KingMidget's Ramblings

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Tag Archives: Life

Why Atheists Have A HUGE Respect For Life

It’s rather simple … because this is our one and only chance at the thing.  When you don’t believe in heaven or hell, the afterlife, reincarnation, or anything other than ashes to ashes, dust to dust, you realize your only chance to do right by yourself and this world is to live this one life, the only shot you have, the best you can.

I think this is why atheists have a larger problem with torture than believers do.  If you believe in God, or a supreme being, that there is some reward or punishment in a “next life,” that forgiveness here will get you something there, it becomes easier to justify things like torture.  But when you don’t believe in any of those things, torture takes on such a life-changing, life-threatening, life-destroying thing, we atheists simply cannot get our heads around the evil that it does.  You see, those torture victims, many of them, are permanently scarred, damaged beyond repair, and will never be able to function again.  They will never be able to enjoy life again.  The same can be said for the perpetrators of torture.  Doing these things to other humans can fundamentally alter their relationship to the world.  If you believe in God and heaven and hell, or whatever the afterlife might be, this doesn’t seem as bad, because well, there’s always the next life.  That’s not a perceivable option for an atheist — those people’s lives are fundamentally and forever destroyed.  There is no new life coming that will erase the pain.

So, we atheists value this life we all have beyond anything believers can possibly imagine.  We don’t get do-overs.

I have read a number of justifications for an alternate view.  For instance, Hitler was an atheist and look at what he did.  Yes, well, Christians were responsible for the Crusades.  Christians warred against each other in Ireland for decades.  And Muslims are the current “worst” in the world.  So, if the fact that Hitler may have been an atheist justifies the belief that atheists don’t value human life, I’d suggest there’s a whole lot more of that type of evidence to show that believers don’t respect human life, based on what other believers have done throughout history.

I think there are also arguments occasionally made that most serial killers are atheists.  Only problem is that it isn’t true.  Many serial kills were raised in very strict, religious families.  Hard to say then that they lacked moral teaching or the education religion supposedly brings to bear to cause adherents to value life.  What I think this argument really gets at, however, is that the most staunch believers think that anybody who kills others, like Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, etc., can’t possibly believe in the same God as they do.   So, whether they claim to be or not, they really are atheists.  Or something like that.

I know it’s Christmas around the world today.  Plenty of my regular readers are people of faith who I have a tremendous amount of respect for.  This post is not meant to question their morals, beliefs, or respect for human life.  Instead, it is an effort to continue with my post from yesterday.  As I said, I think there is a reason atheists find torture abhorrent.  It comes down to our respect for human life.  Not human life in general.  This human life.  This one being lived right now.  Today.  Because it is the only one there is.  I couldn’t possibly imagine living my one and only life without trying to do the best and be the best I can.  I couldn’t imagine spending this life hurting people or doing anything that disrespects life in its many forms.  And you know what, there are a lot of atheists like me.

Just thought you should know.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

 

Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Headed

Yeah, it’s that time.  To walk along a well-traveled path.  Or, at least, one I’ve written about before.  It’s time to open it up a bit and tell you about where I’ve been, what’s going on now, and where I hope to be in the future.

I’m pretty certain that I’ve spent the last couple of years wallowing further and further into a pool of mud.  Or maybe quicksand.  There are a lot of causes for the wallowing and the muck, but there is one cause I’m going to cover here because it’s a shame something I enjoy so much has led me to where I am now.

I love beer and beer has become my enemy.

For years I had a two beer a night habit.  Yes, occasionally on weekends, I imbibed a little bit more, but for the most part.  Two beers.  A night.  Even when I spent five years brewing my own beer and always had dozens of bottles of beer in the cabinet.  Two beers.  A night.  Even then, I had a craving for the amber liquid.  I can remember twenty years ago, driving home from work and eagerly waiting the feel and taste of a cold beer sliding down my throat.  It has been my constant companion for almost thirty year.

Somewhere along the way, a few years ago, that two beer a night habit started to grow.  It began first on weekends when I cooked.  Drinking beer became a part of cooking and since I typically make things that take several hours to prepare, well, it’s pretty hard to stretch two beers out over several hours of cooking and then eating the meal.  So, on weekends, two beers a night turned into four or five, six or seven.  Typically on both Saturday and Sunday.  And when I started doing that, even during the week, sometimes two beers a night became three or four.

