Category Archives: family

I Don’t Owe You Anything

At what point do we become adults? When we’re old enough to vote, drink alcohol legally, join the military, qualify for a mortgage, enter the workforce full time? That’s very much a “Yes and” question, so I apologise. It’s all of those times, plus many more, as becoming an adult is very much a process rather than an event. However, in one important aspect, we never become adults, as I’m about to explain.

I am as guilty of this as anyone, but no matter how old we are, our parents always see us as children. My son turned 16 this summer. He’s already 6 feet 1 tall and shows no sign of slowing down. He is a technological wizard, a damn sight smarter than his old man and a very grounded and aware human being. He has great potential and no doubt a shining future ahead of him. Likewise my daughter the athlete, equestrian, artist and musician. According to her history teacher she has a deep understanding of the state of the Ottoman Empire in the period leading up to World War One, which is more than I have, and I’m the history buff in the family.

However, I have a photo on my fridge of my son when he was less than two years old, wearing a blue and white hooped onesie and sticking his tongue out. I still see him as that toddler despite the fact that he now towers over me. He still has the same haircut, though. Even though my daughter is well on her way to womanhood I still see the three year old in the pink and purple mohair skirt her mother knitted for her.

My dad has the same attitude towards me. My recent financial difficulties are well explored elsewhere in this blog, so I won’t rehash them. Suffice it to say that there were times when my only option was to use my credit card. Lest you think I was throwing money away on luxuries and trinkets, think again. Moving house is a costly experience, I had presents to buy for my kids and ex girlfriend on birthdays and Christmas, as well as car insurance payments and other incidentals. When on a limited income, this stuff builds up no matter what you do, and once you factor in the effect of interest things start to get out of hand. After paying my other bills I found it very difficult to pay down the balance, resorting to paying the interest plus a nominal sum over that in a vain attempt to convince myself that I was actually paying it off.

I had come to realise that at some point even if I didn’t use the card at all I’d have difficulty paying anything more than the interest, at which point who knows what? It would be a mild understatement to say that this was weighing on my mind and causing me no little angst, as there was no way I could afford to pay off the card without leaving myself desperately short of funds on hand. To some extent I had accepted that this was going to be a permanent state of affairs and accepted the burden as a fact of life.

So far the situation had all the elements of a Greek tragedy until in true fashion, a Deus Ex Machina appeared and solved the problem in one fell swoop. If  you haven’t figured it out by now, it was my Dad. He really doesn’t like using credit cards, nor even debit cards, so he invariably brings a substantial amount of cash with him. One benefit of this is that he can simply hand me some cash to pay for groceries, etc and not have to deal with the issue. I’d discussed my finances with him as he was concerned about my situation and without me asking, either directly or indirectly, handed me enough cash to pay off my credit card in one fell swoop.

Yeah. My response exactly. I took said cash straight to the bank and payed off my credit card the next day. You can imagine what a great relief it was to be rid of the burden that had been pressing down on me for so long. I also took the precaution of changing all my payment details to my debit card so all my future Amazon, Etsy purchases etc. would come directly out of my bank account and prevent me from simply building up another unsustainable credit card debt. I’m happy to say that so far I haven’t used my credit card at all, and don’t intend to unless forced to by an emergency.

Not to go into details, but the sum in question was a four figured one, so the idea that I would trouser $150 rather than take my then girlfriend out to dinner for our anniversary is outrageously risible, see “Don’t Let Me Be Understood” for background.  I will admit to being humbled by my Dad’s action. I don’t like the fact that I earn so little and that I have to juggle to make ends meet, that I can’t pay my way as much as I’d like and that as a fully grown adult I have to depend on my father to bail me out.  Like I don’t have enough inadequacy issues as it is.

