Mary Ann Sutton

I am writing this post to share a little history of my first wife for my children’s benefit. I remember at the time I met Mary Ann was while I was stationed at Ft. Hood, TX. I arrived at that post in May of 1977. I was a radio operator but worked in many aspects of the communications field.

I wont go into much detail about what I did during my duty there from 1977 – 1980, because that would fill a much larger blog entry then what I want to do here.

During my time I was at Ft. Hood, I had a few very good friends. However I cannot remember the name of the guy I was with when I met Mary Ann and her friend who both worked at the Temple Mall in the Piccadilly Restaurant.

I met Mary ann in May of 1979. Our relationship started with a little light flirting while in the serving line to get our meal. They knew we were both ‘doggies’ (a term for the local soldiers at the time) and at first I believed we all knew it was light flirting and that was it.

Well, we decided to go back to that restaurant the next day to see them. While we went through the serving line, our light flirting became a little more personal. We found out their names and where they lived. We didn’t have cell phones at that time (well, not one that would fit in your pocket anyway), but we did try to suggest that we go out sometime OUTSIDE of Piccadilly. I guess they were interested, because they gave us their home phone number (they were both still living at home with their folks). She was 19 and I was 21. We agreed that my friend and I would pick her and her friend up at her folks’ house and we would double date to a theater and maybe dinner.

She lived in a little (tiny) little town called Salado, TX which was about 15 miles south of Temple on Interstate 35. I learned first hand exactly what ‘farm roads’ were while trying to find her house.

Mary Ann’s parents were there when we picked them up and I tried to be on my best behavior during our little visit before going out. Her father’s name was D. L. Sutton (later I found out that it stood for Dock Lee (sp?)). He seemed kind of shy, but that was his just sizing me up…trying to get a feel on whether he would approve of me or not.

We went to dinner, not sure if I remember seeing a movie that night or not, but we did go to a bar in Temple. I don’t remember the name, but I do remember a fight breaking out when a couple of females in the bar started fighting over some guy. Now, this kind of situation I always found funny. No man is worth getting physical over (IMO), but soon there were more people involved and it was looking to become a full-out brawl. The humor of the situation left me and I soon thought that I would be in dire trouble with D. L. should I bring home his daughter all bruised and banged up.

So, we headed for the door. The police were just arriving when we exited the place and we were stopped briefly to make sure we were not the reason they were called, and away we went. We laughed so hard when we got to the car. I am not sure why all of us were laughing so hard, maybe it was for the close call with the police, or the way things would have turned out had we gotten pulled into the brawl….but for me it was still the fact that women were getting physical over a man. I still chuckle about that to this day.

After that, we took them home and acted like gentlemen when we dropped them off. I decided I wanted to see her again. As for my friend, he said that he didn’t really like her, but planned on having sex with her and forgetting her. We laughed about his comment, but that was the way things were for single soldiers in the 70s.

After that, Mary Ann and I dropped the double date thing and we started going out, just the two of us. We did normal things. Movies, dinner, shopping, etc. We even liked just going to Dairy Queen and getting an ice cream cone while learning more about each other.

It was a very good time in my life. No more trolling around bars or hanging out at pick-up spots on post, looking to get laid without even learning the other person’s name. This was a situation where I enjoyed doing something together with someone and looked forward to the next date even while out with her. One night, we were just sitting on her couch watching a movie when I looked down and seen what I thought was a cock roach crawling across my lap. I tapped Mary Ann on the shoulder and said ‘Look at this guy,’ as I poked at it. Mary Ann LEAPED off the couch and said something like ‘Holy Shit, that is a stinging scorpion.’ I remember sweeping it off my lap, jumping to my feet and shrieking like a little girl myself as I ground that thing into the carpet with my tennis shoe. We laughed. My future mother in law came into the living room to see what all the excitement was about….we laughed some more. Good times.

Our relationship moved very quickly. I was coming on the point where I was going to have to decide if I was going to re-enlist in the Army and my relationship with Mary Ann was a serious part of my decision to do so. Sometime in August 1979, I remember driving with my future father-in-law (D.L.) home from gathering and loading baled hay for his animals and I basically asked him about marrying his daughter. He didn’t freak or anything. The facial expression he had on his face, as I struggled to get out the words, did not change. All he asked me was when did we plan on getting married? I know it was sometime in mid-September, but I don’ remember the exact date (15th maybe). He told me that it was OK with him as long as I promise to take care of his daughter.

Now, Mary Ann expected me to have that conversation with her Dad, and when we got home, I took her aside and told her that we had his blessing. That evening, all her and her Mom could talk about was the planing of the event. It was about this
time that I was wondering to myself if I was really ready for this commitment. I decided I was.

I was asked if I had a religious preference for the wedding, and of course I said No. Whatever would make them happy. So we had to go meet with the church pastor and have a pre-marriage discussion with him. It seemed more like meeting a requirement rather than him actually seeing if we were right for marriage or not. I never did understand what the religious aspect had to do with marriage…but that is me.

I asked a very good friend and mentor of mine (Robert Morgan – a retired SFC) to be my best man. He had been like a father to me over the previous two years and I couldn’t have considered anyone else to stand by me on my wedding day.

I did not get involved in the planning of the wedding, but I guess I should have, because I ended up with this light blue tuxedo that seemed to make me glow. I have that photo somewhere and I have never shared it online. I will have to dig it up and add it to this blog at some point in the future.

