Tennis Shoe Thomas


“They’re nice, don’t get me wrong,” a kid named Thomas said of the shoes I wore, “but why do you insist on wearing tennis shoes?”

Thomas was the only son of my dad’s friend, and his question came so soon in our introduction that it was almost a part of his greeting. He said the word tennis shoes with such disgust that I felt like a second-class citizen in them, before I knew what a second-class citizen was.  His question was framed in a manner that suggested he had known me for years, but this was the first time we met. His question also laid a depth charge that would detonate throughout the course of this evening in the form of a theme: There was something I had missed out in this whole definition of the pre-teen years, and in the preparation for the life beyond.

imagesThis kid’s confidence was difficult to mirror, and I didn’t.  I was caught off guard.  Had I been better prepared for his assessments, I would’ve mentioned the fact that I had no say in the matter.  I didn’t pick these shoes out, and I’d never given much consideration to preferences. I was a kid, my parents bought me tennis shoes, and I wore them. Second, I didn’t place much focus on what other kids wore, and I didn’t think anyone else our age did either.  That would’ve been wrong, of course, for there was always a “cool factor” to the shoes one wore.  The idea that tennis shoes were now deemed uncool as to be a tired element of the kid ensemble, however, had never occurred to me, or anyone else I knew for that matter.

It wouldn’t be the first time that my identity would be challenged, nor would it be the last, but this kid did a masterful job of placing me in a state of flux.  As soon as I formulated some half-hearted answer to one of these questions I had never been asked before, he was onto something else.  The purport of our conversation was that he had little time for me, because I was a kid, and even though I was only one year younger than him he preferred speaking to adults.

I took it as a personal insult that he preferred to speak to my parents, and that he gave the impression that my parents were more his speed, until my parents asked him how he was doing. I can’t remember the exact question my parents asked him, but it did not divert much from the typical “How do you like school?”  “Do you have a girlfriend?” questions adults ask pre-teen kids.  The typical response to such a question, we learn from our cool contemporaries, is to be polite but dismissive, with a heavy dose of the latter.

Not only was this kid respectful, he appeared to prefer the company of my parents before knowing anything about them. He also appeared to want to have them approve of him. It was so out of the realm of my experience that I was fascinated, after I determined that this kid was in full control of his facilities. His answer to my parents’ typical question consisted of a verbal flowchart of his path for life, built on various contingencies that he could not foresee at that point. It was impressive in a cute kind of way that suggested that his whole life had been geared toward getting his father to muss up his hair with pride. The tennis shoe question became clearer in that light. I thought he was trying to impress my parents to impress his all the more. Until, that is, he commented on my hairdo.

“That bangs thang isn’t working for you anymore,” he said after his mother all but shoved him out of the room. There were no adults around when he said that. He was the first boy I recalled meeting that had a hairdo. As I said, he was one year older than me, and I wondered if this kid was emblematic of what I’d be facing in a year.  He also had a girlfriend.

The girlfriend thang damaged the whole profile I had been building on him. I had been planning to tell all my friends about him, so we could laugh at this kid, and they could help me believe that he was the aberration that I thought he was. I knew the girlfriend thang would damage that presentation, for in the pre-teen world, having a girlfriend nullifies all prior deficits of character, unless he cherishes her.

If a kid our age was lucky enough to have a girlfriend, he was to be dismissive of her.  She was to be a fait accompli.  No one wanted to hear about the process you had to go through to get her, and those revelations often did more harm than good.  Her role in a young boy’s life, was one of adornment.  She should be nothing more than a badge of prestige that that boy wore on his sleeve.  Saying one had a girlfriend was more important than actually having one, in other words.  This Thomas kid loved having one.  He cherished her, a fact made evident by the fact that he enshrined her love letters in a central location, on a dresser, in his impeccably clean bedroom.

“She must really have it bad for you,” I said, looking at the size of that stack of letters.

A dismissive “yeah” may have been called for at this point to keep it cool between the fellas, but this Thomas kid didn’t say anything of the sort.  He said those letters were mostly responses to his love letters, and his plans with her. He informed me that the two of them were in love. He said he thought about her all the time, and he had a smile on his face when he said that, that my Great Aunt Mary Louise would’ve considered sweet.  He talked about the fact that he wanted her to be his wife one day.  He said that most of his letters detailed those long-term goals, and her letters were a positive response to that.  If that day never happened, he said in response to whatever doubts he perceived from me, he informed me that he would be just as happy with one kiss from her.

