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  • My Father’s Book

    December 13, 2009

    By Antique Daddy

    Earlier in the year, I found myself standing before a bookcase where I noticed the two-volume series The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah.  These books had belonged to my father, a preacher, and then later my oldest brother, also a preacher.

    My father was thrown from a horse and killed when I was eleven.  Six years later when I was 17, my oldest brother was killed in a motorcycle accident.  He was only 27 and left behind his pregnant wife and unborn child.  The loss of these two men who never saw their children grown, profoundly changed not just my life, but the life of my son who would never benefit from having known them.

    I pulled the book from the shelf and looked through it for a moment.  I noticed my father’s rather distinctive  signature in the front cover.  I called Sean over to come take a look at the book.  I explained to him that this book had belonged to his grandfather and then I showed him the signature.

    Then something interesting happened.  Rather than barely taking notice and then running off to play as you might expect of a five-year-old, he took the book and held it reverently in his hands.  He lightly brushed his fingers over the signature.

    For a long moment he stood holding the book, gazing at the signature.  Then he looked off at the wall as he continued to gently rub the book.  His eyes noticeably began to fill with tears.  Finally he handed the book back and asked if I had any other books that had belonged to his grandfather.

    My throat tightened with emotion as I wondered what he was thinking. I wanted to ask, but decided instead to let him own that moment as his own.  My wife and I exchanged glances.  We both understood that something remarkable had happened, something that we could sense but could not see.

    Later that night, as my wife tucked him into bed, she asked him what he had been thinking.  He told her that he was looking into a clock and wondering what it would be like to know his grandfather.

    Fatherhood has brought me many unexpected poignant moments; sometimes as a witness and other times, like this one, as a participant.  And that is perhaps one of the greatest blessings of fatherhood, to share in those poignant moments with my child.

    Every day I thank God for this incredible gift that is my son, this answered prayer, this miracle he performed in our lives, the miracle that we had given up on, that we had all but conceded.  I thank Him for those special moments, for the joy and the depth of meaning that fatherhood has brought me.

    And I pray that He will bless my efforts to be a good father and that he will see fit to bless me, that I might live to see him into manhood.

    The New Bed

    November 19, 2009

    Recently I acquired a twin bed for Sean.  Heretofore, the poor giraffe-legged child had been sleeping in a toddler bed.  Toddler bed, we all know, is code for “crib on the ground”.

    I know what you are thinking. “What is wrong with y’all? Can you not even manage to get your six-year-old child a decent bed?”

    And the answer to that is apparently not, at least not in a timely manner.

    Several times when we’ve had other children at the house, I have overheard them laughing at Sean’s itty bitty bed. And although it didn’t bother him, it made me realize that it was probably time to get him out of the toddler bed.

    But finding a new bed wasn’t as easy as I imagined it would be.

    It took me a while to find the bed I wanted. For one thing, I wanted an old-fashioned 1950s Beaver Cleaver kind of twin bed.  For months, I searched Craig’s List and eBay and garage sales to no avail.

    As it turns out, the Catholic grade school that I attended closed a year or so back and they sold off all the furniture in the convent and my mother bought one of the twin beds. When she found out we were looking for an old fashioned twin bed, she offered it to us.  There is great irony to think that my son is now sleeping in the bed of a now-dead nun who used to routinely whack the holy snot out of me.

    At any rate it is a really nice bed, solid maple and just as old-fashioned as it can be.  And the best part – free!

    So when my parents came to visit recently, they brought the bed with them and joyful sounds were heard throughout the kingdom upon its arrival.

    The next day when AD left for work, I dropped Sean off at school and then my parents and I high tailed it to Sam’s and bought a mattress and box springs.  When we got home, I quickly disassembled the crib-on-the-floor and hauled it up to the attic while my dad set up the “new” bed.

    Mom and I put on the brand new sheets, fluffed the pillows and then stood back to gaze upon the marvelous new bed.  And we felt much happiness and no sadness. None.   We did however feel tiredness.  We had been working at a feverish pace because we knew we had to get the job done before AD got home and put the skids to our merry making.

