Life

Home

Our move looms in the distance. One week from today. There seems like an endless supply of quality junk that we don’t really need but poor people are suffering so it seems rude to throw away. Like three tubes of perfectly good Silicone Caulk. Someone could use that and I’m chunking it into a bag like I’m King Midas. “I’ll buy more if I need it.” What an arrogant thing to say but where do you put this stuff? I’m a reasonable hoarder. That’s all I can conclude.

Maybe we won’t use the crystal glassware laser lithography Santa Clause platter but that doesn’t mean you throw it to the curb like some classless trailer whore-man-person. Geez.

Some of the rooms are empty for the first time since we moved here in 2009. I had a vision from the first day we were moving in and Jane was barely older than two. She had a mullet, two from teeth, and overalls with a pink t-shirt. She was the cutest little redneck on the planet. I thought about her standing there today, eleven years old and so tall. Such an independent, hard headed but soft hearted young woman. Time flies.

We were excited to get the home and I have to give props where it is due so Obama, thank you for the first time homebuyer credit. Sure it was a form of welfare but it was for the working man because we had to put the money down before we got it back. That program got us off the mean streets of Bemis. But over the years, our house has grown crowded and we need to spread out.

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This is how they are choosing to sleep in our last two weeks at the house. One is actually sleeping in the crack between mattresses. I found her one morning sleeping in the closet.

They say the average amount of time in a home is 10 years. Looks like an accurate number for me. Both of my parents are anomalies, 1987-ish for mom and 1992 for dad. You guys are messing up the average. Time to move.

I hope we get about 40 years in this new home. I hate the uncertainty of moving and the whole dance. Low-ball offers. Arguing over who fixes a crack or ding or bad place in the paint. Home inspections that pick you apart and appraisals that magically go for about what the listing price was. I guess if the sellers get an offer in the ballpark then that must be what the home is worth?

You need lots of paperwork and bank statements too. Lawyer money, title money, closing costs, taxes, insurance, fees earnest money, utility deposits, moving trucks, and eating fast food for three weeks while you pack your house into storage units. Who says renting isn’t better? Pull up the tent stakes and move whenever you want. That sounds kind of awesome.

Our current house and our new house will both close new loans on the same day. We will load up everything we own the night before and hope signing day goes well. Then we will drive to our brand new house and vomit a load of boxes into the largest and closest rooms. The beds and furniture will be set up first and the boxes will dwindle but they will hit a critical mass where I feel that all my important things are out and the cost-reward ratio starts to favor other activities. That is how boxes of old CD’s get lost in an attic and found one hundred years later by a pouty teenage hiding from their parents. Suddenly Ashley Simpson and Jock Jams infects a whole new generation. Vintage. Retro.

So yeah. I’m excited about the house. I’m not as excited about the moving process and settling in to the new lifestyle. But…I am strong and the girls deserve a little more room to stretch their legs.

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Typical afternoon shade.

Our new house has a cool history and once we are in I will share more. For now, know that a family built the home in 1965.

 

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Notice the mother has her good southern lady pearls. 

There were four children. The oldest was eleven and the youngest was five. The home has never been sold and the youngest sibling has been living in the house while working through the parent’s estate. The stories parallel and I’m not much on things being meant to be but there are some strong coincidences that make my heart happy. The youngest sibling was so excited that a similar family was getting her family home that she insisted that we meet the older sister. We went to visit on a Friday afternoon and brought all four girls to visit. My four girls surrounded Ms. Lynn and took her on a tour of her own childhood home, telling her all the plans that they had for each room and all the wonderful games they could play. She told them all the history that she could squeeze into a thirty minute visit. “This was my room. That was my brother’s. This came from our cabin. This was from a trip to Europe.” After each room was visited and recounted the girls went to play outside on the giant steel swing-set and the older sister joined the group of adults talking in the kitchen. She embraced Supermom and I with tears in her eyes, “I’m so glad you are making my home your home. It needs little girls and playful laughter. That’s what it was built for. I hope you have many happy years just like we did.” It was a really good visit.

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Original blueprints were pretty cool.

