Joining the Military? And, Why David Pakman Needs a Better Producer!


       Considering enlisting in a branch of the US military?

       I recommend asking the opinion of someone who:
  •        you respect the opinion of
  •        knows your individual capabilities and weaknesses
  •        will provide you with more than four minutes of their time
  •        possesses a modicum of first-hand knowledge about the topic
       If you respect the opinions of the host of The David Pakman Show, and you have an economics questionor a question about politicscall his show.  Leave a voicemail.  But (as this clip woefully demonstrates) neither Mr Pakman, nor his producer, has done any research on why someone might decide to enlist in the military.  Instead, they chose to answer this caller with a list of "off the cuff" opinions filled with ridiculous stereotypes.  This tone-deaf answer shows Mr Pakman to be guilty of the hubris he so readily ascribes to others who foolishly assume they must know enough about every topic to easily answer questions with no preparation.

       Then, this segment was reviewed by a producer who subsequently also failed to consider there would be millions of future viewersranging from those considering a job or career in the military, to those currently in the military, to those who are military retirees (of which I am one)who might do what this show consistently prompts everyone to do: fact check.     


       Mr Pakman provides a rambling, sophomoric, list as to why people consider joining the military:
  • See the world
  • Work for your country
  • Fill a need ("scratch an itch")
  • Be around guns
  • Desire infrastructure and/or discipline
       I assume Mr Pakman meant 'structure' not 'infrastructure', before he insipidly closed the segment with a statement that people should consider if the military is "the best path" for them. 

       Slow clap.  You should be ashamed Mr Pakman.  Your flippant attitude appears, to me, to be no more than a ineffectual veneer, attempting to hide your obvious disdain for all the people who chose, or will choose to join the military.  If this is what you think, be a big enough person to say so!  Don't hide behind your weak statements of, "...the US needs a volunteer military...don't have a draft...guess there must be some sane reason to join...".

       You areobviouslyout of touch with all the members of your audience who choose a job in the military because they needed a job.  Not many years after I joined, there was a TV ad which proclaimed, "Join the Army.  It's not just a job, it's an adventure!"...that was just marketing; it was just a job.

       If you want to learn some real reasons why people enlist in the military, keep reading.  
       During my military careerwhich covered the decades of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000sI heard one answer exponentially more than all others; most (especially those 18-23 years old) enlisted in the US military because they:
  • had never been employed non-seasonally, full-time
  • were encouraged (or had no choice to) quickly: graduate, get a job, and find a place of their own
  • would only qualify for entry-level/minimum-wage jobs (in 2018 that is $15K year)
  • knew the approximate cost of basic needs (food, clothing, housing, insurance and transportation)   
  • witnessed their peers, and others in their community, failing to pay for those basic needs on that income
  • listened to their military recruiter who promised:
      • Three free meals a day in the mess hall
      • Free uniforms
      • Free bunk in the barracks / rack on the ship / cot on deployment
      • Free medical care, free non-elective dental, free basic optical care
      • Free military transportation
      • Starting pay of a E1 is approximately $20K year (in 2018, after training)
       $1,400 a month (after taxes) is a large amount of money in someone's pocket, when all their basic needs have already been provided for.  And, just like their recruiter told them, they were now training forand receiving on-the-job experience ina job specialty of their choosing (with hope the training and experience would transfer to an equivalent non-minimum wage, non-entry-level job when they left the military).

       There are hundreds of jobs that need to be performed in the military because almost every job available in the civilian world has a military counterpart.  If there's no military counterpart, that job is now 100% contracted, or performed by DoD civilian employees. 

       Many soldiers, sailors, airmen, and (yes—even some) marines only see their assigned individual weapon (civilian term: gun) during marksmanship training and on operational deployments (civilian term: fighting in a war, becoming a member of a peace-keeping force, etc).  

       During my first years as a soldier, I did not hear anyone say they joined to: "see the world," nor to "work with guns," nor were they looking to bring "structure in their previously undisciplined lives".

       To be fair to Mr Pakman, later in my career, I had occasion to converse with members of the US Special Forces, Army Rangers, and Navy Seals and some expressed a desire to "go hunting," and used many other more colorful words to describe killing human beings.  Soclearlysome people do choose a military life because of the weapons and their ability to use them.  Also (to continue my fairness to Mr Pakman) I was told, by two different sailors, they joined the Navy primarily because they "looked forward to visiting all the different ports on shore leave."  Which is similar enough to "see the world" to warrant a mention.