He had a deeper voice that he reserved for conversations with adults, a voice I presumed was an affectation he had developed to garner more respect from them.

“I prefer Thomas,” he said when I asked him if he went by Tom or Tommy. “My birth certificate says Thomas,” he said when I asked him what the fellas at school called him. “So, I prefer Thomas.

After his mother had all but physically pushed him out of the living room “So, the adults could talk”, and he was forced to play with me, he informed me that he did not want to play with his Atari 2600.  He then shot me a glance that suggested that I shouldn’t be so reliant on it for my entertainment purposes.

Thomas was such a violation of everything I held dear that I couldn’t tell if he had something I had missed out on, or if he was stuck in the same quadrant of self-defined cool that all the nerds in my class were.  This Thomas kid’s violations of everything I held dear went deeper than the nerdiest nerd in my class however.  He basically stated that he thought it sucked to be a kid.

Kids I knew hated being subjected to authority, going to school, eating vegetables, and some semblance of the idea that we weren’t older, but this kid hated everything about being a kid, even the good stuff.  This kid envied maturity, and the greater responsibilities that come from being older, and the whole idea of being older.  In me, I thought he saw all the trappings of being a kid, trappings that consisted of wanting to play, laugh and have fun.

I never saw Thomas after that day, so I have no idea if one of the paths on his flowchart panned out, but we spent most of that evening discussing how much Thomas had going on, and how much I’d missed out on by being such a kid.  My guess, now that I’m old enough to reflect on the people that shaped my life, both large and small, is that Thomas suffered from a debilitating case of only child syndrome.  My guess is that the reason the two of us focused on how much I missed out on was, in part, a defense mechanism he had developed to prevent us from focusing on how much he had missed out on.  My guess is that he didn’t suffer fools gladly, when fools, like me, may have been able to teach him how fun it was to be foolish at times, in these ever dwindling years in which it’s acceptable to be foolish. My guess is that he got so wrapped up in his solitude that he forced others out before they could approach his door.  My guess is that I was the reason that our family was invited over to their house, based on the need Thomas’ parents thought Thomas had for another kid to teach him there was another way of conducting one’s self as a child, a way other than the one his parents had taught him.  My guess, not knowing how Thomas’ life panned out, is that soon after one of the paths on his flowchart panned out, and he addressed all of the variables that he couldn’t foresee as a kid, he began wearing tennis shoes, playing Atari 2600, or whatever game system he had, to the point of immaturity, and that he began chasing all the youth he missed out on in his pursuit of responsibility, maturity, and greater impressions.

Advertisements

Why Adults Hate Their Parents


I am so glad I don’t have to go through all that anymore, is the first thought I have when I hear an adult talk about how they still hate their parents. When they say it with such animosity and rage, I remember the emotions that drove me to say such things, and I’m happy to be past all that. When I hear someone say that their parents are bumbling fools, idiots, or backwater hicks from the 1950’s, I remember saying such things. I regret some of it, sure, but as has been said of regrets, there is little that we can do about them now, and our struggle to correct past errors defines us.

I also remember thinking no one was listening to me. So, when people talk about how awful their parents are, I listen. I listen to those in their twenties, and I remember those complaints. I listen to thirty-somethings, and I try to remember if I was that angry in my thirties. When the complaints come from those who have cross the big four-oh!, the question I want to ask them, “Why is it so important to you that they still be wrong?”

“I’m smarter than my dad,” writes a twenty-something blogger. “I really wish I wasn’t. It’s like finding out Santa isn’t real.” 

That isn’t an exact quote, but it is a decent summary of her snarky blog. The blogger goes onto discuss how intelligence and cultural sensitivity are a cross that she must now bear in her discussions with her parents. She never states that she hates her parents. She states that she, in fact, loves them a great deal, but she characterizes that definition of love with an element of pity, bordering on condescension, that appears to be endemic in twenty-somethings.