There is something special to me about a place that was built purposefully and lived in. Made into a home. A safe place of refuge where anything in the world can be wrong but home is still there just as it always has been.

When either of my parents start talk of selling their homes and moving I understand what Ms. Lynn was feeling. So much has happened between the walls. So many memories and pictures and Christmas mornings and late nights talking the hours away. Waking up to emergencies or camping outside just far enough away to feel the danger of the forest but close enough to retreat inside if you needed to. Moving away is tough for kids, at any age. Our current home is the only one that they really remember. Only Jane has ever lived anywhere else. Lady Bug was born in our bedroom at the foot of my bed. It doesn’t get much more personal than that. We lost Biscuit here. We adopted Chester who ruined the carpet. We tried to buy vinyl hardwood and the cashier rang me up for 5 planks instead of five boxes so I was able to redo my living room floor for about twenty nine dollars. She threatened to call management on me for protesting her error. I was trying to do the right thing and pay correctly and she got so mad at me for implying she was wrong. I felt bad but I wasn’t going to get arrested for being a nice guy so we took the flooring and counted it as a win.

We hid in the master closet on several occasions during tornadoes. We rode out a couple of impressive floods. We fenced the backyard. Adopted a squirrel. Tried our hand at decorating only to find that we are not decorators. I’ll always remember the squeals of the girls when they hear that key turn in the dead bolt on the front door, “Daddys home!”. I will remember forever and ever, a period of about a year when I would put Jane to bed and tell her, “I love you.” She would say, “I love you to Daddy. You’re my best friend.” I choked back tears every single time and replied, “You are my best friend too.” My wife and I adopted the saying for each other at bedtime and Jane doesn’t say it anymore but it is as true for me as it ever was. I hope she reads what I write one day and knows that a girl never has a better ally than a Daddy who loves them.

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So… If you ever have packed memories and happy tears into boxes to move on to the next great adventure, this post is for you. You’re welcome. It is hard to look back and forward at the same time. I have a week to say goodbye to this home. It has served us well and is going to a family who needs the same care. I planted some trees that will be just right for a treehouse in a couple of years. Maybe the craziness will continue. Anyway…. On to the next.

-Underdaddy to the rescue.

 

Fire On The Mountains

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit my Alma Mater for a series of nerdy engineering meetings. Things had changed on campus and I barely recognized the place. My memories were ghosts that were wound around things like the new apartment complex where a place called Cool Beans used to exist. Memories of Wednesday nights sneaking beers at Campus Pub; now a Holiday Inn Express.

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The big monuments were there. The Sun Sphere from the World’s Fair. The Henley Street bridge.

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I walked past my old dorms and around the stadium near the engineering building that had just been demolished. It is hard to think about the places that define you and how they are transient themselves. That school I attended was a snapshot in time and exists now in a different way.

I had some free time one of the afternoons so I took a drive up to the Smoky Mountains. Gatlinburg to be exact. In 2016, the mountains caught on fire and raged unexpectedly into the town. Hundreds of buildings were destroyed. Several people lost their lives.

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The aftermath was a burned hell-scape where concrete and steel were destroyed along with the forest and all was left in a scattering of grey ashes. We only saw the damage on the news. For two years we hadn’t made the trip to see the mountain.

I rode through the town on the way to the National Forest and everything was as busy and commercialized as I remembered. The entrance to the National Forest seemed the same and after starting up the mountain I pulled in a gravel shoulder to walk a well-worn trail to the Little Pigeon stream.

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It looked as pristine and beautiful as I remembered. Had it been my first visit to the park I might not have thought to look around for signs of the fire from two years before.

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Charred logs were underneath the brown and green. Moss was reforming and the charcoal was well on its way to being reclaimed by nature. The scars were there but life has started the endless rebound.

Higher up on the mountain, the vista told a clearer story.

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The old tree trunks of the dead forest poked out like quills from a giant porcupine. The green blanket covering the ground was starting the job of rebuilding a forest. All of the plants on that hillside came from another plant as a seed. The fire was terrible and destructive but it allowed them room to grow and become every bit as great as the forest they are working to replace.

