A New Album: December

December2

It’s so easy to say that Decembers have always been complicated months for me. Who isn’t it complicated for? Every year, we run around and we try to express ourselves to our family and friends with commerce and we put pressure on ourselves to have the most fun ever on the very last night of every year.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a simple December, starting in 1994 when as a sophomore in high school, 4 days after Christmas, my family moved a thousand miles east to a place that felt ten thousand miles away culturally.

In 1997, this feeling of anxiety toward the last month of the year was heightened when as a freshman in college I had to tell my parents my 17-year old girlfriend was pregnant. I proposed to her on Christmas Eve that year with a ton of my family around, and it felt right for such a monumental decision to be made during December. We were married for 15 years, something no one expected when neither the bride nor groom could legally drink at their own wedding.

“We’re in lockdown.”

On December 13, 2013, my son Ian heard a gunshot while in class, and was subsequently put in lockdown for the next six hours. An 18-year old senior used a legally-purchased shotgun to come to Arapahoe High School and murder a girl named Claire in the hallway. He shot her in the face, which was the first shot my son heard. I’m not sure if my son heard the second shot, which was the murderer taking his own life.

This was by far the worst ordeal I’ve ever lived through, and am just now getting the help I need to manage the panic attacks that rarely but still happen to me.

And so: Music.

I wrote my 6th-ish album for a simple reason: I needed to get these feelings out of my brain and music is the easiest way for me to do it. This album is made up of three tracks and is only 10 minutes long. Each song represents the month of December for the year it’s named:

12//13

This song is my exploration of what it was like to go through the process of learning my son was locked inside of his school with an active shooter two years ago. I started it with a ton of siren sounds, which I toned back a lot for the final version because it was a little too jarring. When I wrote this song, I forced myself to walk through the memories of that day, and to take the conflicting and misaligned emotions and turn them into music. This song started out as a trigger for my anxiety, and has since become a way to focus on the pain so that I can heal from it.

12//14

Last December wasn’t nearly as traumatizing as 2013, but it came with its own set of ups and downs. I spent a good portion of it jet-lagged and sad in Rome. On the first anniversary of my son living through the shooting, I was 5,500 miles away on a work trip and separated from his mother, well on our way to divorce. I missed my girlfriend a lot and I’d had some really tough travel to get to Italy and wasn’t looking forward to the trip back. The month did end in a pretty amazing way on New Year’s Eve, for having such a turbulent middle. This song attempts to roll that all into one, which is hard. Drums ended up being unnecessary.

12//15

Which brings me to this year. The calmest December I’ve had in a while, it still started with me desperately needing (and starting) therapy for the PTSD I’ve been suffering since the shooting. This year also ended with me learning that it’s unhealthy and untenable to hold on to dreams you first felt when you were a child. I learned this year that it’s easy to build someone up in your heart and mind into a sculpture of a human that no one can live up to. This was painful to experience and this song attempts to capture the loss I’ve felt this year, and the destruction I put myself and others through just to experience it.

My grandfather, a man. Some reminders for myself.

A man shows his love without restraint.

A man remembers the joy of childhood so well that he plays with his kids with wild abandon.

A man’s wife is his equal.

A man’s wife is the only visible part of his soul.

A man gardens.

A man creates, he builds, and he produces. Anything at all.

A man allows children to explore expensive technology, because it is an inevitability and because it is important.

When a man’s grandchildren break his computer, he simply asks them what they had been doing so he can fix it. A man sometimes allows his grandson to fix the computer when he’s broken it.

A man provides his family with the experiences needed to become whole humans. A man does his best to be a whole human himself.

A man provides for his family but his work is in service of that, never the opposite.

A man does work he is proud of and changes the world for the better.

A man travels.

A man does his duty for his country when he’s called upon, and when the best skills he’s got for it are cooking meals for soldiers on the front lines, he uses them.

A man is thoughtful in his pursuits and rarely disparages the good-hearted efforts of others.

A man is kind to children, respectful to all, and his actions ensure he can stand tall with his integrity never in doubt.

A man doesn’t care much for what other people define as “masculinity”.

A man gives his all for his family because only then can he grow to become larger than himself.

A man has ambitions and achievements so astounding, his children and grandchildren can’t help but be inspired by him.

