My Eulogy​ (Class Assignment)

I had to write a eulogy eulogizing myself last month for one of my classes at the Mortuary School (I think they prefer being called a “College of Funeral Services” over a mortuary school, but I like mortuary school). Someone asked if I’d posted it here, so I figured I would. I’ll be rewriting it so that it is less “class assignment” and more authentic to who I am and with more details and people in it. I wrote it last minute, so I kept it to three people, and I really wanted to mention several more. One of which has a birthday today (Happy Birthday, Nina!). I plan to record the video sometime in the spring when I’m back on campus and not taking online classes so that I can focus on working more.

Anyway, here it is. I’m just going to copy/paste it.

Remembering Jason Caldwell

28 March 1983 – 24 May 2069 

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Jason Michael Caldwell

The Eulogy of Jason Caldwell as written by the deceased, Jason Caldwell

Read by the author

Ladies, gentlemen, loved ones, and esteemed punkers, hitchhikers, train-riders, strangers, and heathens of every flavor; we are gathered here today to honor the life of the late and oh so very great, me, Jason Michael Caldwell the first. Father, soldier, luthier, funeral director, author, scientist, and eccentric goofball. So, let me welcome you all to my funeral and/or wake. Feel free to pause this video at any time, but please do so with an appropriate amount of guilt and shame. I am dead, after all. Come on! Smile! That was the perfect amount of funny for a funeral!

Well, now that we have the introduction out of the way, let me say a few things about myself. Born on a Monday in March of 1983 to Denise Kizner and Michael Caldwell, I was what many would call a huge baby. Weighing in at only 8lbs and 3oz, I was just over two foot tall. Why I ended up as short as I did is beyond me, but as a baby, I was a giant. I was also, as my father, so lovingly put it, “The ugliest thing [he’d] ever seen.” He loved talking about how I was handed to him as this ugly mess of a creature and told to take me to another room to be cleaned up, and how he ran while hiding me from our family because he was so embarrassed. That is until I had been cleaned up and no longer looked like a soul-craving demon. That, he says, is when he began beaming with pride and showing off his beautiful baby boy. Now, knowing my father and his love of the dramatic, one would think that this a story he created to make the birth of his first child more entertaining. However, my aunt was five at the time, and after the birth of my son, she said the only thing she remembered from my birth was everyone chasing my father down the hall as he refused to let anyone see me. A fitting entrance if I do say so myself.

Moving forward, we’ve reached the point in which I am supposed to share loving and hilarious anecdotes from my childhood, but I’m going to leave that for my siblings to share with you. Instead, I’m only going to mention my first goal, or dream, if you will – to be a Mad Scientist. From the age of 3 or 4 until I was around 9 and realized people thought it was hilarious that I wanted to be a Mad Scientist, that’s what I swore I’d grow up to become. I was determined to make discoveries and scientific breakthroughs that no one else could. However, once I realized people were laughing at me for it, I started giving a canned answer to be a pro baseball player. Who’d have guessed that science-obsessed kid would grow up to be the crazy scientist he’d always dreamed of becoming? I did it. Or, at least, I’m going to assume that I did it, since I’m writing and reading all of this to you while in my 30s, earning the degrees necessary for said future, and I’m sure you’re all looking back and forth in amazement at me and the no doubt 250-year-old corpse in the casket before you. Or is it a capsule? I’ve no idea what the future holds in that regards, but I hope it involves shooting me into the sun. That’d be great.

But I digress. I always digress. Let us not digress any further and get on with the show, shall we?

Now is the time in which I talk about my accomplishments, my character, and the impact I’ve had on others throughout my life. I’m not going to do that, though. I’d rather this section be a little less goofy (Shocker! I know!) and thank you all for being here. If you’re here, it’s because you loved me or you love someone that loved me, and I am preemptively and eternally grateful for each one of you. Thank you all so very much.

Lori, I love you, and I am so thankful to have had you as my best friend, confidant, concert buddy, business partner, roommate/landlord, and proof that men and women can be close friends without falling for each other. I’ll never be able to express to you just how important you have been to Xekan and me, but I hope I was able to show you while I was alive. Remember, you’re not a cup of tea, you’re a [edited] Jack & Coke. 

Kim, I know you’re here, and probably had a little panic attack when you heard your name just now. It’s okay; I’ll keep it short. Thank you for existing. Everything I became, everything I accomplished, and every positive impact I had on the world are thanks to you and the lessons you taught me; namely, how to love and, more importantly, how to be loved. You’re a fantastic human, and the universe is lucky to have you. I love you, and I’m grateful for you.