The day of the wedding, I met a lot of her relatives and a handful of my soldier friends attended (mostly to see if there were any young ladies attending that would like to get naked with them – effing dogs – hehehe). After the ceremony, we were all going to have a little buffet style gathering at her parents house, but after realizing there was no alcohol at the reception event, Mary Ann and I decided to go to the store and get some beer and wine. I remember we were gone over an hour because we decided to shoot some pool while out. When we got back, one of her judgemental aunts chastised us for 1) being gone so long and 2) needing alcohol to celebrate the event. Again…we laughed. Haha.

We went to Dallas for our Honeymoon. Stayed at a nice hotel, went to fine dining restaurants and took in Six Flags over Texas where I rode in a roller coaster that had a double loop for the first time (and last time…eff that crap). I had held the lock down bar so tight during that entire ride, it took two days to get full blood circulation back into my hands.

We got back to Ft. Hood, we found an apartment in Temple, TX and I re-enlisted for 6 more years and got about a $2500 re-enlistment bonus which was a good amount back in the 70s.

All told, I was with Mary Ann through 10+ years of marriage and she gave me three wonderful children, Chuck, Chesney and Dustin Hoffman. But, as many marriages do, we divorced due to a developed inability to even like each other anymore (another story for later). Our divorce caused many very difficult changes in my life, one of which was being forced out of the Army due to my parental responsibilities after over 13 years of service (another story for a different time).

There were very good times and very miserable times, but I would not change a moment of it for fear of changing the outcome of what I have today. I still have regrets and anger towards certain members of the Military, but I love my kids above all else and would go through every minute of it all again if I had to.

How did my life come to be the way it is?

How did my life come to be the way it is?

It is Memorial Day 2015. I woke up early and my first thoughts were that of my wife and I arguing the night before. She was still asleep, however I do remember her waking up with discomfort in her chest and even though there was a little anger between us, I still got up and brought her the medicine our doctor had prescribed for acid reflux, which has been an ongoing problem.

Anyway, like I said, I am somewhat perplexed as to what has been going on (wrong?) with my life lately. It seems I can do nothing right. I feel alienated with my four older children. For different reasons, but it seems the problem in every case is mine. I don’t know what to do to get my life back on track.

My wife and I have been very busy with the process of getting her parents VISAs to come to the United States. This has been a costly and at times stressful process where my wife and I disagreed in many instances when it came to taking action on certain aspects of this process.

Since early this year (January), It just seems that all my interactions with my older children have been a bit negative. I like to think that I was too busy with the VISA process that I just felt a little too short on time to spend with them. I have been going weeks…in fact it feels like months…since I have seen my grand children. My oldest gran daughter lives in Tennessee because my son-in-law is in the military and that is where they live. It has been hard to organize a visit to spend any time with her and my daughter, and I feel the majority of the reason is my fault.

My one son had always made a point to bring my other grand-daughter over from time to time to hang out, until one time in late winter/early spring, he had to go away for military training. A couple of weeks had gone by and I was really ‘jonesing’ to visit with my grand children, so I started a group text with my kids and their spouse to let them know I was really missing my grand children. The response I got from my daughter was photos being texted to me from Tennessee of my grand-daughter. They were great. In the case of my younger (middle) son, his wife sent me photos of my grandson. I thanked them profusely. In the case of my other son, who was out-of-town training, I got nothing. At one point, he had given me a key to his home and also informed me that I was on the list for visitation to see his daughter at the day care anytime I wanted to go visit. I am planning to return his key, as I no longer feel welcome at his home.

So, in the absence of any response, I texted the group that I was just going to go visit her at the daycare. My son even texted back that I should take some photos for him, since he was out-of-town. When I got to the daycare, my grand-daughter had just laid down for a nap, so they told me to come back at 2PM (about 90 minutes later) and she would be awake. I met with my other daughter for lunch and after that, she worked it out so she could go with me to visit my grand-daughter (her niece). We got back to the day care, and my grand-daughter was happy to see a familiar face. We hugged and kissed her….and my daughter played with her while I took some photos to send to my son.

So, with the photos from my daughter in law and the photos from my daughter in Tennessee as well as a visit to the day care, my need to be with my grand kids was pretty much satisfied. I felt better and my son loved the photos.

Later that evening, my daughter in law calls me and before I could say how wonderful a job she was doing with my grand-daughter, she explodes with ‘How dare you go to the day care, without my permission!’ (Keep in mind she was part of the group texts from earlier that day). I asked her what she was talking about…that my son had told me I had the right to go visit her anytime it was convenient for me to do so. She then went on a tirade about how she and my son were her parents and that I overstepped my bounds, going behind her back doing something I felt I had the privilege to do. Then she really started yelling. I had to hang up on her. Since the call was on speaker (and on auto-record), my wife and daughter (who went to visit my grand-daughter with me) both came in and asked what that was about? I told her that my son’s wife had her butt hurting because I went to visit my grand-daughter. They both thought my daughter in law lost her mind. We considered maybe there was a problem going on between her and my son and it was being taken out on me. Might never know.

I have seen my grand-daughter one time since then. I believe my daughter in law is purposely keeping her away from me (and at the same time denying her daughter to have a relationship with her grand father), because of the nonsense described above. Also, I have not seen my grand son more than once since this took place either. They no longer come to visit. I know I am not the most entertaining person to hang around any more (especially with all the stress going on with the VISAs), but I would think that they missed me too….right??

