VIDEO: EEOC Discrimination Suit

Yep. This transgender woman in this story is my dad.  Previous posts have discussed my dad’s coming out and the impact its had on me.

Let me start by saying that I’ve probably not been the best of sons to him.  I’ve tried to be supportive, but it’s been quite a while since I’ve talked to him.  I feel bad about that.  Its not because I feel particularly odd about his life, it’s more because I’ve been so wrapped up in my own life that staying in contact with family has ended up moving out of a front and center place.

I will say that I guess I’m kind of proud of Dad for owning who he is.  Taking this place to court for such a blatant case of discrimination is likely what they deserve.

I guess I’ll try and reach out to Dad again pretty soon.  I do want him to know that I still care and that I hope he finds happiness in his new life.


What’s it all mean?

I was out cold on Monday morning.  My sleep so deep, I didn’t even have memorable dreams.  Then, about 10:00 am, my doorbell rang – spurring my dogs to a cacophony of barking and whining.  I got up, pulled on some shorts and a shirt, and answered the door.  There before me stood two conservatively dressed young women – one white and quiet, the other African-American and quite conversational.

As soon as I saw them, I realized my streak of avoidance had been broken.  Two Jehovah’s Witnesses were standing before me, ready to give me their mini-sermon on my front porch.   I had been in their shoes many times in years gone by.  I didn’t want to be rude to them, but I did want to make it clear that they were not imparting any new revelations to me.  As the young woman began asking me some benign conversation starting question, I wake enough to realize who they are and what they want.  The one speaking to me is clutching her new bible to her chest like it’s some kind of shield.

As she starts into her conversational spiel, I tell her that a) my wife who lives in the house is still a JW, and b) I have effectively been out of the organization since about 1996.  It’s one of those funny things: I guess because I wasn’t rude or unpleasant, they thought maybe I was just a “lost sheep” waiting to be shepherded back into the flock. At first, I told the nice ladies that I would not bore them with my reasons for leaving the JW organization.  She immediately tried to steer me to the website.  I was not amused.  For an organization that professes to be anti-idolatry, they sure seem to have embraced the organization’s website in such a manner.  To me, it is one more step in the evolution of Jehovah’s Witnesses into a more mainstream religion.  After being directed to this site, I decided to burst the bubble a bit.  I told the young ladies about the part pedophiles and how Witnesses treat pedophiles have played a large part in why I left and why I stay gone.  I didn’t elaborate much on my personal experiences with these young ladies, but it did make them back off.  Eventually, I warned them away from some of the more sketchie areas in our neighborhood and sent them away with good wishes for their work and their safety.  They eventually left and went on their way.  Me? I went back to bed.

The very next morning, my doorbell rang again at about 10:00 am.  I answered the door, this time shirtless (but, hey – at least I was awake enough to put on pants!). I was surprised to see the same African-American lady that was at my home before.  This time, she was with a middle-aged white guy.  As soon as it was apparent that they’d awakened me, she remembered that I’d told her the day before that I’m a day sleeper because I work second shift at my job.  Of course, they were apologetic, but the dude informed me that they’d had their meeting the night before and, for some reason, I’d made an impression on the young woman.  She told this guy about me and the things I’d said, including that I’d been raised a (3rd generation) JW and had left long ago.  I’d also pointed out that I am an atheist and don’t believe in the bible as the “word of God.”  In spite of this, they came back.  I know that they see a possible candidate for redemption, so they are visiting and “love-bombing” me.

I guess I don’t really know how to feel about this whole encounter.  I guess I’ll need to make it crystal clear that if I’m not going to go back to the witnesses for my wife’s sake, they probably won’t have much success.  If I didn’t already go back (even in name only) to cave in to my daughter’s expectations, they’re probably barking up the wrong tree.  If I wouldn’t go back to ease the mind of my dying mother, well that dog just won’t hunt.  I know I’ll have to be blunt, but I hate doing that because it’s just not in my personality to be that way.

Today, while working in the yard with my wife and grandson – guess who happens to stop by to say hello?  Yep, you got it – middle aged dude, obviously an elder. I guess, when you get right down to it, the reason this bothers me so much is because it stirs up emotions about things I’ve not given a thought to in years.  It makes me think about how staying an “active JW” may or may not have helped my relationship with my daughter.  It makes me think of how JW policy towards pedophiles still angers me to no end.  To hear these active witnesses tell me how “the light gets brighter and the organization makes necessary changes” just shows me that the organization still feeds the rank and file a steaming load of BS.  To see these young people engaged in door to door ministry reminds me how the organization put such a damaging prohibition on higher education when I was young.  These women told me that the policy had changed, but at what cost to generations of young people who struggled to make enough of a living to support their families?

I wish these sincere believers all the best; however, I think it will be better for my mental health if they get the message that I’m not buying what they’re selling.  The cost is still too high.

Goodbye, Little Man

Posted: September 1, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

Colby on vacation at Disney w/ Granny

School was out in May.  The arrangement with Trish was that when Colby was done with the school year, he would return to Tennessee.  So, to get him back to his mother’s, Susan and I had arranged to make a driving trip to Nashville.  However, because of her illness (I speak about a in a previous blog posting), I felt it inadvisable for her to travel such a distance or be put in such an emotionally charged environment.  So, it was going to be a road trip for the boys!

Colby got out of school at his normal time, so I went and picked him up.  We went back to the house to load up.  When we got there, Susan called to let me know she was on her way home from work so that she could say goodbye to the little stinker.  We ended up getting on the road at about 4:30.  As we backed out of the driveway, he told me that he was confused about his feelings.  He said that he was “too happy to cry, but too sad to smile.”  My heart broke.  I felt really bad for him because of these confusing feelings.  I guess I took comfort in the idea that, after10 months with us, he was really going to miss being with us.