Xekan. Xekan, Xekan, Xekan. My son, partner in crime, and the greatest being ever to bless any universe with its existence. I love you so damn much, and I am so proud of the person you are and the man I know you will one day become. I won the universal lottery the day you were born. Hell, the Universe one the dimensional lottery the moment you were born. I’ve never known a kinder, more selfless human than you. I cannot wait to see everything you are going to accomplish and the impact you are going to have on the people you encounter throughout your life. I hope I have lived up to the honor it has been to be your father. I love you, Squidmonkey. I love you, infinity plus one.

As for all of my siblings, I hope you all know that there are too many of you for me to start talking about the love I have for each of you. Not even I am long-winded enough for that. Just know that I love you, I am proud and honored to be your brother, and you’d better not forget about the interpretive dance-off you’re having after this funeral. Remember, you promised and you can’t back out now. Especially since everyone here now knows about it. Have fun, good luck, and stay aware of Heather at all times. You all know how she gets in a competition.

I suppose this is as good a place as any to wrap this all up. It has been running a little long, as is my won’t. I hope I was able to bring you all one more smile, one more laugh, and at least one more head-shaking eye roll. Remember, I lived a good life, had more adventures than any single human ever should, survived more than is believable, saw the extremes of humanity on both ends of the spectrum, and in the end, I still found the silver lining in every cloud. Thank you, all of you, for being the amazing people that you are. I could not be more fortunate than I am to have all of you here to celebrate my life together. I love you all, and you’ll see me again when you replay this video.

Now, get up and get out of here. Share your favorite memories and stories of me. Place bets on my dancing siblings (seriously, Heather is the safest bet), and for science sake, laugh a little. Goodbye, goodnight, and don’t forget to tip your Funeral Director.

Arizona and turning 36

It is my 36th birthday, so I guess it’s time for my annual blog post. I’ve been having trouble coming up with something to write about over the last week, and like every other year, I’m waiting until the final hour to start writing anything at all. So lets start a stream of consciousness!

I love Arizona. While I was there I was torn between these feelings of loving being there and why I was there and all I was able to do while I was there, but also painfully missing my son every moment I was away. Joy in being somewhere that once again felt like home, and guilty for feeling that way while Xekan was so far away from me. I felt at home in Arizona. 

I cannot express just how great it felt to come back to Georgia and hold him in my arms. I’m never whole when we are apart, and even now I’m dying inside just being an hour and a half away from him, knowing he’s sick and there is nothing I can do. I want Xekan to experience my, and his own Arizona.

And still, I miss Arizona. I felt much like I did in Korea. At home, at peace, in my own element. I’m sure it has something to do with knowing that no one from my hometown is from there, or as far as I know, ever really been there except in passing. Whenever I go somewhere that my friends and family would consider new, it feels like mine. I like having places like that, but like Korea, I don’t know if I’ll ever make it back out there like I want. I am grateful for Arizona.

I miss the friends I made while I was there, and I miss waking up each day to build guitars. That feeling was amazing, and one in which I will reach again. I’m starting an associates program in a little over a week, and I’ve been drawing out plans for many many guitars to build in my downtime this summer. Hopefully with Xekan by my side. I want him to feel what I feel when I create art that is so functional. Hopefully we can build him his own drum set as well. I felt alive in Arizona.

Maybe it was the taking steps to better my future, or actually working toward a dream that made me feel so free and live again, but I felt better than I have in years. I felt alive. I felt like me. I felt funny again. I grew up being the goofy, funny guy. It was all I had going for me, and that part of me died in 2011. Even when I’ve made people laugh, I haven’t felt like I was funny. I was just having a fortunate moment. But I felt funny again in Arizona. Even if I wasn’t, I felt like I was, and I’ve missed that feeling. I love that feeling. I miss Arizona.

I made friends there that feel like family. They feel like the soldiers I served with. I haven’t felt that way since my days in the Army. I’ve made friends that have become my family, but in a different way. In a one on one way. The cultivating of relationships like that on a mass scale among likeminded people is rare, at least it seems to be for me. And like the majority of the family I made in the military, many of the brothers I made in Arizona will never see me again. I’m thankful for them and for Arizona.

I know I sound sad and depressed right now, and maybe I am. I am in therapy and on medication for that, after all. I don’t, however, feel depressed thinking about Arizona and the short six months I spent there. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to have that time there and to have met the people I met there. I miss it dearly, but I am not hurting because of it. I think I am healing thanks to it. I’m honestly not sure where I’d be mentally if not for my time in Arizona and at Roberto-Venn. I feel like that place saved my life. I started something there and I finished it, which I can’t remember the last time I finished something that I started. It even gave me the courage to continue my education, and to follow my heart no matter how unconventional the path it may lead me down. I was saved by Arizona.