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I drove back down the mountain and continued on with life.

The next weekend we had an unexpected loss of a beloved farm pet. Jane’s favorite goat Mallory fell ill and within twelve hours was dead. This goat was the smallest of triplets and since a momma goat only has two teats, she had to be bottle fed. Mallory imprinted to Jane and seemed to count the minutes between her visits. She was a loving goat and a friend to a child who has definitely needed one in the last few months.

We gathered at the farm and dug a hole in a shady spot on the hill. Everyone stood in a circle around Mallory and watched through our tears as Jane shoveled dirt onto her friend.

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There is therapy in the funeral traditions and the effort of ceremony. Doing something to say goodbye and honor a friend is good for the soul. I’m proud of the strength I saw in Jane that day.

I dare say that I know where she got it.

This morning, Supermom’s grandmother passed away after a long battle with cancer. The common phrase, “Battle with Cancer”, is often just lip service to a slow spiral. This woman battled.

We visited her several times in the last few months and each time we had a tearful goodbye because we thought, “Well… this is it.” She flat-out ignored death to take care of her ailing husband who passed away a few weeks ago. She wanted to make it long enough to attend his service and see his burial.

She did.

We sat and talked with her after Pop’s funeral and it was clear to me that her mind was better than my own. I was in awe of her selflessness. Here was a woman who had always carried a healthy weight and had been reduced to maybe eighty pounds. Maybe less. Cancer was in her joints, bones, and multiple organs. It was pressing on her nerves and causing vision issues. She was continuously attached to an oxygen tank and overwhelmed with a routine of pain meds and nutritional shakes. Earlier in the day she had seen her husband of more than forty year lying in a casket. She knew he was being buried the next day.

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She will totally haunt me for posting this but I like the peacefulness of it. 

Despite all this, she was concerned if her grandchildren needed a drink or something to eat. I never heard her complain. She used her time to ask for details about our lives and how the great-grandchildren were doing. She delighted in giving away precious pictures and memories to family who wanted them. If there is any advantage to a prolonged illness it would have to be the gift of saying goodbye.

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There was a picture hanging on her wall of her at an early age; twelve I think. The link to my wife and my second child hit me hard and it brought tears to my eyes. I could see a visual tie to a woman who shaped some of the things I love most in life. The beauty that I see around me every day. The caring that takes care of me when I don’t deserve it. The constant crafting and creativity that consumes every nook and cranny of our house. The gentle personality and sense of humor. The strength to say goodbye to the ones you love and lay them to rest.

She always had a goal and a focus. Her last goal was to die on a Sunday and despite all logic she made it happen.

Its easy in life to stand around and feel despair as your beautiful mountains are burning to the ground. Its hard to see how the world will recover when such wonderful things are lost. But we carry on. We put down better roots, turn our leaves to the sun, and hope to one day be the mighty trees.

If you are working to survive the fires of life, this post is for you. You’re welcome. Anytime you lose someone named Granny it is a true loss. Granny isn’t a term that is handed out lightly. She had my vote from the very first time I met her. She hid a bowl of homemade ice cream for me in the freezer because I couldn’t make it to the campground as early as everyone else. That is pretty special.

-Underdaddy to the rescue.

Augtober

We have officially put the Underdaddy Lair on the market. We have a contract on a new secret hideout with more room, which is going to become important in the coming years. I hope the new house is everything that it seems to be because I never want to move again. It is a ball of stressful bullshit. There has to be a better way. Maybe home ownership is a scam and renting is really the right way to go? Oh well, I’ve come this far so I guess we will stay on course.

I have accumulated a few blog-worthy experiences to file away in the history books so here goes…


Packing Up

While packing our things and cramming them into a small storage unit we have really realized how much junk gets accumulated over a ten-year period. We also realized that naming boxes is important. To everyone who might help us move, “Bedroom Books” is not what you might expect. A non-descript box labeled “Stuff” is not what you would expect either. Yet another, unlabeled box, has the potential to ruin two aspects of childhood if the fragile cardboard doesn’t hold together during the move.