Our journey was fairly uneventful during that first leg.  We had a couple of traffic jams, but Colby was either sleeping or playing his Nintendo 3DS.  This was going to be the first road trip for my little truck.  We had all of his stuff in 4 large plastic totes in the back of the truck.  I was very glad that the truck has cruise control on it – not a huge thing in this day and age, but on a 5 speed manual transmission truck, it’s not as common as one would think.  We drove well up into Georgia.  Before I got to Atlanta, the fatigue was beginning to hit me.  I was determined make it through to the north side of Atlanta before stopping.  There was no way I was going to fight morning rush-hour traffic trying to get through to the other side first thing in the morning.  I was almost punch drunk tired when we passed the north side of Atlanta’s I-285 interchange.   We’d made it!  I got off on the first available exit and found a Motel 6 right off of the exit.  We bedded down and got a few hours of sleep – about 4 ½ hours, to be specific.

At about 6:00 AM, we hit the road again.  The rest of the trip was easy.  We only had about 4 hours left to drive.  We arrived in LaVergne, TN at about 10:30 or 11:00.  We met my sister-in-law for breakfast at the Cracker Barrel in Smyrna.  That was really nice.  She and Colby got to spend a little time together and we had a nice breakfast.  Then we went to Leanne’s house for a bit.  Colby enjoyed seeing the dogs and just kind of relaxing.  Finally, it was time to take Colby home to Momma.  We hadn’t told Trish that we were going to be there on Friday.  She didn’t actually expect us until Saturday, so she and her friend were out cruising the yard sales.  We arrived and rang the doorbell.  Then, we knocked.  No answer.  We knocked on the window and then Colby wanted to go around and see if the back door was unlocked.  I’m glad I didn’t let him do this because Trish’s boyfriend, Jonathan, was sleeping after having worked an overnight shift at Sam’s Club.  He groggily opened the door and wondered who in the hell we were.  Then, when he woke up a bit more, I introduced myself and Colby.  This was the first time he’d met Colby as well.  So, it was a bit awkward for a bit.  He started trying to get in touch with Trish on her cell phone, but wasn’t having much luck.  Finally Trish and her friend showed up.  “Surprise!” I said.  She was very surprised and happy to see her boy.

Trish was very, very pregnant.  She was due in early July, so she was only a little more than a month from dropping that kid.  Obviously, Colby was pretty excited.  His mom’s entire pregnancy had progressed while he was with us in Florida.  He’d seen her in December during Christmas break, but she didn’t just have a baby “bump,” she had more of a baby mountain.  Trish and Jonathan were quite hospitable, inviting me to stay for dinner.  They ordered out from a place that delivers all kinds of different food.  I wasn’t too hungry, so I just had a salad.  After that, it was time for me to say my goodbyes.  I ended up leaving and going over to my sister-in-law’s house where I made good use of her guest bedroom.  To say I was tired is an understatement.  I passed out like I was going to need a feeding tube or something.

The next day, I went back over to Trish’s.  I said my final goodbyes.  I warned Trish to take good care of herself and that baby, and I gave Colby as many hugs and kisses as I could before I left.  When I drove away, I had that same feeling that Colby did when we left Florida.  I was happy that he was getting to be with his mom and his unborn sister, but I was also sad because he’d been such a central part of my daily life for the previous 10 months.  Jeez, I was going to miss him like crazy!

I did not go straight back to Florida – I made a couple of planned stops along the way.  The first of these was a visit to my friend Deano’s house.  It was great to see him, his wife Rhonda, and his kids Makayla and John.  We kind of had a date…dinner and a movie, anyhow.  What movie would be more appropriate for a couple of guys to go see than The Dictator?  We laughed so hard, there were points when I actually had tears in my eyes from laughing so hard.  I crashed on the couch that night.  We were going to have a couple of beers and watch TV for a bit, but true to form, I drank my first beer and within 20 minutes, I was fast asleep.  That’s kind of been my patter when drinking with Deano…I’m a lightweight.  If I’m in a comfortable chair, my ass is goin’ to sleep.

The next morning, I had breakfast with Deano.  He had to work, and I had another self-imposed mission to accomplish.  After breakfast, we said our goodbyes and parted ways.  I headed back into Nashville so that I could pay a visit to Susan’s friend, Sonja.  The day before, I started feeling a strong motivation to go visit her in Susan’s place.  Sonja was suffering from terminal lung cancer, just like my Mother had.  Susan really wanted to see her once more before it was too late.  It broke her heart that she couldn’t make the trip with me.  I decided that, though it would be no substitute for a visit from Susan, I needed to see her.  It was really good to see her.  She was very surprised to see me.  She was so happy to see that we cared that much.  I know it meant a great deal to both her and Susan that I went.  I was glad to go.  Sonja and Susan had been more than co-workers – they were close friends.  I am very glad that I made the trip to see her.  She passed away within a week of my sister, some 2 ½ weeks after I visited.

After my visit with Sonja and her family, I headed to my next destination – Huntsville, Alabama to see my other best friend, Mark.  Mark has just gone through a pretty rough divorce.  I was actually a groomsman in his wedding, and I figuratively helped hold his hand through the divorce.  This was the first time we’d seen each other since all of those events had transpired.

My friend Mark and his kids, Harrison & Natalie – Huntsville, AL

I pulled up and was thrilled to have my bud come out and greet me.  This was the new house he built after having to leave the other one with his ex-wife.  It was cool to see the classic Mustang in the drive.  I told him he should get custom plates for it that say “ALIMNY.”  As I’ve always heard, the best revenge is living well.  No, it’s not the “things” that make the difference, it’s the fact that he has the freedom to pursue the interests he wants.  I also met his new girlfriend.  She seems a good sort and she treats him well, which is the most important thing in my book.  The next morning, I went with him to pick up his children for visitation.  Though I couldn’t stay long after getting them back to the house, I wanted to see them.  They are kind of like god-kids to me.  After all, I am Uncle Ernie.

