Something Different: Confessions of the Evil Stepdad, Football Edition

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“And now for something completely different…” – Monty Python

As those of you have read BourbonAndVinyl before likely know, we’re very focused on music here. One might easily say we’re “overly” or “maniacally” focused on music here… The Rock Chick thinks I have a problem, but hey, that’s just marriage talking. On occasion, like Monty Python, I do like to focus on something completely different… (Humor: The Key To A Strong Marriage – Burt Reynold’s “Sharky’s Machine”). And since the dreaded holidays are bearing down on me, my thoughts have turned to family.

The holidays usually bring my thoughts around to family, something I’d always neglected in my youth, but a lot of this was brought on by the Rock Chick’s annual Christmas Party that we hosted last night. I call it the Rock Chick’s Christmas Party because despite it being held at my home, I don’t do a whole lot to help in preparation… (cue the Grinch music, “He’s a mean one….”). My oldest, dearest friend Douglas was unable to attend due to an illness in his family, which only seemed to reinforce my thoughts about my own family. And yes, Rich was at our Christmas party last night and I preempted his inevitable request for Oasis by playing them, even before he got here. I think we burned through their whole catalog and Liam Gallagher’s new album… Anything for the guests. The holidays are for giving! The Rock Chick is still sleeping it off on the couch…

My relationship with my family has always been complicated, even before I became a long-feathered-hair, Van Halen-blasting, teen miscreant. Perhaps the most complicated relationship for me was the one I had/have with my father. My epic battles with my father were the stuff of a Springsteen song… Adam did indeed raise a Cain. But long before all of that, back when I was but a whelp, my father and I did have something in common… For better or worse, I was raised in the midwest, in Kansas City. It just so happens there’s an NFL franchise located here, the Kansas City Chiefs. My father has been a season ticket holder for the Chiefs since their stadium, Arrowhead, opened in 1972. We strictly avoided the living room when my father was watching the Chiefs on television as there were shouts, screams, swearing, invectives to the football Gods, gnashing of teeth, rending of clothes and general bad vibes coming from the TV room in those days… By 1974 the Chiefs had gotten slow and old and frankly, terrible. It was a different game back then…. Lenny “the Cool” Dawson, our quarterback (the most critical position) was 39 and looked 59, probably too many cigarettes and Fanta sodas…

Despite all that anger coming from the living room, for some reason, as a frail young child (I probably weighed 80 lbs and 10 of that was hair, even then), I made the crazy choice to cross the threshold of the living room, into the “crazy fan zone” and sit down on the couch across from “my father’s chair” (that no one was allowed to sit in, save him) and watch football in the presence of the crazy demon. I even had the temerity to ask him about the rules of the game (what’s this crazy “point after kick” thing). It was like Ulysses crossing into Hades to talk to the ghosts of his fallen comrades from the Trojan War, it took some real curiosity and stones to do so. My brother thought I was “nuts” and stayed upstairs in his room, listening to Beatles and Doors albums, but then again, he’s always been smarter than I am. The adrenalin of celebrating when the Chiefs (rarely) did something good, or lamenting when they did something bad was too intoxicating for me, even at my tender age. Pull the bar down firmly over your knees and enjoy the ride…

It was in that ancient year 1974 that the bottom fell out of the Chiefs’ franchise. They fell to 5-9 on the year (they only played 14 games back then) which cost the only head coach they’d known, Hank Stram to be fired. By December, it was fucking cold and even my father, a life long salesman, couldn’t sell people on going out to Arrowhead and attending   a Chiefs’ game. It was on a cold and dreary day that December the door of my bedroom opened, without the doorknob even turning and there was the (then) giant figure of my father standing in the doorway of my room. He always burst into my room unexpectedly, he just smashed the door open, I don’t think he even gave a thought to knocking, like he thought he’d catch me smoking a Camel or something. He looked around my room, with his usual air of suspicion, and said, “Put on something warm, you’re coming to the game with me today….” Apparently he’d noticed me sitting on the couch across from him in the living room during games, which surprised me, he usually never acknowledged my presence… This was going to be great! My first actual Chiefs game!

