Around Christmastime, one of my dear friend’s recurring mantras is this:
“Give from the heart. Not from the mart.”
I like it, and it makes sense.
But anybody with children will attest to the fact that this sentiment only goes so far. I mean if Santa left only baked goods or a handmade craft, a palpable sense of betrayal would fairly howl through most households in this country.
I wouldn’t be any good at handcrafting a PlayStation or a Big Wheel. Hell, I had trouble assembling the Big Wheels and other contraptions Santa left for my twins, and invariably there were parts left over…
I remember grappling with a Foosball table one Christmas Eve as I downed beer after beer, in no way fooled by the fantasy that one more drink would make the process any easier. That table was very nearly my undoing, and it was as wobbly as I was.
But I soldiered on, listening to Pope John Paul II on the television as he concluded yet another Midnight Mass.
For better or for worse, I had the damned thing put together. With an air of drunken self-satisfaction, I took a bite out of Santa’s cookie, finished off his milk and went to bed.
I am so glad I am sober now, by the way. Have been for years.
Because my twins have December birthdays and I am not Rockefeller, I would always find myself “jammed up” about how to pull off the two events…
…but credit cards, a bit of squirreled cash and the kindness of loved ones made it possible for my son and daughter to enjoy their holidays; if not in high style, then by all means in a manner that prevented them from feeling pinched.
Despite my promises to myself to be better prepared “next year,” that has yet to happen. But birthdays and Christmases came and went, and everything seemed to work out. Every. Single. Year.
But what if your kids are adults?
My twins just turned 27, and I am lucky that they are both nearby. My son and daughter-in-law live in Myrtle Beach, and my daughter is down from New York, staying with them as she works from home for a time – a decidedly positive byproduct of the COVID-19 nightmare. I’m thrilled she is able to do that.
They are still getting presents, though, but the endgame moving forward is to keep it simple and avoid credit card spending.
I need to keep in mind that as far as gifts are concerned, 27 is not 17 is not 7 – and yet I keep hearkening back to those times, like, will my gifts be enough…
But then I snap back to reality with the profound realization that, yes, they will be enough because I am enough. This is where the heart comes in, where spending time together comes in, where love comes in.
That kind of acceptance just became the biggest gift I could possibly give myself.
My firstborn twin, Wes, got hitched on September 26. Done deal.
I have gained a gorgeous daughter-in-law with a beauty that radiates from the inside out, and I am thrilled to death that I can now claim Leigh as such with impunity – and her parents and family are second to none.
What amazes me about major events like this is that time seems to compress the closer you get to the event – like what was 18 months away is now in the rear-view mirror.
Being the father of the groom is wonderful in itself, but I was also honored and humbled that Wes chose me as his best man and that the couple asked me to officiate. Does that count as a triple threat?
Our friend Aly caught the groom’s reaction as he first catches sight of the bride. Pure love.
THE BACHELOR GETAWAY
Wes didn’t want a traditional bachelor party, per se. He wanted to get away with me and Xavier, his best friend since middle school. The plan was to see KISS in Raleigh earlier in September, but the COVID-19 situation had other plans, and the show was postponed until next year. I am holding on to the tickets.
As an option, Wes chose an overnight trip to the Fayetteville area in North Carolina. The “three amigos” spent the first day shooting at an outdoor range called 37 PSR Gun Club. Wes, once-a-Marine-always-a-Marine, was in hog heaven – and I felt good being with him. He was methodical in making sure Xavier and I handled our weapons properly. Somehow, shooting with a Marine makes you want to shine.
But we were there to have fun, and we did. Afterwards, we checked in to the Hampton Inn Spring Lake and headed out to eat Mexican food at a great place called El Cazador.
The next day found us engaged in airsoft battles with maybe ten young people at a place called Black Ops Paintball. For me, this was much more fun. Shooting downrange is OK, but after a while it gets old. Airsoft battles in teams was more the ticket for me. I reconnected with that inner kid who used to play guns in the neighborhood.
We’ll likely do this again at the outfit’s Myrtle Beach location. The kid at the counter talked us into way too much ammo. Sorry, Xavier.
One caveat: Airsoft ain’t soft.
THE REHEARSAL DINNER
My girlfriend, Brenda, graciously offered to handle all aspects of the rehearsal dinner – from planning to execution.
Early on, we chose the historic Myrtle Beach Train Depot for the event. I have written about this place before. It’s a cool old brick building that is now rented out by the City of Myrtle Beach for all sorts of functions. Problem is, because of COVID-19, the maximum attendance was reduced to 21 people.
Because family was coming in from out of town, there was no way that would work…
Before we had the chance to fret about this too much, Leigh contacted Brenda and offered the use of the soon-to-be newlyweds’ backyard.