Why?  Well, besides the fact that I love beer, in truth, it became a crutch.  It became a salve for the wounds that came my way — whether it was stress from work, unhappiness at home, anger at the difficulties of parenting, dissatisfaction with this, annoyance at that — beer became the thing that allowed me to put up a wall when I got home.  I drank, never to the point of incapacitation — although I’m sure you might wonder about those weekends when I was cooking.

And, here’s the key thing.  For years, I never felt the impact the next day.  And I never drove drunk.  I never drank during the day — it was entirely an evening habit.  And, so, there was no reason to stop.  It was all good.  I was running and healthy and it was under control.  It wasn’t affecting me at work.  Wasn’t affecting me at home.  It was all good.

Until it wasn’t.  In the last year or two I’ve lost the ability to metabolize alcohol the way I did for decades.  I could no longer claim that I didn’t feel it the next day.  I really, really started to feel it.  I know that there are other causes of this, but for far too long I have woke up in the morning feeling absolutely horrible and I have spent a lot of days listless, un-motivated, wanting nothing more than the comfort of a nap or two.

For the last few months, I’ve tried to kick the habit this way.  By Sunday night I’m disgusted with myself and say I’m done drinking beer.  I then get it done for the next two or three evenings with no beer.  But I start to feel better, and right around Wednesday or Thursday I can’t resist the craving and I have a beer or two and by the weekend, I’m back to four or five and on Sunday I’m disgusted with myself.

Last weekend, my youngest son was at the county fair with his steer.

bullseye

His name is Bullseye.  The steer.  Not my son.  (By the way, along with some neighbors, we bought Bullseye — in a couple of weeks, about 100 lbs. of meat will be stocked in our freezer.)

Anyway, because my son was at the fair, the rest of the family was there for most of the weekend.  I just wasn’t interested in going.  I had better things to do.  Like the two naps I took on Saturday and the three I took on Sunday.  Yes, are you beginning to see the problem?  I spent the weekend wallowing.  Again, it’s not just the beer.  There are other things at play.  But, I do know this.  I had to do something about two things.

Last Saturday was the last day I had a beer.  The last day I had a Pepsi.  For seven days now, I’ve been caffeine and soft drink free.  More importantly, it’s seven days without a beer.  I’ve passed a few tests during the week.  The cravings late in the afternoon as the end of the work day approaches and I imagine that cold beer sliding down my throat.  That there are three beers in the fridge right next to the bottles of lemonade I am drinking now.  That I almost stopped and got a pizza to take home for dinner on Thursday — what usually means having a couple of beers while waiting for the pizza.

Tonight will be a huge test.  We’re going out with friends to celebrate the Queen Midget’s birthday.  There will be beer and wine there, consumed by our friends.  We’re having pizza and they have Peroni on tap.  And I will not have any.  I cannot.

I know there are a lot of people who would say that I just need to take it day by day.  To wake up each morning and commit to this for that day.  I cannot do that.  Instead, I have to make the commitment that this is permanent.  Day by day means that there is nothing wrong with having a beer today, because it is only one day and I can always get back on the right side tomorrow.  Problem is that once I have one, it is hard to stop.  And the reality is that it now only takes one or two beers for me to feel like crap the next day.  So, I can’t imagine this as a day to day struggle.  Instead, it is that I have chosen a completely different path for the rest of my life.  One without beer.  One without alcohol.  One in which …

I feel better and will accomplish more.  And that’s why I’m writing this.

I have felt better the last weekend than I have in a long time.  Months and years have gone by since I have felt as good as I have over the past week.  More energy.  More motivation.  More desire to do things and get things done.

A couple of weeks ago, a fellow blogger and writer suggested we co-write something.  He sent me his contribution a couple of weeks ago.  I worked on it over the last week including last night and early this morning — two times of the day when I have been completely incapable of writing for far too long.  And I wanted to.  I was eager to put the words together and finish the thing to see how it would all end up.  I got a few small tasks done around the house today as well — things that have needed to be done for so long and I just look at them and say “nah. not interested.”  I’m newly motivated to get back to Northville Five & Dime — to conduct one big, final edit of the thing and then seriously consider whether there are two more novellas for the characters.  The writing door has opened a crack and I don’t want to slam it shut again because of what’s at the bottom of a bottle of beer.

This week has been a change for me.  I have turned a page and started a new chapter.  Things are definitely not perfect.  There are still those other components to my life that will continue to cause me to ride the roller coaster of life.  But, I’m pretty sure I’ve solved one of the problems.  Now, I just need to pass the test tonight and look forward to what I can get done tomorrow.