Some carry this teenage hatred well into their twenties. The teen years are a period of cultivation, rebellion, learning, etc., that occur before our minds fully form. As we age, our mind matures, and so does our rebellion, until it manifests into either full-fledged hatred, or a condescending pity that recognizes their backwater modes of thought for what they are. This matured rebellion is also based on the fact that our parents still have some authority over us, and that reminds us of those days when our parents had total authority over us, and how they “abused it to proselytize their closed-minded beliefs on us.”

When we finally reach a point when they’re no longer helping us pay for tuition, a car, or rent, and we’re able to flex independent muscles, we spend the next couple of years fortifying this notion that they were wrong, all wrong, all along.

By the time we grow past our narcissistic teens and twenties, circumstances reveal the logic and wisdom our parents attempted to pass down to us, and the idea that some of it applies in some circumstances. (Some will never admit this. Some remain stuck in a peak of rebellion.) Their advice did not apply in all circumstances, of course, but it did in so many that we decided to turn the bumbling fool tint on our rose colored glasses. Then, when we reach our forties, we begin to think that they’re idiots all over again.

I wrote the last line to complete a joke I read. It’s a funny line, because there is an element of truth in it, but in my experience the truth lies somewhere in the middle. The truth is a hybrid of the lifelong recognition we have had of our parents’ failings combined with the points we begrudgingly give them on some matters. We also respect them in a manner we never did as kids, because we now have our own kids who view us as bumbling fools. As flawed as they were, and some of their advice and philosophies were fundamentally flawed, we have enough distance from our youth that we can now view them as fellow parents who tried to lead us down a path conducive for happiness and success in life. At some point, we learn it’s no longer about them. It’s about us. 

This specific timeline may not apply to everyone, as we all go through these stages on our own time, and the word hate may be too strong to describe the animosity some adults still have for their parents, but anyone who has been through the peaks and valleys of a combustible relationship with their parents knows it can be one hell of an emotional roller coaster ride.

Theory formed the foundation of much of my uninformed rebellion, and real-world circumstances revealed to me that some of the archaic and antiquated advice my dad offered me had some merit. These circumstances, as I said, included having my own child and my own attempts to protect the sanctity of his childhood, in the same manner my dad attempted to protect mine. As evidence of this, I once thought my dad committed some errors in raising me by sheltering me too much, until some know-it-all said that means my dad did his job. “How so?” I asked. I was all ready to launch into a self-righteous screed about how he knew nothing about my childhood, until he said, “By allowing your childhood to last as long as possible.”

Another circumstance arrived when I tried to get along with my co-workers, and I tried to appease my boss. My father warned me that this would be more difficult than I assumed, and he was right, but I regarded that as nothing more than an inconvenient coincidence in my path to individuality.   

It’s not debatable to me that I was right about some of the things I planted a flag in, but these circumstances led me to understand that my dad lived a rich, full life by the time he became my mentor, and some of my impulsive, theoretical thoughts about the world were, in fact, wrong. (Even after gaining some objectivity on this matter, it still pains me to write that line.)

Having my own job, my own money, and my own car did a great deal to provide me the independence I desired, but I wanted more. Having my own home, and friends, and a life completely devoid of my dad’s influence gained me even more, but it wasn’t enough.

I wanted to be free of the figurative shackles being my dad’s son implied. Every piece of information I received about history, the culture, and the world was exciting, and new, and mine, because it stood in stark contrast to everything my dad believed. The information I received, that confirmed my dad’s wisdom, bored me so much I dismissed it. The new age information coincided with everything I wanted to believe about the brave new world that my dad knew nothing about, and it confirmed my personal biases.

I didn’t ask myself the question that I now pose to those who still need to prove their parents wrong. I probably would not have had much of an answer, even if I searched for it. I probably would have said something along the lines of “Why is it so important to him that he cling to that age-old, traditional mode of thought?”

This redirect would not have been an attempt at deception or evasiveness. I just did not have the awareness necessary to answer such a question. Moreover, as a twenty-something, new age thinker, I was rarely called upon to establish my bona fides. All parties concerned considered me a righteous rebel, and the old guard was, by tradition, the party on trial. They often felt compelled to answer my questions, as opposed to forcing me to define my rebellion, and I enjoyed that because on some level I knew I couldn’t answer those questions.