It was freezing. We lost to the Oakland Raiders, our arch-nemesis, 7-6, which is like watching a zero-zero soccer game. I didn’t have any cold weather gear, my father had neglected to think about that so I spent halftime and most of the third quarter in the heated men’s room, which nowadays is unthinkable. A week later, it was even colder and he took me to the Chiefs-Vikings game and we got our ass handed to us 35-15… When I wasn’t warming up in the bathroom, I sat to my father’s right, teeth chattering, wondering why I’d gotten on this train. But that was it, despite the cold, I was hooked. From then on, I was always at my father’s right… well, to be truthful, only during the shitty, cold games to begin with, but pretty soon, it was just an afternoon with him and I. Even during those awful, feuding, teenage years, there was this unofficial cease-fire that would happen on Sunday afternoons when we watched the Chiefs… where we would just go out and share our mutual love of football. And, while the Chiefs did suck, at least we got to see some great players from other teams… I saw Walter Payton, Earl Campbell and so many other great players just put up highlight reel games against the hapless Chiefs… For me, it was more than the game, it was a peaceful afternoon with my old man. Being a Chiefs fan was our shared family curse.

In my 20’s, I took a job for a large corporation and in their infinite wisdom, they sent me to Arkansas, my years in exile. I hated it there and one day, up and quit. My father went into mourning. The usual rage and despair he vented on the Chiefs was suddenly directed toward me. I got home in February, with a U-Haul, no money and no prospects. He didn’t speak to me until that following September. He burst into the room I’d moved back into, still without a knock, and said, “We leave at 10 am tomorrow….be ready…” and I realized, we were going to the Chiefs game. I resumed my seat at my father’s right hand. It took years, but sitting at those games with him finally healed a lot of bad shit between us…not all of it, but enough.

It was after the turn of the new millennium that I met the Rock Chick. It was a wild, dizzy, intoxicating, complicated love… With her came her daughter, a package deal. Rock Chick Mini-Me was a young whelp herself when I met her… And like me before her she had a complicated relationship with her stepfather. For years her mother and she had lived together in this “girl’s club house,” no boys allowed… And suddenly there was this interloper, me. This crazy dude with all these things called “albums” that she wasn’t allowed touch. In my defense, if she didn’t know what they were, she shouldn’t be mucking about with my records… but I digress. My stepdaughter loved her father and any sign of affection or allegiance to me was a betrayal of that love… it’s complicated when you’re a child of a broken marriage. Our relationship was, to say the least, strained… There were times when I’d pick her up from school and she’d turn her body completely away from me. She utterly despised me or did a great impersonation of someone who did… I wasn’t the most, ahem, mature person myself… I like to say my stepdaughter and I grew up together. I kept trying to develop a relationship with this child and nothing was working. The Rock Chick kept encouraging me to “get in there and be nice!” It was worse than dealing with my father during a Chiefs’ game.

Soon it became common knowledge in my house that avoiding the living room during Chiefs’ games was wise… I was in there watching the game and often there would be shouts, screams, swearing, invectives to the football Gods, gnashing of teeth, rending of clothes, thrown hats and empty beer cans and general bad vibes coming from the evil stepdad when he was watching the Chiefs… My stepdaughter once asked me, “what’s the big deal about football?” I told her, “there are two things you should always know something about or boys will think you’re dumb… music (always know who sings what) and football (you never want to be the girl who says, look they kicked a home run).” Which, admittedly is stupid advice, but it’s all I had to go on at that time. By that stage of the game, I’d largely given up on forming any kind of relationship with this child. I thought to myself, I’ll grit my teeth until this person turns 18 and goes off to college… I love her mother that much, I can do that standing on my head…

And then something magic happened… One Sunday, while I was watching the Chiefs, probably fucking up another game, this young girl, no more than 70 pounds and 10 of that was actually hair,  had the guts to cross the threshold into the “crazy fan zone…” I looked over and out of nowhere (I hadn’t noticed, I was so caught up in the game) my stepdaughter was sitting next to me on the couch. She even had the temerity to ask me a few questions about the game…. “what’s this crazy ‘point after kick’ thing…” Suddenly, I wasn’t watching games alone on Sundays any more. I was watching with my stepdaughter seated next to me, instructing her about the finer points of the game. She’d ask all manner of questions. I don’t think that watching football was what turned my relationship with her around but I did notice she wasn’t turning her body completely away from me in the car any more…