    AD does not like change. AD would not want to take the toddler bed down.  AD would have to rend his garments and cry into the crib sheets. He would have to kneel by the tiny bed and hang his head in sorrow. He would have to weep as he tenderly ran his fingers over the rough patches on the frame where tiny teeth once gnawed.  He would have a goodbye ceremony. He would write the bed a little letter and tape it to the bed frame. And this could take weeks, maybe even months.   All while I stood quietly and respectfully off to the side tapping my foot and looking at my watch. All while Sean asked over and over and over when he was going to get to sleep in his new bed.

    When Sean got home from school, he took a flying leap into his new bed and declared it awesome. He loved it.

    When AD got home from work, he did not declare the new bed awesome, but rather said, “Oh. A new bed.”

    And I could see what he was thinking:   “I didn’t know that last night was the last night I would get to tuck him in the little bed.”  And while I have sympathies for his sentimentalities… no wait, I really don’t.

    So later that day AD asked me, he said, “Do you not even feel a little bit of sadness that the old bed is gone?”

    “No.”

    “Not even a little? Not just a teeny tiny tinge of sadness?”

    “No.”

    “None?”

    “No. I feel glee.”

    He half smiled at me.

    I half smiled back.

    AD weeps at what he leaves behind.

    I look forward to what lies ahead.

    It all works out, for at long last, our six-year-old sleeps in a proper bed.

    What Happens When A New Car Kinda Gal Marries A Debt Free Kinda Guy

    October 29, 2009

    Go get a beverage, it’s a long one today…

    * * *

    A week or so ago, I saw on my Twitter stream that Dave Ramsey was looking for stories of people who have been living debt free for 10 or more years.  Since we had just celebrated our 11th debt-free anniversary, I took the time to send him our story in a paragraph or two.

    I was really surprised when the producer emailed me and asked if I would talk to Dave on the air on Friday because our story is not all that exciting. It’s not like we were $100,000 in debt, clawed our way out using Dave’s program and now live on a yacht in the south of France.

    We have been quietly living debt-free for eleven years because prior to our marriage we agreed that is how we would live.  But to be honest, 99% of the credit goes to Antique Daddy.  He does most of the work and provides the leadership and it has blessed me beyond measure.  Even though sometimes I don’t like it.

    Our story starts back in 1996 when I first met AD.  I was immediately and wildly attracted to him, not just because he is hot but because there was just a steadiness about him that really appealed to me.  Beyond being a person who shared my faith, which was of number one importance to me, he was sane and responsible and disciplined — all the things I am not.  The longer we dated, the more it became apparent to me that those things were deeply engrained in his being and not just paint on the surface, so when he finally asked me to marry him in 1998, I squealed and said, “I though you’d never ask.”

    AD and I both grew up lower middle class and poor but that experience shaped how we view money in very different ways.

    I hated being poor and not having the nice things that I saw that others had, so I worked hard and spent every dime I made on clothes and shoes and cars and other stuff that is probably at this moment in a landfill somewhere.  In my 20s, I got myself into credit card debt (twice because I’m a slow learner) in my quest to have nice things.  I was in my 30s before I finally learned that retail consumption is a monster that cannot be satisfied.  To this day, at the core of my being, even at nearly age 50, is a poor little girl who wants nice things and is a world champion rationalizer when it comes to new shoes.

    AD’s story is that his father died unexpectedly when he was eleven-years-old.  He grew up watching his mother sell Tupperware to support him and his two older brothers.  She did well, but there wasn’t a lot of extra money.  He spent many an evening at home alone while his mother went off to give a Tupperware party.  Like me, he decided that he didn’t like being poor and so he saved every dime he earned, which he pretty much still has.  To this day he thinks long and hard before buying even the smallest thing.  At the center of his being is a poor fatherless little boy who is scared of not having any money.

    I tell you this to illustrate that how we feel about money and how we deal with money is less about money and more about whatever ancient hurts and injustices we lug around with us.  We don’t just one day arrive at a financial philosophy, it has been shaping and building our entire lives.  But at some point, you have to face it head on and decide if it’s working for you or if you need to make a change.  If you are in debt, you probably need to come to terms with the emotional cues that are sparking your spending habits and fueling your bad choices.

