Life

The Emperors New Virus

So how long until we can ask if everyone has lost their fucking minds?

Another week?

Another month?

Let me set out my logic early so you can decide beforehand if you agree or disagree without having to read a lot of words and then going through the pain and stress of rationalizing your opinion.

 

  • Closing shop for a short time was a good move. We knew very little about the virus and there were some very serious implications around it that would have dire consequences.

 

  • We can’t stay closed forever. That part should be obvious. The reason that we enjoy civilized life is because of how specialized and connected we are. That is already at risk and staying in the cave longer just pushes it that much closer.

 

  • People demonstrated to be at-risk should be our utmost priority. They should be protected and not forced into any kind of return to licking doorknobs.

 

  • Our president didn’t suggest injecting disinfectants. Not directly. But he did look over to his advisers with a twinkle of hope in his eye and ask questions about if it was a viable solution and that should be scary enough. It was not sarcasm. Most of his statements could be made around a watercooler with a close friend as small talk and they would giggle and say “man that old Donny T is crazy”. Most of his statements are not exemplary testaments to strong and powerful leadership at the Presidential level.

 

  • We are obsessed with death models and that keeps us from asking the right questions. I click on the CDC link at least twice a day. It’s a train wreck rubberneck reaction. How bad will it get. Morbid curiosity. But it isn’t the only decision tool. And it is related to testing which has been shown repeatedly to underestimate actual infections. This has been likened to a war. Battle decisions aren’t made on death toll alone. They include strategic advantage.

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  • Our political parties are confused. We have the party of individual rights and freedom mandating private businesses to close. We have the party of socialism raising up individual safety as a reason for the herd to sacrifice. I’m not picking a side but you have to admit it is weird. I don’t blame them. I’m confused by this mess too.
  • The reason for flattening the curve was the objective of not overwhelming our healthcare. It was never intended to get back to normal life more quickly. If we wanted to get through this quickly we would put everyone in the same room and have a virus sharing party. Everyone share beverages and cough in each other’s faces. We would be done with it in 21 days. Disastrously, but true enough. This rollback was a move to avoid the situation in Italy where people were turned away and left to die. We’ve blunted the curve but we are at the other end of the spectrum, healthcare workers are being furloughed and fired because nothing is happening. We are now losing healthcare capacity from an action with the sole intent to protect healthcare capacity.

So those are the facts that fuel my thinking. If we are misaligned then don’t bother correcting me because I am just as hard headed as you and we will just waste energy in a comment section. If all that makes some little bit of sense and you can tolerate it as a base of discussion then let’s move to the next half.

 

  • We are not seeing the right numbers on actual infections, transmissivity, and mortality. The testing has not materialized and we are operating under the Italy assumption; the idea that mass death and chaos will ensue. All the while we are getting hints that infections are way more prevalent and that this has been here since maybe November of last year. For the purpose of the final question let’s assume these mortality and transmission numbers come out somewhere around a bad seasonal flu.

 

  • Some experts are suggesting that a vaccine for a corona virus is a pipe dream that has been tried for many years with no success in sight. It is the common cold. This is a deadly strain. Should we still pursue it? Absolutely. But I would like some reality conveyed to the masses about just how likely it will be to create one. For the purpose of the final question let’s assume this answer is something longer than two years to create one.

 

  • The media thrives on controversy and sensationalism and breaking news. Hopefully that is recognized as fact. Take all of the news with a grain of salt. When the lead headline of the day was fear about a second wave next fall I tried to find what they were basing it on. It was an interview in the Washington Post. The guy said that this virus will likely be seasonal and would likely coincide with flu season along with colds and a hundred other things. From that statement we got a day full of dire warnings about a second wave killing millions. Maybe it is true but we are struggling to assess the present situation. It seems irresponsible to start freaking out about the future. But for the sake of my final question let’s assume they are right and this is an annual event.

 

So… if everyone will catch this thing over some time period, we have no prospect of a vaccine, and this will happen annually in a seasonal pattern. Why are we crushing our economy, our healthcare capacity, and dismantling our way of life?

Its because we have a risk-averse culture who believes that no matter what something must be done. Safety first.

Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is nothing at all.

So here is my final question that I ask myself every morning…

What the fuck are we doing?