       But there are many more reasons why people enlist in the military.  Here are just a few:
  • One infantry soldier told me he was ordered by a judge to show him enlistment papers within two weeks, or serve 364 days in the county jail (Yes, that's still a thing).
  • After the begin of every news-worthy military conflict, many say they "signed up to serve their country."  Not just after 9/11.   
  • Dozens of people (the second largest reason) said they joined to either take advantage of the College Education Bonus, or to utilize the College Loan Repayment Program. 
       And here are a few reasons some individuals may NOT be comfortable enlisting in the military:
  • Mandatory exercise/maintenance of body weight:  If you do not like to exercise and/or are already over the military's body-mass standard, you will either "get with the program" or be quickly administratively discharged.  Overweight military members are not tolerated.
  • Recreational drug usage:  It is illegal to use any non-prescription drugs at any time (even on vacation; even in states where cannabis is legal).  Failure to pass random drug tests results in fines, administrative punishments, and other-than-honorable discharges.
  • Respect:  it is always mandatory and drilled-in from day one of basic training.  It doesn't stop being required.  Ever.  Never stop respecting everyone else.  Have a problem with other races?  Other sexes?  Other religions?  The military has no tolerance for any bias, statements, or outward displays of hatred.  And, the quickest way to be administratively discharged for "unable to adapt" is to show a racist tattoo, fly a hate-flag, or utter words which might be labeled hate-speech. 
  • Long Hours:  The military is not 9-5 with weekends off (although there are times when it looks that way).  The military pays an annual salary because they OWN you every minute of every day for all the years on your legally-enforceable, multi-year, job contract.  Never make vacation plans with non-refundable tickets.  Never expect that you will work "regular hours".  Never be surprised by a schedule change.   
  • Small cog in a big machine:  the military constantly needs a very large number of low-ranking individuals to continually replace people who leave after their enlistment contract is finished, or depart after they get kicked out (see above for a few reasons that can happen).  They need a very small number of Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) to stay in the military (re-enlist) and supervise those lower ranks.  Promotions go to only those who shine the brightest and prove they want it the most.  Although it's reasonably easy to enlist and go to basic training and then get to advanced training, it's not guaranteed you'll graduate, and it's a challenge (for many) to be awarded an Honorable Discharge.  
  • Not like any civilian job:  The military does not comply with EEO guidelines; they do not recruit physically or mentally handicapped individuals. (Those who receive debilitating injuries are medically retired.)  They also do not pay overtime.  And, although they may order a "mandatory extension" of your enlistment contract (during "manpower-critical" times) they rarely allow the opposite to happen; an individual (once their initial training is complete) can not voluntarily terminate their enlistment contract.  Decide to leave anyway?  They'll charge you with AWOL, or desertion, which equals fines, administrative discipline, and possibly an other-than-honorable discharge.  (Do I need to mention that a Bad Conduct Discharge will get you treated like a pariah by every future employer?)

Stained Glass Shadowboxes


Why the Thin Blue Line Flag is Anti-Black Lives Matter


          Last weekend, as we drove thru the countryside of my state, my wife pointed to a pickup truck flying two large flags and asked if I knew what the black and white one represented.  Although I'd never seen an "American flag" with: black bars instead of red, a black field behind the stars instead of blue, and a horizontal blue bar thru the middle I was able to make a reasonably informed guess (because the other flag in the back of the pickup was a confederate battle flag).

            There are a few variations of banners with these blue lines.  Even though they range from those with solid black backgrounds,  or combined with the stars and bars, or the union jack (as well as with the aforementioned stars and stripes), I've discovered one strong common denominator:  all appear to have been created in the last five years after 2013 when the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement began.

          For many decades, the descriptor: 'thin blue line' has been used as a simile.  By referring to the police force as the "front line" of law enforcement, the phrase successfully brings to mind a line of blue-uniformed officers fighting valiantly to separate and protect law abiding citizens from criminals.  I joined the Military Police in 1985, but it wasn't until 1990 with the film The Thin Blue Line that I learned this term was a label for police.

