Does Fatherhood Make You Happy?

Time has once again proven why I don’t bother with their publication. Here’s a quote from the article in question:

Studies reveal that most married couples start out happy and then become progressively less satisfied over the course of their lives, becoming especially disconsolate when their children are in diapers and in adolescence, and returning to their initial levels of happiness only after their children have had the decency to grow up and go away. When the popular press invented a malady called “empty-nest syndrome,” it failed to mention that its primary symptom is a marked increase in smiling.

Time

OK, I’m not going to pretend that the wife and I don’t look forward to the day when the children are grown and out of our hair. But I’m also not going to share in the modern myth that you stop being a parent just because your children aren’t pestering you with “what’s for dinner” every night. Once you have ’em, you don’t get rid of ’em (if you do, it’s generally something they give lengthy prison sentences for) So I would highly recommend that people who don’t love children, not have children.

Yes, I am happy being a father. No, it’s not the bungee jumping ecstasy that is measurable through endorphins in the brain. It’s a lot like the question do you enjoy your work? Well, I don’t need to wear rubber lined underwear on the job, but I come back to do it every day anyway, if you get my drift. But then I’m weird like that; I actually enjoy doing housework, too.

Can parenting be tedious? Without question. Would I trade one moment of time with my children for anything else on the planet? Not on your life. You have to take the long view (something that is falling farther and farther out of favor these days) when observing things like parent/child interactions. The minute by minute chemical traces don’t capture what it means to see them born, learn to walk, learn to talk. Watch them go off to school, loose their teeth and grow them back; simply to change from the helpless tiny little things they start off being, to become people like…

…like you are. To know that, like your parents who nurtured you, you’ve added to the world in some small way yourself. You won’t find that recorded in the chemicals in my brain, but I assure you, it’s there all the same.

The Wife

“Doesn’t she have a name?”

Why yes, she does have a name, she just doesn’t want me to use it here or anyplace else on the web were I frequently sound off. She probably doesn’t want her name associated with her like the name “Margaret” has been associated with an amazing ability to argue about anything. I started calling her ‘the wife’ because it annoyed a co-worker to hear me refer to her that way many, many years ago. So, being the considerate person that I am, I’ve used no other reference for her since. She has always referred to me as her Significant Other, which I find clever and cute at the same time. Probably why we are still together decades later.

I say 20, she says 17 (I’ve said 20 for two years now. I’m preparing myself for the shock of it) Because “the time before we got married doesn’t count”. Not in her book anyway. In her book it all began 17 years ago today. Seventeen years ago today, we got married. Well, actually, that’s not the half of it. She graduated college on Friday, we got married on Saturday, and we moved to Austin on Sunday. It was a weird weekend. The wedding was planned by several friends. It was beautiful, right up to the point following the kiss, when they realized that they hadn’t planned how to exit the arbor we were in. “Weddings over, see you at the reception.”

Did you notice the ‘arbor’ reference? Yes, we were outside. It rained. Not much, we were dry before the ceremony was over. My best man and my brother the bridegroom went out for donuts right before the ceremony, hadn’t had any breakfast. There was a delay getting the breakfast, they were late. The-soon-to-be-Wife paid the final gas bill in her wedding gown while waiting for them (remember, moving next day?) I was instructed to ‘aim for his head’ when opening champagne later that day.

[we wrapped ‘his’ wedding present in donut boxes when he got married a few years later. I don’t think he ever appreciated the joke, myself]

Is that all? Not really. The batteries on the stereo gave out before the wedding march ended. Her garter fell off (more than once) and had to be retrieved, so that it could be removed properly at the reception. I could go on, but I’d like to save some blackmail material just in case I might need it.

I start our time together from the first moment we met, driving test cars. Yes you read that right, but it’s not the job you think it is, trust me. Every tire on the road today was tested on the route that we drove. From San Angelo nearly to Del Rio and back; and then North of San Angelo to Robert Lee and back. Some of the most tedious work I think I’ve ever done. Four car convoys, correct 4 second spacing, dead level 55 mile an hour rate of travel. For 8 hours.

