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Security Versus “Story-worthy” Risk: A Father’s Look at Tomorrow

Posted by Ben Weaver on Oct 19, 2015 in Fatherhood, Musings, Success Guide

There exists some conventional wisdom that the average person changes careers seven times over the course of his or her life. Though I doubt the veracity of the claim, it stews in my current state of mind, “Four more? Is that what the back 40 of my life is going to be like?” As I ponder my future prospects, I wonder if I even have it in me.

See, I was one of those people who thought he could do the one thing he did (in my case, teaching) until he was ready to retire on a modest pension with his house and student loans paid off. Fresh out of college and a year of AmeriCorps doing volunteer teaching, I was going into my first teaching job like most other liberal saps, sure that I was going to “make a difference.” Even after a couple of years of teaching in a decades-old trailer with mouse holes in the floor, walls, and ceiling in Orange County, Va., I was undeterred. Oh, those little fuckers were going to undergo some serious transformation under my watch! Like so many other young and idealistic morons, I was going to CHANGE THE WORLD.

Yeah, okay. After a decade or so of teaching mixed classes of special ed, I had few illusions left to shatter. Sometimes little Norman just wasn’t going to pass his standardized tests no matter how many times you tried to get him to compose a five-paragraph essay on the social impacts of our First Amendment freedoms, especially if he hasn’t developed a full grasp of the alphabet by the time he’s in 8th grade. If Walter hasn’t learned by 17 that it isn’t appropriate to masturbate under his desk, he’s probably going to be beating it in a cubicle until they fire him from increasingly low level jobs for the rest of his life.

I was at peace with that. No, not changing the world…but have you heard that little parable about the little girl throwing the starfish back in the ocean? It is dumb, and I hate it, but yes, sometimes you just need to make a difference to one to make it all seem worthwhile.

Somewhere around year number 13 into teaching, something went terribly wrong. Many, many teachers got laid off, and the special education staff was slashed almost in half. One summer, after six comfy, complacent years teaching 8th grade civics, I got called to the principal’s office and asked if I wanted to take over the school’s program for the emotionally disturbed.

Say, when you put it like that, it sounds like you’re moving up in the world! I just knew getting that ED designation in grad school would make me an attractive candidate for a management position! Then I found out that meant everyone else who was doing it quit, and I would be the only one teaching three grade levels of bat shit crazy, potentially volatile kids all in the same room and be responsible for all their casework plus four SOL subjects per grade level.

I laughed in that man’s face. “I’d rather work construction” were my exact words.

So that’s what I did, starting my own business doing home improvements. I really didn’t know shit, but I’m a quick study. I’ve often said I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere in life if not for a ready willingness to get in over my head. By and by, work and opportunity came my way, and I did my best to take advantage of it. By year number three, I had two regular employees and was subbing out lots of work. Things were great, and money was flowing but….

I was terrified. Shit, what if I lose this contract? (I did) What if I can’t pay the mortgage on the house? (thankfully never happened) What if the wife leaves, and I’m the only income? (she did, and I am) What if I accidentally shoot myself with a nail gun, and it lodges into the part of my brain that controls my ability to get erections? (somehow dodged that one) These are the things that keep men up at night and wear on their souls!

It all wasn’t without its merits, however. Having had a chip on my shoulder toward authority since gestation, I am well-suited to being my own boss. I don’t like taking other people’s shit or suffering their mistakes, and for the most part, I didn’t have to…with regard to work, at least. Want to take the day off to do paperwork and send the crew out to work? Want to have a beer with lunch? Want to be able to fire people who get on your nerves? Verily, I say, it is good to be the boss.

As much as I loved the freedom and self-satisfaction, when a job offer came my way with the promise of a big steady paycheck and the accompanying security for Henry and me, I jumped right on it. Daily travel? Oh, yeah, I love travel. Thirteen-hour work days? No problem, I hate sleep anyway!