          If someone wants to show police solidarity and also wants to display their support in the form of a banner (on the back of their Ford F150as an example) they should consider a emblem from the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP).  This organization is over a century old, advocates for the safety of law enforcement officers, and the FOP logo contains no words intended to usurp the message of another group.   

          The number of flags, banners, and signs which bring universal scorn to those who display them publicly is growing.  Included in this list are the signs of the "Church" from Westboro, Kansas; the flag of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (the Nazi Swastika); and some variants of the US Confederate Battle Flag (Confederate Southern Cross).  Specious claims of "pride in one's heritage" are no longer palatable by the masses.  Since there are still many who want to publicly display their hatred for others, the white supremacists have recently adopted the thin blue line flag, which provides a superficially plausible explanation (claiming to support the police) while actually displaying their hate-filled message (which is that black lives don't matter to them).

  •      The Thin Blue Line Flag is equivalent to the Blue Lives Matter banner.
  •      "Blue Lives Matter" has one purpose: opposing the "Black Lives Matter" message.
  •      "Black Lives Matter" opposes violence and racism against people of color by the police.       
Thus:  Displaying a Thin Blue Line flag means you support violence and racism against people of color by the police.
           
   
    is the same as

Art from the eye of the Artist


I have always loved women without makeup. Vanity is terrible. This woman is amazing in every way. I love her.

I Cecil You, Too

          I have never celebrated the fake holiday in mid-February.  It's a scam holiday which business's use to sell cards, flowers, candy, and all that foolish shit.  I give gifts of love when the time is right, not when someone else says I'm supposed to.

          Anyway—what the fuck is this thing we all have labelled with the word: LOVE?  I know what mix of emotions I feel/have felt for those I've loved and do love (not a very large list) but it's amazingly hard to explain how certain fluctuations in my brain's chemicals affect my heart/brain/gut/libido, and even harder to understand/compare when others explain their "feelings of love".  We just assume everyone must be feeling the same way we feel when we use the same words they use.

          "See that color?  That is what I have labelled: Red."
          "Oh, that's red?  Ok, I'll begin to refer to everything which is colored that way: red.  Umm, what about when I feel all these crazy feelings at the same time?  I need a label, so that when I am feeling all these feelings I do not need to explain each of them every time."
          "That is labelled:  Love."
          "What about all those same feelings, except one:  I don't want to be physically intimate?"
          "Still labelled: Love.  You could add the word Platonic, but that'll require an explanation because that word has different interpretations."
          "What about when I feel all those feelings for my pet?"

          "When I say, I love my cat (Cecil) I think I must be misusing the word.  Instead, I should use a word that compounds the meanings of the words: pride, enjoyment, happiness and admiration."

          I'm proud of Cecil's training and I enjoy his 'loving' attention.  He never makes me angry (Mostly because he can't communicate with words, has no malice, and enjoys my company) and I admire him for his actions, looks, demeanor, and thoughtfulness (is he being thoughtful?  I'm probably just anthropomorphising his behavior).  Maybe I should consider his name, Cecil, to be my label for what I feel about him.  When I say, "Such a good Cecil"  I really mean that I'm currently feeling a combination of pride/enjoyment/happiness/admiration.

          When I receive an "I love you," I—almost never—use the phrase: "I love you too". 

          Because it's wrong to treat an I love you, as if it requires a mandatory reply.  It is not supposed to be interpreted as if it were the question: Do you love me?  Also, it should not become a replacement phrase for goodbye.  When people do that, they cause their incessant I love you's to lose their value.  Eventually, it becomes a throw-away line.  If said all the time, what do they say when they really want someone to know they have caused a rush of complicated emotions which are identified (when felt all at the same time) as the feeling of love?  

Recap:  "I Love You"—all three words—are reserved for when the emotion of love is actually being felt.  I do not want my I love you to cause an immediate response of I love you too.  I prefer either no reply or a response like: "those words make me feel good," or "Thank you," or "I like it when you tell me that," or "those words make me happy," or "when you say that, I get warm inside".  It is better that the person you love smiles and says nothing, and some time in the future, if they tell me they are currently feeling the emotion they call love—for me—I know they're feeling love at that moment and I can decide to reply with my present feelings, or not to reply.  I appreciate their statement of love when they are feeling it and then I consider what I did to make them feel that way.  This is my normal.