My two daughters used to call me all the time. Now…the phone calls are few and far between. My older daughter had needed help at the beginning of the year, and I was here for her. I helped her through her problems and she stayed here in my house until she got back on her feet and got a good job. I don’t want to go into the details in this blog about her ‘problems.’ That will be another day. She is a great young lady and is always smiling…however, here of late, I don’t see or speak to her very much.

My younger daughter, in Tennessee use to call me quite frequently as well. We would talk for a long time and I would get to chat with my grand-daughter. I enjoyed our conversations. But as I said…she USED to call frequently.

The last time I spoke with my middle son, he and his wife were planning a joint birthday celebration at a point half way between her birthday and his. The way it was described made me believe it was going to be quite the gala event, but they
were doing this at a bar downtown and children were not allowed to attend. This caused me two problems, 1) I do not like going to places where alcohol is served and 2) Since my wife was working, I had rather spent the evening home with my 9
year old son. I informed them that my wife and I were not going to make it. I have not heard from them, nor seen my grand son since.

So, here I am on Memorial Day, feeling sorry for myself, fighting with my wife, alienated with my older children and not getting to spend anytime with my grand children. It has been a pretty bad couple of days.

One thing I don’t understand about the situation with my oldest son’s wife, is that she got very angry with me for going to visit my grand-daughter at day care, but she harbored no ill feelings for my daughter (her sister-in-law) who was there with me. I am beginning to feel that she does not trust me with my grand-daughter (even though I would not hesitate to do what needs to be done to keep her from harm). After thinking about that, it occurred to me that my middle son and his wife has never let their son stay over night here at my house. My younger son loves his nephew and again, his safety would be the most important thing on my mind during his visit.

I needed to get this all out there. Maybe now I can start to accept the situation I am dealing with. My son suggested I apologize to his wife for doing something I was told I was free to do…..but I do not think my dropping to my knees and
begging for forgiveness will change anything. Hopefully, as time passes, things will improve.

My Health

18 March 2015

Health

Now, I have a lot of things on my mind, in fact, I had planned to start writing a little about the people who have had an impact on my life. There are a whole bunch of folks, but I have to put that on hold for just a bit.

This blog is going to be about my overall health. I am 56 years old at the time of this writing and I feel like I am at deaths door…..well…almost.

I feel like shit. I have been sleeping. A lot. My sleep schedule consisted of a bunch of 3-5 hour naps at random times in any given day. I do make sure I am awake when I need to be (with the help of the alarm on my smart phone). I even have alarms for when I am supposed to take my pills, take my shots, take my son to school, pick him up (different on Wednesdays) and then I set alarms for stupid shit sometimes. Like when I should take a shower or go to sleep. Weird shit like that.

Ever since I went through my latest sleep study at the VA Hospital, I have not been sleeping very well at all. I wake up with headaches. Feeling congested and a sore, dry throat. I am sleepy shortly after I wake up. My back hurts from laying down so long.

I know, I am rambling….so I will get down to the point of this blog. I think about death. I haven’t given death this much thought since I was a kid. Back then, the reason for devoting all this thought to death was the fear…the unknowing what will happen after death. I worried about it. I don’t know when I finally overcame that fear, because I still felt anxiety over it up until my 30s. At some point, I just came to realize that I could not worry about the eventuality. So, I made my peace with death.

But, here lately, I have been thinking a lot about death. I have been retired since 1997. I have gotten fat and lazy. I have diabetes, a bad heart, and take about 17 different medications. I am getting real tired of it. My emotional state is like a roller coaster. I can go from feeling good about things in my life to worried about my health, to not giving a shit and then wanting to cry. All in a very short time. I have no one to really discuss this with, because I don’t what these thoughts to get back to my wife. I love my wife dearly, and would never do anything to assist in my life being shortened, but it doesn’t keep me from wondering what would happen after I died.

I met Franzie online in 2008. She was 20 years younger than I was.  We were just friends who made each other laugh at first, but then I started feeling much stronger emotions for her. It was not long before I knew I did not want to be without her in my life for however long that may be. She lived in the Philippines and I lived in Niagara Falls, NY at the time. For us to pursue a life together would be quite a bit of work. Either I would have to move to the Philippines, or she would come live here in the US with me. Either way, I wanted to be with her.

Bottom line, in November 2008 I flew over there and on 2 December 2008, we were married at her family home in Camaligan, Philippines (just outside Naga City in the Bicol Region of Camarines Sur). After a brief return trip to the US, I made the arrangements to plan on spending whatever time it would take for Franzie and Nathan (our son) VISAs to come live here in the US. It is what she wanted to do.

It took almost a year and in late October 2009, we flew back to the United States (Franzie’s first time out of the Philippines).

Now, without going too far off subject, I will just say that here it is almost 5 and ½ years since she came here and I feel I owe it to her to prepare her for life without me. Since she came here, she got a SSN, she learned how to drive and got a driver’s license and in February 2013, we bought a home. I did not want her to be stuck in an apartment should anything happen to me. We bought her a car and she has a job that she has been at for over 2 years now. …and last year, she was sworn in as a US Citizen which enabled her and Nathan both to get US passports.

We are in the process of petitioning the government to issue VISAs to her parents and we are hoping that they will be here this summer. After that, I feel I will have prepared her to carry on without being as dependent on me. I don’t want that to be misunderstood that I would be ready to die at that time, just that I will feel she is more independent and will have a family network here for her should anything happen to me. This would give me a little better piece of mind, which hopefully will help me to control the ups and downs of the emotional feelings I have been having of late.