So in a little over a week I will be starting down the path of earning a degree in Funeral Services/Mortuary Sciences. After which I will continue back on my path toward a masters in Neuroscience. Convention be damned. I will be a veteran, luthier, mortician, neuroscientist by the time my son enters high school. And with the knowledge all of these skills and experiences give me, I will complete and publish the books I’ve started over the years, and I will become a teacher for a while (one of the programs I’m hoping to get into will require this so that I can avoid spending the rest of my life drowning in student loans) as well. Eccentric, goofy, and as unconventional as I have always been meant to be. I am finally moving forward again. I love Arizona.

28 March 2018

So, as I am writing this (28 March 2018,) it’s my birthday again, which means it has been a year since my last entry. I suppose that means it is time for another.

I spent the entire day hiking and geocaching alone. The weather was perfect, the park (Sweetwater) wasn’t crowded, and the caches were plentiful.

I took a pen and notebook with me to do some writing, not sure of what I was going to write. I just had one goal — Do Not Write A List Of Thirty Five Things I’ve Learned At Age Thirty Five! Oh yeah, I turned 35 today.

So after a few hours of hiking I found this beautiful rock formation overlooking the water below and the opposing hillside. I plugged my phone into my charging pack to get ready for the next leg of the day, and began to write.

Excited to get started I began to write without thinking. Just letting it flow for a bit. After a few minutes I paused to see what I had so far, and I had a goddamn list of things I’ve learned in my 35 years of life.

You had one goal, Jason! One fucking goal!

But that’s what I must have wanted to write deep down, and not doing so would have gone against one of the listed lessons, so here it. I’ll likely elaborate more than I did in my notebook, simply because I can.