My twenty-something definition of intelligence relied on emotion, theory, and very little in the way of facts. I thought they were facts, however, and I had the evidence to back them up. I thought I was intelligent, more intelligent than my dad was, but the question I did not ask is what is intelligence? The answer is it depends on whom you ask.

In Abraham Lincoln’s day, the ability to drop a pertinent reference from Shakespeare and The Bible in any given situation formed the perception of one’s intelligence. My generation believed that dropping a well-timed, pertinent quote from Friends and Seinfeld defined intelligence, coupled with a thorough knowledge of the IMBD list of Bruce Willis. To the next generation, it has something to do with knowing more than your neighbor about Kim Kardashian and Lady Gaga. (I concede that the latter may be an epic fail on my part.)

My dad knew nothing of Seinfeld, or Bruce Willis, so he knew nothing as far as I was concerned. He knew nothing about computers, or devices, and a third party introduced him to gold records (These gold records were CDs, compact discs, LOL! Gold records?) shortly before his death. This lack of knowledge about pop culture and technological innovation transcended all matters, as far as I was concerned. I believed my dad was a bumbling fool, traditionalist trapped in 1950’s traditionalist modes of thought, and that he could’ve never survived in our current, more sensitive culture. He was a backwater, hick, and whatever other adjectives we apply to one trapped in a time warp of the sixties, maybe seventies, but definitely not nineties, the noughties, or the deccas.

The question that we in the smarter-than-our-parents contingent must ask ourselves is how much of the divide between our parents’ level of intelligence and ours is in service of anything? I, like the snarky and provocative blog writer, can say that I knew more about more than my dad did, but I defined that divide and most of what I used to inform that divide involved inconsequential information that would never serve a substantial purpose. The conditions of my dad’s life were such that he didn’t receive what most would call a quality education, but he used whatever he learned to prosper on a relative basis. One could say that the difference between  my dad’s education and mine, and the education of the snarky contingent versus her parents’, could be whittled down to quantity versus quality.    

In the Workplace  

Much to my shock, I began quoting my dad to fellow tenured employees, well into my thirties:

“Everyone has a boss,” and “You can learn everything there is to know about the world from books, but the two words most conducive to success in life are going to revert to either: ‘Yes sir!’ and ‘No sir’.” 

I loathed those words for much of my young life, as they implied that even after escaping my dad’s management of my life –a level of authority that turned out to be far more macro than I ever considered possible– I would always have a boss, and the bosses that followed my dad taught me the difference between his level of macro management, and my boss’s definition (Hint: micro) when I was out on my own, and out from under his totalitarian thumb. I would also learn that my boss’s moods would forever dictate whether my day would be a good one or a bad one, in the same manner days under my dad’s moods affected me, only tenfold.

Dad’s advice derived from his experience in the workplace, but that experience occurred in an era that required reverence of a boss. Thanks to the new age ideas of boards and panels conducting arbitration cases for those who have been fired, the various wrongful termination lawsuits, and the threat thereof that gave life to the Human Resources department, the reverence requirement was no longer as mandatory in my era.

I would also learn that my newfound level of freedom would contain a whole slew of asterisks that included the idea that no matter how much free time I had, I would spend a great portion of my life in a workplace, under the watchful eye of authority, compromising my personal definition of freedom every step of the way.

Throughout the course of my life, I’ve met those who never went through these stages of rebellion. If you find this as incomprehensible as I did, all I can tell you is I’ve met them. They said rational things like this, in their twenties, “I never thought my parents were perfect, but I know that they always tried to steer me into what they believed to be the right course.”

As soon as I picked myself off the floor from laughter –believing that I was on the receiving end of a comedic bit– I realized they were serious. The fact that their upbringing was so much healthier than mine, caused me to envy them in some ways, but after chewing on that for years I realized that all of the tumult I experienced, self-inflicted and otherwise, defined my character and my current individual definition of independence.

We are our parent’s children, and at times, we feel trapped by it. Therefore, we focus on the differences. We may mention some of the similarities, but we take those characteristics for granted, and we think all parties concerned do too. Even when we reach a stage in life when we begin to embrace some elements of that trap, somewhere in our thirties and forties, we cling to the idea that we’re so different. The answers as to why these dichotomies exist within us are as confusing to us as the fact that they are a fait accompli.