Don’t misunderstand me. My Dad made no big deal of the issue, because as far as he’s concerned, that’s what you do for your kids: you help them out whenever they need it. Being a parent is a lifelong commitment, as I’m learning on a daily basis. This doesn’t mean I’m flush with cash, but it does mean that I have a little more wiggle room when it comes to daily finances. I won’t be splurging on luxuries any time soon, but I may be able to treat myself to the occasional grocery purchase above and beyond the bare necessities.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Credit Card Debt, family, parenting, Personal finances

Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.

My Dad usually visits from mid June until Late July so he can be here for the kid’s birthdays, however this year his medical appointments meant a later than usual visit. This wasn’t a big deal, as I’d much rather see him than not, obviously, but this meant that his visit would overlap with our fifth anniversary, which my sweetie and I had intended to celebrate with a trip out of town, as is our tradition. Not to fear, though, as I arranged for him to spend several days with the kids and their mum, giving him extra time with them, even though the school year had started and they would be out of the house most of the day.

After some confusion, we found a place, made arrangements and were anticipating a quiet weekend in a cabin with a great water view. So far, so good ( that’s called foreshadowing, folks). We planned to be back in the city on the actual night of our anniversary and I fully expected that as usual we would go out to any one of several very nice restaurants for a meal as eye – wateringly  expensive as it would be delicious. In light of this, my dad gave me $150 to put towards the cost of the meal as a way of assuaging his guilt over forgetting my sweetie’s birthday. A very nice gesture, and not one I expected, although characteristic of him as he regards birthdays as something he should remember, and the two of them get on very well.

I trousered said cash in the knowledge that I’d be able to cover the cost of the meal myself, and would explain all when the bill arrived, the surprise winning my Dad some bonus points into the bargain. We had a relaxing trip and duly headed back to the city on the Tuesday morning. We stopped for lunch on the way home and I asked my Sweetie what she wanted to do about dinner expecting to hear the name of some swanky eatery. Imagine my shock and surprise when she said that she wanted to eat in. Naturally I was disappointed, but didn’t want to force the issue, so I let it go and decided that I would put the cash aside and that I’d take her out to dinner the next time I was in the city.

We had a quiet night in and I headed off to work the next morning thinking nothing more of the situation, apart from a sense of disappointment at not having had the opportunity to dress up for an important night out.

Fast – forward to the last weekend of my Dad’s trip. He announced that he’d like to take us out for one last meal as a way of saying thank you for hosting him, and providing a neat end to his trip. I knew what was coming, but held my counsel. Dad is not a great lover of Mexican cuisine, largely because he doesn’t like rice and never developed a taste for spicy foods. Bear in mind that he grew up in a culture, time and place where turnips were considered a spice! There are no shortage of Mexican restaurants around here and we’d visited quite a few during his trip, so he was pretty much burned out on the idea

He wanted to revisit a restaurant in a nearby town to which my ex had taken him. Sure. He would be picking up the tab for all five of us, so he most certainly got to decide where we ate. This put my sweetie’s nose out of joint as she doesn’t like the town in question, being very sensitive to her surroundings and despising the very thought of malls, be they mini, strip or indoor. She also hates anything that appears “Corporate” even though we’d be visiting a standalone restaurant.

I’d told my Dad about not having a celebratory dinner and my intention to have one at the next opportunity, and during our dinner he made one of his signature stupid jokes, saying that I hadn’t taken my sweetie out to dinner so I could pocket the cash for my own use. Stony silence. Pluto at night cold. Nice one Dad. Seriously, very, very well done. Needless to say, nothing I said made any difference and the funereal atmosphere on the way home persisted. Dad went straight to bed, realising the damage he’d done. My sweetie sat at the table studiously ignoring me as my Son gave her some technical tips regarding her laptop.

Just after my son retired for the night she told me that she was heading home in a tone that left no room for debate and with a look that made Medusa’s stare look like a major come – on. Her final words before driving away were “We’ll talk about this later” in a tone that was all threat.