It looks like panic and it needs to stop. But it won’t. No one will put their neck on the line because you can’t prove what didn’t happen and safety is the safest thing. More infections will mean more death and no one wants that hanging over their head but in the end it may well be the lesser evil.

I’ll add a caveat that if a vaccine is on the horizon and/or if the true mortality rate is 1-3% or higher and if I’m wrong about the overall current stress on the healthcare system then we are doing the right thing but I don’t know that we-the-people are seeing the data to make that decision. And we should be involved in that decision. The two things that are rampant in government are tedium and micromanagement. The desire to control every single decision along a flow chart because the general public is considered too stupid to do the right thing.

This whole ride is a daily rollercoaster. I suspect that right and wrong decisions are an illusion because we are where we are and we’ve done what we’ve done. And what we do next won’t hinge on anything you or I think. I’ve never been so unsure and internally divided on an issue.

So, if you were trolling the internet for a random person’s internal dialogue and misguided opinions, this post is for you. You’re welcome. Share with caution. I could be a ten-year-old in Taiwan for all you know. It’s the internet. Anything is possible.

-Underdaddy to the rescue.

Bakers Dozen Jane

I often wish that I could take a new understanding that I get from watching my kids and bottle it up and then pour it into their head. To show them what I see.

This weekend we welcomed Jane into the realm of the teenager. I haven’t been ready for the past thirteen years and I’m still not. The things I have taught her over these years could fit in a small pamphlet but the things she has taught me have helped fill me out as a person, on the inside. Doughnuts have helped me fill out as a person on the outside. I’ve had to wrestle with myself on what I believe and how I want to be seen in the eyes of others. I’ve softened how I interact with the world. We have learned to support the underdogs and enjoy the weird things in life. I’m definitely a better person because of her.

Several years ago she wanted to draw something. If I remember correctly it was horses. We had discussions on art and her frustrations with not being able to draw the thing that she had in her mind. I told her the secret that I wish someone had told me, “No one is naturally good at anything but peeing and pooping and everything else is learned.”

Everything. Else. Is. Learned.

When you drop out of the womb you learn to breath air. You learn to nurse to get food. You learn to cry with the new air in your lungs and you learn to enjoy human contact. Babies aren’t born with the ability to talk or sing or dance or draw. Somewhere along the way we try these things and mostly suck at it. Babies are terrible at almost anything but undeterred by anything. That is the magic of babies. They will try to the point of injury to do the thing that cannot yet be done.

I told Jane to keep drawing. To take one thing and draw it really well. Learn why it looks like this or that. Practice shading. Practice shapes. Draw the same damn horse five million times. Use every sheet of paper and all of your markers to make a pile of terrible drawings. Then take the things you like and put them together in a new drawing. Throw the rest away. Keeping doing it. Practice with anything that you might ever want to draw. Then one day, you will look up from the scribbled bodies strewn around your floor and you will realize not only can you draw but you are an artist.

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She has been into drawing Anime characters in the latest drawing phase. She is an excellent artist. She has found several apps that help develop the drawing process and shading and even time-lapse her work.  She has even started teacher her sisters some art basics.

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I fancied myself an artist back in the day but I wasn’t nearly as talented.

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Jane has always made me proud. She has always known what she liked and been brave enough to be herself. From an unprompted Lord of the Rings fandom to making more money that I expected from competitive goat showing, Jane is always chasing a new passion.

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She always looks to me to smile or give a thumbs up of approval. She brings her drawings to me when she finishes and I always take a picture on my phone. I have a running record.

The truth in a bottle that I would love to pour into her head is that we are both seeking each other’s approval. I want to be sure that I am a good father and she wants to be sure that she meets my approval as a daughter. The funny part is that as long as we are both trying our best, the other will never be disappointed.

I hope that the next thirteen years are just as fun and interesting and amazing as the last round.

Happy Birthday Jane!

If you have kids growing up way too fast, this post is for you. You’re welcome. All of my kids are awesome but they weren’t all born on the same day so this one is for Jane.

-Underdaddy to the rescue.

Life Lessons

Check on your teacher friends. They are having a rough one today. School closures were extended through the end of the semester.

I don’t want to kick off with the wrong tone but I recall a specific feeling from my younger years. I lost a friend unexpectedly and it was surreal until the funeral. Until that moment there was an outside chance that the hanging dread would turn out to be pointless anxiety. There was a finality in the ceremony that made the truth feel real. It gave me permission to accept reality and to grieve.