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Hope the kids don’t find this one. 

We had gotten down to some of the last items hidden around the house and that included a box of vintage Playboys and our Elf on the Shelf. There was only one box and I was tired of moving stuff out. It was late in the day and hot. I made my decision, packed Elsie into the box and started towards the truck. The waterlogged cardboard gave way and the box dropped to the ground. I was alone but it made me laugh to think of four kids being witness to the truth of life’s secret lying in the driveway.

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Summer ended before it even got started this year. Luckily we took pause during the last week and visited with our Califamily at Discovery Park of America. If you find yourself in Tennessee around the western side, be sure to check it out. I see something new every time I visit. The indoor exhibits are themed and arranged in a somewhat chronological order. There is a progression of rooms that start with modern instruments of warfare and go backwards through history in each of the major conflicts. Somewhere around the Civil War exhibit I noticed a photo that summarized what I find truly awful about war.

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There is no way this guy was more than eighteen. Fighting a war against neighbors. It was a good reminder that those who declare war and those that fight in a war are two different age groups.

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Outside it was a beautiful day.

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Lady Bug is still pondering her own mortality. 

The park added an Escape Room and we thought that try to solve the mystery with five kids was a good idea. Everything was going smoothly until the smoke machine turned on to simulate a fire outside of the cabin that we were trying to “escape” from. The youngest children thought that we were going to burn to death because we couldn’t figure out which square object from a shelf was supposed to be used to get the last key. Nothing like some life-or-death panic to create quality time together.

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The figure on the left is someone who just jumped from a rope swing. Not a ghost. 

Following a week fully of painting and packing, we decided to hit the pause button and go spend some time on the water. We left early in the morning and rode to a special cove with a waterfall that forms a natural slide. The natural slide has a natural bump in the rock near the bottom that will give you a natural bruise on your ass. Big purple one. I will spare you the photo.


No Fun In Funeral

During our lake outing Supermom got the call that her Grandfather, Pop, was not doing well and was unresponsive. He held on for a few days but his body gave up and he passed away on August 9th. It was not unexpected but it was difficult all the same. We hastily made plans for our children to stay with grandparents and we made a road trip to Supermom’s hometown.

We stopped along the way to buy some nice clothes because most of our stuff is in a storage unit. I selected a few shirts and went into a fitting room. I heard a few other doors open and close in the fitting room. As I am standing in my boxers I look at the wall of my changing station and have a moment of deep consideration.

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Maybe it was a Bro. 

If I am in a men’s area why is there a bra? Am I in a men’s area? Am I in my underwear in a ladies fitting room?

I could have sworn that this particular fitting room was adjacent to the Men’s clothing section. I was 99% positive.

Anyway. Moving on.

We selected our garments and continued on the road. Supermom got a really pretty dress and adorned it with a pin that her Grandmother had given her as an heirloom a few weeks prior. It was really beautiful.

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At the funeral home we visited with family and mourned the loss of a good man. He had a peacefulness that is hard to describe. In the moments between catching up with family, we walked around the front room and admired some of the antique furniture.

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I wonder what he was like as a person?

I took a picture of this chair because it reminds me of something from Beauty and the Beast. I have a fear of sitting in that chair and having it grab me.

A fact that I glossed over in the previous paragraphs is that we left our wallaby at our house while we traveled to the funeral. She was enclosed in a cage-like structure but that only matter for a few hours because she escaped. So for about twenty four hours a T-Rex goat hopped around my living room and shat on about everything. She also pissed on the only remaining section of our sectional couch that has been flaking off the fake leather for the last six months. We are now couch-less. The wallaby lives elsewhere while we work to sell the house.

The next day I left for a conference for two days which made Supermom really happy. She thought it was pointless but consider this…

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I met a cool frog.

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I ate at Waffle House. Twice. Allstar, Scrambled, Bacon Crispy, Hashbrowns instead of Grits, Toast, and Waffle. Can’t go wrong with that.