Not the best way to end an evening by any means, but there was nothing I could do to make her see reality. I explained what he’d done to my Dad the next morning, and he was suitably abashed. Of course, I was very angry with him, but kept a lid on it as his words hadn’t been malicious. On the way to the airport two days later I asked him to write to my sweetie once he got home and explain, but put little faith in it doing much good. With this in mind I sent my sweetie a text asking if we could talk, and the next day we had a very tense conversation during which she steadfastly refused to believe my explanation over my Dad’s joke. I have to say that this has been par for the course over the last few months, as she’s been willing to believe the worst about me and has been drawing away for some time.

Let me give you a brief example: I went over to her place a little while before my Dad arrived and found her in bed. Of course, I joined her, got comfortable and in the way you do, started to make my intentions and affections clear. Her reaction? “I haven’t seen you for two weeks. Sex is the last thing on my mind”. Direct quote. WTF? I mean, seriously, WTF? That put a veil over the weekend, I can tell you.

Anyway, to cut to the chase, she told me that we would be “On a break” , meaning that we would have no communication until she had decided whether the pluses of dating me outweigh the minuses. Well, to quote Agnes Brown, most famous creation of Irish comedian Brendan O’Carroll, “That’s nice”. If you’ve ever seen “Mrs. Brown’s Boys” you’ll know exactly what that means.

I went through the five stages of grief pretty quickly considering we’ve been together for five years, and I have come to the conclusion that no matter her decision, we’re done. I’m done. I’ve had enough of making all the effort, always being the one to make compromises, do all the commuting so we can spend time together, putting up with all her proscriptions, dislikes and biases, always having to justify working retail and my work schedule.

So with that in mind I’ve reactivated my online dating profiles and am once more back in the pool, as it were. I’ve already had some promising responses and had a first meeting with someone last night. I have also met someone through my social group and I have to say that I’m very taken with her, and even though I read subtext about as well as I read ancient Greek, I think she likes me. This particular situation, however is one that I will be approaching very cautiously as I think it will take time and a subtle approach to avoid messing up in my usual spectacular manner.

Anyway, that’s how things stand. I have yet to hear any sort of response from my now former sweetie, so I will just have to wait and see. I wonder which of us will be more surprised by our next conversation.

Leave a comment

Filed under dating, family, personal relationships

Ebony And Ivory

The great Alexei Sayle once had a routine that went along the lines of: ” I heard this bloke on the radio the other day going on about how we could all live together in perfect racial harmony on piano keyboards. Well, I’m telling you, pianos aren’t going to solve nothing, no way, no how”

That’s as might be, but late last year a piano was involved in something pretty darn special. Flash back about seven years: For reasons I neither remember nor understand, my then wife and I bought a keyboard at Costco as a Christmas present for the kids. It came loaded with tunes that they could play by simply following along with the book, and I considered it a waste of money, to be honest. The kids and their mum both had some fun with it, and it stayed at that.

However, as my daughter’s interest in all things creative grew, she took up playing the guitar, and began paying more than passing interest in the keyboard, apparently just playing along and following the instructions. She seemed to be doing pretty well, when as luck would have it, the son of the woman who made her spare land available for a community P-Patch (allotment) turned out to be a genius, who later on was accepted into Julliard at 17. My daughter took lessons from him on an informal basis, but eventually he was no longer an option, so her mother signed her up for lessons with a local teacher.

Just before Christmas we were informed that the pupils would be giving a recital for the benefit of the parents, so on the appointed night, I hurried to the teacher’s home and took a seat in the studio. The kids in my daughters’ group ranged from about five to thirteen years old, and as you can imagine, all parents waited with bated breath for their own child to perform. I, of course, was no different, and I have to say that heavily biased as I am, she gave a wonderful performance, playing 5 short pieces. I don’t have the sheet available, but they were not easy pieces, and as she had made the effort to dress for the occasion, my daughter looked every inch the professional musician. As we were departing, her teacher commented on how well she had performed, despite being extremely nervous – apparently one of her legs was shaking almost uncontrollably with nerves during the entire performance. I hadn’t realised this, as my daughter is one of the most confident and self – assured people I know. Of course, I congratulated my daughter profusely, as I found her playing to be flawless, but as I say, I’m not exactly the most unbiased of listeners.