It was during one of these games, sitting on the couch, when she asked me, very timidly, “Do you think I’d ever be able to go with you to a Chiefs’ game?” She had noticed that my father would always come by and we’d go to the game together, all clad in red… “Uh, well, honey, you realize that would mean spending like, six hours, your whole Sunday with just me?” This was a girl who once shouted at me from the deep end of a pool, “I hate you.” I wasn’t prepared for this… She smiled and said, “Yeah, I know, I think it’d be great…” I called my father, who I like to call, The Hard Guy, and said, my stepdaughter would like to go to the game this week. Now, my father is not an emotional man, but he knew the struggles I’d had with this child. “My God, man, does she realize that entails spending six hours alone with you? Even I struggle with that….” Ah, dad. I replied in the affirmative, yes, she seems to realize that. I can’t remember exactly what was said, but I remember my dad very emotionally going into this Gettysburg Address type speech about the passing of the Chiefs’ torch through the generations that came out of nowhere, like his appearances in my room as a child. He was thrilled. Although, to this day I think it’s just because he wanted to get out of going to the game and spending six hours with me…in his defense it was going to be cold that weekend.

And so, the following Sunday, the majesty and splendor of a big-time sporting event unfolded before my daughter’s very eyes. It was cold. She spent half time in the heated ladies room. But that was it… she was hooked… and whenever possible, like this upcoming Christmas Eve, she’ll be sitting where she belongs, at my right hand, watching the Chiefs game… The family Chiefs’ curse and the torch has been passed. Win, lose or draw for my Chiefs, it’s already a win for me.

Happy Holiday Folks!

 

Humor: My In-Laws And My Wedding Reception

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As I’ve chronicled multiple times over the course of B&V, I was single until my late 30s. I’d share more of those stories but those records are sealed until 25 years after everyone I’ve ever known is dead. I was slowly getting my act together and turning away from my life as a “rounder” when I met the Rock Chick. She had a daughter and was cautious around me or any other newcomer at first, so things developed slowly. Eventually she realized I was harmless and things began to progress a little more quickly. Obviously, it’s more complicated than that, but that’s another story.

As I got to know her, I realized the Rock Chick had a much different childhood than I did. I was the product of a solid, Catholic marriage. My parents are together to this day and seem to like each other. I grew up in the suburbs of Kansas City in what I now refer to as “the bubble” of Johnson County, Kansas. While I would never describe my childhood as idyllic (the struggle is real, folks), from the outside looking in, it wasn’t exactly a difficult upbringing.

My wife grew up in the country, on a farm, in a very small town. I think describing her childhood home as a “town” is actually generous. It was more of a wide stretch in the road. She grew up in the shadow of Kansas City but was far enough away it must have seemed light years away from civilization. At least she could pick up the local radio stations and got a good grounding in rock and roll music. Her parents for many reasons, alas, didn’t stay together. She is, what is now called, a product of divorce.

After the split, as is common, the two warring parties never seemed to get along. The Rock Chick’s mother Rose rarely had anything nice to say about her father Bud and Bud rarely said anything at all about Rose. After the Rock Chick moved to Kansas City her parents never spoke again. Child support was the only thing they spoke about anyway. Soon Rose decided to move out West with her son, my wife’s half brother, to live amongst the Grand Tetons. We rarely see my mother-in-law. On one of her brief visits to Kansas City, for a family reunion, I found myself chatting with Rose. I was hitting the vodka lemonades pretty hard, but I still remember the conversation. We were looking at a wall of family photographs from the past, and she commented, out of nowhere, “I always wanted to be a movie star.” I smiled and responded, “That’s cool… were you in drama, were you interested in acting?” Her response was in my mind, telling, “Oh, no, I just wanted to be a movie star.” Hmmm… Rose was apparently Kim Kardashian before there was a Kim Kardashian.