At the risk of being hyperbolic, today had a similar dark and final feeling. Our state cancelled the rest of the semester and children will likely report to their next grade level in the Fall. In a moment, the kids and their teachers experienced a sudden loss of hope. Hope that things would return and maybe they would get a few weeks with this class before sending them off to their next adventure. A change to say goodbye.

We will probably all joke about getting extra long spring breaks or some other nonsense. I’ve already made a joke about saving money on laundry detergent and school uniforms. It is to cover the raw feeling that life is a little different and there is another thing that can’t be undone.

There are friendships and relationships that are gone. Social networks that exist only at work and at school. There are burdens being carried by parents that they are unprepared to carry. We are scrambling to schedule zoom and log in to the correct remote learning apps. Six of us in my house all doing something internet or phone call related.

Uncertainty is eating at all of us. Sometimes it bubbles out as bold exclamations that “we can’t keep this up forever!”. Sometimes it is denial and I hear things like, “This is an overreaction!”. Some call it supernatural. Some call it sinister. Who knows. We all cope in different ways. I try to take note.

For the teachers I’ve watched, the reactions are just as varied. I’ve seen some try to maintain sanity and community through light-hearted hang-outs. Making sure that middle school kids in the prime of social butterfly timeline have a chance to poke fun and crack jokes. I’ve seen some pour their hearts into personalized effort for each and every student. I’ve watched some take to Facebook Live and YouTube to create content that makes the students feel like they are close to the teachers they love. Sometimes as simple as reading a book. Others are working to keep up requirements and assignments and try to keep some structure for the students. To give them a point of focus and a goal for the day.  I’ve not seen a single teacher throw up their hands. They have continued on doing different things because of what they have in common. They love the children they teacher.

I know that the decision to stay home for the rest of the school year was not made lightly. There were tears shed in our house. Not just because Supermom just got a job as a teacher in four grade levels. We shared a minute of sadness. I just wanted to take that minute and capture it in time to acknowledge that we lost the most precious thing we have as people; time with one another. Shared experience.

Seniors are missing their milestones of graduation and prom. I imagine everyone posting graduation memories isn’t super helpful for their mood but it highlights the emotional energy that we put into our memories. There are weddings and reunions and hundreds of other social gatherings that fell victim to COVID-19. That’s just the way it is. We will get back to normal sometime but we will remember the ghost-of-before.

If you are feeling a little down again today, this post is for you. Me too. It happens. This probably wasn’t all that helpful but you’re welcome. Tomorrow is a new one and we will wake up and look ahead.

To the teachers… THANK YOU! And we feel you. I’m sure I will see you from the background of a zoom call but if not, I’ll see you around in the fall. Until then, don’t lick any doorknobs in public places.

-Underdaddy to the rescue.

Ah-Sen-Chuel

Our hometown has a stay-at-home order. Most hometowns have a stay-at-home order. Safer at home. Shelter in place. Quarantine. Humans telling other humans what to do to keep the virus from spreading. Then the second group of humans feels confined or chided by the first group so they buck the trends. They stretch the truth. They shelter in cars on the road around other second group humans. Doing important things. Critical things. Essential… things.

Essential activities start to expand at the edge of hypothetical where it meets hyperbole.


I need food to live.

True.

I don’t have food in my hand.

True.

Chicken sandwiches are food.

Still true.

Food is essential.

I like where this is going.

Chic-Fil-A is essential.

Boom. Masterful.

 


ACT ONE

 

Me: Give me a sweet tea, twelve piece nugget, large waffle fry, and one Polynesian and one Ranch.

Peppy 17-year-old Taking My Order Curbside: Large fry only or large size the whole order?

Me: Excellent catch. I see why they hired you. Large size the whole combo.

Peppy 17-year-old Smiling So Hard His Eyes Are Squeezed Shut: My pleasure.

Me: *Teleports to the end of the line and finds my order in the seat beside me and my shoulders feeling relaxed from a massage that I can’t recall ever happening.*

 


ACT TWO

I’ve been to Target.

Essential. Life or death shit.