Jason’s 35 Basic Bitch/Fuckboi Life Lessons

  1. Good insoles are life. Like, for fucking real. You want to give yourself more energy during the day and a better overall attitude? Then go spend $15-$20 on a pair of good gel insoles for your shoes. Your entire body will thank you.
  2. Having fun being bad at something is the best way to learn a new skill. Not trying something you want simply because you currently suck at it is stupid. You’ll never be good if you don’t start off bad, and there is no reason why being bad can’t be fun. So go fucking be bad for a month. That’s long enough to get in 20 hours of good, structured, quality practice. And guess what? Twenty hours is all it takes to go from not having any skill at something to being okay at it, and once you’re okay at it you can become good at it. But okay is that first goal we all have when we start learning something new, and this applies to everything, including learning languages.
  3. If the only human you ever really hang out with is half your size, learn to take a good selfie. Pictures from their angle are rarely flattering.
  4. Statistically, the best selfie angle is 45° up and from the left with your arm fully extended. People with short arms should probably invest in a selfie stick.
  5. There are more variations among groups of men and among groups of women than there are among groups of men and women. So stop treating human variations as different species. Doing so is not only factually wrong, but it’s harmful. When you say men or women like this and that and whatever ridiculous thing you do and want to assign as something specific to your sex or chosen label, you’re making people within said group that do not feel that way feel broken. Just like those that say things that don’t fit you even though you’re part of that group make you feel broken or different or “not normal.” Speak for yourself, not for the world. You are normal. Uniquely you, and completely normal. There is no box.
  6. Be unabashedly and ruthlessly you at all times. There is no reason to be ashamed of who you are, and pretending to be someone you’re not to get others to like you only gets others to like a character you’re playing. No character you create is better than you. Plus, noone is as good at masking or hiding the things about themselves they claim to be so good at concealing. Those things are the shoes at the end of Shawshank Redemption. You’re not hiding them, people just aren’t looking for them. People are so busy trying to mask their own issues that they don’t have the energy or time to focus on yours. So you can wear them on your sleeve and no one will notice. Be you.
  7. When it comes to soda and your teeth, Root Beer is the least harmful.
  8. Least/less harmful does not equal “good for you,” so stop telling yourself it does.
  9. Vitamin C is bullshit. No credible study has ever shown vitamin c does anything to your immune system or a cold. Research this yourself, and accept the truth. Your rituals with it are not proof of it working, they’re proof that placebos work and that given time you will get over a cold (which isn’t really even a sickness, but instead just a bunch of symptoms caused by something something minor tricking your immune system into thinking it is something more than it is. That’s why there is no cure for the common cold.)
  10. Fat isn’t your enemy, sugar is. Cut/reduce your sugar intake and your overall health will improve. After a week or two you’ll start to taste how sweet natural things are without having your body constantly drenched in the sugar so many foods we buy contain. Sugar is evil, and it causes so many more issues than fat, which our bodies need to function.
  11. Memories are more vivid and long lasting when they are not recorded, so put down your camera and own a moment in that moment and let it live only in that moment and your memory. It’s more beautiful when it is yours and only yours.
  12. Learn to juggle. I can list neurological reasons why you should, but who fucking cares? Juggling is fun, so learn to do it. Takes a day to get the hang of it.
  13. Coconut water is way better than any sports drink.
  14. Andrew Zimmern was wrong, butter in coffee is amazing. Google Bulletproof coffee and change your fucking life.
  15. You own your body, and anyone that tells you what you can and cannot do with or to it is wrong, and possibly morally corrupt.
  16. Every person can be wonderful, but people often suck. Groups, even those with the best of intentions, bring out the worst in people. Do your best to not get lost in the crowd when in a group. Stay you.
  17. You spend far more time on social media than you think, and the people you think you need it to stay in touch with will still be in touch if you delete all of your accounts. And those that don’t you’ll realize aren’t as important as you were claiming, they were just an excuse to feed the beast. Take a social media blackout for a month or two and see how it feels.
  18. Sometimes good people do bad things, and that doesn’t make them bad people. The opposite is also true.
  19. Cultural differences are wonderful, but cultural excuses are bullshit and should not be accepted or tolerated.
  20. Everyone believes they are an exception, special and different in ways that no one could ever understand. That is, they feel and believe this until it is actually true. The moment someone is told they actually are an exception, they vehemently deny it and become agitated. Humans are silly sometimes.
  21. Get to know people and expect them to be who they are, not who you want them to be. No one will ever be who you want them to be for very long, and expecting them to be is unfair to everyone. Expect them to be them, just like they should expect you to be you. And realize that people constantly change, so if they something today and tomorrow no longer feel that way, it doesn’t mean today was a lie, it means tomorrow is a new day with new thoughts and new feelings and new experiences.
  22. Recognizing the end of a relationship and letting it go is a valuable skill to have. Holding onto a dying unhealthy or mediocre relationship for the sake of “not giving up” is stupid. So stop glorifying days when people were encouraged to marry before they were ready and forced/shamed into staying together regardless of how everyone felt. You are not required to remain with someone you do not wish to be with anymore. And the 50% divorce rate people attach to their rosy retrospective views of the past are bullshit. Divorce has never been higher than 40%, and is a good thing. Good relationships aren’t the ones ending.
  23. Learn to dream before trying to follow the dreams people have convinced you are your own. Start cultivating skills, and dreams will follow you.
  24. Therapy is for everyone. Regardless of how mentally healthy you are, or believe you are, everyone can benefit from talking to a good therapist.
  25. Big Pharm may be evil/corrupt, but the scientists that create the medications and the doctors that prescribe them are [usually] not. Some people actually do need those medications to function in a way that makes them feel okay. Don’t take that away from them simply because you don’t think they need it, or because you think they’re perfect the way they are. They’re not on them for you, they’re on them for them.
  26. Public shaming serves no positive purpose. It ruins lives, especially in our current era, and what you forget about next week doesn’t end for those you’ve shamed (often unjustly so and without any actual context). You’re satisfying your own primal bloodlust, and that’s bullshit. You are not invisible or insignificant online, and what you say has an impact.
  27. According to your brain, the only difference between books and audiobooks is that books improve your spelling and audiobooks do not. And audiobooks have the added bonus of being read while driving or exercising or running errands.
  28. Feel whatever you’re feeling for as long as you need to feel it, and then let it go. Your feelings are valid. They’re always valid, even when the reason for them isn’t.
  29. Get outside often. Being active is how you stay in touch with your body and how it works, so get out and learn to use it more.
  30. Geocaching is one of the best ways to be a part of a community without having to deal with people.
  31. Switch from music to podcasts and audiobooks when you’re feeling depressed. Music is emotional and no matter what emotion you get stirred up by a song, you’re still stirring emotions and they will all lead you back down sadness road. So switch to podcasts and audiobooks during that time so that your heart can heal.
  32. Do not avoid things simply because they’re popular. You’ll miss out on a lot of great things this way.
  33. The greatest traits a human can have are being genuine and sincere in who they are and what they do. Dogs have these traits in spades. Be more like a dog.
  34. Being alone doesn’t mean being lonely. Learning to be alone without feeling lonely is such a wonderful lesson to learn. Once learned, you’ll find you love and respect yourself in ways you only thought you did before.
  35. Boredom is a word used to make mental and emotional laziness sound like something they’re not. It isn’t a real thing itself. The world is too big and your brain too deep for boredom to truly exist.

So, there you have it. My list of basic lessons I’ve learned. If I’d not set the goal to 35, I think I’d have written a novel full of these things. I’m full of self righteousness bullshit that sounds deeper than it is and that I think everyone needs to read/hear.

Jason hopes you have enjoyed this blog post.

 

Don’t Tell Me To Follow My Dreams

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and decided to put it to words this morning. I normally edit and rewrite these several times before posting, but today is my birthday and I don’t want to edit. So I’m writing it in one go and posting it raw. I hope my thoughts come out as clearly as the feelings inspiring them. 