          When she was young, I tried to encourage my daughter, Denise, to understand and to communicate her feelings of love.  It was a long and complicated issue.  I found communicating my thoughts to her and her mother, on expressing love, very difficult.  I felt there was a lack of love in our family, and wanted us to tell each other that we loved each other more often (it worked occasionally).  I also wanted us to communicate our love by kissing (which never caught on).  The compromise I got from my daughter was cheek-bumps.  I failed at explaining to her that bumping cheeks was how people communicated respect to either: an old and feeble relative; someone who was contagious; or (in France) because that was their custom.

          Denise now says I love you to each of her children many times a day.  Each of her kids reply with a I love you too.  I see and hear their devotion and their respect.  With them, it does not seem to be a "worn out phrase" or a "throw away line".  In fact, when a child is upset (and, intentionally, does not reply to their mother's I love you) they—routinely—apologize (later) and remind her that they love her.

          I am now an old relative with whom respectful cheek bumps may be apropos.  And, now, I am adjusting to her normal.  Now, I reply to her I love you with an I love you, too.

Landmines, Deal Breakers and Brass Rings


This essay is intended to help you with future “new” relationships.  I hope this information is considered valuable enough that you decide to teach your children to apply this to their future adult relationships.

Before beginning a new intimate relationship with someone, I have picked an appropriate time to have what I refer to as my, “Landmines, Deal Breakers, and Brass Rings Conversation”.

“Landmines” are things you know about yourself.  They can be any value, character trait, habit, and/or fetish, which you are aware other people may not like.  Landmines are not obvious (and sometimes we intentionally hide them).   Tattoos are a good example; some people dislike all tattoos and others just dislike certain types of body art.  A large number of clearly-visible tattoos might not be considered a Landmine (unless the racist ones are all hidden), however, someone with a few concealed tattoos should consider them a Landmine. 

Although identifying and sharing each others Landmines are crucial to a healthy relationship, the most important aspect of discussing Landmines is that it starts “The Conversation” on a positive note.  Each person shares something they are either embarrassed about themselves, or their past, or which the other person might find off-putting.  To decide if something is or is not a Landmine, I ask myself, “If I don’t share this, and—instead—they discover it in the distant future, could I be accused of being intentionally deceitful or lying by omission?”
  
Examples of Landmines:
  • Incarcerations 
  • Addictions
  • Diseases
  • Non-standard employment
  • Non-standard housing
  • Pet issues or allergies
  • Children given for adoption
  • Previous long-term relationships
  • Dangerous or risky behaviors 
               “Deal Breakers” are things you absolutely will not tolerate in another person.  Many non-smokers consider smoking or vaping (of any substance) to be a Deal Breaker.   At this point in “The Conversation,” each person takes turns explaining to the other the types of behavior(s) which—if discovered in the future—would cause them to terminate the relationship.  For example:  if someone quit smoking a while ago (and didn’t consider it important enough to be a Landmine) and then the other person told them that smoking was a Deal Breaker, it’s now a subject which needs further discussion.

Normally, people identify things they consider Deal Breakers based on their past.  If a previous significant other was a habitual liar, they may no longer put up with the smallest amount of dishonesty and—therefore—might consider some “white lies” to be Deal Breakers; along the same lines, if a previous significant other constantly acted jealous for no reason, they may now consider any hint of jealous behavior to be a Deal Breaker.

Examples of Deal Breakers:
  • Pregnancy
  • Watching sports on TV
  • Share love of pets
  • Must not Hunt or fish 
  • Share same Religion
  •  Have the same Personal Politics
  • Watch Pornography
               “Brass Rings” bring “The conversation” to a close on a positive note.  Each person explains at least one thing they would ultimately love to receive from the relationship, or from their partner.     This is the point where each person is expected to bare their deepest desire.  Selfishness is a must when explaining one’s Brass Ring(s).  It does not work if—after making it all the way through the Landmines and the Deal Breakers—someone claims their Brass Ring is just the happiness of the other.  

Examples of Brass Rings:
  • Clitoral orgasms
  • Enjoyment of specific sexual acts
  • Destination vacation
  • Financial security
  • Platonic love
  • Children

Stupid Genius

Stupid Genius - 2018

Denise's LOVE

          On New Years Eve, I found a very touching note from my daughter after I returned from dropping her off at the airport.
          I snapped a picture of her handwritten Love and made a character's face with it.  The L became the character's eyes, the o an ear, the v it's nose, and the e is it's smile (with tongue sticking out of the corner).   These items (and others) are available at my CafePress Shop.