There is only one thing I fear in this life. That is losing my wife or one of my children before I die. Selfish, I know….but I would gladly trade my life for any one of theirs, without hesitation.

After writing all of this, I seem to forget what my exact goal was in writing this in the first place. I guess it is because I have been feeling bad, health wise. I am not ready to leave this world. I want to try and follow my doctors guidance and keep sucking in and blowing out for as long as I can….but do not want to suffer. For me to suffer and having my family see me suffer will make it that much more horrible for me.

I have not made my blog publicly known for the reason that I do not want my family to read these pages until after I am gone.

Now, having said all this, I feel I can go ahead and start writing about the people who I feel have had the greatest impact on my life…just had to get this out of the way first.

Getting Old

Getting Old.  Dammit man, this sucks.  I remember when I was young and took simple things likes walking, hearing, breathing, etc for granted.  The older you get the harder all these simple things get.

I have been using a CPAP/BIPAP for almost 20 years.  Mainly because I have sleep apnea.  But with the added benefit of reduced snoring which has made my spouse sleep a little better.

Until I had a new sleep study.  After that I had to increase my BIPAP settings to the point where I find it hard to get the mask to seal and stay sealed against my face.  Now, the fart noises that emit from my face are what wake her.  They wake me too. I tried making the mask tighter…but the added pressure on my head causes me to awake with a headache.  I think I have eaten my weight in acetaminophen.  I usually take a couple before I go to sleep and then a couple after I wake up so that by noon time or so, my head pain has subsided.

Walking?  Forgeddaboutit.  I haven’t been able to walk without a stumble in my step for years.  I have pain in my joints (Gout), lower legs (neuropathy) and my ass where it meets my lower back.  I use a cane to maintain balance, but even then I sometimes fall.  I had to leave western NY in 2011 (my boyhood home) in part because of my inability to walk on frozen ground.  I wish I had $20 for every time I landed on my ass up there.

I have been under the care of the Veteran’s Administration since the 1990s, shortly after my release from the Army.  I have seen many different VA clinics and hospitals.  They are all different.  One type of drug that may be available from one VA is sometimes not available at a different VA.  Formulary drugs.  Like I am supposed to understand what that means.  To me, it means certain VAs do not have the funds to budget availability of some drugs while other VAs do.  Seems like a simple explanation, doesn’t it?

Anyway, I have also been seeing the same family doctor in Oviedo, FL since 1992 when my job with the Army brought me to Orlando.  This man has watched all of my children grow up and they are still using him in adulthood.  I trust this man with my life.  I have met no one at the VA who I can make that statement about.

So, since I left the military in 1991, I have been diagnosed with many different ailments.  The biggest pain in the ass has been diabetes.  The VA started throwing drugs at me from gliberide to glipizide to metformin and now finally insulin.  Insulin has been a major part of my daily routine for almost 20 years.  I feel I have lived with diabetes a lot longer than since the treatment began.  The symptoms that the doctors asked about which led me to further tests to confirm I had diabetes had been something I had been dealing with for a long time.  I believe I have had diabetes since before I left the Army.  I will contend that until the day I die.

I have been diagnosed with arterial fibrillation (A-Fib), congestive heart failure, diabetes, gout, obesity, depression, anxiety, stress, peripheral neuropathy, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, hearing loss, tinnitus, problems with eyesight, stricture of the urethra requiring surgery four times, I have been subject to biopsies of my heart, my prostate and had tubes shoved into my heart via my inner thigh.  Since my departure from the military, I feel I have become worthless to society.  Depression has been a large part of my life since my discharge.

I sometimes think, ‘Hey, I can start exercising…lose weight…maybe reduce the need for all this insulin (three types)….regain better use of my legs, etc., etc., etc.’ Then, I hit a valley.  Life for me has become hills and valleys.  High points and low points.  When I get to a high point, I begin to think improvement of life is possible. I would just have to work at it…control my eating habits, exercise a bit. These feelings usually do not last very long.  Sometimes less than five minutes. Then I slip into another valley or ‘low point.’  It can be brought on by a simple argument with my wife….or my football team losing again, or an unexpected letter from the IRS.

Sometimes, in the moments of waking up, I will think, today will be the day.  I am going to eat healthy, I will exercise a bit…then just as quick as those thoughts pass through my mind, I sit up, stand and hobble to the bathroom where I have to pee….and sometimes, when I go to pee, my urethra opening is so small, peeing is a very painful process. I am given catheters and another little item referred to as an ‘ice pick’ which I am to use in stretching the urethra opening so that I can pee in a stream that is not painful.  It is a horrible thing I am dealing with, but it is things like this that make me want to give up.

I have considered stopping my medications.  Stop stabbing myself with insulin needles twice daily.  Not for good….but for a week.  Just to see what it would feel like.  These thoughts come to me during the ‘valleys.’

It seems the older I get, the more I am tired of dealing with the ailments that have become my life.  I have grown children who really do not need me anymore (this is a good thing).  I feel I did what I had to do to prepare them for life as adults. My four older children are married, seem to be happy and three of them gave me a grand child. I love my grand children more than anything in life.  I wish I could see them more.  They are the reason I don’t act on the idea of stopping my medications for a week.  Well, them and my children and wife as well.