After seeing the kids, I headed home to Florida.  The drive in solitude was much needed.  It gave me time to organize my thoughts about a number of things.  I was returning to a wife who had just had life threatening illness.  My sister was in a nursing home dying of cancer. My job was growing increasingly unstable.

Hwy 72 just West of Gunthersville, AL. Gunthersville Lake visible out the window.

And, of course, I would spend a great deal of time thinking about that little boy I’d just dropped off to him momma.  I had a great deal of worries that were related to him.  He was going to have to repeat fourth grade, so how would doing this in a new school affect him?  I still suspected that he had a learning disability, such as dyslexia – would the new school follow through in assessing this and putting a plan in place to help him be successful?  Would he continue the routines that he’d learned or would he regress?

All in all, the trip was good.  I miss that little man with all my heart.  I wish there was a way for me to be near and to be more involved in his daily life, education, and development.  I guess I know he’ll be okay, but that doesn’t stop me from worrying.  That’s my job because I’m the Paw-Paw and he’s my little man.

It’s taken me about three months to sort through what I want to say about this topic.  My older sister L’Chelle died at 7:00 am on June 7.  I have a great many feelings about her life and her death.

If you’ve read my blogs in the past, you know that my sister had a very hard life.  She was a victim of sexual abuse as a child and she was plagued with mental illness as an adult.  Her life was anything but easy.  Yet, in spite of this, she faced her cancer and her death with courage and dignity.  She did not want to die, but there did come a time when she accepted her imminent death.  The main thing that kept her going was the thought of seeing her daughter.

Her daughter, J’Nelle, had not been in contact with her mother for many years.  Unfortunately, this did not change before her death – more on that later.

The week that L’Chelle died, she had been requesting that I bring her more chocolate.  It was one of the only things that kept her going.  I had been chatting with her every day about all sorts of things.  Most of the time, she was actually fairly lucid.  When I went on that Wednesday, she was very sleepy and non-communicative.  This was very uncharacteristic of her.  She always wanted to chat.  I had an unsettling feeling when she wouldn’t talk.  I stayed and talked to her for quite a while.  I called my wife, Susan, and told her that I thought there had been a significant shift in L’Chelle’s situation.  I told her that I was going to stay and I didn’t know when or if I’d be home that night.

L’Chelle did not wake up.  I sat with her as she slept.  My wife came to the nursing home and sat with us.  A couple of Mom’s friends from the Kingdom Hall came to sit with us for a while.  Apparently, one of them had promised my Mom that she would try to look out for L’Chelle after Mom was gone.  They were very lovely and they knew me fairly well, since they were both frequent visitors to my house when Mom was spending her last days with us.  Of course, they prayed with her and tried to give her comfort, reassuring her that it was okay to just go to sleep.  They stayed until around 11:30 or so. Thanks so much for all of your care, concern, compassion, and love that you showed, Marianne and Joan. Susan came over around 9:00.  She sat with us.  I figured that L’Chelle could still hear us, so I spent the time telling stories about her to the others that were there.  Also around 9:00, a hospice nurse came in.  L’Chelle’s breathing started to exhibit the congested rattle that often precedes death.  The nurses agreed that it seemed like she had transitioned and was in her final hours.  The nurse was there to help make certain that her departure from this life was as pain and anxiety free as possible.  She was very caring – letting me know that it was important to give her permission to die and telling me how to see if she was anxious about things, even though she couldn’t verbally communicate.

The hospice nurse stayed until around 1:00 am.  There really wasn’t any more reason for her to stay.  I dozed off and on until around 3:00 am.  I finally told Susan that she should go on home and sleep in our real bed.  No sense in her staying with me, not getting any sleep and making her back miserable.  About that time, I decided to break out my computer and do some work.  I was working on re-designing an English course for school, so I figured I could write some of the script for the slide show.  I worked and sipped a cup of coffee for a good bit.  Around 6:30 or so, L’Chelle’s breathing changed again, in rate and intensity.  It was enough of a shift that I stopped what I was working on.  I held her hand and just talked to her.  I told her that she’d fought this vicious disease long and hard, but that it was okay for her to give in and rest now.  I promised her that we would not stop trying to contact her daughter, J’Nelle and that, from what I could find online, she could be proud of her daughter.  She seemed happy, healthy, and happily married to a nice young man.

At 7:00 am, L’Chelle took her last breath.  There had been no indication of pain or anxiety.  Finally, she was at peace.  Now the business of settling a person’s final affairs had to begin.

Of course, I began notifying various family members began.  I called the funeral director so that he could come and take L’Chelle away and prepare her for burial.  The funeral director was very helpful and compassionate.  My brother and I began an ongoing conversation to plan L’Chelle’s funeral.  We wanted to be sensitive to L’Chelle’s JW past, yet not have this funeral conform to the traditional JW funeral where focus is on the doctrinal hope for the dead rather than on who the person was and celebrating her life.  I can’t say enough about how much I appreciate all of the help my brother provided during L’Chelle’s last months.  His visits with her and all the gifts and cards that he, Jennifer, and Olivia sent her way – as well as the nearly daily telephone calls.  I know she appreciated every single one of them.  Though he and I have been at odds from time to time throughout L’Chelle’s illness, I felt like the primary concern for both of us was her well being.  In my opinion, our working together made what life she had better than it would have been otherwise.

The best piece of news came when L’Chelle’s daughter let us know that she would be coming down for the funeral, along with her new husband, Bryant.  I hadn’t seen J’Nelle since she was about a year old.  I sent her a message and offered her and her husband accommodations in our guest room.  I also offered to pick them up from the airport.  Eventually, they communicated to me that they would like to take me up on both of my offers.  I was both excited and nervous at the same time.  I’m sure that she probably was too.