In the heat of demonstrating that can-do, positive attitude and holding faith that things will work themselves out, one can easily look past the detriments of a life of hard labor on the road: maintaining a 50/50 custody arrangement is exceedingly difficult, as is maintaining relationships.

– Time to yourself? Good luck with that! You’ll feel guilty that you didn’t spend time with the friends you never see anymore.
– Want to see your kid at least once during the work week? You’ll hear about it because you can only work a 10-hour day in order to pick him up from preschool before it closes, never mind that you worked through lunch.
– Certainly don’t get caught up about knowing where you’ll be next week or the week after or trying to plan a life around work because it isn’t going to happen.

Not to say that I don’t enjoy certain aspects of life on the road. Visiting corners of the world I haven’t yet seen, finding holes in the wall serving up the local specialty, spending time outside through the beautiful Virginia seasons… all of these things are easy to find pleasure in. As well, like a Siberian husky, I need and crave the physical exhaustion that accompanies a long day of labor, when the persistence of thought abates and my mind can be empty. Some people do yoga; I prefer shoveling gravel and tossing 80-pound bags of concrete. I swear, it makes me a better person on so many levels.

But life on the road sucks when all you really want to do is be there for your kid as he grows up. I’m over leaving tears on the pillowcases in shitty hotel rooms at this point, but I do wonder how I’ll make it work in the long-term. I know I only have about eight more years until he hates my guts, then another five to eight before he figures I’m less worthy of contempt again, if I’m lucky. The knowledge that these days of endless hugs and unbridled enthusiasm will not last forever is unsettling… but, then again, so is the prospect of homelessness.

Every once in a while I’m put in a position to make a decision between security and the gambit of potential greatness versus utter failure. While I’ve certainly done things for the sake of security, none of them are story worthy. The times I have said “fuck it” have always been my defining moments, for better or for worse. While I still don’t know for sure what the resolution to my current situation will be, I remain certain of this much: a life without risk is a life unfulfilled.

 
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I Like Big Butts; I Cannot Lie: Dating Outside Your Size Class

Posted by Ben Weaver on Sep 27, 2015 in Men, Relationships

I’ve never been a person who valued conventional beauty. I never had a crush on a cheerleader or anyone who was a candidate for homecoming queen. In my dating history, I’ve demonstrated tolerance for poochy bellies and big asses; it’s true. I’ve been much more keen on ladies with good taste in music and bad taste in jokes than ones with the “right” dress size or perfect hair and nails.

This proclivity has not escaped the attention of my friends; by the time I hit my mid-twenties, I had earned the nickname “Buffalo Soldier” among certain circles. As one of my (female) friends said, “The girls Ben dates are nice and have pretty faces, but they do tend to have, well, uh, you know…” (as she makes the universal gesture for “big in the ass”). Guilty as charged. I guess it’s just never mattered that much to me. Hell, maybe I even like it that way.

Speaking only for myself, though, I have a pretty high self-monitor when it comes to my body, borne from a childhood of shopping in the husky section and having a father who weighed around 400 pounds at his biggest.

When one summer I was turned down for participation in not one but TWO games of spin-the-bottle, I vowed to shape up and keep myself in check, an endeavor I’ve honored with varying degrees of success (not always easy when your two favorite digestible items in the world are fried chicken and beer). Like many people, I have some neurotic thinking about food and body image, but I don’t generally let that stop me from eating what I want and still mowing the lawn without a shirt on.

I propose to you a couple of admittedly leading questions: Ladies, have you ever dated someone who was shorter than you? Conversely, gentlemen, have you ever gone out with someone taller?

I can personally speak to the latter. As a guy who hits 5’8” in shoes and has dated plenty of ladies bigger than myself in most regards, I can tell you, people will give you looks. Your “friends” will comment. My former wife had standard retorts for the number of times she was asked, “Isn’t it weird being with a guy who’s shorter than you? Can you not wear heels when you go out?” (A: “Short guys are better in the sack” & “He likes it when I wear heels. He calls me his Amazon bride!”)