I spend a lot of time by myself.  A lot.  On an average day, I will wake up in time to see my youngest son off to school…and when I return, my wife heads out the door to school.  I dabble on the computer, play some games on face book, read the latest news and then I might watch some TV that I recorded on my DVR.  I take a lot of naps.  Usually around noon until I have to pick up my son at school. Then I help him with his homework, make sure he gets a little snack and then wait for Mom to get home from work.  During that time I am alone, I do a lot of thinking.  I often ask myself, what can I possibly offer to my family anymore. Sure, I am here for them if they want to talk.  If they ever need me to keep their kids while they have other things to do, I am all for that.  I wonder, am I a good husband?  Sometimes, I feel like all I do is frustrate my wife.  I can’t drive to the post office and back home without having to find somewhere to stop and pee.  I can’t walk more then 100 feet before my back pain becomes so incredible, I have to sit…anywhere.

I made the mistake of going to miniature golf with my wife and son and I barely made the 3rd hole before I needed a rest.  I remember being able to race through a mini golf course….decades ago it seems.

In any normal day, I go from hill to valley to hill to valley again a couple of dozen times.  There are some days where I stay in the bed the entire time my son is at school.  I lay there awake….thinking about my life.  Thinking about what there might be left to do.  Realistically.  I guess I can develop a bucket list, but other than seeing my kids and grand kids be successful in life, I really don’t have any things to put on a bucket list.  I have this desire to go to Australia.  I have always wanted to go to Australia, but to deem it something I MUST do before I die….I am not feeling that.

I must sit down and write a blog on Death one day.  I am comfortable with the idea I will one day die.  I have my own ideas of what death will be like, but it sure isn’t on line with what modern day bible thumpers believe. That is definitely a blog for another day.

Before I close this blog, I am reminded that my feet are my constant reminders that I am getting older every day.  It feelings like I am walking on cinders and gravel all the time, even if I am walking on carpet or even laying in bed.  My feet are always cold.  I wear socks to bed (something I recently began doing) and they are still cold.  Sometimes, even when I am not wearing socks, it feels like I have the tightest socks possible on my feet.  It feels like I have rubber bands wrapped very tightly around every one of my toes.  I try to make a fist (you know what I am talking about) with my foot, curling my toes underneath my foot and it is so uncomfortable.

Maybe, because of diabetes, I may one day lose my feet.  I am not sure how I would handle that.  The healing process from that and simply learning how to maneuver around my own home would be a challenge.  I believe this would make the adventure known as death, a little more welcome.

Family: My Thoughts

I am not sure what made family such a strong thing with me.  I was kind of the black sheep growing up.  At the age of 15, I left my family of four sisters and three brothers and hitch hiked to Houston, Texas (From Niagara Falls, NY).  It was a very wild time in my life, experimenting with drugs and breaking other laws.  I don’t remember how long I was away from home, but I became closer to the people I met in Houston then my own family.

It could have been the fact that when while 18 years old, I was arrested and sent to the country jail.  My Dad refused to come bail me out.  My public defender had me believing that I would have to wait until I saw the judge before I could even think about leaving jail, and that even depended on whether he could get me off with a slap on the wrist.

After about a week, I was released from jail.  I asked how did that happen, thinking my Dad decided I had been in there long enough.  I was told my sister Vicki had bailed me out.

Maybe it was after I joined the Army and had a very tearful departure when I left home.  It was at this point when I discovered my parents really loved me.  They were crying, I was crying.  We were a blubbering mess.  I remember during the enlistment process, my Dad was so interested at what options I had open to me. He kindly asked if he could meet with the recruiter and ask some questions.  I had no problem with that.  In fact, without showing it, I was happy that he wanted to involve himself.

Maybe it was while during Basic Combat Training, I got news that my father was in ICU and they had requested through the Red Cross that I be allowed to come home to visit.  I have a story about a feeling I had that very day about my Dad….another Blog.  I was told to pack a few things and that I was being given a 3 day leave to go see my Dad.  I was an emotional mess the entire way home.

…and maybe (probably) it was when I got married and my first child was born.  I am sure this was the reason the importance of family fully bloomed in my mind. I was stationed at Ft. Hood, TX.  It was December 1980.  I had been there since May 1977 and I met/married my wife in 1979.  Before that, I had no intention of reenlisting.  It was the fact that I was getting married that made me realize that I was now responsible for the life of someone other than mine.  This feeling only multiplied with the birth of my oldest son.

Mary Ann, my first wife blessed me with three children.  Chuck, the oldest, then Chesney who was born in Germany in 1983 and finally Dustin who as it turned out was born at Ft. Hood, as was Chuck.  He popped out in April 1985. A month early.

I had come to discover that the term ‘unconditional love’ among humans only existed between parents and their children.  I am sure others would argue this point, but I believe that through thick and thin, right or wrong, good or bad, a parent will ALWAYS love their child….or at least they should.

This is the way I was and have been ever since the birth of my first.  Things changed throughout the years, but this rule always stood firm with me.  What changed?  Well, the break up of not just my first marriage, but my second one as well.  Details of those events in my life are another blog or six.

When my first wife and I split and without going into a lot of details, I ended up a single parent, in the Army with three children under the age of 9.  This situation ended my 13 year career in the Army as a soldier.  I was being discharged due to the inability to perform my duties due to parenthood. (Actual verbiage on my DD-214).