Stop three on my first day of house arrest. I am walking back to my car that is black but somehow yellow from the solid layer of pollen. It should have bees having a bee orgy and snorting up that sweet yellow powder like Tony Montana did on his desk. Instead there is one lonely wasp directly on the driver’s door. Probably hogging all of the proboscis candy to himself.

My hands are full of essential Easter gear that we ordered online. I am wearing my daughter’s sunglasses that are two grey circles that make me look like a steam punk villain. My oversized blue t-shirt with a yeti in a sweater that says “Yeti to Party!” really outweighs the sunglasses. As I approached the car pondering what to do, the wasp had his own agenda. SCHINNGG. He whipped out his razor wings and slid his attack flight goggles in to place. I barely had time to react as he launched towards me with intent to kill. I swung my bags of candy and Easter baskets. I retreated and circled the car and bought just enough time to leap in the driver’s side. The wasp bounced against the window for a few minutes as I sat back and let my heart regain a normal rhythm. The panic fog cleared from my eyes and I reached for my hand sanitizer. As I rubbed it in on my already dry hands I notice a young couple across the aisle. They had a good laugh at my assault and I realize the absurdity of the whole thing. I went shopping in a funny tshirt that I had on for two days wearing children’s sunglasses and fought a wasp in the Target parking lot and my hands smell like Christmas Cupcake because I stole this sanitizer off my kids backpacks that they probably aren’t using again this year. My sweet bakery aroma probably attracted the damn wasp.

What am I doing with my life? Has it come to this?

Time to head home relax so I can be prepared to not do anything tomorrow.

Exhausting.

You’re welcome.

-Underdaddy to the rescue.

The Normalcy Bias

The normalcy bias, or normality bias, is a belief people hold when facing a disaster. It causes people to underestimate both the likelihood of a disaster and its possible effects, because people believe that things will always function the way things normally have functioned.

I understand this well because I have spent a large percentage of my life with a man that my children call Papaw. He suffers from the normalcy bias condition. He became my step-father when I was about six. It was at that point the stories, or shall I say… legends, began. The man is a walking anomaly. By all accounts he should be dead based on any one of several factors. Something in his genetics has a grit that is heretofore unexplained by science. Now that I think about it, his dad was a rough and grumpy guy and reminded me vaguely of the cockroach villain in the first Men In Black movie. Maybe he inherited the tenacity without the exoskeleton.

 

Crapaw

He was Carl. In the most Carl way.

 

Since the primary purpose of this blog is a written record for my children I think it is relevant to recount this wonderful man’s history of calamity. I have learned many valuable lessons from Papaw but safety is not one of them. Or maybe it is the exact lesson I learned in a very round-about way. I’m going to share a series of events in no-particular-order. But I will start where most things begin, in the beginning. And let me preface all of this with the statement that Papaw is as loving and smart and loyal as the day is long. He would sacrifice anything of his own for literally almost anyone else who needed it. I love him very much. And he has a head that is hard as a brick stick and ears that filter anything that doesn’t sound like, “Good idea!” or “I agree!”

Papaw

Safety Third.

Papaw had a childhood that introduced him to danger early. The first story I remember was the lawn mower incident. It was a warm summer evening near dusk. Papaw’s father, Crapaw, was mowing his overgrown lawn with the most battle-hardened mower to grace the universe, a Snapper. Papaw was a young boy and had been instructed to stay on the porch while his father peeled around the yard in a frantic race with the setting sun. An innocent scene but the allure of adventure would prove to be more than Papaw could resist.

The shadows were growing long. A light dew had settled over the grass as it will often do at the end of a hot southern day. The air smelled of working man’s sweat, motor oil, and leaded gasoline. Papaw kicked a few rocks and a few crushed filters from Marlboro Reds as he paced back and forth. The porch was boring. A confined life of rules. How could he sit in one place and watch his life pass him by while his father taunted him; lap after lap on his powerful steed? Slaying clumps of Fescue and the battling overgrown weeds.

Inside Papaw’s soul, something stirred.

A desire to confront danger head-on and prove that all warnings from family are ill-founded and meant only for mere mortals. Adventure was at his fingertips and he would have it!

He ventured away from the safety of the porch and entered into a game of follow the leader with a late 1960’s riding mower know regionwide for its ability to chop through thickets with blades no sharper than the edge of a dull spoon. It whipped grass into shape and beat Oak saplings into submission. It was behind this icon of lawn maintenance that Papaw left the porch and began his march with destiny.