When immersed in the tumult of the younger brain, trying to make some sense of our world, we may fantasize about what it would be like to have other parents. Our friend’s parents seem so normal by comparison. We think most of our problems could be resolved if we had their parents, or any normal people as parents. We might even fantasize about what it might be like to have been free of all patriarchal influence. We consider how liberating it might be to be an orphan, until we recognize how confusing that must also be. Those without parents must lack a frame of reference, a substantial framework, or a familiar foundation from which to rebel. When we consider this, we realize that our current identity is comprised of various pushes and pulls of acquiescence and rebellion to our parents.

While there is some acknowledgement of the ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’ dictum when we receive advice from our parents, our rebellion operates under the “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” principle when we process that advice and apply it to our era. When we acknowledge that knowledge of innovations and pop culture are superfluous, that removes a substantial plank of our rebellion, until politics takes its place. We then sit down at our proverbial dinner table to resolve the political and geopolitical problems of the day, for our nation, in a manner we deem substantial. It fires us up. We deliver nuke after nuke, until we realize that the effort to persuade our parents is futile. We also recognize that nestled within this effort was our juvenile, sometimes snarky need to prove them wrong. While a more substantial plane than pop culture, political discussions can be just as silly for us, as it was for our parents when they discussed such issues at their parents’ dinner table, and they considered their parents to be bumbling idiots that offered nothing new to the discussion and stubbornly resisted the winds of culture change. The one import that they may have taken from their discussions with their parents, as we will with ours, over time, is that the more things change, the more they stay the same, and human nature doesn’t change as much as we may believe it does with innovations, cultural advancements, and social awareness. A kiss is still a kiss, a boss is still a boss, and the fundamental things still apply, as time goes by.

Epilogue

One final piece of advice this former rebel turned-individual offers to the provocative, parent-hating rebels is that we should all thank our parents for raising us. Thanking them could be one of the hardest things we ever do, as we may lose most of the provocative, parent-hating points we’ve spent our whole life accumulating, but it might turn out to be one of the best things we ever do too.

I thanked my dad for everything he did for me, and I did not add all of the qualifiers and addendum I would have added years earlier. I managed to put all grievances behind me for the ten seconds it took me to thank him.

Was it hard? I will not bore you with the details of my rearing, but suffice it to say my dad could be a difficult man, and he played a significant role in the anger, frustration, and the feelings of estrangement I felt for much of my life.

I could go into further detail to ingratiate myself with those currently struggling with the idea that I don’t understand their dilemma. To display my empathy, I have a quote that served me well throughout the traumatic years: “Not every person who becomes a parent is a good person.” Parents are people too, and some of them are as misguided, confused, immoral, and selfish as the rest of us are. Yet, we are people too, and some of us are susceptible to making the mistake of amplifying their faults in our myopic view of them. If we were able to shake that myopic view, I think most of us will see that our parents were essentially good people who tried to move past their limitations to make us better than they were.

I dedicate this addendum to those who acknowledge that there might be anecdotes in this post that provide clarity on this subject, and they might even admit that thanking their parents would be noble, but the wound is too fresh and raw to forgive or thank them today. I empathize on a relative basis, but all I can tell my fellow angry offspring is that it would not have sat well with me if I waited.

As I sat in a pew staring at the pine box, I realized that no matter how obnoxious, self-serving, and angry my father could be at times, he was a member of an endangered species comprised of those who truly care what happens to me. How many people truly care what happens to us? Our closest friends may say they do, but they have their own lives to live, and they will move on. We know our parents care, but some of them show it by seeking constant updates, harping, and telling us how to live our lives, long after the tie that binds us has been broken. As impossible as this is to believe today, expressing some level of gratitude in whatever manner your relationship with your parents require might be the best thing you have ever done. We might not see it that way today, but my guess is that even the most obnoxious rebel will see it one day, and my hope is that this addendum will convince someone, somewhere that waiting one more day might be one day too late.