By the time the Army finalized the procedures required to discharge me, I had met and started a relationship with Rebecca who would become my second wife about 8 months later.  The reason I married her was because I was offered a chance to get back into an Army Reserve Unit in NJ and I could not accept the position as a single parent.  Was there love between Rebecca and I?  I guess there were strong feelings, but we both understood the importance of my staying with the military.

What I had not mentioned yet, is that Rebecca also had a daughter (Meagan) who was one year (almost to the day) younger then my daughter Chesney.  She became my daughter and my three children became Rebecca’s children.  We have never used the term ‘step’ when discussing our relationship.  When we enrolled them in school, Rebecca was Mom and I was Dad (even though Meagan had a different last name then the rest of us).  She became part of my family. Unconditional love can be used to describe the love I had for her.  She WAS my daughter and it would be that way for the rest of my life.

Rebecca and I were married for a little over 12 years.  Three of our children had graduated from high school and our youngest (Dustin) was a senior.  I believe Rebecca felt it was time to move on and she did.  We divorced in 2002 only because a woman I was seeing wanted to know she was seeing an unmarried man.

Unconditional love exists between parents and their children.  But…not between mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, etc.  There are always conditions. Staying faithful, respectful, etc.  Once the love diminishes in a relationship, sometimes there is no recovery.

Now, when it comes to family, I have to also bring up the point of ‘in-laws.’ Even though Mary Ann and I divorced in 1989, I still consider her brother and sisters and her sisters spouses as my in-laws.  I consider their children as my nieces and nephews.  Same goes for Rebecca’s siblings.  I may not LIKE all of them, but it will never change that they are family to me.  I guess in a minor sense, I will always consider my ex-wives as family, of sorts, but a divorce is a divorce.

From 2002 – 2008, I had a couple of relationships with women who had children of there own from a previous marriage.  These did not last for one reason or another, but I have always felt a sense of being a parent to their children, even though we have both moved on.  I love their children.  I constantly seek updates on how they are while trying to avoid contact with their mother directly.  I keep photos of all of them in a directory on my computer and in some photo albums. There are good memories to be sure, but there are unsettling memories as well. Mostly of the relationship between their mother and I.

In 2007, when my last relationship ended, I went home to western NY where it all began and decided I was done with relationships.  I told my sister Donna that I was done.  …and so it was until I met Francia online in 2008.  She was living with her parents in Camaligan, Philippines and had a 2 year old son Nathan who was born on 17 July 2005.  In fact, Nathan had his 3rd birthday shortly after we met and I got to know them both quite well utilizing Yahoo, Skype and email.

Without going into a lot of detail about my courtship, I just want to describe the immediate love I felt for not only Francia and Nathan, but all of her family as well.  Her mother is a very cautious woman whose first thoughts of me were negative.  This was surely because of her love for her daughter and grandson and the threat I posed as the man who wanted to marry her daughter.

Her Father and I had a chat online where I asked him if it would be OK for me to become more than just friends with Francia.  Her mother stood in the background with her arms crossed and a worried look on her face. We chatted for about an hour while Francia translated for both of us.  I made her dad laugh several times and when it was all said and done, he gave me permission to ‘court’ his daughter, Keep in mind, I was turning 50 years old that year and Francia was going to be 31.  I felt I needed her parents permission to pursue anything more than friendship.

So, because of health problems, the Veteran’s Administration decided to ‘advise’ me not to consider a trip from NY to the Philippines for two reasons, my health and the treatment I was under and the availability of medical treatment should I need it while over there.  This was going to make planning this very difficult. The USCIS had very strict stipulations when trying to document a relationship when issuing a VISA to the Filipinos wanting to come to the US.  The best way to do this would be to go to the Philippines, take photos, document our relationship and make USCIS believe there is no ‘hanky-panky’ going on in an attempt to skirt their process.

So, I went to a civilian Doctor who after hearing the situation, told me to ‘Go.’ He said, if you can find the daily medications I needed and since there is a VA clinic available in Manila, he saw no reason why I could not go.  I decided to make the trip.  I went to the VA in Buffalo and told the pharmacy there that I would be leaving for a while and asked for 60 days worth of my medication.  They obliged.  I also set it up that any future medications be sent by mail to my current address…(where my sister could forward them to me in the future).

I remember being on Skype with Francia when I told her that I was planning to come over there.  She applauded.  She was happy.  She brought Nathan to the computer and told him.  He was only three, but he appeared to be happy.  I began to feel the excitement myself.

I checked the price of air fare and arranged for my ticket.  I asked Franzie to look around the city for a hotel room or any other accommodations so that I have a place to stay for the 45 days or so that I would be there.  She went and then emailed my photos of a couple of places.  We decided that I would stay at an ‘Apartel’ (Apartment Hotel combined).  It had two bedrooms and bathroom with a kitchen and was furnished including TV. It would cost about $23 a night. Everything fell into place.

I arranged for a private car service to take us (Pop, Ma, Francia, Nathan and myself) from Manila to Naga City where I would be staying and Francia and Nathan were going to stay with me there during my visit.  This gave us time to talk.  Her mother was there everyday to cook for Nathan and take care of Nathan while Francia and I brooded over the many documents required to request a VISA for her to come to the US. It wa about this time that Francia and I decided to get married while I was there. I am not sure her mother understood this at first, but after about a week, Francia and her Mother had a conversation in Tagalog which I could not understand.

Afterwards, Francia explained to me that she offered for me to come stay at their house so I would not be spending the money on the Apartel.  I looked at her Mom and asked her if she was really OK with that.  Francia translated and her mother nodded, with a smile.  I felt really good.