The kicker came when her teacher said that she would like her to perform again, two days later at another of the recital sessions. At this later performance I was seated so I could see her hands and was amazed at the level of dexterity and professionalism she showed. I know this is a dreadfully overused cliche, but her fingers just danced across the keyboard, and I have to admit choking up with pride that she could play with such flourish and elan.

Just to push things even further, a couple of weeks later my ex and I received an email from her teacher saying that she would like my daughter to take an exam from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto some time in May. Bloody hell! This is the institution attended by Oscar Peterson and Glenn Gould!

Lest you think I’m getting ahead of myself, this exam is a test of both ability and progress, and in no way means that she is headed north of the border for schooling, but if she’s good enough to take one of their exams, her teacher must think very highly of her indeed. I honestly don’t know what to make of it all. I’ve always known that she is highly talented and extremely creative, but where the hell she gets it from is beyond me, I mean, I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, even if I use both hands. One thing of which I am certain, though is that whatever path she takes, she’s always going to go straight to the top. I’m also certain that I’ll never hear her repeat one of Eric Morecambes’ more famous catchphrases, used when performing one of his musical pieces: “I am playing all the right notes. Just not necessarily in the right order.”

Leave a comment

Filed under child rearing, family, Live music, Music

Most Messed Up.

Now that I am only working half time, and most of that from home, you would imagine that I have plenty of time to take care of all those little household tasks that require attention. Well, imagine again. It would not be unreasonable to think that given the amount of free time on my hands, I should be living in a home that resembles the model unit at a new residential development. Once again, you’d be wrong to think that. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I don’t live in a dumpster, but for some reason, my living space is less than immaculate.

“Why is this?” I hear you ask. Well, actually, I don’t because not only don’t you read this blog, but my hearing is pretty much fucked, but I’m going to answer anyway. But first, let me say that I understand why so many single guys live like Neanderthals. Buying furniture, bedding, curtains, etc. is a harrowing ordeal. Going to Bed, Bath and Beyond is a nightmare that no single man should ever have to endure. The contact high from the Oestrogen pushes me two cup sizes higher. And that’s just in the walk from the car to the entrance.

Still, my travails in setting up a livable environment are well documented and need no repetition, so fast forward to the present. My Living Room is small, but serves the purpose and I try to avoid eating on the Futon as much as possible – late night snacking whilst watching a film and drinking excepted- but still, there  seems to be a permanent debris field of crumbs and random food particles on the rug no matter how careful I try to be. However, I have very little motivation in breaking out the stick vac. and clean up, partly because I know that in a couple of days the mess will return. Inevitably I will stand barefoot on some particularly sharp shard and will admit defeat by plugging in the vacuum.

I think part of the problem is that I have no separate kitchen, just a slightly larger than usual galley kitchen separated from the living room by the strip that covers the border between the carpet tiles and the lino, hence crumbs and general detritus have no significant barrier to migration. Actually, if I didn’t know better, I’d think that someone was breaking into the house at night and deliberately scattering crumbs on my floor. Intermittently I will do a proper clean of the house, removing everything from the kitchen counter and giving every hard surface a deep cleaning.

Until the 4th of July weekend I had deliberately avoided dealing with my son’s bedroom. I used to give each of the kids $5 for helping out around the house, which included keeping their rooms within accepted Western standards of hygiene, but as the cash has dried up, this went the way of all flesh. They still make their beds, and my son did gather up a lot of garbage, but the real horror lurked beneath his bed. He has a habit of eating whilst lying on his bed, and the fallout goes everywhere. A few months back I moved the bed away from the wall to find the top of the skirting board with crumbs so old they required carbon dating.