As a side note, this was the last family reunion my wife subjected me to. I don’t even attend my own family’s reunions, thus is my disdain for the entire institution. At one point, I was talking to her uncle who it seems was trying to win a Wild Bill Hickok look alike contest. He had the hat, matted hair, big mustache and looked frankly, dirty. The Rock Chick, sensing I was miserable, ran up and asked if I’d like another drink, a curious strategy as I was already half in the bag. Her uncle said to me, “I wish I had a pretty woman bringing me drinks…” I smiled and said, in a low, serious tone, “If you really want that, may I suggest a shower, shaving off that mustache and perhaps a wardrobe re-do…” Needless to say, we haven’t been invited back but I digress.

When I first met Bud, my father in law, I was a tad intimidated. He asked me two questions in order to determine whether I was ok or not. Did I like beer, which I passed with flying colors, yes of course. Secondly, was I a Republican? I think I failed that one. Regardless, he seemed to like me almost instantly. He was one of the most charismatic people I’ve ever met. We would sit around his cluttered kitchen table for hours, consuming more beer than I should have with an hour drive home ahead of me and talked about subjects grand and small. Eventually I got to the point where I’d go down to see him by myself. It was on one of those trips I asked him for his daughter’s hand in marriage. “Well now, she’s the apple of my eye. If you ever hurt her, I’m a marksman and I can kill you and you wouldn’t even hear the bullet coming…” With that he shook my hand and the deal was done.

A while later, I actually went through with it and married the Rock Chick. It was a destination wedding so we had a reception two weeks after that back home. It was a wonderful evening. I can still remember dancing with my new bride for the first time to Rod Stewart’s version of Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately.” There were many people who believed I didn’t even want to be happy, so actually being happy was quite a surprise to everyone involved.

There was some tension at the reception however. Both of my wife’s parents were slated to be there. They hadn’t been in the same room in decades. We sat Rose and her half brother on one side of us, on the Rock Chick’s side. And, to be safe we sat Bud and his date (the man got the ladies) on my side. This may have been a tactical error as he had me running to the bar all night to refresh his beer… wait a minute whose wedding reception is this? The tension we’d felt at the beginning of the evening quickly dissipated as the Rock Chick’s parents never so much as spoke. As far as I could tell they didn’t even look at each other.

The next day, as is her usual pattern, Rose said, out loud, “Well, I’m not sure what happened to your father. He’s clearly daft. He looked right at me, and it was as if he didn’t even know who I was. It’s like he didn’t even recognize me, We were married for over ten years. I really think he’s losing it.” Well, obviously this didn’t set well with me. I am clearly on Team Bud. I cut her off in mid rant. “You can say whatever you want about me, but that’s ridiculous. He’s a good man, and he’s not daft.” I was angry and indignant. This pattern of her bad mouthing him was ending on my watch. I went full on Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” mode in defense of Bud. I had hoped to put this feud to rest.

About a month later, I drove down on my own to see Bud and drink some beer. Soon the subject of the reception came up. I had been ready for him to bring it up and had promised myself if he maligned his ex-wife, I would defend her as well. It was only fair. He leaned over the cluttered kitchen table and got a serious look on his face. “I tell you what, man, at that reception of yours, I must be daft. I looked right at Rose and didn’t know who it was. I didn’t even recognize her. We were married a long time…but I didn’t figure out it was her until I was on my way home.”

Well, shit.