My best friend at the time was ‘lead’ (the car in front, the guy in charge) on the convoy that I drove ‘tail’ with. (how we ended up working at the same place at the same time is a story in itself) Some of the areas we drove through were pretty remote…

[One night, down on the Devil’s river, we came across a jeep that looked like it had been on the loosing end of a bear fight. Blood, bullet holes, no windows, dented, etc. On another night we came across a wreck in the clearing stages. Car hit head on with a tanker truck. As I’m sitting next to the wreck waiting to be allowed to go, the cop wanders over and casually kicks a shoe, with the foot still in it, back over towards the wreck. Won’t be forgetting either of those nights.

At least I never hit a deer. The wife hit three. Well, technically she ran over one that jumped onto the road in front of her and fell down, got hit by one that ran into the side of her car while she was passing, and then actually hit one in the test car she renamed ‘rocky’ because they had to wedge the headlights back in with rocks so that she could make it back to the shop. Ask her about the cow sometime. That’s a funny story]

…And since the vehicles traveled 800 miles a day 7 days a week, they tended to break down unexpectedly; and if you were the lucky one you were stranded with a broken down vehicle until the tow truck could come and get you. Some of us were a little edgy about this situation and would carry weapons with us on the off chance that we might need them. I didn’t want to hassle with a gun myself, so I carried a decent sized butterfly knife which I barely knew how to use.

Well my buddy, who ran the convoy, got to talking to other leads one night and discovered someone that I needed to meet. She had a larger version of the knife I carried, and she knew how to use it. The next night, he takes me over to introduce me to her as we are trading cars at the end of the shift. So she shows me her knife with a gleam in her eye (have I mentioned that I’m a bit skittish around knives? There was a reason I didn’t know how to use it) and proceeds to flip it around and demonstrate how you gut your opponent with one smooth motion. All the while grinning like the proverbial cat with the canary.

Honestly, she scared the living shit out of me. I thought I was a dead man. If I ever got away from her, I was not going to be looking back. I told my buddy as much afterwards.

Never did manage to get away from her. Drove in her convoys a few times after that when one of her drivers failed to show up. San Angelo is not a big place, so we ended up running into each other outside of work as well. And so I married her instead. True story.

20 years ago today, babe (yes, I know, 17) Happy anniversary.

An Atheist Marking the Untimely Passage of a Family Member

Ok, I give up. I don’t know if this is writer’s block or some internal need for catharsis, but I haven’t been able to make myself sit down and write anything of any significance since learning that my father-in-law had passed away four weeks ago.

Well, calling him my ‘father-in-law’ is simplifying things quite a bit, but that is what he was. Grandfather to my children, husband to my wife’s mother. True, the man that my wife called ‘father’ died several years ago, an event that changed all our lives quite a bit. But does that fact make the passing of this man less than her father’s passing?

This was a good man; a man of the earth, and a man of deep faith. A widower who was just as alone as the woman he met at church one Sunday. After a few years of friendship they decided to spend the rest of the time they had together; and they were happy together. My children enjoyed spending time with G-ma and Grampa Henry; would it be wrong to observe “more than when Grandma lived by herself?” Henry reminded me of my own long departed grandfather in many ways. He had a sharp wit, and a gentle disposition; someone who was sure of who and what he was in life.

Looking back, I wish “the rest of their time” had been more than it was. Four short years after we witnessed their marriage, Henry was gone from us, taken by a disease that none of us had heard of before. My son, now about the same age as his sister was when she had to say goodbye to her first grandpa, looked at me with the same questioning eyes; what does it mean, where did he go?

Questions I don’t have any answers for. Other people comfort themselves with stories of a beautiful afterlife that is much like this one; fanciful visions of angels and visiting loved ones who are long gone. Though I never spoke to Henry about his beliefs, as a practicing Catholic, I’m sure his views of the afterlife were similar. I hope that his beliefs were comforting to him; in the end, that is the purpose of religion.

The answer I offered my son was similar to the one I offered my daughter, “he’s in a better place”. Since both men were in constant pain (when un-medicated) before their deaths, it’s a fairly safe bet that the observation would be true. But what does it mean? I don’t want to delude my children, nor do I want to crush them with the weight of harsh reality. For me, the meaning of “better place” is somewhere between non-experience (the ending of this consciousness that is ‘me’) and surfing the cosmic flux, and I don’t really know which end it will favor when the time comes. Nor, after reading some of the weightier reflections on the subject, do I find that I really care. Having decided that spending time in fear of being sentenced to hell by a vengeful god was a waste, I instead actually try living my life; so that when it’s “Times Up” I don’t experience the “I should have’s”.