As Independence Day is not really my thing, I steeled my nerves, girded my loins and tidied the back room. Oh, and as my people gave you July 4 as a holiday, you’re welcome. Back in the day, the area beneath a teenage boy’s bed was the favourite hiding place for all manner of one handed reading, but at least the invention of the iPad and laptop have removed this horror from parent’s lives, so at least I can be thankful for that. It required the use of several wet paper towels to remove the mess, and I almost filled the dust container of the vacuum with assorted matter from the carpet, but at least I didn’t have to dispose of any questionable publications with their pages stuck together.

My daughter uses my room when with me, so I had less to deal with, although the pile of riding magazines on her desk almost required crampons and a belaying line to surmount. She’s a talented artist who seems to regard the surface of her desk as a blank canvas, so it took a gag – inducing amount of 409 to return the worktop to its original white. It didn’t occur to me until much later that I could have removed the top and sold it as a recently discovered Jackson Pollock original. Damn. That would have solved my financial problems.

Ah well, lesson learned.  I reckon I should put more effort into cleaning up the place and removing as much clutter and extraneous matter as possible. Despite downsizing as much as possible ( see “The Boxer and “Space Oddity”), I have acquired a lot of crap I don’t really need. A result of the OCD and pack rat mentality, I suppose. At least if I do, it will mean less stuff to deal with when I’m homeless.

Leave a comment

Filed under family, Uncategorized

Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?

I’m now entering what Sir Alex Ferguson, one time manager of Manchester United Football Club once famously described as “Squeaky bum time”. You see, ever since early February, when my hours were cut in half, I’ve been living on borrowed financial time. When working 40 hours a week I was earning enough to cover my bills and leave a bit over, sometimes, at the end of the month. Not so now. I did a quick calculation and as things stand at present, I will have to move out at the end of April.

I’m applying for jobs like crazy to no avail, I’ve sold my wedding and eternity rings, cashed in all my change and cut my spending to a bare minimum. I’m living off what I have in the fridge and pantry and with the exception of essentials, only  buy food for the kids. All this is not really going to help, but what are my options? I will have to find some way of paying for a storage unit and keeping gas in the car, but how long can I keep that up? My job contract runs through August, but if I’m living in the car – which is a very real possibility – how long can I keep it? If I lose the job, the situation becomes exponentially worse, and I don’t see someone like me lasting long on the streets.

I’m 52 and in fairly reasonable health, but without my meds, I’m sure to go into a tailspin. Those of you who knew me at school will attest to the fact that the un-medicated NWSD is not the kind of person who can cope, even when well fed and housed.To make matters worse, it means that I will lose contact with the kids. I can’t spend time with them if all I have is the car and nowhere to take them. I won’t have access to laundry or washing facilities, and having worked downtown, I know how quickly people deteriorate without access to basic services.

Unless I can find a job by the end of March, I am royally fucked. Seriously, this is an existential crisis that shows no sign of resolving itself in any kind of positive way. I don’t have a social network on which I can fall back, and I’m by no means certain that my sweetie will be willing to take me in until I can get a decent paying job and get a place of my own again. I would hope that she would, but if she took me in and I didn’t find a job before the money ran out, there’s no way she could support both of us on her wages.

Just writing this is making me depressed, so I am going to sign off now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under employment, family, mental health, unemployment

Father And Son

Shocking revelation number 873. Fatherhood is a hard job. Really.Fucking.Hard. Furthermore, it is a job without much gratitude or even acknowledgement. I heard recently on NPR’s “Science Friday” that researchers studying parenting don’t even consider fathers. This I know to be true. We used to get “Parenting” magazine, which may as well be called “Mothering” magazine for all the attention it pays to those of us with external genitalia. When it does deign to grace us with it’s attention, fathers are portrayed either as hapless boobs unable to remember which end gets diapered or slavering beasts whose thoughts return to boobs five minutes after returning from the Maternity Ward.

Truth is, fatherhood is a lifetime commitment. This was brought home to me recently when my father arrived for a five week vacation, his first in two years. Medical issues kept him in Blighty last year, so he had been anticipating this trip for quite some time and was ready to kick back and spread his favour far and wide. Let me state up front that I love my dad and now that I am a father too, I have developed a deep appreciation for all that he and my mum did for me over the years.  I didn’t realise fully  at the time, but he sacrificed a lot for us and made darn sure we were financially secure and well provided for materially.

