up to this moment. There were incidences that made it impossible for me to continue to live in the circumstances I found myself in. I knew something had to change, I could no longer cope. I was smart enough to know if I simply left home, I would be retrieved and returned. I was a minor, the law would be on the side of the adults. So, I turned myself in to DCS (Department of Children Services). I was picked up shortly after I made my call by two men in suits who transported me to a juvenile facility. I don’t remember the name of it, but I recall some of the residents. I remember the facility’s van taking me to school, quite an embarrassing circumstance for a 15 year old. I stayed in this facility while my situation was being investigated. I waited for the court date that would determine my fate.

                I can’t remember how long it took for the day to arrive. Memory block. I do recall several people testifying including my case worker who recommended I not be sent home. When my turn came I was, thankfully, escorted to judge’s chambers to testify in private. I didn’t have to speak in front of dissenting adults. The judge started by commending me for my good grades and positive teacher recommendations. We talked a minute about plans for the future, etc. Then he asked the question “What do you think will happen if I send you home?”

                The.Entire.World.Stopped.Turning.

                I have no idea how my face appeared or what my heart looked like as it lay there on the floor. I do remember turning my head to look out the window. It seemed to turn very, very slowly. The view was not great, merely a red brick wall. Looking back now it seems symbolic.

                I couldn’t find my words. My mind was trying to focus but all I could think about was how sure I was I would take my own life before I went back. The only time I was seriously, dangerously, considering suicide. I’ve never told anyone about my thoughts. I can’t explain it but for that moment I was absolutely sure of the answer. However, the only words I could squeeze out were “I don’t know.” The conversation basically ended there.

                I was returned to the courtroom to hear my fate along with everyone else involved. Judge WBH saved my life that day. In truth, he and my brother and sister-in-law saved my life. You see, my brother had offered me a home and the judge saw fit to accept his offer on my behalf. The rest of the day was a blur but I was thankful not to have to return to the unnamed facility. Some of those residents were certifiable!

                I’m sorry to say, even though this was a life altering day, it didn’t change the bad behavior I had indulged in for some time. I’ve never asked my brother if, not having told him this story, he regrets bringing me into his home. It cost him something. At times, it cost him lots. I was too young to appreciate him. There is no way to repay someone for saving your life. You pay it forward and hope that is enough.

                There have been a series of wonderful people in my life. People willing to help with no consideration for the cost to themselves. I shall tell their stories one day. There would be no other stories to tell had my slow motion panic gone unnoticed by a judge who cared and who had an alternative. The one day I didn’t have the ability to suck it up, I didn’t have to.

 

All I could think as I teared up at the thought of the whole story was this… It is hard to thank someone for saving you. For being a link in your safety chain. There is usually a thread of guilt or shame woven into the situation. Nothing you say seems to be enough. That is okay. Love is an investment and it doesn’t always pay back right away.

On Easter weekend we went with my mother to my uncle’s house for our annual hunting of the eggs. My cousins and their children were there. Together, with my wrecking crew, there was a yard full of laughter and fun. We played whiffle ball and hunted eggs that were stuffed exclusively with loose change. We sat around telling funny stories and relating to each other’s parenting woes. As always, it was a beautiful time with people we love. Now I know the story could have been completely different.

So, to who it may concern, thank you for my mother.

Oh and Happy Mother’s Day!

-Underdaddy to the rescue.

Can I Get A Witness

Do you ever catch yourself having a thought and laugh?

Like, you start out thinking about something and one idea leads to the next and before you know it, a strange phrase runs through your mind. You think, “if I said that out loud it would be confusing and hilarious”.

I remember a time at an Evangelism conference when I had a really weird thought. For my friends who are unfamiliar with an Evangelism conference – it is a gathering of Christian children from the middle school to early high school ages and it has the general agenda of making you feel like a selfish piece of crap while convincing you to commit to silly endeavors like not swearing or having sex before marriage. It may be the primary source of self-esteem issues for Baptist youth. It is also an unofficial training ground for sneaking out of hotel rooms without chaperones catching you. Anyway, most of the event is a stage show where everyone gathers for hearing stories of people who have been saved.

At this conference there seemed to be a parade of people coming on-stage and telling stories about living a wild life of sin only to have it turned around by the warm and loving grace of the lord. Each time I thought, “Wow, what could be more inspirational than that guy?” and lo and behold a new sage would appear with his tale from the gutter. By the end of the day I was convinced that the only person who could have a better “witness” would be a spiritually redeemed Joseph Stalin or Adolf Hilter.