How about a man dating a woman who is taller and weighs more ? Lord knows that I’ve taken my fair share of ribbing . When I was younger, my friends made up names for my girlfriends like Brawny, ‘Squatch, and The Original Tatonka. Not cool, guys.

Here’s my point of contention: there exists an odd duality in society’s rules concerning size, weight, and relationships.

On one hand, love is supposed to be blind; it is considered shallow to be preoccupied with external characteristics of others, and we romanticize sapiosexual relationships in books and film. On the other hand, these epic love interests are portrayed in the modern media by people with bodies so sculpted that one has to wonder how they salvage time for a relationship in the first place, given their gym and protein smoothie schedules.

We all know reality rarely looks like a glistening Fabio on the cover of a novel with a title like The Gentle Rogue or an airbrushed Amy Adams in some role requiring her to don a princess get-up. Reality, more often, resembles a film about the infiltration of a bondage and domination resort starring Rosie O’Donnell and Dan Aykroyd.

Each and every one of us is destined for a future of saggy asses and arm flaps if we’re lucky enough to live that long. Have you seen a picture of Keith Richards lately? He’s not even doing that bad for a chain smoking 71-year-old. Might as well get over it already: you’re heading for the realm of people nobody wants to see naked.

(If you’re reading this, Amy Adams, I don’t think you need the airbrush. I was just trying to be funny. You are beautiful just the way you are. Call me.)

Age really is the great equalizer. The older I get, the less physical characteristics matter compared to, say, the way they treat people who work in the service industry or their propensity to laugh at a fart. I see these attitudes more in the friends I keep, too, as life rolls on. What good is it spending time with someone who’s “model hot” if you can’t stand her half the time or she treats you like shit?

Even worse, what if her taste in music sucks? The absurdity of imposing those kinds of concessions on one’s intimate personal life confounds me. People who want to make them can have their spoils. As for myself, as I enter the back half of my lifespan, it seems as important as ever that I round it out with people whose beauty I may still be able to recognize as I squint upward through my bifocals at their wrinkled, bejowled faces.

 
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Wait, This Wasn’t Supposed to Happen So Fast! Confessions of a reluctant father

Posted by Ben Weaver on Aug 17, 2015 in Fatherhood, Men

One night, when I was four or five, I was watching a National Geographic special about great blue whales with my parents. At one point in the program, there was a feature about their mating rituals and I asked Mom and Dad, “What are those whales doing?” My parents, being the young hippies they were, gave me an honest answer employing the words “penis” and “vagina.”

I was appalled. My mom still recalls with glee my reply: “Gross! I might get married, but I’ll never do that!”

At some point about 20 years later, that turned into, “I might do that… but I’ll never get married!” Then around 30, it turned to, “Okay, I can do that and get married and it’s probably okay… as long as we don’t have kids.” You can probably see where this is going.

I think it’s fair to say that I entered into fatherhood reluctantly (possibly an understatement). Yes, I am aware it probably makes me sound like a bad person. Here’s the thing:

I liked my little life the way it was. I liked playing in a band; I liked going out and enjoying meals unencumbered by screaming (usually); I liked having a beer with breakfast on Sundays after sleeping as late as I cared to; and I didn’t really want any of that to change.

When I and my now-former wife first met, we were both on the same page: between don’t want or unsure if wanting to have a kid. After a while, the reproductive urge set in, and she became dead set on having a baby, preferably many of them. Through no small amount of convincing, I agreed to try.

After trips to the OBGYN, the general consensus of our prospects for a successful pregnancy reminded me of a monologue from the Coen brothers’ classic, Raising Arizona: “Edwina’s insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase…”

The actual doctor’s response was, “Well, stranger things have happened.” Upon hearing this, I was a little more encouraged. My little reptilian brain started churning, and I realized that we could be trying for months before it might happen. Months, possibly years, of babymaking sex were all but a guarantee!