So much for my spirited defense of my father-in-law. What have we learned… sometimes people who have known each other a long time, know each other better than I think. Oh, and never jump in the middle of a feud, ever. And last but not least, maybe these two belonged together after all…

Humor: Bob Marley’s “Legend” and the Confessions of the Evil Stepdad

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Through a series of bad decisions and misadventures, that I wouldn’t trade for anything, I ended up being single into my thirties. It got to the point where my parents were beginning to drop hints at the holidays about their support of any alternative lifestyles I might be considering or concealing. Meanwhile my buddy Tom and I were setting new record lows in depravity amongst the female population of our hometown. My parents were so concerned that they’d started to come downtown to my neighborhood to eat lunch with me on the weekends because they thought I might be “at risk.” What exactly I was at risk for was never articulated…

My philosophy toward children in those days was fairly straight forward. To paraphrase the classic movie “Barfly,” when it came to children, “I just sort of feel better when they’re not around.” I had never had a yearning to be a parent like my best friend Doug who I was convinced could carry a baby to term even though he lacks a uterus. I seemed content careening from one bad relationship to another. I ping ponged between pursuing unattainable women with no interest in me to dating women who dug me that I had absolutely no interest in. I never wanted to join a club who would have me as a member, as the saying goes. It was an unhealthy pattern, but hey, it was my pattern and I was comfortable with it. I lived contentedly alone save for my rather large collection of vinyl records.

And so, as it tends to do, the Universe sent me a test in the form of the woman of my dreams. She was smart, funny, articulate, a well propertied woman, the most beautiful woman I’d ever known and most importantly she liked music. She really liked music. So much so that early on I dubbed her, “The Rock Chick.” How was this a test? Stop the press: The Rock Chick had a daughter. This was a real Rubik’s Cube situation for me, the man-child, to suddenly be regularly in the presence of an actual child. I quickly realized I was going to have to moderate my use of the word “fuck,” which was too bad as it was my favorite word. Until meeting my step-daughter, I thought the world revolved around me. My step-daughter at the time was under the misguided idea that the world revolved around her. The immovable object had met the unstoppable force. I couldn’t help but think, this is going to be difficult. And let me tell you, it was.

The first time my stepdaughter came into my apartment for a Christmas party I was having… she wandered up next to me at the stereo, where I was DJ’ing… and picked up the sleeve to one of my LPs and said, “What is this?” I couldn’t help but think, in a very judge-y way, “You don’t know what an album is, my God girl, your mother has failed you.” I merely told her it was a record album, with music on it. “Like a CD?” she asked innocently. I nodded sadly, “Not really, the sound is better…oh, never mind,” and sighed. When inevitably the Rock Chick and I moved in together I was forced to institute the First Rule of the House – Don’t Touch The Albums. Whenever my stepdaughter wanted to have friends over for a sleepover or what-not, I’d always ask, “What’s the first rule?” She would recite the mantra, “Don’t touch the albums…” I couldn’t help but smile, Obi-Ken has taught you well.

Needless to say I was ill-equipped to be a stepfather. My stepdaughter, who had been living alone with her mom for over five years when I showed up, found it difficult to suddenly have a stepfather-interloper. For a long time she referred to me as “the guy who lives upstairs with my mom.” I’m not sure she committed my name to memory until I married her mother. I feared she was secretly sharpening her cereal spoon into a sharp point to shank me in the kitchen like in a prison movie. I couldn’t do anything right. Of course, in retrospect I must admit, I wasn’t really trying too hard. We played hide and go seek and my stepdaughter would dutifully hide and I wouldn’t go look for her. Typically, I’d dose off. That only worked once or twice until she caught on. I had become… the Evil Stepfather. About the only thing we could agree on was fast-food… I had the sophisticated palette of a 13 year old and she was a kid. We could both agree on chili cheese dogs with tater tots at Sonic…ah, the simple pleasures. Hell I’d eat that right now…

Other than fast food though, things were pretty tense at the house in the early days. My wife’s role quickly became that of a “shuttle diplomat” negotiating the peace between the two warring tribes. This soon got real old for the Rock Chick. “Figure it out…” she would bark at us. My step daughter was just a child and well, unfortunately so was I.

And then, one magical Saturday afternoon, a time when I’m usually napping, the Rock Chick had both my stepdaughter and I mustered in the living room to announce we would be doing some house-cleaning that day. Neither one of us liked the sound of that. I demanded that music be played during this forced march and to my surprise the Rock Chick said, “Ok but pick something everybody likes.” Damn… how was I going to do that?