Rilalities


Dad and sonTo buy or to buy not.  When I was younger my Dad did not buy me everything I wanted, and I hated him for it (hated being the preteen version of hate).  A part of me still believes that of part of him enjoyed saying no to me.  A part of me also thinks that a part of my psychosis was developed by the constant “No’s!” I received from him.  Another part of me wonders what kind of man I would be today if he gave me everything I wanted.  Would I be a spoiled brat?  Would I have some sort of obnoxiousness about me that expected to be able to buy everything I wanted —to have everything I deserved— regardless if I had to go into debt to get it?  Would I be one of these ‘I deserve it’ adult babies that permeate our culture?  Another part of me knows that I would’ve had to eventually work myself through whatever psychosis my Dad chose to inflict on me, and I would probably be in the exact same place I’m in now.

Under-Estimate Children!  It may be better for our society if we start striving to under-estimate children.  Our culture is going through a silly phase where we’ve taken the old adage “We can learn a lot from our children” to an irrational stratosphere where .  I have to believe, for the purpose of my own sanity, that people don’t truly think children are smarter than adults, but that it’s something neat to say.  Therefore, when they say, “Kids say the most amazing things, kids are so innocent, and kids see things without the heavily tinted sunglasses we do,” I take it with a grain of salt.  I have had friends further these cliches and leave me with the idea that some part of them believes it (as a result, this humble observer, believes can only arrive after all the other parts have lost so many wars over the years that they’ve simply given up).  Kids are sponges and balls of clay.  They have very few original thoughts, and the few original thoughts they are usually gibberish.  They know nothing, except what they’re taught, and when they’re caught, and every kid I know now is just as malformed and uninformed as every kid I knew when I was a kid.

Freaks are people too ya’ know. There was a daily parade of freaks that worked with me on an overnight shift. When I watched this parade exit the building one day, it dawned on me that each of these freaks had a story that was aching to be told. Most of them did not want those stories told though.  Most of them didn’t think they had stories, or the kind of stories I tell. Most of them suffered from the Pinocchio syndrome, a desire to be normal boys and girls. The further away from normal these people, of varying ages were, the more convinced they were of their normalcy. Most people won’t hear their stories, however, because there’s a fear that you’re too normal, and you will judge them harshly from your vantage point. They only tell their stories to their own. Call it a gift, a curse, or a truth that I am as yet unaware of, but I convinced them that I am one of them.

Psychology fills the gap.  How do politicians and writers manipulate their audience?  They know their psychology.  I cannot imagine a writer, or a politician, succeeding in their craft without first knowing a lot about psychology.  Maybe a politician can, due to the fact that they’re usually figureheads among an enormous staff that has a finger on who you are and what makes you tick, and they feed that information into the politician’s Tele-Prompter.  A big town writer, writing small-time blogs, can’t get away with that though.  They have to have an insatiable hunger for what makes humans tock, and tick, and a progression to psychology is a natural one, for in most cases the science of writing, and the science of psychology are much the same science.       

idealisticIrrational Idealism.  I was irrationally idealistic. “I agree that America is the best country in the world, but who’s to say that we can’t all make it better?” was one of my favorite replies. Those currently of an idealistic mind approach me in a manner I used to approach traditional thinkers, with the mindset that this is the first, idealistic thought I’ve ever encountered.  Most idealistic thinkers believe that their individualistic twist on an issue is one that has never been considered before. Most idealistic thinkers cannot conceive of the idea that they’re wrong, for they’ve conceived of the idea on their own, based upon their relative influences.  Most idealistic thinkers believe that the only reason traditional thinkers stubbornly cling to traditional thinking is that they have never truly considered the idealistic thinkers open-minded ideals before.  Most idealistic thinkers cannot fathom the idea that you’ve “been there, done that”, and that you don’t believe their ideas and ideals are effective based on your experiences in life.

Money can Buy some Happiness.  A 2010 study suggests that $75,000 a year is enough to make a person happy?  Why?  To be truly happy, the study suggests, a person needs only enough money to be able to afford certain products, a certain amount of freedom, and the ability to avoid worrying about bills.  A person that makes $100,000 a year doesn’t necessarily have greater emotional well-being, and they have no extra day-to-day happiness, than a person that makes $80,000 when all of the individual variables are taken out to achieve a general rule.  $75,000 appears to be the leveling off point, or what the researchers call a financiohappiness ceiling, at which an individual can afford all of the luxuries of life without worrying about bills.  Or, as Henry David Thoreau once said, “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”{1}  Does this mean that a man should cease striving to be better, with more money in his pocket as a product of that increased stature, no, but the study suggests that his happiness will probably not increase in relation to his pocket book.  While that is a provocative idea, some would suggest that contrary to everything Hollywood has ever told you, it is the striving to be better that makes one happy, and money is simply a happy byproduct that defines better.  If your driving force in life is attaining more money, and buying certain products, you’ll probably not be happier with more.