One guy talked about being a serial womanizer. Trying to always fill some sort of emotional/metaphorical hole with lots and lots of frivolous sex. Burning through partner after partner only to realize that he was avoiding true love and self acceptance. Side note for the sex addict guy: To a teenager with raging hormones, your story just sounds like bragging or a challenge. I’m sure 90% of the audience missed the intent.

Then another guy talked about living a life of crime. Stealing small things, like CD’s and packs of gum, before increasing his portfolio to cars and armed robbery. He learned that he was trying to have control of a ship that already had a captain (God). A little time in the slammer made him realize that he didn’t like being in the slammer but needed some solid evidence that he had changed. He recommitted his life to “being good” and has “never been happier”.

After this guy, was a man who became addicted to heroine laced with PCP and stole orphaned kittens from his Grandmother to grind up for dog food to sell on the illegal black market to pit bull fight clubs or some crazy sad shit like that. Sad stuff for sure but almost terrible to the point of being unrelated. Yet again, once this wayward scamp had snorted all the powdered kitten crack he could get his paws on, this man hit rock bottom and turned to the ministry. Who can challenge the authority of the witness from Kitten Krack Kenny?

All the stories left the audience with the desired effect. Knowing that even if you run your life into the ground you can apologize, straighten up, and through youth ministry have thousands of pre-teens share an empathetic tear in a packed indoor arena. Most will even agree that the person is “so brave” or “totes inspirational”. The girls in the youth group were particularly moved. As a borderline teenager myself, I was intrigued by their interest so I did some pondering on how to increase my attractiveness.

I found myself wondering if being a complete and total screw up was a pre-requisite for being inspirational in the religious speaking circuit. I tried to imagine what the story might be from a totally normal guy who was a good person from day one. Could he deliver a riveting tale of how following the rules totally worked out? That led me to my weird, middle school logic thought.

“Maybe I should try crack or gambling.”

How ironic. In a system where high morals are valued the most impressive resumes are from people who battled a string of drugs and prostitution. I guess it is the prodigal son concept, which I think is critically flawed. We should be celebrating the loyal family member who never strayed in the first place. Crazy parables.

If you have ever listened to inspirational speakers and had the strange thought that maybe you should strike out in search of your own personal rock-bottom, this post is for you. You’re welcome. Go live it up and work on that backstory. You can be inspirational in no time. If you survive.

-Underdaddy to the rescue.

Butterfly Effect

I had a good conversation the other day about the beauty of randomness. The art of chaos and how our lives are shaped by insignificant details. All the major things that we plan really have very little bearing on what actually happens. For me it has been cross connections and memories. I was talking with my mother about a vacation we took when I was probably 10 to 12 years old. Through that conversation I was able to pinpoint a chain of events that would be responsible for the life I currently live.

Growing up we always rode horses. I am not a rider deep down in my soul like other horse riders but I was legally a minor and forced to join the family on trail rides. There were a number of reasons that I was less than excited about outdoor activities. Let’s do a quick rundown.

  1. I had a one eyed horse named Lightning whose fastest speed was an aggressive walk.

2. I am allergic to horse dander and generally averse to bodily injury.

3. A giant horse named Red stepped on my foot when I was six years old.

4. I busted my bottom lip on a three wheeler when I was four or five because of a carefree daredevil who thought riding a small child around through a grassy field would be fun. I still remember looking in the mirror and seeing blood gushing out and the imprint of HONDA backwards on my chin. Not the entire word because I was a small child but there were definite parts.

So basically the thought of running through woods on an oversized special-needs horse made me nervous. It was a summary of everything bad that had happened to me in life up to that point. Sometimes we stepped in yellow jacket nests and you know how I feel about bees so the picture of my nightmare is complete. (Yellow jackets are small ground nesting wasps that swarm out of holes and ruin picnics.)

One day my mother tells us that we are going on vacation. Yay! To a week long trail riding camp. Oh… The general plan was to camp in the sleeper part of the horse trailer. Wake up. Ride horses all day long. ALL. DAY. LONG. Then crash in an exhausted heap only to wake up at the ass-crack of dawn to do it again. Boy oh boy. Sign me up.

The week arrives and the first day is exactly what I thought. Near death experiences and saddle-sore ass cheeks. The area was beautiful and we saw some really cool things but seriously, near death experiences. The trail went along the side of a cliff and surprise surprise, my horse’s bad eye was on the side that he needed to be aware of the face of a cliff. Did I mention that he bumped a dead tree and it fell, scaring him into a mad dash across the side of the mountain? That happened. Then at the bottom of the ravine our lead horse stepped in a yellow jacket nest and everyone ran for their lives. I remember the big guy taking off his shirt and talking about getting stung in his “love handles”. I laughed but I wouldn’t comprehend the phrase for a few more years. The day came to a close and I remember thinking how excited I was for six more days just like this one.