Papaw stepped double-time along behind his father proudly. Carefully staying out of his father’s view to avoid an “ass whipping” for not listening. Two men on parade. Exerting their will over nature.

Then the unthinkable happened. The ratio of uncut grass to cut grass had shifted and there was no longer a smooth circular route for the mower to follow. All that remained to be mowed was an irregular strip of grass known to lawn mowing husbands everywhere as The Last Pass. It is a perplexing piece of lawn that has to be handled carefully. While an experienced mowest will make sure his machine is properly aligned and finish in one pass, a lesser human will circle the area fifty times to get every errant blade that the turn radius of the standard Snapper mower somehow avoids.

When it came to lawn maintenance Crapaw was no “lesser human”. Sidenote: This may be the only category where that was true.

Crapaw decided to execute a three-point turn and slammed the mower into reverse. It was a sudden decision. Papaw snapped out of his marching day-dream and probably muttered a phrase that rhymed with “Oh shit.” He tried to stop and change direction but the evening dew made the newly cut grass slippery. He tried to turn and run. It was no use. Like an athlete without his cleats, Papaw fell into the oncoming path of the bestselling mower of the Sears and Roebuck lawn maintenance line of 1970.

His three toes never had a chance. Beheaded as easily as Marie Antoinette after mentioning cake.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury. There it is. This is the true tale that was recounted to me in place of simpler instructions to “do not walk behind the lawn mower while I’m mowing the yard.” Trauma is the most effective teacher.

 

What about Papaw and his toes you ask? Well, there was concern in the local medical community that he would never be able to walk again. Those concerns were unfounded. As the defense will show, telling Papaw he can’t do something is the recipe for having that very something done.

 

The above story was recounted on several occasions and usually included some neat facts about how hospitals incinerate body parts and how some people experience ghost pains when their toes get cremated. Other childhood cautionary tales included his easily misguided younger brother and a) getting run over by a tractor disking a field, b) getting kicked in the stomach by a mule, and c) eating a bottle of Tylenol while playing doctor and getting a charcoal stomach pump.

Fun times.


 

Much like Jesus, Papaw’s life went largely undocumented during adolescence. I can only assume he had a string of successes because he emerged as a young adult with a confidence and physical strength that most men don’t possess. I remember being about seven and he was working on my mother’s 1986 Mazda 323. He didn’t like the placement of the jack under the frame so he did what any man would do. He hoisted the front of the car by lifting with his back and not bending his knees. He instructed me to, “scoot under there and move that jack over”. I did. Safety third.

But I’m getting ahead of myself… back to young twenties Papaw.

Fast forward a bit and he met my mother and convinced her he was responsible enough to marry. I think she knew the truth but he had animals and she loves animals so the math worked. She is, after all, a math teacher.

Somewhere in this early time of married bliss. Papaw was diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD); a degenerative kidney disease that is long and painful and results in useless kidneys.

[Side story: He got to watch the disease unfold in his mother who might have been the toughest person, in measure of shear grit, to ever walk the earth. This is a woman whose bucket list must have consisted of various forms of pain and suffering. Once she had exhausted all options for new and painful conditions she decided to allow death to take her.]

This sounds ominous so I will put your mind at ease. Papaw’s kidneys indeed failed, he had dialysis twice weekly, and my mother was a match for donation so she gave him a kidney. Papaw added organ failure to the list of obstacles that he persevered. The real pattern to observe here is that once again, when faced with overwhelming odds, things somehow worked out.

Consider this intro the first book in the Gospel of Papaw.

 

The Second Book would have to be The Tree Story

Papaw had a brief stint of extended medical leave due to a broken leg which was caused by a falling horse which was brought about by the deeply held belief that he was an actual cowboy and not, in-fact, a mechanic with a small family farm that included a horse. Papaw’s penchant for westerns had him believing that driving cattle was not that hard. True enough until the horse slips in some mud and breaks your leg.

Papaw was confined to the living room couch for days on end. That old familiar desire for adventure that had led him into danger began to grow in his brain. After some long afternoons staring through the sliding glass window into the backyard, he decided that a tree in the backyard was positively unbearable. It was a dying threat to anything that ventured near. If allowed to remain, it could very well spark another Cold War with Russia. He owed it to the United States of America to fell this tree. Damn the costs.