I’ve been hearing my entire life how important it is to dream, but no one ever taught me how to dream. I’d ask, but no one else seemed to know either. Or, if they did, they didn’t know how to put it into words. So I spent twenty three years learning to dream. When I finally found myself a dream, I cherished it. I squeezed it until it nearly popped. I finally had a dream, though I honestly didn’t know how I’d found it. 

I could finally do what I’d been hearing people tell each other to do – I could follow my dream! It’s something I’d been hearing as long as I’d been hearing how important dreams were. So I decided to follow my dream. Not dreams, just dream. I only had one after all.

Funny thing about that, I didn’t know how to follow my dream. What steps are to be taken to follow a dream? What does it really mean to follow a dream?

Again, no one seemed to know. The best answer I got was to “just do it.” But what is “it?” I hadn’t a clue, because most dreams don’t seem to have an “it” that can be done. I tried, though, and soon after I realized once accomplished I wouldn’t have my dream anymore. What happens when you achieve your dream? Do you just come up with a new one? No one ever told me. All I’d ever heard was following your dreams is the only way to be happy. 

Now, I had spent my whole life coming up with the one dream I had, and I wasn’t going to go another 23 years trying to come up with a new one! I didn’t have that in me.

Several years later, however, dream still unaccomplished; (unaccomplished, but actively being chased) I learned how to dream. Not only did I learn how to dream, but I learned that knowing how to dream makes following that dream second nature. And in that I realized the one dream that I had was the one thing that had followed that rule. I finally figured out how I was able to dream my dream!

I had cultivated a skill. I didn’t just think of something and decide that was what I wanted. I had worked on something until it became a passion that became my dream. For most of my life I had used a pretty common hobby as a coping mechanism, and that developed into a skill, which became a passion and dream that I’d been putting off out of fear of losing it. A goddamn fear of success was all that was holding me back.

Now that I know how to dream, I’m no longer afraid. You see, a dream one follows is merely a passion one has, and in order to have a passion that can be followed one must cultivate a skill related to that passion. More importantly, though, is knowing that the cultivation of a skill is what most often leads to a passion. Especially if the skill is a unique one. So to create new dreams, I merely have to cultivate new skills along with ones I already have. Which I have been doing for the last few years, and it fucking works. I now have several dreams I am working on, and I don’t have to choose between them. I can, and I am, following them all!

So now when I hear someone tell a child to follow their dreams and/or their passions, I find myself butting in and advising them to develop and cultivate a skill instead. Don’t just tell someone, especially a child, to follow their dreams. You don’t know if they have a dream yet, and being told to follow something you don’t have can make finding that thing all the more difficult. Give them more than an empty phrase we’ve heard so many times we can’t help but accept as deep wisdom. Give them a battle plan.

Think about it. If a kid loves animals and shows true passion for them, that isn’t a sign that they should become a vet. Maybe that is the dream for them, but maybe it isn’t. For one, vet school is hard as fuck to get into (I recently learned a lot of people that fail to get into vet school become our doctors). Secondly, there are a billion ways to work with animals that isn’t becoming a vet. Running a foundation that raises money for endangered animals, a rehab facility for injured animals, a sanctuary, an animal trainer, a zoologist, and the list goes on. Each one of those requiring more than a love of animals. Each one requiring specific skill sets to perform effectively. So instead of telling that animal loving child to follow their dreams, encourage them to develop a skill that will allow them to effectively work with and help animals. Skills, that alone don’t scream animal lover, but that can be combined with their love of animals to do great things that will leave them feeling fulfilled. 

You see, you can’t just follow a dream if you don’t know what is needed to do so and/or haven’t yet developed the skill sets necessary. Or if you don’t even know what that dream is. You want to be a singer/songwriter? Then you have to learn to play an instrument and how to write music and lyrics. You have to learn how to communicate with other musicians and how to perform in front of people. There are a myriad of skills needed to be a successful singer/songwriter. You don’t just do it, you have to learn those skills needed to do it. Then you do it.

In the last few years I’ve gone from having one dream to having many, and I am actively cultivating the skills needed to accomplish them. I have been since before they were my dreams, before I even knew they could or would become my dreams, because the cultivation of these skills are what transformed them into dreams. 

Point I’m trying to make: I hate the phrase “follow your dreams.” I find it to be empty and vague, especially in a world full of people that have no idea what they want or want to be. For the average person, “not having to work” is the dream. That’s not something many people can accomplish. There is no skill, no function, nothing. It’s the result of being told to work and make money, and not how to cultivate a skill that can become a dream. We are not taught how to be effectively passionate. We need passion. Passion is what makes our species so amazing. 