Plans were put in place for tables, chairs, dishes, linens and flatware. Brenda set up the catering with Fiesta Mexicana, a favorite local eatery – and began putting together ancillary items like votive candles, floral plans, photo booth balloons and much more.
But a potential shit show was looming. Rain – and lots of it – started showing up on the weather apps.
We ordered a 15×15 open tent, ostensibly to cover the food – but mother nature peppered us with rain all day and into the evening. I will forever be grateful for the time and effort Brenda put into this event – and thankful for the help of the friends who rolled up their sleeves and jumped into the fray…and transformed the newlyweds’ home into a dining showplace. We couldn’t have done this without them.
That night, I made my speech – a combination of best man and father of the groom – and I almost made it through without choking up. I said almost, didn’t I?
During dinner, things began to clear up enough for folks to head outside – some to eat under the tent, some to mingle, play cornhole, throw axes and listen to Wes’ awesome playlist.
THE BIG DAY
I gladly accept the rain the night before – because the wedding day was absolutely gorgeous.
The guys got together at the newlyweds’ place – to get into our tuxes and have some pre-wedding photos done, coincidentally, by my friend Scott Smallin, whom I first met and worked with in our Weekly Surge days. I was pleasantly surprised when I found out Scott would be handling the wedding photography. I think he took like two million photos.
The wedding? Stunning – from start to finish.
Kudos to Leigh’s parents, Michael and Cathy, for putting together such a wonderful day. Michael might tell you that all he had to do was show up, but he and Cathy are straight-up doers. While other people talk, they take action. I can learn a lot from them.
I can’t imagine the depth of planning that goes into a wedding like this – but everything seemed to go off without a hitch – in the serene and beautiful setting that is Pine Lakes.
The bride was a vision of beauty – absolutely flawless. And my son the groom, gorgeous. Together, they took my breath away as they stood in front of me for the vows. The honor of joining these two beautiful young people in holy matrimony is something I don’t take lightly, and I will never forget it.
Here are some great photos from my friend Brendan Wright:
Did I mention that the JAVA Band was off the hook? I did now. Unbelievably so!
Friends, family. New friends, new family. That’s what it’s all about.
The following day, many of us got together for brunch and go-cart racing at Broadway Grand Prix in Myrtle Beach. This, from what I understand, is a family tradition.
What was 18 months away is now a reality. May God richly bless the bride and groom, and may their love know no bounds.
But the COVID-19 situation threw the proverbial spanner in the works.
Things to do with the rehearsal dinner have been modified. With our group, I figured the venue was more than big enough for social distancing.
We plan on having food catered in, along with beverages…
I just got word that the maximum attendance has been reduced, which would mean slashing attendees to the bare minimum – to include only the wedding party, parents and key family members.
If we don’t do this, we’ll have to consider other options for this event.
Thing is, nobody knows what’s coming down the pike as far as COVID-19 in September. For all we know, the city (Myrtle Beach) could shut down again – or things could improve. If things get worse, this means that restaurants could close – or at the very least, they might also adopt maximum capacity guidelines. They might be forced to go back to curbside service, which opens up another Pandora’s box: Could caterers be shut down?
Such is the uncertain nature of our world at the moment.
My guy at the Train Depot has canceled events for a good chunk of September – but each of those parties expected 100 or more people to attend. He has held off on canceling us outright but will likely be forced to do so if we stay at our projected attendance.
The son of dear friends got married in Pittsburgh in April. We watched the livestream. Empty church except for essential people. I am not sure what they did about the rehearsal and other related pre-wedding parties or the reception – but I can bet that they didn’t see this coming when they set the date.
My son served in the US Marine Corps. There is a saying he taught me: “Semper Gumby…”
… “always flexible.”
Well paint me orange and call me Pokey. I had better start stretching – and stop overthinking.
NOTE: I wrote this post on July 23. As of July 24 – we are moving all rehearsal dinner festivities to an outdoor location perfectly suitable for the event, thank God. It was the perfect solution – and one we wouldn’t have thought about until the bride-to-be messaged us about the possibility.
Gratitude. Cleansing breaths…
And since there are no coincidences, I read an article today in Success Magazine that featured an Icelandic saying – and by God I needed to see that:
Þetta reddast… everything is going to work out, or something like that.
I’m 56, so I guess that depends. To a teenager, I’d be ancient.
I don’t feel much different than I ever have, and God knows I act like the perennial 12-year-old – albeit with the weight of decidedly adult stresses and the consequences of the decisions I have made over decades bearing down on me – contributing to what might be a low-level but persistent depression called dysthymia.
But is that it, really? Dysthymia is defined as a mild, chronic depression – less severe and with fewer symptoms than major depression. And it can continue for years.