My stepdaughter’s musical taste, and I must admit like her mother she was a big music lover, was more pop-centric. Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera would be more likely her choice than say, Janis Joplin. She had some hip hop, but I wasn’t going there, even I blanched at some of the language. This was a true quandary. I felt it was very important that I teach this child about rock and roll. I assumed that was the reason I was brought into her life in the first place. The pressure was on. I went to my albums and began to flip through them. I came across The Beatles’ “Sgt Pepper” and probably because of all the bright, primary colors thought, “this will work.” Almost as soon as the needle dropped into the groove I could hear the loud groan coming from the women in the house. I had always thought the Beatles were universally lovable but perhaps since no one at the house was on LSD that day, “Sgt Pepper’s” wasn’t going to work.

I tried something else, I can’t remember what and my stepdaughter shot it down too. I was starting to get nervous. First and foremost I had to clean the house which sucked. Now I was getting heckled at the stereo by a ten year old. It was then that I came across the fantastic greatest hits compilation, “Legend.” It was going to be risky to put Bob Marley on, this could be my third strike… I decided to pin my ears back and go for it…

While it is impossible to incapsulate an artist as tremendous and huge as Bob Marley on one disc, I have to admit “Legend” is one of the best “Greatest Hits” compilations out there. It covers songs from his earliest Island Records days from “Catch A Fire” and “Burning” all the way to his last recordings. It was an odd choice to listen to while cleaning the house but I knew it’d be OK with the Rock Chick. I had hoped her support would carry the day.

It was a mere 10 seconds into the first track “Is This Love” when my stepdaughter’s head started bobbing… during the break between that song and “No Woman No Cry (Live)” my stepdaughter came to the stereo where I was dusting and said quickly and furtively, “Who is this?” I glanced down and her eyes were open widely. She was feeling this music. “His name was Bob Marley, and he’s awesome.” She whispered, almost inaudibly “I really like this…” There is no greater satisfaction than turning someone onto an artist or a song. Let me restate that – the only thing greater than turning someone on to a song or an artist or an album – is turning someone you love onto great music. I felt a welling sense of pride as I had expanded this young, 10 year old girl’s universe that day.

It was a beautiful couple of hours that day, although I’m not going to lie to you, cleaning the house sucked. But the music was great. And in some ways, that afternoon and that musical connection that I made  with my daughter was the crack in the door – the initial opening that allowed us to bridge our mutual contempt and distrust. Suddenly we had something in common. I began to realize and perhaps really really believe for the first time – Music IS Love!

I had the joy, two summers ago, of taking my daughter to see the Stones in concert. She absolutely loved it. I couldn’t help but think back to that Saturday afternoon, she and her mother and I grooving around the house to the best reggae ever, Bob Marley. I’m not a model parent. I was truly the Evil Stepdad. But if you invest and you share your life and experience, sometimes… it all turns out good.

“Oh, Yeah, all right, we’re jammin’…” I may have to drink some rum tonight…..

Cheers!

My Fever Dream: Dark Days, A Hopeful Wedding And A Glimpse To The Future

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I love the fall. As the Red Hot Chili Peppers once sang, “autumn’s sweet, we call it fall, I’ll make it to the moon if I have to crawl.” Autumn is usually sweet for me. It’s a time for football and breaking out the dark and murky fluids… it’s my bourbon season. Even the holidays are great. Halloween is always fun (hello to all those Naughty Nurses out there and sincerely, thank you all) and who doesn’t love Thanksgiving. All I have to do on Thanksgiving is show up eat, drink too much and watch football. Besides Saint Patrick’s Day, Thanksgiving is the PERFECT holiday.

And yet this year I’m feeling more of the grim determination of the second part of that Chili Pepper’s quote, “I’ll make it to the moon if I have to crawl,” than my usual autumn joy. It’s been a bit a tough year this year. Things are pretty grim at the office… lay offs and more threatened. I’ve been traveling almost all of October for work and as usual have had my annual bronchial infection that knocked me on my ass. Perhaps it’s my illness that has me down. With the exception of going out west to see my wonderful daughter fall has been a drag.