This is the image alone.

My dearest only child - Denise,

    Please accept my apology.  I hate myself for shouting at you.  I have spent almost all the hours since our phone-call, trying to understand why your words caused me to feel so much anger.  I'm ashamed of myself.  I should have paused, thought about what you said, realized you had no way to know your actions (which—like you said—are the actions of many others) would cause me so much pain, and I should have waited to talk to you about my anger on a later date.

    In order to fully understand my own thoughts on this issue, I’ve had a long conversation with myself – and – this is that conversation:

    What were the words, said by Denise, which made you feel angry?
    “Denise shared how she and her boyfriend met in a bar and then she said, ‘The next day or so, we exchanged messages and I almost decided not to chat with him because he never offered to buy me a drink that night.’  I didn’t immediately feel angry when she made that statement.  But I did begin to ask questions to learn if she was aware of what her words meant.”

    Obviously the answers she provided to your questions did make you angry.  Why?
    “She said that when she went to bars it was what was expected and normal.  That, ‘all men purchased drinks for all women.’  When I asked her if, ‘she had ever purchased a drink for a guy?’ She replied, ‘No.  She had never done that, and no woman she knew had ever done it’.”    

    Why were Denise’s words so upsetting?
    “I was shocked to learn that someone I love, someone I care about as much as I care about my daughter, would have such low self esteem.”

    Can you explain what that means, and why you think she has low self esteem because of this statement?
    “The reason a man purchases a drink-gift for a woman is he hopes she will accept it, feel obligated to talk to him for a short period of time (commonly understood to be the time it takes to finish the drink) which—he hopes—will lead to more drinks, more conversation, and eventually sex.”

    What does that have to do with a person’s self esteem?
    “Self esteem means:  self-worth.  How a person thinks about themselves; the cumulative good and bad thoughts one knows about themselves.  (This is not a dollar price tag.  Having high self esteem is not saying, ‘I think I’m worth a million dollars.’)  Self esteem is a vague picture that people hold in their mind about themselves.
    “If someone has mostly good thoughts about themselves; takes care of themselves; treats themselves with respect; considers themselves to be both caring and thoughtful; and behaves in a positive manner—they are considered to have ‘high self esteem’.  Conversely, when someone thinks about themselves in mostly negative terms; treats their mind and body terribly; knows that they are careless and thoughtless; and performs negative acts—they have ‘low self esteem’.
    “If someone expects men to buy them drinks, then they are expecting men to pay to talk to them; to ‘buy their time’.  Women who think this way are communicating to men (even if they don’t know it) that their time is for rent.

    Are you saying these women are prostituting themselves for drinks?
    “No.  I am not implying women who expect drink-gifts are prostitutes!  Not at all.  Instead, what I am saying is that when a woman expects a man to buy her a drink — instead of informing him (not asking...telling him), up-front, that she is going to buy the next round — she is telling him that she considers herself to be subordinate to him.  She considers all men to be superior to her.  She is telling him that she has low self esteem.  Simply put:  she thinks her life is worth less than his life. 
    “A woman with high self esteem doesn’t sit and wait for a man to offer her a drink.  She offers to buy the man she admires a drink—first.  If he gladly accepts and says he will buy the next round, she has found an equal.  If he refuses to accept her drink but offers to buy her one—he thinks all women are supposed to be subordinate to him (she should run away).  If he accepts and never offers to buy her a drink and expects her to buy him drinks all night long?  Well.... is she looking for a subordinate man?  If so, she found one.
    “At this point I should mention:  “buying a drink” is a dumb, irritating, ‘ploy.’  The entire situation and verbal game sounds wrong-headed; it doesn’t matter if anyone ever offers to buy anyone else a drink.
    “Think of it this way:  if a person (woman or a man) goes to a bar and then sits and waits for the opposite sex to approach, talk, and offer them gift-drinks...they have low self esteem. Or they are a narcissistic attention-whore (which is not Denise, so, no reason to expound on that).  Everyone should feel free to walk up to and talk to anyone whom they admire.  No drinks are ever need.  Approaches are made by people who are self-assured and confident.  All one needs to do is say, “Hello, I like your smile.”  That is how a conversation is begun.  If the other person is interested in talking to you, then it will take off from there.  If they are not, they will not offer you a seat, not engage you in conversation, and you can move on and tell the next person you admire that you, “think the color they are wearing looks good on them.”     