When she started ovulating the next week, we went for it. Twice, actually. A few days later, when her monthly visitor failed to promptly show, she went to the Rite-Aid and confirmed with a 3 pack of EPTs that she was indeed with child.

I was blown away! What about “stranger things have happened,” not to mention the months, possibly even years, of coitus non-interruptus?!? Also, we’re having a kid! Holy shit!

In my mind, this all registered, and I was proud and happy, but, at the same time, it seemed surreal: I was going to be a dad, bearing the responsibility for not just the survival of another human being but also making sure he or she didn’t grow up to be an asshole.

Like everything else in my life, I felt like I would have to experience it in order to wrap my head around it and failed to find much use for advice books and the sage wisdom of the Internet regarding fatherhood. This was a point of contention. My future ex-wife was cool about things during the pregnancy for the most part, but she considered my approach to be head-in-the-sand. Regardless of the number of books I did or didn’t read, I was poised to confront fatherhood head on… as soon as the kid actually arrived.

The day came and, after 9+ months of anticipation, I was ready for it. The thing is, though, is that it scared the hell out of me when I held him, when I bathed him, when I took him to the store… I was so acutely aware of how fragile his existence was and how very much it was in my hands.

I also never knew my gag reflex was so strong until I changed a diaper. A couple of times I narrowly missed vomiting on my infant son, opting to catch it in the clean diaper instead. If you have ever had to bear the expense of disposable diapers, you know that was a tough call. Like, “How much does a bath cost?”

Here’s the part that makes me sound like an asshole: his mother was (understandably) obsessive about him and didn’t want to let him leave her side ever, and, generally, I was just fine with that arrangement. When she started classes a few months after he was born and I had him by myself for a few nights while she was in class, I was completely freaked out the first few times–my mind jumping from whether or not I would do something to jeopardize his well being to wondering if I could get him to stop crying if he started up, or ohmygod what if he just stops breathing!!!???  

I thought it would just come naturally, like so many other things, and I was a parental mess.

It was a hard first year. It wasn’t until he was about six months old that I began to feel at ease with him, and it wasn’t until he developed something of a personality shortly thereafter that I truly bonded with him. Not that I didn’t love the kid and wasn’t willing to lay down my life for him from birth, but, honestly, he was a puzzle to me. As I learned how to understand him, how to make him laugh, how to play with him, I began to see the beauty of the whole fatherhood thing and derived joy from it. My time with him became pleasurable rather than a fulfillment of responsibility.

When Henry turned 3, my wife became my ex-wife. She moved to a friend’s house and later to an apartment of her own, and we agreed to a split 50/50 custody. Though the dissolution of a marriage is one of the more difficult life events I can imagine enduring, it had its upside in that my relationship with my boy has grown immeasurably.

Maybe it was the closeness fostered by the, “Looks like it’s just you and me now, kid” talk (as I cried fat, sorrowful tears blubbering to someone who couldn’t be bothered to look away from his Elmo phone) or the emergence of communicative faculties which have allowed us to develop a personal relationship or our mutual love of pho and southern fried chicken. Whatever it was, I’m deeply grateful.

Finally, I understand all the clichés and platitudes people employ when describing the experience of fatherhood. It IS the hardest, best thing I’ve ever done; I DO see so much of myself in him; and, now five years in, I can’t imagine a life worth living without him in it.

 
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Don’t Be Premature: One Man’s Thoughts on Sending Unsolicited Photos of Your Hardware

Posted by Ben Weaver on Jun 12, 2015 in Men, Relationships

As a 39-year-old guy who’s crammed a lot of living into his years, I’ve been party to more than my fair share of embarrassing faux pas and given plenty of women dating horror stories to one-up their friends whenever the topic of “worst dates ever” should arise. Some that come to mind:

– my first date ever when I ate a half dozen Vivarin beforehand and proceeded to babble incoherently and dance like a sweaty idiot for the better part of its short duration

– a second date when I hoisted up a girthy cucumber and yelled from across the produce department, “Hey, honey, is this about the right size? Do you think it’ll fit?”