My brother and I coordinated our efforts and eventually had a plan for a funeral service for L’Chelle.  Of course, one awkward component was that my sister had specifically requested that my Dad be at her funeral.  Dad had been a fairly regular visitor of L’Chelle as she was in hospice care.  I felt like he had made the efforts to come visit her and, after all, this is his daughter we were talking about.  I can’t imagine how it must feel to lose a child.  I hope I never have to find out.  However, Dad’s being in attendance has the potential to spark things.  My brother has not had anything to do with Dad for quite some time.  Dad and my brother have long been like oil and water.  Dad just doesn’t seem to be able to see things from my brother’s point of view.  In some ways, he’s not very good at handling their differences in an adult manner.  Also, J’Nelle didn’t yet know about her grandfather and his transgendered lifestyle.  I had no idea how this would sit with her.

L’Chelle’s good friend Al also planned on coming down from New York to attend the funeral.  He, too, would bunk at my house in the other spare bedroom.  I was glad that I got to meet him – finally in person.  He’s someone who remained in L’Chelle’s life through thick and thin.  Many had abandoned her while putting up with far fewer shenanigans from her, but Al stuck with her.  He was truly a good friend and, he loved her a great deal in his way.  It turned out that his flight got in about an hour before J’Nelle’s flight was scheduled.  So, I got to meet not one, but three people I’d never met before on that day.  As soon as I saw J’Nelle and her husband, I knew she was my niece.  She looked so much like her mother, just with an Asian look.  Of course, she was apprehensive about meeting me and staying with us. After all, not only was she meeting me for the first time, but the only things she knew of me and my family are the things that her father told her.  She also had seen my Facebook profile and she knew that, though I was raised as a JW, I no longer practiced as one.  She didn’t know if I would be one that she might consider an “apostate” – trying to talk her out of her own faith.  I have to say, I admire her courage for coming to her mom’s funeral in spite of all these uncertainties.  I also can’t say enough good about her husband, Bryant.  He’s a good young man who really cares about his wife and her wellbeing.

My brother flew in later that night.  We were all able to visit for a while and we were able to tell J’Nelle more about her mom and our side of the family.  The next day was the funeral.  It was good that we were able to spend a bit of time getting to know one another and catching up.  The funeral was going to be tough.

The morning of the funeral, there were many things to organize.  My brother and I went to the funeral home first, to be present for those wishing to pay respects.  The rest would ride along with my wife and they would b there before the service started.  When we got there, my Dad was already there. My brother’s only words to my Dad were, “I’m way too stressed today to deal with any of your drama.” I kind of felt bad for Dad.  He was grieving just like the rest of us, and I know he had a hell of a lot more regret than any of the rest of us too.  Whatever the case, there was no unnecessary drama about the day.  Though Dad wanted to speak to J’Nelle, he kept his distance, which I thought was probably the best course of action.  The service was a nice mix of people.  There were 50 or 60 who attended.  There was a combination of people who had known L’Chelle in some sort of way.  There were JWs that had known Mom & L’Chelle.  There were Baptists who had made visiting with L’Chelle a part of their visits to the nursing home.  There were Catholics who had come to pray with her at the nursing home.  Also, there were those who had come to support us, the family members – including some of my workmates.    The service was a combination.  Because J’Nelle is a practicing JW, we included a JW service, but with the understanding that my brother and I would be able to say a few words after his service was done.

When it was our turn, each of us offered anecdotes to try and illustrate the person that L’Chelle was and how she lived her life.  After the service was over, several came up and let us know how much they enjoyed our stories.  They all felt like they exemplified who L’Chelle really was.

After the funeral, all of the family came back to my house for a meal and fellowship.  One of the best parts of the whole thing came during that time.  J’Nelle spoke of how apprehensive she was about coming, but she felt like her visit was bittersweet.  On the one hand, she was attending the funeral of her mother who she’d not seen in years; yet, on the other hand, she felt like she regained a family.  Suddenly, she began to understand where some of her traits came from.  Again, I’m amazed at the courage she and Bryant showed.

Eventually, everyone left and it was now time try and get back to a regular life.  Work still needed to be done.  Life would go on.  Now it was just a matter of figuring out how to cope with all of the emotion and grief I’d been faced with in the last year.


Susan & Ernie on a cruise May 2011.

NOTE: This post was actually written in June of 2012.

The last 10 days have been one of the toughest periods of my life. As you may have noticed, I have not written a post in several days. Last Monday, I was about to go into session with my therapist and my phone rang. My wife, who was in Las Vegas for a conference, was calling to tell me that she’d had an insulin crash and she was at the ER of Sunrise Medical Center. She told me that she would call,me back or text me when she knew more. About 2 minutes later, I got a call from the school nurse informing me that my grandson, Colby, was feeling I’ll and would I please come and get him.  My session with my therapist was good. However, I had these other things looming over my head. I had not yet heard from my sister – the one with terminal cancer, so I decided to run by the nursing home to check on her. It was only then that I found out her phone had gone missing over the weekend. Just what I needed…

I got back in touch with my wife who informed me that the doctor was admitting her for further testing. They wanted to do an EGD. They had discovered that her red blood count was seriously low – at that time a 7.2 when normal is around 12. They needed to find out where she was losing blood. The EGD revealed a stomach ulcer that the docs said was not bleeding, and thus not the likely source of the bleed.  To be sure that it wasn’t from somewhere lower in her GI tract, they scheduled a colonoscopy for the next day.

Overnight, her red blood count dropped to 6.7 and the hunt for the source of blood loss was on. The colonoscopy appeared to show no abnormalities. Frustrating, to say the least. My wife was going crazy, just wanting to get back to Florida. the doctor wrote out discharge papers before he left that evening letting her know that as long as the numbers went up, she could catch her flight home.  They would simply have to check them in the morning.