So, the next day, I paid for the time I was at the Apartel and moved over to my future in-laws house.  I had met her sister and her sister’s children at the Apartel, but I had not met her two brothers.  I never felt more welcome in my life.  Don and Joseph, her brothers, were very happy to meet me.  Her sister, Jeanny with her four children Exekial, Jameel, Jemina, and Emanuel, were the most pleasant people to meet.  I felt very comfortable.

On 2 December 2008, we got married by the Mayor of Camaligan in my in-laws living room.  I learned that with this family, I gained 5 Uncles, 3 Aunts, their spouses and their children as family members.  I met many of then during the 11 months I stayed in the Philippines and as far as Nathan goes, he has had my unconditional love since the day I asked him to ‘pull my finger’ via Skype before I went over there the first time.  As for all of my nieces and nephews, many, many cousins and new found Aunts and Uncles, not to mention Francia’s grandmother, they all have my love.

What is family?  Family is the most important aspect of anyone’s life.  Of all the titles I have held in life, military, civilian, son, cousin, brother, nephew, uncle, and father, being a Father has been the greatest title of my life.

London Jade Hammer

What can I say?  The title alone is enough inspiration to write volumes.

December 2007

My youngest daughter Meagan is pregnant with my first grandchild.  I just returned to Niagara Falls, New York to the homestead that was the place of my childhood.  I was unattached and was enjoying life just hanging out with my siblings.

My daughter Meagan and her husband were both in the military (US Army) and stationed at Ft. Polk, LA, where I was stationed in 1984-1985.

I hated that place.

In fact the state of Louisiana scared me.  Ever since I saw that movie about a National Guard Unit who ran into swamp people…  Bottom line, the movie terrified me.  Not because of the swamp people, but because this movie hinted that the State of Louisiana was a forgotten place.  In my eye, it took a special kind of ‘person’ to live in Louisiana.

Anyway, My daughter as I said was about to give birth to my first grand daughter and her husband was just about to be deployed to Iraq.  With that in mind, my daughter asked me if I could possibly come down and help her with the baby after she was born, because with Colin (my son in law) deploying and her still being in the Army, she would need help.

I told her that I would be proud to come down there and play ‘Nanny’ to my grand baby until she was in a position to handle it herself.

So, on 9 December, she called and told me that she had gone into labor and that the baby was coming.  I quickly packed up what I felt I would need while with her and headed south.  I tried to make the drive through without stopping, but sometime in the middle of the night (on 10 December 2007), I received a phone call while driving into Arkansas.  It was my son in law to tell me that it was a girl and all was well.  It just so happened that my ex-wife (Meagan’s mother) was there for the birth which I was thankful for, so I decided to stop at a Hotel for the night and get rested and a shower.  While I was checking in, I got a text message from my son in law.  It was a photo of my grand daughter, London Jade Hammer.  I proudly showed her to the woman who was checking me into the hotel I stopped at and she was so giddy with excitement for me, she gave me a 50% discount on the room for the night.  Awesome.

The next morning, I woke up and headed due south towards Leesville, LA and Fort Polk.  I got to the hospital and went in to see my daughter and grand baby.  Meagan looked so tired.  I gave her a hug and then looked for the baby.  A few minutes later I was holding my very first grand baby.

She was B-E-A-U-tiful!!  She smelled so good and was so pleasant.  I felt tears of joy swelling in my eyes.  I told Meagan and Colin that they did a good job.  I didn’t want to let her go.

I did let her go and Colin showed me how to get to the house where I went and unpacked my stuff.  They demanded that I take one of the two bedrooms for myself since I was going to be there for an extended time.  In Military housing, the living quarters are not that big.  Both bedrooms were identical, but I chose the one that provided a good view of the front of the house.

Then it dawned on me that Colin and Meagan were setting up the other bedroom solely for the baby and I had taken their bedroom.  (I was initially thinking they would be in the other bedroom with the baby).   I considered moving to a motel for the time I was going to be there, but with Colin deploying soon, I thought Meagan would need me at hand in case she had to be at work early or stay later.

Luckily, Colin got to hang out for about a month after London was born.  It gave me a chance to consider what my purpose was going to be on a daily basis.

About the time Colin deployed, Meagan had to return to work.  So, that is when my daily routine was just me and London.  I kept London with me always (unless she was napping, then she was in her crib) and I had much fun with her.  I created a lot of videos which can be found on http://www.youtube.com .

We played and when Meagan got home, she was always happy to see her Mommy.  She had a great disposition and was never really demanding.  I watched her grow and filmed her first roll over on her own.  We played what I liked to call the ‘blanket game’ where I would drop a light baby blanket over her and then start asking ‘What happened to London?’  She would pull and scratch until that blanket came off her head and she could see me.  I would cheer that I found her and she would have huge smiles.  She always made me smile.

During the first month, with Meagan and Colin home, I got lucky.  I think I changed two diapers during that period and they were not a ‘messy’ diaper.  Just a ‘pee’ diaper.  A little cleansing, powder and a new diaper. Easy-peasy.  Then Colin deployed, Meagan went back to work…and I was alone.  Having to deal with whatever London can throw at me.  I remember her sitting on my lap and I was singing to her….and poof…there it was.  A fart on Boompa’s lap.  Then another.  Shortly later…the smell.  I looked at the clock.  Meagan would not be home for a couple of hours.