Thanks for reading and thanks to those friends and acquaintances who have conquered addiction and shown by their quiet example that it can be done.

Life

After I graduated from high school, I started hanging out with a group of people who were made up of a conglomeration of students from my high school.  A few had graduated the year before, a few were in my year, and a few were in the year after mine.  A mix of males and females.  There was a core group and then the random friends of friends that came in and went out over the years.

That first summer, with all of us still tied to Sacramento, we would gather every Friday night for a friendly game of softball with whoever showed up.  After the game, which ended when it got too dark to see anything any more, we typically went to Denny’s or Luis’s, which was a local Mexican restaurant.  An institution of cheap Mexican food.  Once we were done with our fine dining experience we would always go back to Jennifer’s house.  Here parents would disappear into their bedroom as soon as we arrived.  It was there that we watched The Big Chill.  Over and over again.  It was there that we watched Eddie Murphy’s Delirious.  Over and over again.  It was there that we played countless rounds of Trivial Pursuit and other board games.  It was there where we played quarters and drank lots of alcohol.  It was there that we met every New Year’s Eve.  It was there that some things happened and what happens at Jennifer’s house stays at Jennifer’s house, if you know what I mean.

As all such groupings do, after a few years, we started to go in different directions.  A few went away to college and didn’t come back.  At times, differences arose, harsh words were exchanged, feelings were hurt.  And at least in one instance, one of the circle passed away at a ridiculously young age.  But, thirty years later, we all have our memories of the fun and friendship we shared back then and once or twice a year, those who can get together for a meal and more laughs.

Well, most of us anyway.  As mentioned in the post linked to above, I hosted a gathering at my house about 18 months ago for some of the group and for the father of our friend who had passed away.  It was there that some of us first witnessed and then learned of some difficulties one of us was having.  For one individual, those memories are fading much faster than for the rest of us and it’s a heartbreaking thing.  Jennifer, who was the party host and the life of the party, who just wanted to have fun, was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s or dementia.  There is no cure.

Way back when, there were these commercials for Hefty Garbage Bags in which the characters in the ads, for some strange reason that escapes me, would sing son “Hefty, Hefty, Hefty” in a deep voice, followed by “Wimpy, Wimpy, Wimpy” in a higher voice.  Jennifer and I would mimic those commercials back then with her doing the Hefty voice and me doing the Wimpy voice.  For some reason, this is one of those things that always came up when we have got together in the years since.  When we gathered at my house 18 months ago, it came up again and Jennifer had absolutely no memory of what we were talking about.

A few months ago, she and her partner of 15 years were married in their backyard.  You could see even more the changes going on with our friend.  There was a lot of uncertainty and doubt on her face on a day when she should have felt nothing but joy and love from being around her friends and family and celebrating a life with her partner.  While she is on medication that helps somewhat, what it really does is only slow down the inevitable.

Today, the local newspaper has a front page article about their battle.  It’s the type of thing that makes me want to stop everything I am doing and run to them and help, but I don’t know what I could possibly do.  It is one of those moments when the sadness of life stares me in the face.  I wish I could do something.

My “Midlife Crisis”

I like to think that I’ve lived a life of responsibility.  Even dating back to the rebellious teen years, I was a responsible kid.  I followed my parents rules because compliance seemed the better approach compared to the strife that occurred for the rulebreakers.  Yes, there were a few exceptions along the way.  The great and massive collapse of obedience that led to me getting kicked out of the parental home when I was 22.  And another thing here and there.

But if any word describes my behavior over the thirty year course of my life as an adult, I think it’s responsible.  Always moving forward, thinking about what’s to come.  Trying to plan and take care of things that need to get done.  I take pride in the fact that once I moved out I never had to ask my parents for help.  Real help any way.  There have been some moments where I thought I might need it, but I found alternatives and I’ve been on my own, responsible for me and able to fulfill that responsibility for a long time.

That responsibility though isn’t the problem.  It’s all of the others that have piled on.  The responsibility of family and children, of owning a home, of work, of planning and preparing for others.  It feels endless and relentless these days and has for a long time.

This week will mark the 8th anniversary of my current position at work.  I’m the General Counsel for an elected official who oversees a state agency with over 300 employees.  I’ll spare the details, but because of my position, there isn’t a matter that I’m not involved in.  Every division, every component of the agency’s operations comes through my office at some point.  It’s a job I thought I might aspire to at some point in my life, but it fell into my lap one day when my boss, the prior General Counsel, told me she was quitting, that she had recommended me to be her replacement, and that I better take the job should it be offered to me.