The next morning, they checked her CBC numbers and they had actually fallen to 6.2 – a critically low level. The nurses neglected to call and inform her doctor. She was in such a dither to get home, she wasn’t about to remind the nurses to make that call. She caught her flight home. Fortunately, she was traveling with a colleague that is a registered nurse; so, at least she had a medical professional to keep an eye on her.

While she was in-transit, I called one of the hospitals owned by my wife’s employer.  As soon as she landed, I was at the airport to collect her.  She looked very pale and was in an airline wheelchair.  Her new colleague, who is an RN, was with her. I can’t thank her enough for all of the help she gave to Susan during that travel time in her severely weakened condition.  I pulled the car around and loaded up her and her luggage.  We went directly to the hospital in Naples.  When we got to the hospital ER, we went into the waiting room.  We weren’t there for more than 10 minutes when an ER nurse came out and wheeled Susan back to be seen by a doctor.  After she was all set for admission, I went on home.

Then next day, when Colby and I went to the hospital, the doctors were quite concerned with Susan’s condition.  The doctors told us that, since as a JW she would not accept any blood transfusions or blood products, there was not really anything that could be done for her beyond continuing to give her iron intravenously and giving her epo injections.  If her ulcer started bleeding again, there wasn’t anything they would be able to do.

I went to the hospital each day and kept an eye on her progress.  She was very weak the whole time.  Often, she couldn’t even walk to the bathroom without it exhausting her.  I tried to put on a brave face, but it scared the shit out of me to think that I might lose her.  I had just lost my mom earlier that year and my sister was on her way out with cancer.  I had no idea what I would do without her.  Fortunately, my wife also had a real wakeup moment.  Being so ill made her think about a great many things.

For one, we both realized that we have way too much stress in our lives.  We needed to reduce stressors – in a big way.  We also needed to get our affairs in order.  Neither of us had a current will, so we wanted to take care of that too.

Eventually, Susan’s levels got good enough to come home.  She was ordered by the doctors to stay home from work for a couple more weeks.  During that entire time, she continued to feel very weak.  Life is short, no question about it.  I just hope that it’s not shorter than our plans for our future.

Probably the cruelest thing that my ex could have done when she told me she was not coming with me to Mississippi was sending my stepson and my daughter with me. Knowing that we weren’t all going to be together in Mississippi drastically changed my packing of the truck. Instead of most of our worldly possessions, I ended up with basically my clothes and personal belonging and no furniture to speak of. Driving all that way with those two kids in the mostly empty truck, trying to keep it together while my world had shattered, was one of the worst experiences of my life. She knew that my love for the kids would make me say yes, but I was hardly capable of keeping my composure. When I broke, there were the concerns and questions by my kids. Trying to answer those questions – and driving at the same time – was a nearly insurmountable task.

Ernie B., (then) wife Pat, stepson Anthony, and daughter Katrina.

The kids stayed with me for about two weeks. Pat came down to pick them up. She finally admitted her infidelity to me. She wasn’t apologetic about it; in fact, she blamed it on medication making her loose her inhibitions enough to seduce the dude who repaired her car after her little sister wrecked it. I took my marriage vows very seriously, so I did what I could to try and save our marriage. I told her we would work things out. We had kids together, so I felt it important that we really try to patch things up. She left with the kids to go back home. For the second time in as many weeks, my world felt completely shattered. Now I was alone with only my grief. I was in a strange town with no friends to call on with my whole world in a car headed three hundred miles away. So, I did the only thing I realistically could do while I was waiting for my wife to make up her mind about where we were headed: I threw myself into my work.

I was pretty distraught. I even turned to the one thing I swore that I never would: self-help books. I found a book that was about couples surviving infidelity. It outlined what I was feeling and what steps we could both take if we wanted to stay in our marriage and make it work. In my desperation, the book’s advice really resonated with me. It gave reasonable, concrete advice for couples that wanted to make a marriage work despite the betrayal of trust. I told my ex about this book and asked that she read it as well. She said she would think about it. The next time she came to bring the kids, we talked for a while. I told her that I just wanted to work past this problem and she said she would try. I asked her to see a marriage counselor with me, and she did. However, she got upset with some of the things the counselor said and indicated she wasn’t anxious to return. I gave her my copy of the book I’d asked her to read. She made no promises about reading it. She left to go home with the kids.

Over the next few weeks, we continued speaking on the phone. I told her to just leave everything up in Missouri and to bring herself and the kids down to Mississippi. I told her that the only thing I required is that she cut off all contact with her lover. I told her no letters, no visits, no phone calls. She told me that she just couldn’t do that. To me, it seemed a simple and reasonable request if we were really going to work things out. Her negative answer sealed the fate of our marriage in my mind. I had put my life on hold for about 3 months while waiting for her to make up her mind about whether or not she would join me and leave her illicit affair behind. I finally felt like it was time to say those fateful words: maybe we should get divorced.

We made an appointment with an attorney to mediate our divorce settlement – which, in reality, meant that I would pay for her divorce lawyer. Unfortunately, I did not realize this until it was too late. I continued to see the kids on a semi-regular basis. While things percolated through the courts, my ex tried to justify herself to me (but mostly, I think, to herself) her reasons for pushing through with this irrevocable action. She blathered on about how she was “in love.” She told me “Real love like this is so different than what we had.” It was amazing to see her leaps of logic all carefully crafted to absolve her of any culpability in the disintegration of our family. She even had the nerve to tell me that I should move on and find someone for myself…even supplying the names of some suggested women that I might be able to make a life with. You will later see the irony of this when I ended up dating and marrying one of her suggested names. That’s a story for another time.

I began the task of starting my own life without her. The first independent thing that I did was to buy a stereo. She had never appreciated how important music was to me, so it gave me a great sense of freedom to buy something for myself. I then had to arrange for furniture. I ended up renting living room furniture. I still didn’t even have a bed to sleep on. I’d left it all those furnishings in Missouri so that my family would have furnishings. I didn’t want a bed that had been used as my wife had used it when I was away from home. The idea of her having another man in my bed when my children were home was almost too much for me to bear.