Which is perhaps the reason why I’ve been absent for the last month. Just making sure I’m spending my time wisely.


As an afterthought, the other thing that these two wonderful men had in common is they both trusted MDs at the local hospital to diagnose their maladies. And in both cases, the doctors failed them miserably. The wife’s father was killed by overdoses of radiation used to treat a non-existent tumor. Grandpa Henry was killed by the failure of these same doctors to properly diagnose a disease; a disease that ‘the wife’ correctly identified just using the symptoms and looking it up on the internet, a process that took less than an hour. Not that knowing what it was did any good. Cancer is like that when it is in it’s advanced stages.

The MDs could possibly have averted it if they had done their homework when they were first presented with the problem. I only wish that we had realized that he was going to the same doctors earlier than we had. Perhaps we would still have grandpa Henry with us. Probably not. Cancer is like that.

Lincoln’s birthday? Not for me.

Since the day that our son was born, the daughter (also known as the teenager) has been jealous of the attention that his birthday gets. Costumes and free candy on your birthday, how do you beat that?

15 years ago today, I became a parent, and started marking that official anno parenti time. Truthfully, I’ve been raising children since I was a child myself. They weren’t my kids, but sometimes you get handed a job that you didn’t ask for. As the eldest in a single parent household, you spend a lot of time herding the younger ones. You can always look forward to mom getting home at some point later in the day, and then you can quit pretending you know what you are doing and get back to being a child yourself.

Once you are mom (or dad) things get a little more complex. The early experience helped, though. I knew how to change diapers. How to feed a baby, hold a baby, a thousand different things. But at 2 in the morning, when it’s your turn to rock the baby, you find that you miss the days when mom would come home and take over. Well, not really. But just for a minute there…

…And they grow so fast, too. 15 years? It couldn’t have been that long. But then, she’s a good bit taller than she was when I first saw her. Then, I could hold her in the crook of one arm, a little over 6 pounds, light as a feather. I’m still taller than her now, but I don’t think that will last much longer. I can remember taking her to the Montessori School for the first time. Her learning to read, and then talking me into reading books that she liked (I’m hooked on Harry Potter and it’s her fault) getting me hooked on anime (especially Hayao Miyazaki) Discovering she has quite a talent for art in her own right. Trying to encourage her to explore her talent, without pressuring her to ‘do something’ with it. Dropping her off at the High School for the first time; wondering out loud if I “should walk her in…” The disgusted “DAD!” that I got in return was the first clue that she was growing up much faster than I was really ready for.

I think they’ll have to sedate me for the next birthday. I don’t think I’ll be ready for 16, dating, driving.

After the boy was born, we took to telling her that “well, your birthday is Lincoln’s birthday too…” That didn’t work. She could go here and see a full list of the famous people who were also born on this date. I doubt that would be good enough either. Maybe, if she’s half the artist I think she can be, she’ll end up on that list as well.

She’s already on an exclusive list of one in my book. That’s a good enough reason to celebrate the day all by itself, without needing costumes and candy. Wouldn’t you agree?

Happy Birthday, dearest one.

Emotional Investment

Remember back in those early years (if you are under 40, you don’t qualify for this, BTW) how strong an emotional response you could evoke with the word ‘hate’. How someone who had crossed you (even your best friend) could become the most loathsome creature on the planet, so loathsome that it blinded you, so powerful that you could feel the pressure to lash out at anything in your path? No? Funny, neither did I, until today.

I crossed the teenager today. During a discussion, I suggested in an overly loud voice that perhaps thinking about the situation at hand was what was needed, rather than attempting to make something work that wasn’t going to. What followed was a “I hate you”, and a steadfast insistence that all parents wish to make their (teenage) children suffer. No amount of reason (yeah, funny. Reasoning with a child, right? Sometimes I kill even myself) made the slightest dent. I was being unfair, and being unfair is an unforgivable sin. The hated one was not going to be given an inch of respite, no matter how many hours the argument drug out too.