    As we were planning our wedding, I read somewhere that the number one thing that people fight over is money. So prior to tying the knot we had a number of in-depth discussions about money and we realized that we had to figure out a way to merge our views on spending and saving if we wanted to stay married more than a week.

    I strongly encourage everyone who is thinking about getting married to do this.  It is reallllly important.  You’ll still fight about money but at least you will have some insight into your partner’s point of view.

    Before we walked down the aisle, we hammered out what would be our family’s financial philosophy, which is basically this:  If we can’t afford it, we don’t buy it. Period.

    Beyond that, the other thing that has served us well is that we agreed that neither of us would spend more than $100 without first talking to the other person.  There is a little bit more to it than that — we live on one income and below our means, we maximize all tax-free or tax-deferred financial vehicles, we never ever ever revolve credit and a few other very basic tenants. But at the core of it all, we agreed that we would not worship at the altar of conspicuous consumption.

    This agreement has on more than one occasion chafed me because I really like certain things that might be described as conspicuous, like new cars.

    I bought my first new car in 1977 when I was 17. It was a sweet little ride, a 1977 Mustang, black with red pin stripes, wire wheel hub caps and red look-like-leather seats.  To my credit, I paid for it myself – my parents did not help me other than with half of the initial down payment. Their financial philosophy is this:  “You kids are on your own.”  And honestly, that has served me well too.  All that to say, I love me some new car smell.  I do. It is intoxicating.  I am a new car kind of gal and I knowingly married a debt-free kind of guy.  And over the past eleven years, it has vexed me and blessed me all at the same time.

    So then, in 1995, the year before I met AD, I bought a brand new off the lot Jeep Cherokee.  I have not bought another new car since and probably never will again.  In 2003, five years into our marriage, the Jeep had seen better days and it was time to replace it.  AD found a super deal on the car I drive now. It was three years old at the time, had low mileage and was just like new, although a little short on new car smell.  I took it for a test drive and agreed that I could be happy with it.  We paid cash for it, drove it home and I have been driving it ever since.  My little old car is 10- years-old now, but it gets me around in a reasonable amount of style, if not conspicuous style.

    In the interest of honesty, because Antique Mommy is nothing if not honest, I will confess that sometimes I see my friends driving new cars and I feel an itsy bit sorry for myself because I want to drive a new car too.  But the thought of taking that kind of cash out of the bank, which is the only way AD would go along with buying a new car, makes my stomach turn.  And it makes my paid for car look pretty darn good.

    The real benefit of living debt-free these past eleven years has become most apparent in this past year when the economy seems to have gone to hell in a hand basket in a hurry. The unemployment rate is supposed to be something around 10% but it seems to me that 20% of the people we know have lost jobs, including us.  But because we have been savers and not spenders, we have insulated ourselves as best we can against the uncertain ebb and flow of the economy. We expect we can ride out this storm and the storms in the distance that we hear but do not yet see.

    My final point is this:  A lot of stress comes into our lives that we cannot control, but the stress that comes with debt is a very often a choice (obviously there are extraordinary and extenuating circumstances which I am not trying to address here).

    If your circumstances are not extraordinary or extenuating,  you have the choice to eliminate the stress of bill collectors, living paycheck to paycheck and worrying about making ends meet by taking baby steps towards systematically eliminating debt, living within your means and a instituting a methodical savings strategy. And you will get there. It won’t be easy, but you CAN make it happen. And that would be an awesome gift you give yourself and your family — much better than anything you drag home from the mall.

    If you are not there yet, or don’t know how to get there I encourage you to check out Dave Ramsey or Crown Financial Ministries. And then make an agreement with yourself and your family to work towards becoming debt free.

    Living the good life means living the debt-free life.

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    Eleven

    October 26, 2009

    So then, not too long ago we celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary.

    I went on line to look up what the traditional gifts are for eleven years and it says they are steel and fashion jewelry – basically power tools or cheap jewelry.  If they had checked with me they would know that it’s not steel or jewelry, it is picture frames.

    A few days prior, I happened to notice on the calendar that the big day was nigh, so I said, “Dude. Did you know that our anniversary is coming up?”

    “Yes,” he lied.

    “Really?” I queried.  “When is it?”

    “It is soon,” he said decisively, “Very. Soon.  It is….coming up.”