Towards the end of our separation, before the divorce was official, my ex did a one-eighty. She called me in tears telling me that she had read the infidelity book and wanted to reconcile. I told her, “I put my life on hold for you for more than three months, waiting for you to make up your mind about whether or not you wanted to stay married to me. You gave every indication that you didn’t. I’ve started to make plans…and you’re not in them.” I guess she always thought that I would take her back. My rejection of her appeared to make her a very spiteful woman. Of course, it probably didn’t help when I told her, “Oh, you know all that stuff you said about real love being so different that what we had? Well, you were really right.”

This was the opening salvo in a battle that would rage for the next 13 years.

I always knew that divorce was really hard on children. I had no idea what that meant. Unfortunately, I was about to get a graduate level education in exactly how hard things could get for relationships between parents and children in a divorce – especially an acrimonious one.

I remember how I felt when I found out that my wife (now ex-wife) was pregnant. I was very happy to be having a child. I have always loved kids and I was excited at the prospect of being a dad. I knew that I wanted a daughter. My dad had failed so miserably with his daughters I wanted to do it right. When the doctor told us that he was fairly certain that we would have a little girl, I was absolutely thrilled. I was also somewhat apprehensive because of the experiences of my sisters. Before Katrina was even born, I told her mother that under NO circumstances would she ever be left with any man other than me – for any reason. I never wanted my daughter to experience abuse as my sisters had. I told her that this rule ESPECIALLY applied to my father.

My lovely Katrina was born on October 20 at noon. She was perfect in every way. I was so happy to welcome her into the world. She had pretty consistent colic when we first brought her home. Thank goodness for simethicone drops. There were nights she was so miserable that I wished I could lactate just so I could soothe her to sleep. Her mom really got into the whole “post-partum depression” thing. The only problem was that it lasted for about 4 years. I think I did more than many fathers, when it came to taking care of the baby. Even though I worked full time about an hour’s commute away, I was up late nights with her and helped care for her.

During this time, my wife was next to worthless when it came to keeping any kind of house. She complained that she felt aimless. I encouraged her to engage in a fuller ministry in our religion. She became a “regular pioneer” which meant that she put in at least 90 hours a month knocking on doors preaching the “good news.” After a bit, she became disillusioned and lost interest. She became aimless again. I encouraged her to try going back to school. She qualified for a number of financial aid products – including Pell grants. She began attending school, with Katrina going to a day care facility on campus. That was still not good enough. She complained that now, with all of her homework, the kids just wore her out. So, I began taking Katrina on my hour-long commute with me and having her stay at a daycare near where I worked to give my wife a “mental break” from a new baby. I really treasured that time I was able to spend with Katrina. They are some of the best days of my life, not because they were extraordinary- but because they were absolutely normal in every way.

I guess she was about 4 years old when I accepted a management job from a retail farm supply chain. I had to go train for anywhere from 3 to 6 months in Bentonville, Arkansas. Eventually I would get my own store. The place I had been working had no real future for me. I was the #2 man there – second only to the owner. I just didn’t see any real future in my staying there long-term. I made my trip to Bentonville, pulling a small pop-up camper in early January. I parked the camper and moved myself in. I lived a meager existence. I was still supporting my family back home – sending every penny I could to meet the obligations there. My plan was to bide my time and then request a transfer back to the area where we owned our home in Missouri. I left my wife, kids, and my wife’s younger sister to keep care of the place. I called as often as I could – sitting at a payphone near my campsite. My wife said that things were going okay and that we would be back together soon. Little did I know, she was cutting loose with one of her friends. Her younger sister was working at a local grocery store and on her way to work, she ended up wrecking our car. My wife took it to a local body shop to get repaired.

Soon after, I began getting strange messages from her. She started saying that I seemed like I did not want her and the kids with me – which was the furthest thing from the truth. I was unsettled, but I told her it wouldn’t be long before we would all be together again. True to my word, in March, I was asked to take over a distressed (but relatively new) store in Tupelo, Mississippi. I accepted the offer and left to start our new adventure.

I arrived in Mississippi and got to work. I was handling things at the store, which was about a 2.5 million dollar / year operation. I also found housing. I rented a three bedroom home in a nearby town. It was located in a place where I would not have a terrible commute to work and my wife, should she choose to do so, could attend college classes at Ole Miss in Oxford, MS. She still kind of went on about me not wanting her and the kids to intrude on my life away from them, but that was BS. Why would I get a house we could all live in if I didn’t want them there with me?

Finally, the day came to move her and the kids down to Mississippi with me. I drove all the way from Tupelo to Ironton, MO – where we lived. I pulled up in a Ryder truck, ready to load up and go. That was when she decided to tell me “Take the kids, but I’m not going with you.”

I guess it’s time I mentioned my dad. Mom and Dad were married for 42 years. In 2010, they celebrated their 42nd anniversary in March; by the end of June, their divorce was final.

My relationship with Dad has always been fairly complex, but even more so since my wife and I moved to Florida within 12 miles of their home. I love my dad because, well, he’s my dad. However, I’ve known for years that he suffers from chronic ass-holishness. He’s never been a particularly “nice” guy. Oh, he gets along okay in business settings. He’s got to be somewhat personable because he’s been in sales most of his adult life. But past surface acquaintances, he’s never been one to get particularly close to people.

I really hope that anyone reading this will push through the unpleasant parts of what I have to say about my dad. I hope my dad realizes that, though this may be an airing of “dirty laundry” that will alter the perception that people have of him, it is truth – not unfounded slanderous allegations. As you can see from the “About” section of this blog, this is supposed to be therapeutic for me. Just keep this in mind as I speak bluntly about this dark side of my family.