He grabbed his crutches and, somehow, a chainsaw and ventured into the backyard. I stood at the sliding glass door and watched him out of morbid curiosity. Would this be the day? Would this be thing challenge that would be too much for Papaw?

With all the skill of a billiard player and a military strategist he plotted his moves. I watched as he skillfully cut a groove into the base of the tree. Like an over-flannelled cripple lumberjack in the Pacific northwest. With the proper angles and careful lines of the chainsaw he had calculated exactly where that tree would fall. Nothing had been left to chance. Risk was minimal. Success was inevitable.

A spray of woodchips poured out of the tree over the roar of the saw and the wihte-blue cloud of chainsaw smoke. It climaxed in a loud pop and the tree began to fall. All the preparations were for naught because the tree did the unthinkable. In a move that no amount of computer modeling or even physics could have predicted… the tree fell backwards.

Papaw snapped out of his day-dream and probably muttered a phrase that rhymed with “Oh shit.” I muttered the same thing.

The world slowed down. Like a scene from a movie where the director wants to show the audience how fast someone is moving by slowing the world to a crawl and allowing the main character to move at a normal speed. He turned briskly, still holding one of his crutches, and he hopped as fast as his one good leg would allow. The towering harbinger of death popped and exploded and twisted on its journey with destiny. That tree chased Papaw like a one-eyed cat chasing a handicapped mouse. A daring game of chase and chance.

I stood peering out of our sliding glass door and watched the disaster unfold. The snapping branches, flying leaves, and dust from the ground created a cloud that obscured my view. I saw Papaw throw up his hands and fling his crutch as he lurched into a dive. He was swallowed by the chaos and I could see nothing else. The tree came to a rest and the chainsaw went silent. Dust wafted in the breeze and a few leaves drifted lazily to the ground. A hush fell over the backyard. I digested the fact that I just watched a man die.

Someone who was alive seconds ago was now horribly crushed under the weight of his own decisions and a hundred year old Oak tree.

My mind raced with confusion. What should I do? What will I tell my mother? Could I have done something to prevent this? Is this my fault? Should I just cover his body with leaves and call in a missing persons report? WHY DOES A VCR HAVE A CLOCK IF THE FUCKING THING NEVER WORKS AND JUST BLINKS ZEROES AT YOU ALL THE TIME? HAVENT YOU PEOPLE EVER CONSIDERED A BATTERY BACKUP OR SOMETHING SO WE DON’T HAVE TO RESET IT EVERY TIME THE POWER GOES OUT? WE LIVE IN THE COUNTRY FOR CHRISTS SAKE!

My gaze shifted from the quiet tree to my own reflection in the glass doorway. Panic.

But my panic was short lived.

I had forgotten the fact that death is for mortals and not for men who are condemned to wander the earth and seek the bucket list of pain and suffering that only immortality can bring to bear. I resolved myself to go out and scoop what was left of Papaw into a feed sack like we did for dogs and cats that played in the road. I slowly started across the backyard towards the tree.

Halfway through my green mile Papaw pops up through the broken canopy of the fallen tree.

Papaw: *looking around* “Can you see the saw?”

Me: “Oh my god you are alive! What a miracle!”

Papaw: “Its fine. I knew what I was doing.”

Me: “Are you serious? You just did a one-legged dash for your life.”

Papaw: “It moved on me a little. Grab that saw.”

Me: “Moved a little? It fell 180 degrees the opposite direction. I can’t…I’m going in the house.”

Papaw: “Just hand me that…”

Me: “Nope. I’m out.”

That ending dialogue has been modified. I actually think I handed him the saw and we spent some time cutting up the tree. I remember he was a little pissed at the chainsaw for having a bent shaft because it got pinched by the tree. Because inanimate objects have intentions and are out to make your life difficult.

So that is a snippet of Papaw history. A rambling commentary on a great man.

While he is unique I don’t think he is uncommon in the world of dad’s. The spirit of determination and the doing of things that need done is the hallmark of a good father. If you have a father figure who has provided you with wisdom in any form and ample stories for your children, this post is for you. You’re welcome.

 

Life is for living. And the best way to know you are alive is to almost die.

 

-Underdaddy to the rescue.