Fine. As an ‘old guy’, I have a emotional investment cap that I set for myself. At some point I just have to say “do I really care that much about X?” (‘X’ being whatever the child, or whoever, is raging about at the moment) If the answer is ‘no’, I don’t make the investment in working up a decent rant, and I walk away none the worse and not feeling any regrets. In the ever more infrequent instances that the answer is ‘yes’, then I have to make a stand.

So here it is. It’s ‘not’ unfair to expect teenagers to pull their weight and do household chores; and I really ‘hate’ it when someone thinks they are exempt from doing them, whether they get paid or not.

Yes, I know. A radical stand, and a serious emotional investment in working up such a lengthy rant as well. Sometimes you just have to draw the line.

“You know what that means…”

I shaved off the beard that I’ve been working on for better than a month. I shaved my face clean today in preparation for the annual visit to relatives that occurs every holiday season. I do this for one reason and one reason only. The only time I’ve worn a beard in this particular relatives presence, she was completely scandalized that I would wear a beard. When I queried her as to the problem with it, her response was “well, you know what that means…”

She’s never completed the sentence. Actually, I do know what it means to me. It means it’s getting colder outside and I want to keep my chin warm. It means I hate shaving and jump at the chance to avoid it (even though ‘beard’ is a loose term for what actually grows) It means I like to try growing a beard every fall. I don’t know what it means to her. I don’t think I actually want to know. Which is the reason that I shaved it off this time. I don’t want to know.

If I can’t get an all-in-one guide to what things mean, then I’d just as soon be spared the tortuous process of figuring out why something totally innocuous, like a beard, means something else to someone else. And since I can’t avoid family, I’ll just shave and avoid the process altogether. It’s the least I can do.

I wonder what she would think if I told her I once had an ear pierced? That I shared earrings with my female friends when we would go to clubs? “Well, you know what that means…”

A Pumpkin Child

7 years ago today, I was awoken early on a Saturday morning, at about 8 (that’s early for me) To the sound of my wife crying “My water broke”.

It’s funny looking back on it now. Begging friends to watch our 7 year old daughter (but Mom! what about Halloween?!) Rushing to the hospital in a mad panic. Worrying that the baby would be too early. The disgusted look on the Neonatal doctor’s face when there wasn’t anything for him to do after all. The argument between the delivering doctor and the Neonatal specialist on just ‘how’ early our son was (“He’s not 6 weeks early!” “Yes, he is!”) The thankfulness on both his mother’s and my part that there wasn’t anything for the specialist to do.

The Wife being bound and determined to get out of that hospital as soon as she could walk again. Tickles me to this day.

This one’s for you son (and you too Hun) Happy Birthday.

First entry – Life with Meniere’s

This was an entry on the Menieres.org Journals page, which has been down for awhile now. I thought I would roll this (and other musings) into the blog I keep meaning to create, and finally have created. I’ve appended the historical entry with my current musings on Meniere’s and life. Been hanging out on the forums a lot lately, guess that brings it to the forefront. Anyway, this is ‘my’ Meniere’s.


It was the muffling of sound that I noticed first, like I had a blown speaker in my head instead of in my car. This was in 1987 [actually, after further musing, I’ve come to the conclusion that my first vertigo attack was in 1983-4, when I lived in Abilene. I just didn’t know what was happening to me then, and it didn’t repeat until 1987] I was in my late 20’s and still deeply into music. If it wasn’t the constant ringing, then it was the echo chamber effect, a distortion of sound that occasionally made conversation difficult. Allergies, I thought. Allergies that are making my ears give me problems. I tried everything to get rid of the ‘pressure’ in my ears. The sauna worked best, at that time I had access to one. I would sit in that little wooden box until I couldn’t stand it anymore, but the ringing and distortion would be temporarily eased by it. I also had some luck with hot showers, but that treatment brought on my first few vertigo attacks, I just never understood what they were.