That first day I felt like a kid wearing his dad’s suit.  I still feel like that frequently, alarmed that people seek out my opinion and involvement in critical matters.  (“Wait, don’t you realize?  I’m no better than you.  No smarter than you.  Why would you ask me?”)  But, it’s endless at times.  There are days where the cycle of responsibility just seems so … endless and relentless.  What do you think about this?  How should we do that?  What does this law mean?  Couldn’t it be read this way instead of that?  Hey, we have a problem with this employee?  Write this piece of legislation?  Sit in on this meeting.  Do this.  Do that.  Constant, never-ending responsibility.  (By the way, people at work who read this – don’t worry, I’m still here to help.  It’s actually the odd paradox about this.  I enjoy helping people and I get to do that frequently in my job.  So, keep stopping by.)

And, then, I go home.  I’m responsible for 90% of the income for my family.  I have done everything I can think of to raise my two boys responsibly and well.  It doesn’t seem to be working out so well at the moment.  I’ll spare you the details.  But I have felt for years, in the confines of my family relationship that there are things I have taken responsibility for, or things the responsibility for which has been forced upon me, an overwhelming sense that I have had to be the responsible one.  Solely responsible for so many things that are supposed to be team efforts

The point of this post is to talk about responsibility and my 30-year dance with it.  And to say enough.  I don’t want to wear my dad’s suit anymore.  I want to spend my day in t-shirts and shorts.  I no longer want to be responsible for the well-being and happiness of others.  I want to be happy myself.  I no longer want the drain and strain of all of this.  I simply want to be.

In various forums, it has been suggested that I like to argue.  I’m sure that my kids think I like to yell, since I’m so good at it.  I’m willing to bet that people I work with believe I enjoy confrontation, that I thrive on conflict and “winning.”  All of them would be wrong.   The reasons I have to argue and yell, and face down confrontation and conflict is BECAUSE OTHER PEOPLE AREN’T TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEMSELVES.  What I prefer is a world in which people act and think responsibly.  That people work towards solutions rather than pointing at somebody else to solve the puzzle.  What I prefer is a world where communication is the key.

Back in 2012, Barack Obama was featured in a magazine profile.  During the course of the piece, he talks about the relentlessness of having to make decisions.  That, as President, he has to make so many decisions.  That no matter how big or small, the need to make decisions is draining all on its own.  As a consequence, to make sure he had the energy for the big decisions, he had done everything he could to eliminate the small decisions.  He eliminated all suits from his closet except for black and dark blue.  He had the same meal for breakfast and followed the same routine every morning.

Now, I realize I’m not anything close to the President and that the decisions I have to make don’t come close to those he makes, but that little discussion about the energy-sucking effect of decisions struck a chord with me.  It relates to the relentless nature of responsibility.  And I want less of it.  Actually, I want none of it.  That’s the battle I’m facing these days.

One might argue it’s nothing more than a midlife crisis for me.  One of those things we all go through at some point.  When the perceived dissatisfaction with the now is replaced by the mythical dream of what could be.  I don’t think it is though.  I’m worn out.  I’m tired.  There are battles I’ve been fighting for years I no longer want to fight.  They aren’t battles I chose.  They are battles forced upon me.  Yes, I didn’t have to have kids.  I chose to have them.  Yes, I didn’t need to accept the position I have now.  I chose to do so.  But, the battles I’m talking about aren’t inherent in those choices.  They are the battles that need to be fought because other people aren’t taking responsibility.  Other people are looking elsewhere for somebody, anybody to take care of things so they don’t have to.

I have this dream.  In six years, I will be 55.  My youngest son will be 22 and hopefully done with his undergraduate program.  My responsibility to and for my kids will be at an end.  I will be able to retire and spend the rest of my life living the life I want to live.  One where the only thing I’m responsible for is myself.  Where the only choices I will need to make each day are whether to sit on the beach in the morning or afternoon.  Whether to write or read.  Whether I should make French bread or pita.  My home will be something as small, as minimal, as possible.  I won’t need to be responsible for mowing a lawn, or repairing a garage door.  Yes, there will still be things that will need fixing, things I will be responsible for.  But, responsibility will no longer be what fills my days, weeks, and months.  Freedom will.