A man builds rockets that put satellites into space, cementing a 10-year old’s interest in science and space.

A man is loyal to the team he is leading and never treats them as if they are any less capable than he is.

A man of this caliber lives forever and continues to guide his grandson’s daily life, nearly 15 years after his passing.

Thankful

Thankful for being born a white man with the twin pillars of privilege and opportunity invisibly supporting me each step of the way.

Thankful that the prevailing wisdom that defines many of my life choices as mistakes hasn’t kept me from trying harder after every one. Thankful I have a wife who’s never quite been done with me.

Thankful for the luxury of finally fighting for others to have access to health care while mine doesn’t cost me a dime.

Thankful for having access to a plant that has changed my life in so many ways yet presents no jail time as a result.

Thankful for having three children who are alive and thrive and exist, despite attending a school system more and more wracked by inexcusable violence.

Thankful for the prescience with which I was able to combine my childhood loves of art and computers into a fulfilling career that didn’t even exist when I was a child.

Thankful and ashamed for the historical bloodshed and suffering that has led to life being as enjoyable as it’s been for me.

Thankful I continue to wake up every morning a functional adult without the kind of debilitating mental illness as to leave you a shell of a human. Thankful that the meds help with this.

Thankful for having heat and electricity because there have been winters without both.

Thankful for the time and occasion to even self-reflect enough to see what there is to be thankful for, and thankful I routinely find there is a well of contentment from which to draw.

Love your kids

I just had to send my big kids text messages about how much I love them (my 5-year old’s iPhone doesn’t have cell service). They’re at school and they might get in trouble for it, but given what I just witnessed, I had to reach out to them.

I basically just watched a family completely wreck their 7-year old. What an entire family was doing walking their dogs during the middle of a Thursday I’m not sure, but what got my attention was a gruff sounding “stop walking a mile behind everyone else or I’ll beat you in front of everyone.”

I heard this through an open window and turned my attention toward the awfulness I’d just heard, to see an older father of three berating who appeared to be his youngest, and apparently for walking too far behind the rest. Keep in mind the “everyone” mentioned was in fact an empty suburban street.

The child predictably responded negatively to this outburst which prompted a response from his mother who seemed to be leaning in to console the child. But no, she just wondered loudly if he was going to cry now and “act like an asshole.”

Now fully aware of this nonsense outside, I resolved myself to watching intently through the open window (I can be a scary-looking dude if I want to be) making sure they’d see me witness their dysfunction if they looked over, but no such luck. As they crossed the street and continued on their way, the youngest child obviously and understandably wanted nothing to do with his family, picked up some sticks and threw them against a tree and kicked some leaves, while falling behind the group again.

This is where my heart truly broke for this boy. As he wiped his tears and vented his frustrations on foliage, I sensed such resentment and hurt in his heart that I decided I’d watch them for as long as I could and that if his father returned to actually hit his child, I’d be out the door in a heartbeat to end the abuse. I understood why this child was lagging behind but I simultaneously ached for him to catch up so as not to incur his father’s irrational wrath.

But, the sad thing is, I’d already witnessed the abuse: it’d happened long before they appeared at my window and it will continue long after they’re home from walking the dogs. There’s a good chance I did this boy a disservice by not getting involved until a certain abuse threshold had been met, but at the same moment, I was feeling a deep shame for my own previous actions as a young father, and was struggling with that.

As a child, I didn’t have a great example of how to deal with children from my own father, but at least I had a sympathetic mother and I was never, ever spoken to in the way this boy was.

I had children early in life and my 20s were spent dealing with a metric ton of anxiety and depression issues while also raising young kids and while I now have my mental health under control (hooray for health insurance), there was too much familiar about how the parents on that sidewalk were behaving that I was essentially stunned into a very quick audit of my older children now in their tween/teen years and my parenting style in my 30s: I came away proud of who I am now as a father, and found a new resolve to cherish my children every day, because my life is owed to them, not the other way around. My 5-year old and I have such a great relationship that I wasn’t even worried about him. This boy and my youngest shared nothing in common father-wise and for that I’m proud.

My only regret is that I didn’t act in time to help this boy. It looked to me like all he needed was a hug, a smile, and someone to hold his hand.