   Is this something you think everyone knows about?
     “About how to start a conversation with an attractive stranger?  I hope so.  Denise is not shy and she's in her mid-30s!”

     I meant awareness of one's own self esteem.  Is that something you think people have?
     “Unfortunately, far too many people have no idea.  This is not something many people have ever wanted to learn about themselves.  I also realize that many people have never even considered what the term ‘self esteem’ means and never think about their own self esteem.”

    Aren’t some women fully aware of their low self esteem and subsequent actions?
    “Yes.  Some women are open about their life’s expectations when they admit they expect men to buy them everything.  They have a clearly-stated goal of finding someone to take care of them.  Those women are derogatorily referred to as Gold-diggers and the men who keep them are derogatorily referred to as Sugar-daddy.”

    Did you get angry because Denise’s words made you think she was a gold digger?
    “No.  She said that she never thought about her behavior other than to think that it was ‘how everyone acted’ and that it was ‘normal’.  According to her, it was how every woman around her had behaved her entire life.  Since she and I have just reunited after 16 years, I think it’s possible she has never had a positive role model to show her how to act if she wants to attract a partner interested in an woman who is assertive and who expects to be treated as an equal.”

    Why didn’t you explain all this to her on the phone instead of getting angry?
    “The shock took over and I lost all my clear thoughts.  I love my daughter so much it makes my head spin at times.  When we talk, her words about her life make me feel emotions of concern, and worry, and pride, and contentment, and empathy, and excitement, and sadness, and so much more . . . all inside of one single conversation.
    “We have (so quickly) reunited to become parts of each other’s lives, that when I discovered she had adopted a long-term bad behavior—and it was something she’d done her entire life—I was so shocked I blew up.”

    And your shock turned to anger?
    “Yes.  Unfortunately all I could focus on was that she didn’t know how a simple act of “expecting free drinks from men” had informed every man she’d ever talked to in a bar that she had low self esteem.  And, then all I could think about was that she must also not know that almost all men with lower self esteem were only interested in finding women with low self esteem.   
    “Which made me think about all her previous failed relationships.  And, I wondered if all of them had been doomed to fail because of that.
    “Then I realized that if I had not lost contact with her 16 years ago, she would have known (because I would have told her before she was 21—before she went into her first bar) that she should only trust men with high self esteem, who gratefully accept compliments or drink-gifts from women and who are not looking for a subservient partner.  I would have also made sure she knew she should never talk to a man who only wants a subservient woman.  They are the men who always say: ‘I never let a little lady buy me a drink!’
    “I felt that, maybe, her low self esteem was caused by me.”

    How do you think you can fix this?
    “Denise knows how much I want her to be happy.  How much I love her.  How hard I am willing to work to help her in any way that she wants me to help her.  Over time, this will be thought of as ‘the phone call when I got angry and made her cry.’  I’m very sorry for not using my words very good.  I hope she will forgive me.”

Hello There 2018 - Let the Catching Up Commence!

...you'll be my bodyguard and I can be your long-lost pal.  I can call you Betty—and Betty, when you call me—you can call me Al...

    After three years of: ‘no good reason to sit down and write’ my life has spanked me with a dozen reasons.  Now I feel driven to get the swirling cacophony onto the page in-hopes of, maybe, getting “thoughts in order.”  (A distant *yay* echoes off the surrounding cliffs of the neverscape.  Or, at least, I think it was a yay...maybe it was naaayyy?)

    My ex-step-daughter — I can call her Betty — contacted me a few months ago.  She was 19 when I divorced her mother (with whom she shared a close, daily-contact, type of relationship).  Now she is 35.  Over the 16 year interim, I assumed our estrangement was, unfortunately, the expected outcome of what had become a tenuous relationship.