So, London and I went up to the dressing table where I could lay out all the things I would need to tackle this first ‘poopy’ diaper.  I kind of remember those little masks some people wear over their mouth and nose, but I figured that I was a man!  I would not need one of those.  I had the new diaper standing by, a new onesie (this one smelled like butt) , a large number of baby wipes (I’d hate to get poo poo on my fingers), a little cream for her diaper rash and a little baby powder. I was ready.

I laid her on the changing area and unbuttoned her onesie.  I got down to the snaps at the bottom and right away – poop on my fingers.  I screamed…and quickly grabbed about 37 baby wipes and started wiping.  Soon my fingers were poop free and I looked down to evaluate the situation.  Where was that mask? Using my thumb and pointer finger I gently pulled the onesie off her and tossed it into the dirty clothes hamper.  That is when I saw that poop had oozed out every side of the disposable diaper.  It went from her belly button to her knees.  It was paste-like and hard to remove.  It was stinky.  She was laughing at me.  Using another 100 baby wipes or so, I got all of the poo poo off of her and using a warm rag, I cleaned her up and applied the ointment to her rash spots on her bum bum.  I gave her a splash of baby powder, put on a new diaper and the clean onesie and viola, she was good as new.

I made it through the first poopy diaper after almost 20 years.

In May of 2008, Meagan was released from the Army and my oldest son was scheduled to get married in Orlando, FL.  I told Meagan that I was going to go back to NY if she was ready to handle things.  I think she hesitated a bit, but she said that she could.

So, we drove two cars from Louisiana to Florida so that when the wedding was over, I could head North and she could head back west to Louisiana.

The time I spent with London during her first few months was unforgettable. I saw her laugh, I saw her cry, I fed her, I sang her to sleep, I played with her, I got my hugs and kisses and last but not least, I had my share of many poopy diapers.

It was the best 6 months of my life.

Chuck Beats a Tractor

When we moved to New Jersey for my first job after the military, we could not believe the cost of living.  We soon discovered that the further south you moved in this state, the lower the cost of living.  Still high, but lower.

We had a lot of ‘junk’ that we accrued over the years before Becca and I met, so in addition to a home, we needed to get a storage unit to keep it all.  It was this junk that would be our savior during the year we spent in NJ.

We found a nice little home in Bricktown, NJ.  I believe the address was 46 Capri (street, avenue, lane…I don’t remember).  The school my two older children attended was called Osbourneville Elementary.  I never learned why the school appeared to be named after a town other then the one it was located in.

Anyway, this home we move into was unique in the fat that it had no lawn.  I may have seen this in my past, but I never actually experienced a lawn made of stones and pebbles.  This made it hard to play with the kids in the yard because of the inherent pain it would cause.

It was a three bedroom house where the boys shared one bedroom, the girls in another and we had the last one.  It got kind of cramped when my sisters Cathy and Donna came to visit with Cathy’s young son, Joey (RIP).  The bills were outrageous.  Electric, gas and water/trash were almost have as much as the rent which was $750.

It was 1989 and my new job with the Department of Defense was only that of a GS-9 (meaning very little income).  Because of this, Becca tried her best to work part time, but it was hard because her availability was very limited with 4 young children under the age of 9.

This is where the ‘junk’ came in.  We had noticed in Bricktown that there was a farmers market (aka a flea market) not far from the house.  So every weekend Becca would pile a bunch of the stuff (much of it was army uniforms and equipment that we both accrued during our years in the Army – another blog for several other times) and take it to the flea market and sell it to the locals in south NJ.  I would stay with the three younger children at home while Chuck would go with Becca and help her out.

The income from these trips to the flea market were what made it possible to survive in New Jersey.  I had a one hour commute each way to where I worked at Ft. Monmouth.  The distance wasn’t the problem…it was the traffic which was horrendous.  This required gas and tolls and a lot of hand gestures and bouts of road rage, but I dealt with it.

Back to the flea market and the whole point for this blog.  As Becca would stand at the table and make sales happen, Chuck (being a young curious boy) would wander around and explore.  During her fourth or fifth visit to the flea market, Chuck wandered out behind the market and found a wooden bat laying in the grass.  He picked it up and started swinging it and getting board with that, he looked around for something to hit.

He noticed what appeared to be a decrepit and abandoned tractor in the field nearby.  He went to the tractor and took a swing.  No damage.  He must have considered this a challenge because he then proceeded to wail on this tractor…swing, ting….swing, ting…until this old farmer came out and grabbed the bat in one hand and one of Chuck’s arms with the other.

Chuck showed him where to find Becca and this farmer explained what he caught Chuck doing (making it sound a lot worse then it was) and Becca offered to pay for any damage (which was very minimal).  The old boy just mumbled something about controlling the boy and went back to whatever he was doing …maybe slopping hogs??

Well, Becca packed up he table and came home early.  Of course I wondered WTH?  Then she went on to explain everything I mentioned above.  Chuck was cowering behind Becca as she explained the story and I was getting madder with every word.  Chuck and I had a discussion about the cost of his actions and the difficulty this could cause with our basic survival.  Chuck was genuinely embarrassed and regretful for the entire situation.

Chuck has always been a great boy.  Sure he had incidents like this, but overall he has made me a very proud father.  I share this story because it was a memory I awoke with this morning.  Since Chuck now has children of his own, I hope one day he will be able to share this with his children, not to show that he was a trouble maker, but to show that every child has days of adventure that would be looked upon as being troublesome.

I love my kids.