Day #13: A Father’s Lament

Reese 18

The best day of my life

Followed by years of strife

For you, I battled and raged

Likely leaving you feeling caged

My desire for you to live your dreams

Drowned out by your petulant screams

I only wanted what I believed was the best

To help you reach and top the crest

No longer your hero

My opinion worth less than zero

It’s the way it’s supposed to be

You spread your wings to be free

Hardest thing though to be in the middle

Still trying to solve the age old riddle

How does a father raise a son

When he wants to be offf on his own, on the run

IMG_1837

Yesterday, when I was on my bike ride and working on yesterday’s poem, I also started thinking of today’s.  Lots of activities planned and I wasn’t sure if I would squeeze it in.  Plus, in my mind, today’s effort was going to relate to yesterday’s.  The end of the poem would end with a warning, a request, a hope, a wish that my son and I would realize before it was too late that there was still plenty of Life left and we should seize it before the twin track raced out from under Life’s shadow.  So, I didn’t quite go there.  This morning, I read this.  And I worried.  Have I said things to my oldest that could leave him feeling that hurt?  Have I tried to hard?  Have I shared too much of my feelings with him?  When I’m angry, have I said too much?  When I’ve been proud, have I said too little?

That’s the scary thing about this thing called parenting.  About being a father.  It’s impossible to know.  On the eve of the 1995 Super Bowl, my  first son was born.  Because it was a caesarean birth, I got to hold him first and be with him while they cleaned him up and wrapped him in his first burrito blanket.  Because it was a caesarean birth, I took on a lot of responsibilities those first few days.  And nights.  A couple of nights after we got home, he was inconsolable.  He would not go to sleep.  I walked him around.  I lay with him on my chest.  I fed him.  I sang to him.  I did everything I possibly could.  Then I stuck my pinkie in his mouth.  He stopped crying and went to sleep.  First thing in the morning, I went out and purchased pacifiers.

I remember when he was four arguing with him about something and stepping back, amazed that I was arguing with a four-year-old.  I think that could describe a lot of what has followed.  It has never been about life-altering things.  He has, more or less, stayed on the path of being a good kid.  But, in my efforts to father him, maybe I’ve done too much of this and not enough of that.  I do know this, what I have wanted for him is to live up to his dreams and ideas for himself.  I have never pushed him to be me or to accomplish the things I wanted but never did.  In many respects, if I push my kids in any direction, in a lot of ways, it is to be the opposite of me.  I wish they could take on my best qualities and then do with them more than I was ever able to do.

But, it goes back to dreams.  And effort.  He wanted to pitch and catch, but never wanted to practice.  He wanted to play goalie for his high school team, but was late to practice and a bit of a lollygagger.  He wanted to go to Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo or UC Santa Cruz, but stood by nonchalantly as his grades went from 4.0 his freshman year to … well, far below that, his junior year.  At many steps of the way, if I told him he should run, he would walk.  If I told him he should walk, he would run.  The high school years, from the summer before his freshman year, has been about opposition and a search independence.  Assumed maturity wrapped around juvenile behavior.  It’s been a rough, rough, rough time for me and for the relationship we have with each other.

A couple of weeks ago, I went with him to Long Beach to visit one of the top two universities he was accepted to.  We spent a couple of days there.  He seemed to warm to it and also to the idea of going away to college.  Which is an odd thing since it’s what he has always wanted to do.  Me?  I don’t even care if he goes to college.  If he had a Plan B, or C, that would provide him with an opportunity for happiness, that’s all I would want for him.  But, on his own, college has been his destination and preferably somewhere else.  After our visit to Long Beach he seemed to cross off Sac State, the local college that also accepted him.

Today, we made the one other out-of-town visit.  San Francisco State University.  We didn’t stay long.  It just didn’t feel right for him.  Too compact, too stacked on top of each other.  Long Beach is much more spread out.  It helps too that Long Beach will be about $3,000-4,000 cheaper per year.  It helps too that Long Beach has a better Engineering Department.  You want to talk about being the anti-me.  Engineering?  Are you kidding me?

So, he’s 99% sure he’s headed to Long Beach State.  I don’t know what the final shove will be for him to let them know he’s coming.

I do know this.  I never wanted to be his hero.  I only wanted to guide him and teach him and show him what his life could look like.  The reality is … he’s my hero.  He has accomplished more in this first 18 years than I even considered in that time.

I hope for two things.  First, that he keeps moving forward and finds his path to happiness.  Second, and selfishly, that somewhere on that path, he finds a place for me to be able to witness his journey.  It’s all I’ve ever really wanted from my son.

 

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