    In the early 1990s I assumed the temporary, non-tenured, position as her primary care-giver from a litany of predecessors.  She was an obedient, friendly and pleasant ten year old.  Easy to talk to.  We liked each other.  Her mother’s ‘hands-off’ parenting style fit nicely with my desire to teach.  My more authoritative and ‘present’ style seemed to be more appropriate and needed.  Until ... a few years later ... it wasn’t.  Because: teenagers.  (I see no need to provide details about the petty crimes, drugs, running away for weeks, or dropping-out of school.)  She was not “cash me outside, how bout dat?” girl.  But in the late 1990s, it felt like all my efforts to help her become a good person had amounted to hundreds of man-hours of wasted time.  Against my wishes, her mother allowed her—at 16—to get married.  At 19, my adult step-daughter was back in my house as a divorcĂ©e with an infant named Destiny. 

    It had become perfectly clear I was nobody’s parent, nobody’s teacher, all my opinions were worthless and the only things required from me were: shut up; provide food, shelter and money; and shut up.

    A year later, Betty's mother told me that all she required of me was the same five things.  And, that was when I paid thousands of dollars to lawyers so they would legally affix the prefix “ex-” in front of all of our respective relationship labels. 

    Last month, the aforementioned ironically named infant (my ex-previous-step-granddaughter...if that’s even possibly a real label for a relationship) turned 17.  Her mother, Betty, had progressed from using my name to using the title ‘Dad’ and we have progressed from the occasional text message or email to weekly phone calls.  By yesterday — Festivus of 2017 — our phone calls are almost daily and they sometimes are hours in duration. They are a vibrant and wonderful mix of reminiscing, catching-up, discussing current topical issues, exchanging opinions and tears, and planning future visits (Betty lives 3,000 miles away).

    In eight weeks, we have become bodyguard and long-lost pal.  I have learned many of the lessons (which I assumed had been a waste of time) were, actually, vitally important.  My parenting style twenty years ago had influenced some of her parenting successes.  She had now raised three, constantly-on-the-honor-roll, loving, respectful, and wonderful children, who are now 10, 14, and 17.  Yes, of course, her life has not been without its pitfalls.  But, I have recently learned, in several conversations, that the reason Betty believes she became an attentive, loving, parent (one might use the term “helicopter-parenting soccer mom”) with a job, stable household, and a smile in her voice, is partly because of me. 

    Next week, she will be visiting with my wife and I. 

    The pronoun game has already been addressed and re-addressed.  We can lay no claim to the names Grandpa and Grandma — even if those labels were appended with our names so that the “grand kids” can distinguish us from the people who rightfully hold those titles.  More important (and to-the-point):  two months ago, neither of us had any idea we would soon be exchanging stories with a highly likable, mature woman, overflowing with laughter and love who wants us to think of her as our “daughter” and who asks for, receives, and heeds our advice.  Also we held no inkling in our minds that this self-same “woman of many titles (none of which fit perfectly)” had three children who might someday be eager to include us in their lives as “pseudo-quasi Nana and Papa figures.”

    Maybe this is an appropriate point for me to provide a synopsis about the end of my life?

    Most people cringe when someone discusses their own death, preferring to only think of death in an abstract manner.  Or they always ask to postpone those “morbid thoughts” for when the “time comes.”  Others attempt to hold on to an obscenely strange belief that, “it’s never going to happen.”  That is not who I am.  I have contemplated and embraced my terminus and have come to accept its eventuality without any dread.  I hope to have about five years left.  It would be great if I have double that.

    If I make it to 62 (in 2021) I will have outlived all my male ancestors, none of whom lived to receive social security.  None had retired before they died.  All died of apparent (or possible) heart attacks.

    I have attempted to avoid and continue to (mostly) avoid many of the "environmental factors" which contributed to the early demise of my father, grandfathers, and great-grand fathers (nicotine, alcohol, red meat, etc.)  None-the-less: genetics.  So I retired at the age of 43 from the military, divorced a stress-inducing woman the same year, and have attempted to live as frugally as possible on my military pension for the last 16 years.

    My goal was to live through at least two peaceful decades of happy retirement.  Most people want the same thing.  Only the masses don’t think about actuary tables; they fall in lock-step with the government who proclaims that everyone should retire about 65, because the government says they'll more-than-likely die in their early-to-mid 80s.  (Those who think that way are stupid, conformist, sheep.  *baaah*)

    Now, I've — out of nowhere — received a wonderful surprise opportunity: to be able share my last few years (five? – fingers crossed ...  20? – all fingers and toes quadruple-crossed) with not only my still-fantastic wife, Pam.  But, now, with our new bodyguard Betty and her three children.  I'm immensely glad she treats us both like long-lost pals.