I must admit that a lot of this dark juju I’m feeling stems from this year’s Presidential Election. I think I speak for everybody who isn’t a cable TV news commentator that I’m suffering from “Election Fatigue.” My wife, the Rock Chick won’t even watch the news any more. Dark pronouncements, anger and contention is really getting to be a drag. Even the local commercials are full of bile, lies and accusations. It’s like being in the middle of a divorce trial. Why is daddy yelling “wrong” at mommy, if you get what I mean. I’m not a political person per se. I never talk about religion or politics, but it’s just been impossible to avoid this year. It’s really set a dark vision of the future.

Against that back drop, my oldest and dearest friend Jack’s eldest daughter got married last weekend. I was honored to have been invited. I know that it makes me sound like a sentimental sap, dressed in a fluffy robe, clutching a half-empty bottle of Maker’s Mark, singing “Send in the clowns, there oughta be clowns…” when I say this, but I do love weddings. I was always that guy people called when they had an extra slot in the wedding party. “We need an extra usher… let’s call Ken, he’s fun… but keep him away from the Vicar…”

This particular wedding last weekend was a beautiful, hippy-esque ceremony, and I mean that in a good way. The ceremony was held outside under a copse of trees on a beautiful Indian Summer day. It was cloudy and a beautiful breeze pushed the leaves around. A gauzy tapestry of green and lime hung behind the make-shift alter. The groom danced down the aisle with a smile that lit up the park. They were playing a rap song I vaguely recognized (Hey, I’m a Stones guy…give me some slack) and there was a palpable sense of joy. It felt like the trees were dancing along with him in the breeze. Jack’s daughter looked glowing in her beautiful gown. The vows were beautiful and emotional. What can I say, I was moved. I felt something for the first time all fall, and frankly for the first time in a long time. I felt a glimmer of hope.

Weddings have always been hopeful affairs in my mind. The joining of two people into one couple, the merger of two disparate families. The wonderful ceremony where friends and family join to witness and consecrate the union. The joy emanating from the couple and their families is always contagious. I’m not a religious person, but weddings and funerals do bring about a spirit of community that’s possibly akin to religion. Despite all the horrible shit that’s happening in the world, these two kids, bravely and beautifully standing up in front of everyone they know, holding hands and vowing to share their lives together felt almost defiant in their hope. And that in turn, gives me strength.

I began to think of the Rock Chick and my future. Our daughter isn’t too much younger than Jack’s eldest. They knew each other slightly when they were growing up. I couldn’t help but wonder what the future holds for my daughter. She’s smart, educated and a hard worker. I don’t worry about her at all. But as I watched this new couple wed last weekend I wondered what that’ll be like when my own daughter gets married. As a step dad, my role in the wedding will likely be largely ceremonial, like paying for stuff, but it’ll be a life changing event. Then, inevitably there will come grandkids some day. I’m hopeful that’s a long way off. I was extremely immature when I married my wife (not that I’ve changed much since), and I like to say my stepdaughter and I grew up together… but grandkids? I’m not old enough for that yet…

I know a lot of people who are into this whole “grandparent” thing. They call themselves P-Paw or Nana or G-Maw… I want none of that shit. My daughter has always called me by my first name, Ken. I’m cool with that, as I never intended to supplant her dad. My vision of being grandparent, and this may seem odd, is based on the movie Cool Hand Luke. I don’t want my future grandkids to call me Grandpa, I want them to call me by the name I deserve – Boss Ken. I envision myself sitting in a big rocking chair out by the pool, straw hat on my head and mirror shades on, a large tumbler of bourbon that I’ll call “Boss Ken’s iced tea” in my hand. The children will call out to me things like “movin’ on into the pool now Boss Ken,” or “getting some water now Boss Ken.” They’ll whisper to each other things like “Don’t cross the man with no eyes…” like George Kennedy did. They’ll wonder why Boss Ken’s iced tea smells like gasoline. For their rapt obedience I shall reward them by teaching them about rock and roll. They’ll learn all of Jimi Hendrix’s catalog. I’ll sit in my rocking chair and say things like, “Wha, wha, what we have here is a failure to communicate. That’s the way this chirren wants it, well he gets it… he’s in timeout.” I’ll have to work on developing a southern accent.