He manages pretty well on his retirement income and was able to put aside enough funds to cover his expenses while visiting  and made no bones about his desire to “Take care of things”.

This is where it got weird. We all remember our youth when our parents took care of all our financial needs and had their hands in their pockets more often than not, but imagine how it feels to be fifty and be in that situation. Dad made no bones about paying for everything and anything as his way of balancing out the financial support he extended to my brother over the last two years, but still, it felt weird to be in Costco buying food and beer for my birthday party (see “Happy Birthday”) and have my dad hand me  a wallet that was more than capable of choking any donkey within 20 miles.

In fact, I didn’t need to take any money out of the bank for the entire five weeks of his visit and the only time I was allowed to pay for anything was the trip to see his first ever MLS game and his last night when my sweetie and I took him to a restaurant for a farewell meal, and only then because I had made it quite clear to him that those events were non-negotiable.

Some things just don’t change. He still sees me as a teenager, despite the fact that I’m most clearly not, and I know how he feels. My son just turned 12 and is one of the most intelligent and caring people I have ever met, yet I still see him as a wide eyed two year old fascinated by his first sight of falling snow and  can’t believe that the tiny bundle of pink we brought home from the hospital nine years ago is already turning into a young woman.

Damn, but that last paragraph made me tear up, and I can feel the years slipping away from me. I only hope that no matter how old we are, that my kids stay my kids and that I can be as good a dad to them as mine has been to me.

Leave a comment

Filed under family, personal relationships

Happy Birthday

I celebrated a birthday recently. Nothing unusual in that you may say, but it is the first one I’ve celebrated in a decade. My daughter was born on my 41st birthday, and as you can imagine, one can’t compete with that, so whilst we all had much fun decorating the garden in pink and purple, setting up Princess Pavilions, organising craft activities, inflating bouncy castles and balloons, my birthday was acknowledged begrudgingly, if at all by my Ex mentioning it in passing as the birthday party morphed into a late evening barbeque with our friends.

Lest you all reach for the world’s smallest violin, I’m not invoking victimhood. I love my daughter and will always put her first, but it’s nice to have some recognition of having survived yet another lap around Sol.

This year was different. I hit the big five-oh and my sweetie wanted to make sure that the event didn’t go unremarked. I drew up a list and she sent out emails and made all the arrangements whilst I remained in blissful ignorance ( “No change there” I hear you say) until the day.

This is where it got weird. I usually spend the day shifting tables, setting up and generally making sure everything is organised whilst my Ex worked her way down her list of tasks. “A woman’s work is never delegated” as Basil Fawlty once remarked, so it was no wonder that I felt more than a little guilt sitting in her kitchen while she busied herself with the final preparations, insisting that I relax. Seeing how much energy she was putting into the event made me realise just how much effort I had expended in the past and how much I was treated like a servant in my own home.

Of course the evening was a great success, with much drinking, eating and conversation, and I can’t begin to explain how nice it was to be able to sit down and just enjoy an entire afternoon without having to run inside to deal with some minor chore every ten minutes. The decorations were overwhelmingly red and white and my sweetie had even gone to the great extravagance of buying Liverpool Football Club paper plates, cups and hats for the occasion. The cake was an amazing rendition of the Liverpool crest, and I just couldn’t believe that she had gone to so much effort on my behalf.

Then of course, came the gifts which fell into two categories. The useful ones were incredibly on target and much appreciated. The gag gifts also had a lot of thought behind them, including the pack of replacement pencil leads (think about that one),and the place mat with my head stuck onto the bodies of assorted dinosaurs. I was truly humbled by the amount of effort and thought that had gone into each gift. My friends are a truly wonderful bunch, and to be the centre of their attention humbled me in a way that I have rarely experienced.

Leave a comment

Filed under family, friends, lifestyle