The Pursuit of Happiness.  Hollywood movies teach us to never settle, and that we deserve better.  Sports teach us to never be satisfied, and that we deserve more.  The pursuit of happiness may break down to focusing on what we currently earn versus what we think we deserve.  When asked if he felt he deserved a National Championship after all those years of near-misses, Nebraska Conhuskers coach, Dr. Tom Osborne, said: “There’s no such thing as deserve in college football. If a coach wins a National Championship, he has earned it in that particular year.” When one earns a dollar, there is often little question of its worth. The recipient may believe that they deserve more, but as the old saying goes, “You are only worth what someone is willing to pay.” With that in mind, we have a concretized grasp on that which we’re worth in life, but some part of us believes that we deserve more. Earned is something one works for and is rewarded upon receipt, and deserve is some existential definition of something we feel we should have based on the fact that we’re alive and trying. Controlling for variables in institutions of higher learning, and most union work, it is found that most institutions don’t pay one more for being alive another year. Most raises, given to those in the real world, are meritorious (i.e. earned).

When we see neighbors who don’t work as hard as we do, and we realize that they’re happier, we think we deserve to be happier too. We don’t know what it is that will make us happier, but we’re in a perpetual pursuit of it.  We’re usually unsatisfied with the result, because the relative definition of deserve is relative to that which we seek, which we don’t know and never will.  If a spouse questions this psychosis, we let them know that we aren’t the type to settle.  We also tell them that we deserve better, and we move onto those greener pastures.  In this selfish pursuit of a definition of happiness that we deserve, a definition usually steeped in stupid, self-serving decisions, we incidentally affect the ancillary victims (our kids) of our lives, so that they are perpetually unhappy in pursuit of this definition of happiness that we’ve passed onto them.

Monogamy is Constraining.  I used to claim that I would not conform to the constraints of monogamy, until I began defining myself within “my monogamy”.  My monogamy is not your monogamy, and no one else can define it for me. Once I began defining my monogamy, I realized a degree of fulfillment that the single life could never achieve. Once I realized the inner core to my monogamy, I also realized something that couldn’t be defined by anyone else.  That cliché that when you fall in love, you think you’re the only person that has ever been in love, is so true, because you get to define it month by month, day by day.

Why does this girl love me?  I have no idea, but the inquiry challenges me.  I, like most people my age, think of myself as a little, unruly child unworthy of love that will eventually be discovered once she unzips the zipper in the back of my neck to realize the monster that I really am.  The truth is that she has defined me in certain ways, and I have evolved myself to meet a new standard.  She has deprived me of that sense of emptiness I used to feel every day, that angst that drove me to write beautiful, provocative prose, but in its place is this sense of completion that only I can define.

I used to abhor holidays too, and though I didn’t go so far as to not participate in them, I saw all of them as false and conformist.  I wanted something out of holidays and relationships that no one could give me … until I started giving to them.  As they say, “It is far more rewarding to give than to receive.”  Therein lies the key, once you start giving to a relationship, you start down the road to completion.  Once you sacrifice that portion of yourself that used to define you as a strong, single, and rebellious person, you start to realize who you really are, and what you can be.  The single life seems so rewarding in the rock star, Hollywood light, until that light begins to expose the underbelly of your empty existence.

I would never claim that my solutions are for everyone, but I can say that you’ll never know yourself completely until you are involved with another person long term.  The “constraints” of monogamy actually freed me up more than anything else I’ve ever experienced.  Trying to get another person to love me, every day, changed me in ways I couldn’t understand, until I began to experience them for myself.  I realized that my definition of the constraints of monogamy were wrong once I began defining my monogamy with “the right person” to assist me through a life of consistency and normalcy.