I think the better response to someone that you’d normally tell to follow their dreams, is to ask them what they enjoy doing. Probe them for a skill that they may not even realize is a skill. Encourage them to learn and develop a new skill if they talk about having always wanted to do something that they’ve no skills related to. If they’re young, and especially if they’re your child, start teaching them as many skills as you’re capable of and get as much help from other teachers as you can. Don’t overload them, obviously, but give them bases for further cultivation of as many skills as you can. Think of the things you wish you’d learned when you were younger, and do your best to not leave them wishing the same thing at your age. Then, and this is important, you go and learn those skills yourself. Push yourself to be bad at something for a while. Be an example. Give yourself some new dreams to chase. You owe yourself that. 

Note:

I’ve been working on how to word this for a few years, and practicing what I preach with myself and my son. Over the last few months I’ve been reading and listening to a lot of Cal Newport’s thoughts on this. He has put far more thought and research into it than I have, but has echoed many of the thoughts I’ve had over the years. Even before I figured out how to dream, I hated being told to follow my dreams. 

I highly recommend reading his works and watching his TEDxTalks and other lectures on the subject, as well as his works on the effects of social media on society and individuals

How I Learned to Fall Asleep in Under 1 Minute

I’ve been using this for the last two nights, and it actually fucking works. Takes me longer than a minute, but as someone that has suffered severe insomnia my entire life, being able to fall asleep in 15 to 20 minutes is amazing. Not only that, but I think the breathing carries over into my sleep for a while, because I have awoken feeling more refreshed than I have in years. I slept for 4 hours the first night about about 5 last night, and I feel like I slept for days. Waking up bright-eyed and ready for the day.

Who knew all of the money I wasted on doctors and medications could have been avoided if I’d just been shown how to breath properly.

Mirrorgirl

How I Learned to Fall Asleep in Under 1 Minute

Alina Gonzalez
byALINA GONZALEZ

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Double Standards of Parenting

Originally posted on 14 June 2013

The toughest thing about being a parent is dealing with other people. Doesn’t matter if they have children or not, almost everyone seems to have an opinion on what all parents are supposed to do if they are to be a good parent. Throw in something about yourself that doesn’t fit in with the All-American nuclear family idea from the 50’s, and you’ve got a whole new set of things you’re doing wrong coming your way. You could be a parent that is LGBTQ, a different race from the person you had you child(ren) with, different religion from the norm you were raised around, political views that are not in line with any social norms, or even someone that is just a lover of tattoos and other body modifications. There are so many things that will drive people to telling you just how wrong you are for having that thing you have that they do not also have.

I have a few of them. Politically I am a Centrist, which basically means I hate politics and choosing a side, which often ends in all sides accusing me of being whatever opposing side they are upset with at that moment. I am a lover of tattoos, and am always working toward expanding my collection (or updating my canvas, if you will). My son’s mother is not the same race that I am, from the same country (though technically U.S. territories are “part” of the US, it is another country), nor do we share the same native language (and yet her mastery of the English language goes far beyond my own, and I don’t speak any other languages). I’m also an atheist, which I’m sure comes as no surprise to anyone reading this blog.

It is very rare that anyone brings up politics as a reason to tell me I’m wrong. This is likely because I do not talk about politics very often. My hatred/annoyance of them keeps me from discussing them, not because I do not care about the state of my country, but because it is almost always people arguing over who has the better oranges and what it takes to grow a great orange and the best methods of juicing oranges, then they go and vote on apples and kiwis. Same with my son being of mixed races, which is more than likely because his mother is fair skinned and does not speak with the accent one would expect of someone from Puerto Rico (though every last one of her friends and family members I have met from there have an accent). I have a lot of tattoos, but no longer wear any body jewelry, so I do not get the stares I used to get, and the quality of my ink is amazing, which is something even the most hateful of tattoo haters cannot deny. So I rarely get anything negative from those people other than how ugly my skin will look when I’m 80. No, the main thing people love to attack me for, is being an atheist. Maybe it is atheism that keeps them from attacking me on other fronts, or maybe our culture is truly progressing in how we accept the differences in other people. I’d like to believe that to be true.

I am going to focus on raising a child as an atheist, because that is the one thing about me that causes the most headaches from other people. Plus it is the only one that I think I can write more than a paragraph or two on before I feel like I’ve said all that needs to be said (I could probably write for days on LGBTQ parenting and how amazing it is for a child, but I have no firsthand experience in that, so I’ll save it for another day).

So…

As a parent, I am one of the two most influential people in my son’s life. Because of this, I am constantly working to be the very best example I can be for him. I do this in every facet of my life. What I believe in regards to religion is very important in who I am* and what kind of example I am setting for him. If I keep that from him, what kind of example am I setting? Especially when almost no other person he meets each day will keep their beliefs from him? How is my letting him grow up not knowing that I do not believe in god, while allowing the rest of his family to encourage a belief, right? It isn’t. It isn’t right at all.