The next day I left our campsite early and went to the mess hall for breakfast. I must have been annoying my parents because they let me go by myself and they didn’t join until later. I decided to make some friends and systematically moved from table to table talking to everyone who would listen. Legend has it that I made friends with the entire camp by 9:30 am. (I used to be so outgoing and full of life. *sigh*) Anyway. I made friends with the trail leader (who looked like Burt Reynolds) and was invited to ride at the front of the group with him which to a preteen was some prestigious shit. Top-o-the-world kind of importance. I got much more excited about the riding but the nights were still boring. The only thing going was a lame-ass dance hall. I wouldn’t have gone but after dark in a horse camp there isn’t a lot of option for entertainment.

I walked into the barn where the dances were held and found a seat out of the way of the action. I realized really quickly that cute girls liked to dance and that learning an easy one would be a good way to meet a few. The group of hotties I selected were probably sixteen and thought that a little ten year old kid with buck teeth and cowboy boots was adorable. They taught me a dance called “The Rebel Stomp” and I had lots of fun. The rest of the week flew by with all the dancing and socializing.

For the next eight years I had zero encounters with country line dancing. My interactions with horses dwindled as well. By the time I went to college I would venture to say that my country-ness was at an all-time low. I had the whole Slim-Shady bleach blonde shaved head thing going on. One night someone mentioned going to college-night at the Cotton-Eyed Joe. Yee Haw. My friends and I sat on the sidelines watching the cowboy-clad people hopping around to country classics such as “She Thinks My Tractors Sexy”. Riveting stuff. We were about to leave when I heard the DJ announce that the upcoming dance would be the Rebel Stomp. I had a trace memory of what to do and we had smuggled a flask of vodka so I figured what the hell. One dance before we leave.

I remembered how much fun it could be and more importantly, that girls love to line dance. Our group became regulars at the Cotton Eyed Joe and the rest is history. I should probably do an entire story on the Cotton Eyed Joe, it deserves a book unto itself. For those unfamiliar with some of the history, that story is here.

If you enjoy a good story about Serendipity then this post is for you. You’re welcome.

-Underdaddy to the rescue.

Mom and Dad by Jane

Today I woke up to a pleasant surprise. There was a tray table fully set with a Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pie, a rock, a pencil, half an Easter egg, a bottle of water, and a beautiful story written for me. The three older girls collaborated on a morning surprise. For all the stories I tell that sound like literary birth control, this is part of the vast ocean of rewards that parents get from having children. Every now and then, they just want to love on you.

This is my excellent story.


Once upon a time there was a boy named David. He was really funny.

One day he saw a beautiful girl named Heather. She had black hair and brown eyes. David thought that she was really, really pretty so he talked to her. They went on they became boyfriend and girlfriend. Then they got married. They got a dog and a cat. The cat’s name is Madison. The dog’s name is Biscuit.

Then Heather had a kid named Jane. Then another named Prima. Then a kid named Don Threeto. Then another kid named Lady Bug. After that she got a wallaby. His name is Toby Dashnap Blackwood.

That is one story.


I wonder how long I should wait to let them read the real story?

Hmmmm.

-Underdaddy to the rescue.

Risky Business

Today’s subject is risk. I cringe to think of the list of things that I did as a younger man and was lucky to survive. I try to ingrain my children with the mantras “use your brain” and “think this through”. I doubt I will have any success because experience is the only teacher that holds a captive audience. I found a picture today that reminded me of an interesting experience and a definite risk.

I had just met Supermom about three weeks prior to a cruise that I paid for in advance. Well, let’s back up. I had just managed to get her to talk with me and go on a few dates prior to this pre-paid trip. I had been trying for months (more on that HERE). She had arranged a vacation with her mother and some friends too so we would both be dreaming of paradise elsewhere, while in paradise.

My buddy Charles and I were the two-man party team heading for a cruise out of New Orleans. In true style of young men in their early twenties, we didn’t have much of a plan but we did have his sister’s Mustang and swimsuits for the cruise. Charles also had money. I did not. I had promised to share the cost of the lodging before the cruise and therefore it had to be cheap.

Our basic plan was this: (a) Drive to New Orleans, (b) Sleep, (c) Leave on a Cruise Boat the next day.

We drove to New Orleans and got into town about 7:00 pm. We looked for a hotel that was near the interstate and affordable. The exit we stopped on would be on the news about a year later during Hurricane Katrina. We had no idea what “the 9th ward” actually was.