– another first date when we saw one of my exes out at the bar, I argued with her in front of my date and poured a beer on her head from the second floor (soooo classy)

Clearly, I am far from having an untarnished record regarding loutish, even ungentlemanly, behavior. I cringe at the recollection.

Finding myself back out in the dating world after the dissolution of a 10-year relationship, I have had to confront a whole new paradigm of courtship brought on by the ubiquity of communicative devices. As great as it is to be able to find the closest Thai restaurant on the fly or to shut down bullshitters with a quick wiki check, the influence of technology seems to have done polite society no great favors.

I’ll qualify the following by admitting that my views might be influenced by the fact that most of my guy friends are married or in long-term monogamous relationships, so mine is effectively the only male dating perspective I entertain. In addition to being settled down for the most part, they are also not mouth breathing, macho bros, which only serves to compound my social isolation from the kind of people whom I will later address.

My female friends, see, are mostly single, among them an even split of divorced and never married. As we commiserate over beers about our dating experiences, I find myself playing the apologist for my gender more often than I’d like. I am regaled with tales of cluelessness, oafishness, and utter lack of emotional intelligence on the part of my fellow men, which leaves me questioning our prospects of reproductive success as a species.

I mean, what kind of life experience leads a guy to believe that asking a girl if she’s “into butt stuff” 10 minutes into a first interaction is going to yield positive results? How is it one comes to think that sending a picture of his hardware in the same timeframe is going to get him in the door (no pun intended)?

No, Seriously. The unsolicited prick pics. Why?

Has a woman ever been confronted with a picture of a semi-erect five-incher surrounded by a jungle of hair against the backdrop of a dirty bathroom rug and thought, “You know, it’s been too long since I’ve had short, unsatisfying sex with a stranger. Let’s do this!”? (Note: this is merely a case in point, not intended to imply that the better man-scaped or more well-endowed premature phallic image senders among us are any less reprehensible in their acts.)

I have tried to wrap my head (again, no pun intended) around this apparently common practice. Taking it at face value as a strategy to impress a potential mate, basic armchair psychology would dictate that it must be influenced by a belief that it will achieve the desired end. Surely someone, somewhere must have had success with this method of wooing, and the rumors of his conquest must have circulated far and wide to foster this false sense of efficacy.

Dare I suggest that the blame is shared for this phenomenon? There are the peter pic senders, but then there are also women who have not shut them down in reaction, even those who condescended to sleep with the perpetrators. Ugh, why? Don’t they know they’re reinforcing bad behavior? The men, then emboldened by the payoff on their gambit, go on to disseminate their phallic likeness to the next 10 ladies they court on e-Harmony, thinking, “Well, it worked that one time”.

My pondering on the matter has led me to two advisory conclusions:

Guys- Before you go sending a girl photographic evidence that you are, in fact, a male in possession of a real live dong attached to your person, you’d better be damn sure that it’s something she’s interested in seeing. Maybe wait for her to send you a picture of her lady bits first. Or at least her boobs. Or if she says, “Can you give me a visual of what you’re working with in the pants department?” At that point, you’re probably in the clear (be sure to include a banana for scale). Otherwise, better hold off until you know for sure.

Gals- Not that I’m suggesting that any of my fair readers would do such a thing, but maybe you know someone who does: don’t reward the schlong senders! Exemplify the change you want to see in the modern dating world; shut that shit down! I’ve crafted some ready-made replies to aid in this endeavor:

  • “Looks like a penis, only smaller.”
  • “Does it come in a different size?”
  • Or even a simple “No thanks.”

Not to be Marxist, but together, single men and women of the world, we can make the dating landscape more fruitful for one another, thus increasing the chances of those male members being employed for their intended use instead of as awkward conversation starters (or enders).

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