Something Shocking.  As our culture moves to a more permissive state, I can’t help but wonder if creativity will eventually become a casualty. Television programming is better now than it has ever been. I realize that every person believes in their own superlatives, but it’s my contention that there are numerous mid-level programs on the air now, that are superior in all ways to the top programs of the past generation.  Is this a result of more competition, from internet programming and cable, or does it have something to do with the fact that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has loosened the standards on TV?  Most TV watchers, of a given age, don’t think it’s even debatable that the FTC has allowed for more coarse language and more violence than they did in the 70’s.  The question is if these shows are allowed to be more provocative in these ways, does that provide for more creative writing, or cover for the fact that the writing is not of the quality that existed at one time does it make the writing appear more creative, or is creativity not as necessary as it used to be when the FTC was more constrictive?

This leads us to the question the effect of something shocking.  Is something shocking better?  I don’t think many would debate that it is.  As long as that something is not gratuitous, and it fits the frame of the story, something shocking can capture our attention better than the most creative writing in any venue, and it has us talking about the show the next day at work.  As provocateurs like George Carlin basically said, however, “Be careful what you wish for,” when it comes to tearing down all walls of constriction and small forms of censorship.  “Once they’re gone, they’re gone, and you’ll be left with nothing to rebel against.”  In other words, as the FTC allows for more and more shocking subject matter to be aired in the airwaves, something shocking may not be as shocking as it once was, and we find ourselves playing king of the mountain, until nothing seems as shocking as it once did.

Sprucing and Fluffing.  I got lucky, I say to those that wonder how I met my wife in an online dating forum.  I would not say that my approach to her was any more skilled than anyone else’s.  I would not say that I used my creative writing talents to appeal to her in anyway.  I would just say I got lucky.

“Just about every guy claims to be as adventurous as Bear Grylls, with Brad Pitt looks, and has a workout regimen that would cause Arnold Schwarzenegger to blanch,” says a friend of mine regarding some of online dating site profiles she’s viewed.  She then goes onto provide hilarious examples of the attempts some guys have made to “spruce” up their profile.  The import of her message was we’re all onto you fellas, and we think that you’re absolutely ridiculous.  The jig is up, she basically says, so why are you continuing to make utter jackasses of yourselves?  The answer: it works.

Why do politicians run negative ads every election cycle when everyone and their brother knows that negative ads don’t work.  How many politicians say that one of the goals of their campaign is to avoid negative ads? How many polls state that “People don’t care for negative ads,” yet just about every political campaign runs them.  How does the notion that “negative ads don’t work” persist?  Perhaps it’s because losing politicians run negative ads too.  Perhaps it’s because most election analysts don’t focus on the fact that our current leaders ran negative ads in their elections too, and perhaps that has something to do with the fact that we don’t like to be reminded about what that says about us.  Some may say that this is a simplistic explanation of modern politics in America today, and it may be, but I would counterpoint with the question: “Which part of you are negative ads trained to appeal to?  The complex??”

How many of us would tell a pollster that we want more infighting, more partisanship?  What kind of person would say, “I love negative ads!  I think that the polarization clarifies matters for me.” No, we prefer that that pollster consider us a wonderful person by saying, “I wish that we could end all this partisan bickering, and get back to creating jobs for the American people.”

How many of us have scrolled through Yelp postings to find what that one negative comment had to say?  How many of us have read through positive reviews of products on Amazon.com with the mindset that they all positive reviews seem to run together after a while, until we find that one negative one that seems to stand out?  We all know that one negative comment is far more effective than one hundred positive ones, but when that pollster comes up to us and asks us what we think of one particular negative ad, and we respond that we need to get them out of politics.

The point is that we want politicians to appeal to our better half, but other than the politician’s research team knowing that this is not a fundamental truth of human nature, they also know that positive ads can only take them so far, that they all begin to run together after a while, and negative ads about an opponent do provide an excellent distraction away from the politician’s limitations.  Negative ads also feed into notion in the zeitgeist that going negative is being real and being more honest with the voters.

So, online dating girl, you go on believing that you know more about these unemployed, overweight guys that live in their mother’s basement posting positive ads about themselves that make them sound like Bear Grylls, and look like Brad Pitt, and they’ll go on posting these ads, because they work, and you will continue to fall for them.  And the fact that you keep falling for them, and falling prey to the subject matter in negative ads, says more about you than it does them. The jig is not up, and as David McCraney said, “You’re not as smart as you think you are.”