I will not hide any part of who I am from my son, regardless of what my peers feel. I want to encourage him to always be true to himself, and open about who he is. Hiding a part of me from him will not teach him to come to conclusions on his own, it will teach him that there are parts of who we are that we have to sometimes hide when they are not in line with the ruling majority. That is the opposite of standing up for who you are, and it is not equal to the kind of “pride” one talks about when they refuse to walk away from a bad situation. It would be hypocritical of me to tell him to be proud of who he is, while appearing ashamed of who I am.

I want to raise my son to be someone that is not afraid to be open and honest with himself, and about himself. No shame in liking what he likes, loving who he loves, believing what he believes, and being whomever he turns out to be. I cannot do that if I am not setting the example by being that. How can I tell him to be open and honest about whom he is if I am hiding a major part of me from him? How can I ask him to stand up for what he believes if I am constantly censoring myself simply to keep from upsetting people that do not like anyone different from themselves?  I can’t ask him to be these things if I am not also these things, or at least trying my very best to be them.

So I will tell my son my beliefs. I will not shove them down his throat, but I will present them to him exactly as they are — my beliefs and nothing more. I will not tell him he has to believe what I believe, nor will I push him toward it. I will simply share what and why I believe what I do, and encourage him to research and ask questions to find out what he thinks is true or not. Believe it or not, it is possible to share an opinion with someone without needing them to agree with you.

I will let him come to his own place, in his own time, and in his own way. However, I will NOT send him off to church on Sundays, Vacation Bible School during the summer, or anything else that I do not agree with or would not want to attend myself. That is not opening him up to new ideas and experiences, that is sending him off to be indoctrinated. I will not do that to him. In fact, I will not allow him to attend these things until he is old enough to ask to go because he wants to and not because a family member or friend told him to ask after making it sound like going to the park for free candy. Their intentions be damned.

So, no, I do not have any intentions of pointing my son down a path I believe to be false and harmful simply because I walked that path to get to where I am. That’s stupid, and in my not so humble opinion, bad parenting. I am his father, and it is my job to teach him the lessons that I have learned, not sit back in silence waiting for him to make the same mistakes. I am to clear the paths that I walk in order to make the road he is to start out on. That way he is not repeating my lessons (though many will be repeated) and can focus on finding his own paths to clear for his children and future generations.

One thing that is often brought up in parental conversations is: “You were raised with religion, and you were able to come to your own conclusions and leave it. Don’t you think your son should do the same? Shouldn’t you allow him to come to that conclusion the same way you did? Isn’t it more rewarding that way?” The short answer to that is “no.” The long answer to that is, “Fuck no, you goddamned dolt.” You see, for [most] atheists that deconverted from the religion they were raised in, it is fucking horrible giving that up. We’re often accused of only being able to be atheists because of a traumatic experience, when the truth is leaving behind the religious faith we’d always known is extremely traumatic. Not just because of the fall out that often happens with friends and family, but because that is giving up a core part of your being. Mix that with being from a country in which odds are pretty high that you will instantly become the black sheep (if you weren’t already) by no longer believing what everyone around you believes, and you’ve got one hell of an internal battle going on inside your mind that should not even be going on.

My response to this question is often countered by being told it should be something that is difficult to go through and decide like that. They say, “Whether or not you believe in a god is the most important ideological decision anyone will ever make.” To which my palm magically transforms into a placeholder for my face. Belief is not a choice, it is the conclusion drawn from the data processed by your mind. But more than that, the battle going on inside the mind is not whether or not to believe in a higher power, but whether or not we should accept it. The fight is in trying to deny the conclusion you’ve already come to, because it isn’t the conclusion you expected or that the people you love came to. It is in trying to hide it, and in trying to make it go away so that you can just be normal [again] like everyone else. I imagine it is quite similar to someone fighting the realization that they are gay. At least that is what I have been told by LGBTQ atheists and how it sounds when talking to LGBTQ friends about their experiences coming to grips with finally admitting who they were to themselves.

I know many believe that in an ideal world, one would keep their personal beliefs personal and let each other person in the world decide what it is that they want to believe for themselves. Luckily, this is not that ideal world, and very few people my son meets are going to keep their personal beliefs personal. If they did, we would not have the literature that we have, the music, movies, TV shows, etc etc. We would not have the art that we have. We cannot grow without some kind of challenge, and we get that through sharing personal parts of ourselves with one another. Granted, this is not always done in the best of ways, but most of the time it is.