Then I thought I was having a recurrence of ear infections related to allergies that had plagued me as a child. This was what I told the doctors that I would go see on a seasonal basis, and they obliged me by prescribing me allergy medicine; or antibiotics if I happened to be extra convincing that day. I popped antihistamines trying to relieve allergic reactions (sort of the right track, I guess) I’ve tried nearly every one on the market, none of which really had or still have any effect. I finally settled on Pseudoephedrine and Guafenesin, which I took nearly everyday for several weeks at a stretch, They seemed to be the only things that worked predictably every spring and fall when my ears would start acting up.

In retrospect, it seems odd that I just stumbled across what is a common treatment for the disease I now have been diagnosed with, Meniere’s. I probably would not know what it was now if I had not been diagnosed with high blood pressure a few years ago. One of the things that they tell you when you go on the blood pressure medication is “do not take Decongestants, especially Pseudophed”. So I quit, even though I knew the fall and spring season would be hell.

They were. In fact, it was a hell I had never even come close to experiencing before. I couldn’t make the world hold still, sometimes for several days. The disorientation was bad enough, but the vertigo was disabling; and it just got worse. The attacks would hit me from out of nowhere. I would just have had a good meal, or I might just be holding my head the wrong way and the world would just take off spinning. I discovered Bonine about that time and I still carry Meclizine everywhere with me. I went to see my first ENT about that time as well, a totally useless individual who ran rather expensive tests on me, and then told me there was nothing wrong with me. Great, just the answer I wanted.


I love the Internet. If you want to know something, and can find your way to a search engine, you can find what you are looking for. The internet is quiet if you want it to be, too. Nothing that you need listen to other than the ringing in the ears. So I searched. One condition kept popping up that matched my symptoms. That couldn’t be it though, surely. My wife thought it was the blood pressure medication, but through experimentation we determined that there was no real correlation between the two.

Fall rolled around again, and with it the serious vertigo attacks (This was 2002) attacks that had gotten so bad that I occasionally would end up passing out next to the toilet on the bathroom floor, like some teenage kid who didn’t know what his alcohol limits ought to be. I decided to go to a different ENT (Ear Nose & Throat, for the uninitiated) one that a friend had recommended. I had determined that I was just going to discuss symptoms this time, and let him confirm what my suspicions were. After running through virtually the same tests that I had been through before, he asked me “have you ever heard of Meniere’s disease?” OK, so I was right then.


I went through some sinus surgery over Christmas. Corrected a deviated septum, and they cleaned out the sinus passages to see if that reduced my allergic reactions. It seems to have worked somewhat, although the disorientation still bothers me on occasion, the serious vertigo attacks are becoming fewer now. The ringing and the pressure remain, however. I could go see a neurologist, I have a card for one currently in my wallet. It’s something I’m thinking about. I think I’ll go to an allergist first, I’m certain that if I can just get the allergies in check, the other symptoms will fade without the need for further surgery. Maybe it’s just a dream, however.

Anyway, I’m turning 40 this year. Still don’t know where the time went. Music is harder to listen to now, but I still plug in the odd disk and give it a listen over the tinnitis. I have to turn my right ear to conversations now, the left ear is nearly useless. I occasionally wish it would just stop working altogether, I would probably hear better then. I wonder if Van Gogh was a fellow sufferer sometimes. I could imagine doing something nearly as nutty as he did, just to get the ringing to stop.

I’ve been meaning to write this for some time now. I hate having to rely on somebody else when I ‘should be’ able to get by on my own. Needing to write this down and post it felt similar to me, needing somebody to know what I was going through, so I didn’t do it. But I sat down tonight and WANTED to write this, so I did.

I hope somebody out there gets something positive from this. You aren’t alone any more than I am. I have friends and family that are looking out for me (the wife seems to be too protective sometimes) so I try not to worry. But I wish it had been ‘just an ear infection’. I wouldn’t wish this disease on anybody.


Today, October 26th, 2005 –

Created this Blog. Pretty good day today. I don’t know why I think that. The Wife lost her job last night. We did oversleep this morning. I slept with my good ear against the pillow and was consequently unable to hear the alarm this morning. The children got off to school OK, the Wife is back in bed asleep, and I’m up here (as usual) in front of the square headed girlfriend, typing my little fingers off. At least the world isn’t spinning today.