    So because both of us stink at event planning and having ducks in a row, on the day of, we separately snuck off to generic big box stores to buy each other thoughtful meaningful gifts to express our love; gifts that said, “You are the love of my life, you are my passion.”  And what better expresses that sentiment than picking up something from the clearance end cap at the very last minute?  And I really think that doing it this way is a greater expression of love just because of the creativity and challenge involved.

    Later that evening, we went out for dinner and when we got to the restaurant, we handed each other slightly used gift bags which may or may have not featured Rudolph.  As they say, it’s not the gift bag that counts, it’s the gift. Okay “they” don’t really say that, just me.

    In his bag was a photograph I had taken of Sean and him which I had stuck lovingly placed in a frame that I found at Target for $5.99. But it looked like it cost at least $7.99.

    In my bag was a digital picture frame which is now sitting on my desk with the past eleven years literally flashing before my eyes.

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    It’s Always About The Chocolate

    April 7, 2009

    When AD went out of town recently, he called me in the evening to see how my day went.

    When I asked him how his trip was going, he said fine and then went on to tell me about the hotel.

    “I got a suite,” he reported.

    “Really?” I said, “You got a chocolate on your pillow? Must be a nice hotel.”

    If you were to crack my head open and peek inside, you would not find gray matter, or air as many of you suspect, but Ghiradelli.

    The Two Templetons

    February 3, 2009

    For Sean and AD, parting is not sweet sorrow, but unthinkable agony.  Neither one of them can part with any thing – not a scrap of paper, not a shirt that no longer fits, not a broken McDonalds toy.

    If at any point in time, either of them laid hands upon an object, it now has sentimental value and must be kept forever.  I, on the other hand, would throw away my wedding photos if I thought they were taking up too much space. I am ruthless.

    This is sometimes a problem, for me, because for one thing I’m out numbered — that’s two pack rats to one normal person. The other thing is that a lot of stuff finds its way into our house and the house is just so big and at some point, some stuff has just got to go or there will be no room for my wedding photos.

    The telltale sign that AD is out of town is the mountain of trash at the curb.  It’s the only time I can throw something away. If he’s here, he’ll follow me out to the curb and sift through the bags and pull stuff out and try to sneak it back into the garage. And then we end up chasing each other up and down the driveway playing keep away with the trash.

    And we wonder why we don’t get invited to parties.

    In the end, we have to have one of those “discussions” where one of the parties, the one who went to college on a debate scholarship, uses jurisprudence skills and other unfair tactics to defend the merits of keeping a “perfectly good” three-legged table with two busted legs.  Then, the other party, the normal one, gives up in a fit of exasperation and says something like, “Fine! Keep your stupid three-legged table with the two busted legs. Now get outta my way before I bust the third leg over your head.” And then that party (the normal one) stomps back up the driveway.

    Now the upside to being married to a person who makes deep and abiding attachments, is the deep and abiding attachment part — he really believes in forever and is not shaken by threats of minor violence and stomping off, but merely amused.

    We All Have Our Own Gifts

    January 22, 2009

    I have the most awesome husband on the planet. He amazes me with the things he knows how to do, that I don’t know how to do. Like make money.  Money making is not my gift. Spending it is.

    Dude has a computer in his head where he can take any situation and put it on a mental spread sheet and calculate detailed plans with predictive outcomes along with mapping algorithms, sequencing strategies and data convergence points.  I don’t know what that means.  Sometimes I hear him say those words on the phone, so I just made up a nonsensical sentence. Another gift of mine. That doesn’t make money.

    Sometimes I look at him with awe and I say to him, “Dude, you impress me. I could never do what you do.”

    But I comfort myself with the fact that at least I can mentally calculate that I will need a towel when I get out of the shower.

    We all have our own gifts.

    Recycling As It Relates To Marriage

    October 20, 2008

    This month, AD and I will be celebrating our ten year wedding anniversary. 

    And dear brides, there are just some things about a guy that you can’t know going into a marriage. I plan to do a whole series on those things as a public service to brides everywhere, but today, I’ll give you just one.