What is frustrating about this, is the knowledge that when it comes to people who do and do not share their personal beliefs with him, it is the atheists that are the least likely to share. Even those that know I am an atheist are going to bite their tongue more often than not if the subject arises around him. If they do share, it will not have any detail, because most will not know what I believe other than what I do not believe, and have no clue how social stigmas impact my parenting style. Plus it can feel pretty damn uncomfortable sharing that with a child. Because you never know what parent is going to get upset with you, you try to avoid speaking about them at all costs. Hell, I don’t even talk about it with my brothers without feeling like I am going to upset their mother. I will answer their questions, but I have never told them to stop believing in a god because Christianity is all bullshit anyway. No matter how much doubt they had at the time of coming to me, I never gave them any kind of a push. Just encouragement to keep asking questions and learning as much as they can in order to come to the most accurate conclusion they can. Mostly, though, I let them know that no matter what, they were loved, not alone, and would be okay. Their mother and my father and most everyone else in our family are Christians, and not a single one of them would have spoken with them in the same manner. Had they been approached by someone showing the kind of doubts they have shown me, they would respond by telling them they are being tested by Satan, telling them that they don’t really have doubts because they “know” god is real, and whatever else they could think of to keep them from walking away from Christianity. All with good intentions, and no realization at just how cult-like it is to do that to someone.

I can’t blame them for that kind of thinking, though. If you honestly believe people that do not have faith or belief in your god are going to burn in Hell for all of eternity, and you do not try and warn them, you’re not a very good person. I’m not talking about pushing something onto them long after they have told you to stop, but just reminding them why they once believed or offering them something you think might be super insightful in hopes of saving them. Yes, I will get frustrated with this, and I will even make fun of you if your “insight” is ridiculous enough. I won’t, however, lose respect for you so long as you are being respectful in your presentation (which I cannot make fun of you if you accomplish this). I understand that with this mentality, hearing that an atheist is sharing their beliefs to someone at an influential age is probably equal to someone trying to sentence your child to death, which I imagine is scary as fuck. I can’t accept it as absolute, though. I cannot look at the reasons, understand why they are this way, and then refuse to try and change them. If I am to believe that someone with those beliefs should share them with me, then I also have to believe that my opinions and beliefs should be shared with them. Neither are any less important than the other. We need to hear each other in order to accept each other and especially if we are to love one another.

As I am writing this, I am realizing so many ways in which I still censor myself for others. I can no longer do this. I’m not going to start running around telling every kid I see that there is probably no god, but I am no longer going to avoid the question when a child asks (or anyone else for that matter), regardless of whom the child is or who their parents are. I’m not hiding it anymore.

So long as he keeps smiling, I don’t care what he does or does not believe in.

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*Atheism is not important to me as in it defines me, but in that it is a major reason why I am as open and accepting as I am (or am not, depending on who you ask). However, I do not believe it would be very important at all if I were raised in a country that is predominately atheist. I’ve posted previously about this here and here.

I Know What Causes Autism

Everyone should read this.

Carrie Cariello

Last week I was surfing the Internet and came across a headline proclaiming autism and circumcision are linked. I couldn’t help myself. I laughed out loud.

In no certain order, I have read the following explanations for autism over the years:

Autism is caused by mercury.

Autism is caused by lead.

Autism begins with poor maternal bonding.

Certain pesticides may trigger autism.

Plastics.

Gluten aggravates autism spectrum disorder.

People with autism should eat more strawberries.

Too much automotive exhaust is a leading cause of autism.

Chemicals found on non-stick cookware may trigger autism.

The one about maternal bonding is sort of painful for me. The truth is, I did have a hard time bonding with infant Jack. The little guy shrieked and whined and cried for a solid year. He started sleeping through the night at six weeks, and stopped at three months.

I was exhausted, and Joe and I were…

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I am nothing, if not a failure.

I am a father.

I was 12 years old when I decided I wanted to be a father. I knew then that I wanted to be a dad, wanted to raise a little me, and wanted to dedicate my life to giving everything I never had to someone that was a part of me that no one else could ever be. I wanted to be a parent more than I wanted anything else at the age of 12, and after years of patience, it finally happened. Xekan arrived!

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Talking About Suicide

Suicide is a sensitive topic. One that most all of us have had to deal with, whether with the loss of someone we know, or with the idea of taking our own life. It is often said that suicide is a selfish and cowardly act. That giving up on life, forgetting everyone you know, and thinking only of yourself is so selfish and stupid that not much else surpasses its cowardice. Cowardly, because staying and dealing would be harder and far braver.

I get sick to my stomach when I hear these things. More often than not, I stay quiet. I know that saying these things is merely a coping mechanism for most people. It is a way for them to deal with the loss of a loved one, or to suppress their own dark thoughts and guilt for having not stepped in when they could have. I can understand the need for this, but I cannot accept it as the most beneficial way of coping, or even the least harmful.

I am going to try and explain why I do not agree with these thoughts, and why I feel they are harmful to have, share, and/or encourage others to have. I do not know of any studies showing whether or not these opinions are actually harmful, but will probably be motivated to search for some before I’m through here. I am merely expressing my opinion based on my own experiences as someone who has seriously attempted suicide several times, and as someone that has lost many friends and family members to suicide.

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