Couldn’t say that yesterday. Yesterday I couldn’t stand up without nearly fainting each time from a “near vertigo attack” (the world snaps and starts to spin, but I focus on a single point until it goes away, or at least recedes) at least a full attack didn’t surface. Can’t say that for most of the rest of this year. Started out well enough. I had a job, I had an employer whom (I thought) understood my limitations, I had taken the time to explain Meniere’s to him, and what I thought set it off, and the fact that I might miss work, sometimes a couple of days, and that I would do my best to make it up. I’d been there about 9 months in February when he called me into his office to inform me that he was letting me go because “I was sick too much”. (NEWS FLASH, I think I know this!) This was the second employer to use this reason in letting me go, in about as many years. I decided that I would not seek another full time employment position, and would instead take on the odd contract job that I might be able to land. Unfortunately there hasn’t been enough of that work.

Not that I’ve felt well enough to pursue much work this year. I have had more attacks this year than any year since I started keeping track. I was down with constant dizziness and occasional vertigo for 8 weeks this summer, which is something that has never happened. The few times that I have worked have been restricted by an attack at some point during the term of the contract. That’s not good. When someone contracts time sensitive work to you, they don’t want to hear about medical problems.

So here I am. Holidays approaching, no work in sight, wife not working at the moment, retirement money almost gone. But, I got up today and wasn’t dizzy. I’m going to go walk the dogs and enjoy the sunshine. If I come back and I’m still not dizzy, life is good. We’ll see.

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.”

Henry S. Haskins

Postscript

Loneliness is the worst part of suffering from Meniere’s. I generally don’t need much attention, and even I find myself craving conversation. I might go a whole month with just the family and suddenly the urge to run out and talk to people becomes almost overwhelming.

This is understandable.  As much as we like to pretend we are inviolate individuals, we are actually amalgams, a sampling of all the influences we are exposed to each day. Being alone too much is destructive to the human animal. Go out and find people you can trust, if your family isn’t supportive or attentive, and spend time in their presence. Don’t wither and die alone, please.

I mentioned Menieres.org at the beginning of this post. That site and it’s participants come and go, year to year. It isn’t the only resource out there, so don’t despair if there are no quick answers for you there. Here are a few other resources I’ve found useful.

Facebook.com/Meniere’s Resources which is associated with menieresresources.org I’ve been aware of this group for awhile and only recently found them on Facebook.  I got sideways with a moderator in that group and so we’re no longer on speaking terms.  Probably just as well.  I’ve had enough chirpy, syrupy optimism to last me for awhile now.  However if that is your thing, drop by and say hi. Nothing but love, as the saying goes.

Facebook is where everything seems to happen these days, so it is no coincidence that there is more than one group for Meniere’s there. The other one I frequent is called Spin Cycle. Recently (June 2018 now) I found a few other groups on Facebook. Meniere’s Worldwide has posts several times a day to it’s board. Menieres Disease – Bilateral Battlers is a group I joined after going bilateral (Meniere’s in both ears) the day my mom died (February 9th, 2018) It has been a rough year for me. 

Reddit.com/Meniere’s – On a whim I decided to see if Reddit had a Meniere’s group and they did. Not a lot of posts there, but if you post a message you’ll generally get an answer within a day.

I do have a treatment regimen that I follow. I detail it here.  If you want to do your own research and decide what is right for you, I highly recommend the Meniere’s Disease Information Center. Don’t let their critical writing style put you off, they’re just trying to adhere to a proper level of skepticism when it comes to treatment claims.  Everyone can profit from applying a little critical thinking to the problems they face. The site has gone down now and is only available as an archive on the WaybackMachine. Give them a donation if you find yourself relying on their archives more than once.

A friend and fellow blogger has put together a decent list of resources here.  Drop by and say HI! to him as well.

I describe how I got disability here.  If you suffer from frequent vertigo and are unable to work full time on a regular basis as I was, then disability is just about your only option in the US.

Me, Architecture and Meniere’s Disease stands as record of how I came to suffer so many symptoms while pursuing my dreams of an architectural career. A dream which has sadly come to an end.  I keep hoping I’ll find another pursuit, or find a way to get back into architecture, but productivity and concentration remain limited and elusive.