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I played pool at a dive bar named Old Shakey’s because the sign advertised “Booty Tuesday – Rap Hits with DJ Meow Meow” and I needed to know what that meant. Sadly, I will never know because the guy with a SECURITY T-shirt told me that it wouldn’t be the REAL DJ Meow Meow but instead, a reasonable facsimile. If I can’t see the real DJ Meow Meow then I hardly think the three dollar cover is worth it.

Back at home and we finally listed our house this weekend. One showing so far. Here’s hoping.

If you have been too busy to notice summer morphing into fall, this post is for you. You’re welcome.

-Underdaddy to the rescue.

Good Karma

If anyone remembers the bullying post from a few months ago then you will appreciate an update. Most of the “mean girls” decided to go to a different school which is awesome. Jane moved to a new class and is settling in just fine.

A friend, of myself and Supermom, contacted us today to let us know about an interaction she had. She met a young girl about Jane’s age and asked her what school she was attending and the girl said Tiger Montessori which is my daughter’s school. She asked, “Oh do you know Jane?”

“Oh yes. I met her last week! She is my new best friend.”

Her mother then explained that her daughter had been having trouble with some girls last year and was very nervous about not finding friends again this year. “Jane has been so nice and such a good friend. She really needed that this year.”

I teared up a little when I heard. It’s not a big overt thing but I’m proud of her.

Jane and I have been having some talks about the feeling of revenge, bullies seeking power, and the simple fact that the only way to win is to be a better person and commit to the long-game. It feels empty to tell your children things like that because there is no immediate relief for a wound. But I think those wounds need to heal slowly and leave what scars they will. Those battles either teach you to become the monster or defeat it. She was on the verge of joining the dark side and becoming bitter about how the other kids viewed her.

One of my favorite things about Jane is her knack for finding the wayward kids who don’t quite fit into the mainstream. She has a real power to befriend and include people who don’t always experience community with the other kids. She has a magnetism and energy and so much love. I told her all this and wrapped it up by saying, “Bad things are going to happen. Write that down. The only thing you can do to disappoint me is to forget all the good things about Jane because of a few bad things. Hold on to those good traits, those things that make you love. Go be a good person just to fly in the face of the few assholes who want to see you fall. Fly like a dove. Then shit on their windshield. Big goopy drops of love and understanding.”

Bullies want to be powerful but they are defeated from the outset, true power comes from the pack. From the friends that feel accepted and protected and are willing to stand beside you in return. I’m humbled to think that my daughters have already made impacts to other kids lives that will affect their lives for years to come.

So far so good. We’ll see how the rest of the year plays out but this little tidbit did my heart good on the end of a weekend that has had us more than a little stressed out. More on that in a few days.

-Underdaddy to the rescue.

iMortal

The other night around bedtime we heard a sobbing sound from the girl’s bedroom. In a moment, our oldest was standing in our doorway holding her arms around herself in tearful and uncertain pose. She came and sat on the end of my bed and we had an interesting conversation. I’m certain that I have had similar conversations and probably even similar blog posts but since this is 50% therapy and 50% archive-for-my-children, I will share this one too.

This was our exchange:


Jane: What happens when we die?

UD: (Yay! This topic again!) Why are you worried about this?

I don’t want you and mommy to die. I don’t want to be without you.

Well, with a little luck you won’t have to worry about that for a good while.

But what do you think happens? Tell me the truth.

The truth… The truth is that no one knows. Everyone has a theory but I haven’t talked to anyone who has died and lived to tell the tale. 

I’m serious.

I’m serious too. I have no idea. I think we are so afraid of death because we fear the unknown. The uncertain. People have lots of different ideas and they hold tight to those ideas because that is what gives them comfort. It makes them less afraid.

Are you afraid to die?

Absolutely. I love my life. I love you girls. I don’t want to leave anytime soon but one day I will. My job is to make sure you can carry on with your life when I do. 

I don’t want to be without you.

I know and in a lot of ways you won’t be

What do you mean?

I don’t know how to make you feel better but I have an idea. Let’s talk about something else for a minute and see if that helps.

Okay.

Let’s talk about the way life works on a really small, basic level.

Okay.

Life and living things are really interesting because they made up of cells.