    For example, AD has a grad degree and some work towards a post grad degree and he also holds multiple US patents for technology.  I tell you all that so that you’ll know that not only is he super hot, but he’s super smart. Yet?  Cannot figure out recycling.  This, I did not know going into this marriage.

    Trash and recycyling are not the same thing and therefore do not go in the same bin.  Trash goes in the trash can and recycleables do not go in the trash can.  Likewise, recycleables go in the recycle bin and trash does not go in the recycle bin.  Trash = trash can.  Recycleable = recycle bin. And never the twain shall meet.

    Perhaps because I am not burdened with a Y chromosome, I get this.   I would NEVER put a non-recycleable item in the recycle bin.  I would not be able to sleep.  Furthermore, I know that the recycle trucks come on Thursday morning, just has they have every Thursday morning for the past ten years.  For me, recyclling is not complicated.  Tax law is complicated.

    What AD did not know about me going into this marriage is that I would be so uptight about the recycling.

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    School Cancellation Policy

    May 16, 2008

    We are not a co-sleeping family.  It’s just not what works for us.  But I will admit there are times when I think it would be so very nice if we were.  There are times when I still want to hold my baby close to my heart as I did when he was an infant.  I want to look into his sleeping face and listen to him breathe.  These sweet and uncomplicated days, they are waning.  Too quickly they fly away into the star encrusted galaxy, into forever and beyond. 

     

    Lately, Sean will wake up about 5:30 and come get in bed with us.  The gentle jingle jingle of Mr. Monkey announces the arrival of our visitor.  He tip toes to Antique Daddy’s side of the bed. Without a word, he throws a leg over and then clambers over him before wriggling down under the covers between us and falling back to sleep.  Shortly thereafter, I usually get up and enjoy that first cup of coffee and 30 minutes of a peaceful, sound-effects free house.

     

    Wednesday morning, I sat at my desk with my coffee and listened to the rain patter against the kitchen window as I worked on a writing project. When I looked up again, I was astonished to see that it was nearly 8am.  The house was still dark.  A storm grumbled quietly off in the distance.  Sean should be up by this time, eating breakfast and getting dressed.  We would be late for school.  Again.  I made my way to my bedroom to get him up and going.

     

    In a tangle of sheets and legs and arms, they were folded into the other, like an unopened flower.  I stood there for several minutes, watching them sleep, their breathing, synchronized and as steady and even as the rain that was falling against the windows.  I wondered if their dreams intersected in some unknown and secret place. I thought of how they are linked together for all eternity through me.

     

    I could not make myself disturb them.  I did not want to send this moment hurling off into the galaxy.

     

    There will be plenty of school days in his life, but the days when he can nestle into the protective curve of his daddy’s arm and dream little boy dreams are too few now.

     

    I backed out of the room and quietly shut the door.

     

    School was cancelled that day due to snuggling.

    Stripes Are In

    March 24, 2008

    In keeping with my quest to provide Sean with a perfect Norman Rockwell childhood, we stopped by Taco Bueno on the way home from church after Easter services and picked up some party burritos for lunch.

    Who wants a ham and all the fixin’s served on the family china when you can have a burrito on paper? I figure if I keep his expectations low, it will make it easier on his future wife.

    Anyway, as our little tribe of three sat around the kitchen table quietly eating our pathetic Easter dinner of burritos off paper, without warning Sean turns to his father and says, “Daddy, I love you more than all the stripes on your shirt!”

    “Why thank you Sean,” Antique Daddy says looking down at his shirt.

    “In fact, I love you more than all the stripes on all the shirts in the world.”

    “Wow,” Antique Daddy says, “That is a lot.”

    Sean sets his burrito down and looks up at the ceiling. In little boy fashion, he has shifted his brain into overdrive thinking how he can escalate this unquantifiable quantity of love he wants to describe into the realm of the absurd.

    “All the shirts in the word – plus all the stripes on all the zebras in the world!”

    He grins wildly at his daddy and then returns to his burrito.

    When I am an old and brittle and I look back on the Easter that Sean was four, I won’t remember a big fancy dinner or a noisy table full of chattering people dressed in fancy clothes or overflowing Easter baskets. I won’t even remember burritos.

    I’ll remember that unquantifiable, unimaginable, unrestrained love is best described in stripes.

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