My parents raised the four of us – their children – as Jehovah’s Witnesses. Now, this might not seem like too big of a deal to many, but for us kids, it created a disconnected environment to live in. We were taught “right and wrong” by a strict disciplinarian who packaged what he wanted us to do in the trappings of religion. Apparently, during this time, my dad was an egregious hypocrite. My father sexually abused both of my sisters, yet he was teaching us “right and wrong.” Do as I say, not as I do seemed to be the message conveyed. My dad was always a believer in physical punishment. Once, some ladies at church voiced their concern over his penchant for spanking us for misbehaving at church services…his answer to them was, “Kids are like sugar cane. To make them sweet, you have to beat the pulp out of them.” Sure, he was being a smartass, but as one of the receivers of this philosophy, there were times it seemed that this was the creed by which he disciplined.

When I was in 7th grade, my younger sister and I were home from school. We’d always been fairly close because we were the younger half of the foursome. She ended up telling me about my dad being sexually inappropriate with her – unfortunately, these events occurred quite some time before my sister told me about them. I didn’t really do anything about it right away. I simply sat on that information. Sometime later, I was having a vigorous disagreement with my dad over something. It must have been fairly trivial, because I can’t even think of what it is anymore. My dad ended up getting physical with me, spanking me over some infraction. I probably DID deserve it because I was quite a little shit when I was in junior high school. Well, my passive aggressive side came out. I thought to myself “you may have won this round…but just you wait. I’ll fix you but good!” I spoke to my mother and revealed to her what my sister had related to me about what my dad had been doing to her.

There was a great deal of fallout. I remember Dad sleeping on the couch for quite some time. I didn’t know until later that this was not the first time that Mom had found out about Dad’s proclivities. He’d already been messing with my older sister. I just knew they were going to get a divorce. In fact, I’d already made up my mind that I would live with my mom if they did split up. Instead of doing what rational people would do – calling family services or the police, my mom brought the problem to the church elders. Essentially, all that ended up happening is that my dad went through “private reproof” which basically means that they scolded him in private and told him that he couldn’t answer questions at the Watchtower Study or offer prayer for the congregation. It was a slap on the wrist, but Dad still had to outrun the scandal, so we ended up moving – again. My dad knew that I was the one who exposed him to my mom. He treated me like shit for quite a while. Once, he was so angry at me that he literally grabbed me by the throat.

For the last couple of years, I have felt a great deal of anger about this chapter of my life. I am angry with my father for his pedophilia and the negative impact that it’s had on our entire family – even into adulthood. I’m angry at my mom for not leaving his sorry ass. I’m angry at those church elders for not protecting their “flock” by calling the cops and having Dad’s ass thrown into jail. I’m angry at Dad for not acknowledging all of this with even a sincere apology. He should have served time for what he did to my sisters and he should have been labeled as a registered sex offender. Having looked at the recidivism rates of pedophiles, I worry about anyone who brings their children into close contact with him – something I never allowed with my daughter. I hate the fact that this ugly thing colors my world view. I am extremely angry that my sister, L’Chelle, has been scarred by this in a way that has prevented her from having anything approaching a “normal” life. I blame him for my little sister having the battles that she does with depression and her D.I.D.

After moving into close proximity with Mom and Dad in 2007, my relationship with Dad was still mostly okay. At the time, he seemed restless and unhappy. I told him that if he and Mom were growing apart, I wouldn’t be upset if they got divorced – provided that neither of them were an asshole to the other. I also always told Mom that if she got tired of putting up with his crap, she could always come make use of our spare bedroom. However, nothing ever came of it. Instead, they continued on in their uneasy relationship.

In February of 2010, my Dad ended up dropping a bombshell on our family. He came over for lunch one day and, over a beer, he told me that he is into dressing as a woman. He’d apparently revealed this to my mom not too long before this. Mom was still processing the whole thing. I was pretty stunned myself. I called my older brother and told him about all of this. In thinking that this newfound honesty by our Dad might portend good things to come, we started researching to see how we might be supportive. In the searching, my brother came across a forum for cross dressers that might be interesting. He told me “I think I found Dad here.” He told me the user name and I checked it out. Sure enough, the profile picture was, without a doubt, my dad dressed in drag. I started reading his posts to get an idea of his journey to this point and to try and understand him a bit better. Instead of the sort of enlightenment about my dad that had started my search, I found out more about my dad than I really ever wanted to know. Some of the posts even implicated my dad as having been unfaithful to my mother. Having been a spouse who has been cheated on, I felt it important that my mom see these posts. Also, apparently, he told my older sister and swore her to secrecy. They had outings with both of them made up.

I found myself having traveled full circle. Once again, I was exposing my dad’s shenanigans to my mom – though this time, it was without the passive aggressive motives of my thirteen-year-old self. I was incensed that my dad would involve my older sister again with all of his secrecy about his predilections. It was as if that abuser/abusee relationship was back. What a crappy way to take advantage of someone who is mentally ill and who feels that, should they say anything, they will be out on the street again. My dad tried to explain things away when confronted by Mom. He tried to blame my older sister. Finally, she showed him the screenshots I’d given her and asked if he’d written them. She told me that the fight just went out. She asked him to leave and he did. The next weekend, I changed the locks on the house, at Mom’s request – something he still hasn’t forgiven me for doing. I also helped Mom find a divorce lawyer. When Dad came to get his stuff, I met him at the house while Mom was out. I helped him load the truck with his things, but in spite of that, he still treated me like I had completely betrayed him. He went off to stay with one of his cross-dressing buddies.

By the end of June, Mom and Dad’s divorce was final. In one sense, I was stunned at how rapidly all of this had happened. In another sense, it was high time. Mom and Dad hadn’t really been right for one another for years. I am still unsure of why they stayed together – especially Mom. Mom began enjoying her freedom. She began to have friends from church come over to the house for meals. She adopted two cats (she’d never had cats because Dad couldn’t stand them). My wife and I tried to help her out as much as we could – financially and emotionally. In September, she was diagnosed with non-small cell adenocarcinoma –lung cancer. She’d never smoked a day in her life and she’d never worked around carcinoma inducing industries. Just before my birthday in February of the following year, she died in a hospital bed in my spare room.