(she raises an eyebrow) I know about cells. We learned about them in school.

Good. Then you know that inside every cell are the instructions for how that cell is made. Think about how cool that is. Every single cell contains the instructions to build a copy of itself. In fact, if you are more than seven years old most of your cells have died but before they did they were replaced with an exact copy. You are made of completely different cells than you were seven years ago. Even your brain. It happens continuously.

That’s kind of strange. Are you saying I’m a different person?

No. Just the opposite. I’m saying that who you are can exist through the most dramatic of changes because you are more than any one cell. You are this continuous thing that is constantly getting damaged and updating and repairing itself. Do you follow what I am saying so far?

I think so.

The things that make you and me are different from things that are not alive. A rock will always be the same rock. Seven years down the road, same molecules. Same rock. A rock can’t have children it can only become smaller rocks. 

What about fossils?

That is the last change that something living experienced before it disappeared into a rock. Like a 3D photograph using chemistry and… that is getting off topic. Let’s take this DNA idea one step further. Every piece of your instructions inside your cells came from life before you. I didn’t just appear out of nowhere. It was inherited. That’s why we can do the ancestry tests and see where our ancestors came from. Our DNA passes forward.

But I am from you and mommy. Do I have both of your DNA?

Yes. Well sort of. 

Like, all of it?

No. We passed you about half of each of our DNA. DNA gives us our body shape and eye color. It can pass the same moles or a funny looking toe. It’s all part of the evolutionary-biology thing. But you can pass other things forward. We can inherit things from other people. 

Like what?

Like your opinions. Your humor. Your smile. A love of Mel Brooks movies or watching thunderstorms on a warm summer evening. You can inspire a passion for animals and a contempt for injustice. I hear myself saying things exactly like granddaddy does. Your sister looks exactly like your great aunt as a child. You learned to be a smartass just like me and sadly I think your sisters have too. We are constantly having an effect on the world around us. Passing things forward.

Lady Bug talks loud like Papaw.

Exactly, they have their own loud, country redneck language. It is a beautiful thing.

I don’t understand them sometimes.

Me either but you see what I mean. She learned that from interacting with him a lot and it is part of who she is. If something happens to Papaw you will still see him when Lady Bug yells at something that isn’t working properly.

(she laughs) Yeah. Can you tell me a funny Papaw story like the tree story?

Let’s stay on topic. Just for another minute so I can finish this thought. So another little fact about the way DNA passes forward, it is much more likely to pass forward good information instead of damaged information. Reproduction actually helps to repair us as a species. And when we take things from our friends and relatives it is usually things we like and things that make us feel good. Our social network makes us better too.

That is a lot to think about.

I know. It is. But I promise I have a point. Let’s go back to your original fear.

That I don’t want you to die or go away?

Yes. That one. Tell me something… if you are made of the same thing I am made of, if you are built off the same set of instructions, how can you be without me? You are one-half ME. You enjoy the same things I do. We like the same jokes. You can’t be without me if you tried.

I see what you mean.

One day something will happen to me. Hopefully it is a long time away. Like maybe I’m ninety and annoying as hell and you are plotting my death instead of fearing it. 

I won’t do that. I will be really sad.

And that is normal. Being scared of losing people is normal but don’t hang on to the sad. Set it down and keep moving forward. Take the good and the happy and pass it forward.

Like memories and pictures in Coco?

Exactly. There is no clear start or end. We are made up of our past and working together to make the future. Was any of this helpful?

Yes. Thank you Daddy. I feel better.

I feel better too. See… another connection. Now, two things… I love you and get your ass in bed. It’s late.

I love you too.


She went to bed and I sat for a minute pondering my spur-of-the-moment discussion. Was it the right thing to say? I think it was. She seemed content. It gave me peace and some perspective. It made me think of a poem that my cousin shared a few weeks ago and I have included a piece of it below.

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.

-John Donne, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, circa. 1624

 


If you have inherited anything through DNA or by everyday exposure, this post is for you. You’re welcome. Share a family trait that you have inherited in the comments.

-Underdaddy to the rescue.