As we drove into New Orleans I noticed a hotel on our right that had an advertised rate of 39.95. I knew it because it was painted in big black letters on the sign. No name for the hotel, just 39.95. I could tell this establishment had formerly been a Knights Inn because the original logo was slightly visible under the layer of white primer paint on the sign. Seemed legit. This is before Expedia and smart phones so we pulled in the parking lot. It was like we crossed into another dimension when we pulled off of the interstate. The sky darkened. People were nowhere to be seen. The cars were from the nineties and we were firmly in the year 2003. Charles’ sister’s car was a shiny target in a parking lot of future recycled steel.

Charles parks and disappears into the lobby to check for vacancy and pay for a room. This is how I know we were stupid. We didn’t have reservations or a pre-paid room. We drove up nice and slow and had a good look at the place and thought, “Eh, not bad.” I was busy making escape plans in the case that Charles didn’t return. What would I tell the police? Would I still go on the cruise? If I went to the police department to identify him would they give me his wallet for gas money?
Important questions.

A few minutes later he comes out and is holding a large metal key. He gives me the all clear – thumbs up and a wave to start bringing our bags inside. We shared a fear of the car being stolen so we carried everything we owned into the room.

The room smelled like ill-gotten sex and old unsolved murders. I don’t venture to guess what the original color of the floor was or if the original room had baseboards because the carpet was black and the walls were rotten along the lower six inches. The door to the hallway was about seven feet tall and solid wood. It felt like the door was made to keep something out and, at times, something in. We pulled back the curtains and the windows were barred. There was a steady thump from a nearby room. I have no idea what was making the noise. We piled the bags on a side table and sat on the end of the beds staring at the room.

Around 7:30pm we realized we didn’t eat dinner and started to brainstorm about what to eat. I pulled open the drawer on the nightstand table and it was bare. Not even a Gideon’s Bible. When a southern hotel doesn’t have a bible you might be in a rough area. I lost the Paper-Rock-Scissors battle and had to venture out to the front desk to try and borrow a phone book.

In the last thirty minutes the sun had set beyond the city skyline and the world looked even worse. I ran to the front desk like a cockroach under a light. As I burst through the lobby door two small children in underwear looked up from their place on a busted leather couch where they were watching Jerry Springer. The lady behind the counter was sitting on a stool talking on a spiral corded phone and smoking a cigarette. She spun a few degrees my direction and moved the phone to her shoulder. In her best customer service voice she asked, “Da fuq u want?”

“I was hoping to borrow a phone book.”

“Five dollars.”

“To borrow?”

“….” She goes back to talking on the phone.

“Maybe I can just look at it real quick?”

She rolled her eyes and reached under the counter. A few seconds later a beat-up Greater New Orleans Yellow Pages flopped in front of me. I looked out the front window to see what was down the street and sure enough there was a Domino’s Pizza. I looked up the address in the phone book and quickly memorized the number. As I left I noticed the two children laughing and I think they might have been acting like they were shooting at me.

Back in the room I called Domino’s and the customer service representative (CSR to those in the biz) informed me that, “We don’t deliver there?”

“Do you mean that you don’t deliver? I can see your sign from my window.”

“No, we deliver. Just not there.”

“Fantastic. Do you know the police response time?”

“Why? Who is this?”

“Nevermind.”

I hung up the phone and realized that I may have tipped off the neighborhood that an odd couple of white dudes were in the “39.99 hotel” and were calling around sounding like cops. Strike two on my decision making.

We went back to the drawing board regarding food and decided that we needed some supplies for the cruise. We decided to venture back out into the world and find a Walmart. We encountered the “Sophie’s Choice” of the night when we considered how safe our luggage would be in the hotel. We loaded everything back into the car just to be safe.

We found a Walmart and got some toiletries. Next door was a grocery store that would have plenty of choice for food. On our way into the store a Mexican guy around our age saw us walking in and smiled. He threw his hands in the air and exclaimed, “White People!!!” I guess we looked like the two whitest people who ever lived. It was all very strange considering we were leaving the country and likely wouldn’t feel as foreign as we did in the 9th ward.

Somehow we made it through the night and the car was still in one piece. We didn’t sleep. We did lay down in shifts while the other kept watch. Maybe not quite to that level but close. The exit was uneventful by comparison. A toothless fisherman in a busted Ford Bronco offered to trade vehicles, “straight up” and then laughed for an uncomfortable amount of time. I returned the front desk key to the same smoking lady who was still on the phone and the kids were still watching TV. Maybe it was a new set of people? Maybe not. I don’t care.

This was like a death note but a clue to how I died for my heartbroken lover, Supermom.

This was like a death note but a clue to how I died for my heartbroken lover, Supermom.

I jumped into the car and we drove back through the portal (On-ramp) and went on the cruise. I still don’t fully understand our decisions but all’s well that ends well, right?

If you have improved your judgement over the years, this post is for you. You’re welcome.

-Underdaddy to the rescue.