I guess it’s not his fault, but I couldn’t help but feel anger towards Dad. Here he’d been a son of a bitch for so long, yet he’s still upright leaving wreckage in his wake; but Mom, who never intentionally hurt anyone, was the one to be taken by that terrible disease. It’s hard to see how the world is a just place when the scales are so hopelessly out of balance.

I guess around Christmas of 2011, my dad came to town to see my sister at the nursing home where she is a resident. Because of their history and his repetition of that sick relationship, I try to make sure that I am able to be with my sister when he’s visiting because I want to be a sort of buffer. I don’t want her to overstress and be triggered into some kind of psychotic episode. He revealed to me that he dresses as a woman full-time. He has actually had his gender legally changed to female. He’s no longer Mike, he’s also legally changed his name to Brandi. He says he’s just being true to who he’s been for years, but who he’s shut away. I can’t blame him for wanting to be himself, but who was he being when he married my mom? Who was he being when he was molesting my sisters?

I’m sure some wonder how I can have ANYTHING to do with him in light of his pedophilia. I guess I’m just the kind of person who doesn’t want to cut off family completely. Granted, I don’t have a lot of social interaction with him; but, when I do see him, it’s on MY terms. I would imagine it’s going to take me a very long time to sort this relationship and my feelings about it into some kind of sensible arrangement. I guess it’s the definition of a love/hate relationship.

I want to write today about one of the most important people in my life: my grandson, Colby. Colby was born in 2001 to our daughter. She’d been in college at MTSU for about one half of a semester when she found out that she was pregnant. Obviously, her mother and I were disappointed with her poor choices. However, after the intervening 9 months and all the ups and downs between conception and birth, Colby Paul came into this world. What started as a disappointment has become one of our greatest joys. You see, when Colby was born, I was in the midst of a bitter custody dispute with my ex-wife. Having another child to love was a welcome salve for my starved heart. He has been a prominent part of life for these last eleven years.

Last year, Colby’s mom was experiencing some physical ailments that seemed to exhibit the traits of serious heart troubles. After hearing a great deal about his spending copious amounts of time with his paternal grandparents – who apparently only just started to have anything to do with Colby in the past few months despite his having been alive for an additional 9 years during which they exerted no effort on his behalf – Susan and I decided to offer a place for Colby here in Florida until his mom could resolve her medical issues. He arrived over the Independence Day holiday. We enrolled him at one of the charter schools near our home.

Unfortunately, after school began, it became apparent that he was very far behind his peers when it came to academic progress. This was especially upsetting since Susan and I had made it a point to pay for private school tuition. After about $30K, he wasn’t even academically prepared to be in the fourth grade. In fact, he really should not have been promoted to fourth grade at all. He was put in with a slower-paced, more intensive instructional setting so that he could get the help that he so desperately needs. He still struggles, even after all of the extra attention and tutoring. We have begun the process to get him an academic intervention at school. We suspect that he may have dyslexia or another learning disability that is hampering his literacy.

He’s been on my mind a great deal these last few days. We are within 4 weeks of school being over for the summer. We are planning on driving him home. While his leaving will make my life less complicated in one sense, I am already worried sick about him. Will he get everything he needs – both at school and at home? His mom is not a “bad mother,” but sometimes she comes across as apathetic. Because of this, I wonder if he’ll still get a shower every day. Will he get his homework done every day with the extra help he needs? Will he get regular nutritious meals? Or, will he have to fend for

Colby and his two friends at his birthday party

himself – eating mostly junk-foods and convenience foods because that’s all he knows how to fix for himself? When his little sister, Addie, arrives (yes, his mom is pregnant again…due in July), will he feel like he’s being marginalized? I know I shouldn’t be so obsessive about these things since he’s not my child – but I do. He is so precious to me. When my own daughter was busy buying into her mom’s efforts to have her reject me, Colby was there to return that unconditional love. I have a tattoo of my daughter’s name on one of my shoulders. Colby will have his name on my other shoulder because he means that much to me. He helped me more than he will ever know – just giving me a reason to not let my heart become hardened.

All I know is that I will miss him terribly when he’s gone. Here’s to hoping that he’ll come back here for school again.

Last night, my wife, my grandson, and myself went to the Naples Relay for Life.  It was a great experience.  I hope to be able to do more in participation next year.  When we got there, we had one hell of a time finding a place to park.  After we parked, we found our way to the HMA tent.  It was a bit moving to see the names of those who have succumbed to cancer as well as the names of those still fighting.  My mother’s name, Lydia, as well as Susan’s friend Sonja’s name were among the pennants. We met several friends and then embarked on our tour of the track and the booths from all the participants

We made a few rounds and spent plenty of money (it IS for a good cause, after all).  Eventually, the sun went down and it was time for the lighting of the luminary.  As the MC spoke about all of those who we’ve lost to the “big C,” it really hit me just how many of our friends and family have had their lives cut short due to this disease.  I began to remember how Mom suffered and lost her ability to speak before the disease ran its course.  The waterworks began to flow.  

I guess part of the opening of the floodgates can be attributed to the fact that, while I was enjoying hearing about survivors, I’d already visited my sister, L’Chelle – who is so very ill with cervical cancer.  I’d also just received an urn for her cremains after she succumbs to the cancer.  All in all, it was a very emotionally demanding day.  
vendor booths at the Relay for Life

Fed Ex booth at Relay for Life of Naples

Colby with Cleopatra & King Tut

HMA’s version of this year’s theme “Digging for a Cure.”

The Luminary Ceremony (sorry for the blur).