In turn, my wife, who is the most elegant woman I know, should be called “The Duchess.” I think that’s better than Nana. I can see my future grand kids asking their mother, “Do we get to go and see the Duchess this weekend? She always has presents and baked goods for us…but is Boss Ken gonna be there? He said we were going to have to listen to something called “Goats Head Soup” this weekend… that doesn’t sound good.”

Oh yes, Boss Ken and the Duchess… this does give me great hope for the future and it has a nice ring to it. I can see it all so clearly now….Maybe it’s the excess of cough syrup I’ve been drinking.

It’s a long dark ride people. Keep your friends and family close and as always, Cheers!

My Father’s Birthday Sushi, A Bit of Humor

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 It’s always been a tradition in my family, on your birthday, to pick the restaurant where the family goes to eat together that night. When I was a kid I’d pick one of my favorite burger joints – I only ate burgers and peanut butter, no veggies please. My brother invariably picked whatever Mexican place was currently popular. He liked a place named Taco Villa that we went to a lot, probably because he knew I hated Mexican food and especially Taco Villa. Like I said, I was a picky eater. My mother always picked a modest, affordable restaurant. My father always chose to eat at home because it was cheaper. Ah, growing up.

When I met the Rock Chick and her daughter I expanded the tradition to my new family. My wife took the reigns on that one and started picking whatever the newest, trendiest, most expensive restaurant in town was. I am pleased to report that over the years she has modulated her choices and backed away from some of the Birthday Dinner excesses of our early days together. This was a woman who ordered steak and lobster on our first lunch date… I don’t think she thought she’d see me again so she was intent on milking the lunch for all it was worth. Her daughter always chose, and continues to choose, a local Japanese steak joint. It’s probably the funnest of the Birthday Dinner traditions. Even my wife’s sister shows up for that one, although only my daughter and I agree to catch the flying shrimp.

With the introduction of the Rock Chick and her daughter’s Birthday dinners, my parents stepped up their game. My mother started picking nicer restaurants around town and my dad would choose a different BBQ joint every year. Kansas City has a lot of BBQ joints to choose from so it worked out pretty well. After the holidays, things slow down for everybody so by February, when my dad’s birthday is, we’re all ready to get together and get out.

So it came to pass this month, my father made a rather startling selection for his Birthday Dinner. He called up and said, “Ken, I don’t want BBQ this year, this year I want to go down to the Kona Grille.” Hmmm, I had to ask him if he realized that the Kona Grille is a sushi place? “Ken, I’ve eaten there plenty of times before I retired. We used to go there for lunch.” This was news to me. Have you ever ordered the sushi? “Well, no, but now is the time.” I was proud of my father for getting outside his comfort zone. I enthusiastically reported the news of his Birthday Dinner choice to the Rock Chick and my daughter, who laughed and said, “Senior is going to try sushi?” My whole life my father treated sushi as a trick the Japanese were playing on us in retribution for World War II. He felt the same way as Robin Williams who once joked, “I imagine the Japanese staff in the back room, laughing and saying, “we got them to eat the raw fish, let’s see if we can trick them into drinking hot wine too.” That pretty much summed up my dad’s opinion of sushi.

The night of the big Birthday Dinner, we all rode down to the sushi place together. My father sat next to me as we dined on the appetizers and drank the warm wine. He kept elbowing me and pointing to different rolls on the menu. “How about that one, huh?” as if I’d sampled every roll on the menu. “Mmm, crab, that sounds good…” I am not a sushi expert by any stretch of the imagination. “Yes, dad, try the Dragon Roll, by all means, give it a shot.” I just kept nodding and trying to encourage him.

Finally the waitress came to the table to take our orders for the main course. I watched as she went around the table, first to the ladies and then to my father. When she got to my dad, I thought, this is it, the old guy is going to try something new. I couldn’t help but think of it as a big moment for my dad, who is rather stuck in his ways. When the waitress said, “What can I get you, sir,” my dad said quickly, with great conviction, “I’ll take the pork tenderloin, well done.”

Oh, well. Maybe next year.