If you know me, you’d hopefully see a positive and upbeat person. That’s true, too. We humans are complicated. Every new day brings a chance for new vistas of opportunity and renewed hope.
If I were to experience a sea change in my finances, I suspect I’d be even more upbeat. It’s not money that is the root of all evil, after all – just the love of money…
My mother’s first husband, I have been told, had something to say about this – a riff on the old quote about having been poor and having been rich, and rich was better: “I’d rather cry myself to sleep on a silk pillow,”
I always found that to be amusing.
But a good friend of mine told me that he went to a high school reunion, and many of his peers who had made the “right” decisions – perhaps pursuing “The American Dream” by finishing college, dutifully working a solid career path, marrying and raising a family, saving for retirement and buying a home – perhaps enjoying the finer things in life – looked old, played out and decidedly unhappy.
Of course, many others are completely happy and fulfilled.
Still others peaked in high school. You know the ones.
I have zig-zagged my way across the country, worked jobs that make no sense on a linear resume, and have lived in major cities and rural areas. I have been addicted to drugs and alcohol, and I need to get over my fear about giving voice to this, because there is a lot of ground to cover.
I was a single parent for many years and have been sober for nearly six years.
But for more than a decade, I have been fortunate enough to be engaged in the things I love, namely writing and music. Sure, the paychecks could be vastly improved – but I am happy to be writing, playing and singing.
Without a doubt, I am most grateful for the relationship I enjoy with my twins – a son and daughter, now 26. I don’t know if I could have gone on if not for the absolution they seem to have granted me. They love me and I them, forever and always.
So far, I have none of the aches and pains that many other men complain about after 30. I am as inflexible as I have always been, and I have been doing my part to make sure I exercise and stretch. I hope I have been given some sort of cosmic dispensation; that because I am attempting to take care of myself, the universe is responding in kind.
My reflection in the mirror – this 56-year-old man looking back at me – betrays a still-youthful twinkle in the eye, the corners of his mouth ready to curl upward into a smile – the laugh lines growing deeper with each passing day.
Sunday, I bid my son farewell before he headed back to base in Virginia.
Wes had been overseas for seven months, and was able to spend the past two weeks on leave here in Myrtle Beach.
As he pulled away, the reality hit me again, as it often does, that my son is a United States Marine. A Devil Dog.
I was also astonished to think about all he had done in the time he was here – a testament to squeezing as much enjoyment and quality time that you can out of a limited visit to a particular place.
The iffy thing for parents, spouses and loved ones of active duty servicemembers is to nail down exactly when they will be arriving, despite what they tell you. We have all heard horror stories of military delays, last-minute changeups and other logistical snafus. This can suck when it comes to airline reservations – particularly because there is really no way to get the best deals – not only for the servicemember, but also for family that might also want to fly in.
In this case, that family is my daughter and his twin sister, Taylor, who flew in from New York City the following weekend.
We also wanted to make sure that Wes had the proper welcome home that he deserved, and once we knew for sure that he was set to arrive, I got in touch with several of his friends to make sure that he had a greeting party ready for him at the Myrtle Beach Airport.
An outstanding group of friends from Tinder Box Myrtle Beach rallied as well – and we had an impromptu reception at our humble apartment here in Myrtle Beach afterwards.
I am beyond grateful to Stephen Shuessler of CrossFit Myrtle Beach for putting the word out at his box [CrossFit lingo for gym] – and helping to gather a group of Wes’ CrossFit family. It warms my heart to feel the love.
His Uncle Chris [my twin brother and musical accomplice] and Aunt Betsy [my sister-in-law] were there also – as well as Wes’ best friend and de facto brother, Xavier Pringle – and we wore the amazing tee shirts my dear friends Tonya and Kenny [A Plus Screen Printing] made for Wes’ graduation at Parris Island 16 months ago.
Here’s a laundry list of what he was up to:
CrossFit. A half-marathon in his 30-pound flak vest, or Modular Tactical Vest [I guess he did want his MTV]. Multiple trips to Chipotle. A dinner out, looking awesome in his Dress Blue Deltas. A walk on the beach with yours truly and his twin sister. A jaw-dropping new tattoo from the master, Shay Haf-Ded, at Red Raven Art Company.
The young man took the time to catch Yale Brothers gig at Liberty Brewery and Grill in Myrtle Beach. That meant a lot. We dedicated the night to him and he was received enthusiastically.
I had a bet with my girlfriend Brenda as to how long it would take before he and Taylor bickered about something. Answer: Not long – and it was music to my ears. Being a twin myself – I understand the dynamic. The old cliché’ stands: They might bandy about all day – but don’t get it twisted. They have each other’s backs.
My regret is that Taylor’s job required her to be back in The City – and she was only here for a weekend. But she was here, and that was awesome.