Some Post-Father’s Day Thoughts About My Father

Before June ends, I’d like to write about my father. This will be a long post.

I didn’t think much of my father when I was growing up. I wanted a strong father, and he was a weak one. I considered him weak because my mother was always the dominant parent. I considered him uncultured because, even though he was a college graduate, he sounded like an uneducated hick to me with his “them old boys” and other such countryisms.

I didn’t find him particularly handsome;  I thought he looked like Dagwood, minus the hair shocks. Also like Dagwood, he fell asleep easily and a lot. I was mostly ashamed of him.

Here’s some truth I’ve since learned about my father.

He was an alcoholic, although he was not drinking by the time I came along. He did not drink while he courted my mother, so she did not know she was marrying an alcoholic. She found out quickly after they were married when my father would go on week-end benders with friends from work. Since I never saw my father drinking, I did not know about his alcoholism until my mother explained, long after he died, what their marriage was like while he was drinking. That made me understood a little better why she was the strong one in the family.

My father was born in Oklahoma, but his father’s people came from Tennessee. His grandfather had fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War. His mother was virulently racist. So my father inherited the usual southern baggage of racism and white privilege. He used the N-word. I wasn’t bothered much by that then because there was a lot of racism in Oklahoma, and I heard the N-word a lot. But I never heard him say it with malice, and I never heard him speak unkindly to black people, or for that matter, to anyone.

He was, in fact, a gentle, caring man. He loved my mother and my sister and me dearly, but I did not see or appreciate that at the time. He spanked me a few times for transgressions, but only because my mother made him do it, and I could tell his heart was not in it.

As a child, I saw how he cried when our cocker spaniel Lucky died. Much later, in 1968,  my ex-husband and I eloped to get married after completing our masters degrees in English at the University of Oklahoma. I was 24; he was 25. My mother was with my older sister at that time, helping after the birth of my sister’s second daughter. My father was at home. I called my mother first to tell her I was married, and you would have thought I had said I just robbed a bank and killed the tellers. She chewed me out royally.

I then called my father at home, half-expecting more of the same. His first words were “Well, bless your heart.” I almost cried. I wanted to kiss him for that kindness. My mother’s love was conditional; my father’s was unlimited.

He had a fine mind. He was an avid reader. As a geologist, he knew and taught us about  rocks.  Hearing his down-home speech as a child, I dismissed him as a rube. Later, once at a summer music camp, once in college, I received two letters from him, admonishments for things I had failed to do or had done and shouldn’t have. I knew my mother made him write,  but those letters were an awakening.

He had beautiful, strong handwriting. His grammar, spelling, and punctuation were impeccable. And he knew how to deliver a scolding that was firm, yet did not make me feel attacked as a person or unloved.  My mother could have learned a lot from him.

Those letters were the beginning of my reassessment of him.

Like me, my father had depression. His depression did not manifest in sadness or a need for social isolation. On the contrary, he was usually a sunny, gregarious person. He enjoyed people. He laughed easily. He liked a story or a joke.

His depression was about a lifelong low energy that manifested in difficulty staying with projects to completion and a lack of ambition that led him away from activity and toward the couch or chair for a nap. I can’t count the number of hobbies he took up and then dropped. I can’t count the number of times I saw him nodding off in a chair.

Nodding off on the job was what got him fired. He was a petroleum geologist, starting at Sinclair Oil Company as an oil scout just out of college, and ending as a desk geologist in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Sinclair was the only company he had ever worked for, and he was laid off, actually, rather than fired. The oil business in Oklahoma was in an economic downturn. Sinclair had to let people go. My father had been sleeping at his desk for years, and they had tolerated it in the good times, but they couldn’t afford to be so tolerant in a business downturn.  Sinclair laid him off just before he would have qualified for a pension.

This happened while I was in high school. We were living in the university town of Norman, just south of Oklahoma City where my father commuted daily to work. After he was laid off he kept going to Oklahoma City every day for several months before he admitted to my mother he’d been laid off. A combination of wounded pride and cowardice, I suppose.

After that my father managed to scrape together a few temporary jobs, but he never worked full-time again. Our mother’s teaching job at University School  was our only reliable income.  Money was tight for us from then on. A big strain on an already strained family.

I’m happy to say there is a happy ending to the story. My mother was asked to join the faculty at a small college in Chickasha, not far from Norman. She got better pay, and a title. My father discovered, and stuck to, the joys of vegetable gardening. In time he qualified for social security.  Then my mother retired with a nice pension and her social security, and they became more comfortable financially. They bought a small RV, started exploring the country, and gradually fell in love again.

In 1981, at age 75, my father died suddenly in an RV campground in Jackson Hole, Wyoming  He and my mother had just visited me and my then-husband in Oregon before they left for Jackson Hole. It was a good visit. They were obviously happy. When I got the phone call from my mother she was crying, and I cried, too.

He had been a good man, and now I knew it.

Growing up I thought my father and I had nothing in common. Now I realize how I am like him:

  • I got his big, blue eyes.
  • I got his love of rocks and geology.
  • I got his love of reading.
  • I got his intellect and curiosity.

These are all good things.

I also got:

  • his depression gene, and specifically, his low energy
  • his difficulty sustaining interest in projects once started
  • his genes for alcohol and other addictions. He smoked cigarettes most of his life until he finally had to quit because of pneumonia and emphysema. I started sneaking his cigarettes when I was thirteen. I smoked on and off for the next 50 years, and I lost track of the times I tried to quit before I finally did it.

These are not-so-good things.

But all in all: Thank you, Daddy. You were a sweet and gentle soul, and I’m proud to be your daughter.

Thank you for reading my blog.

Marjorie Beck

You Can Say Something Sucks Now

I’m showing my age. Once upon a time the word “suck” was shorthand for something you weren’t to say in polite society.

In my high school and college days, I was very much into folk music. I subscribed to Sing Out! Magazine, must-reading for folkies back then. There were many folk music album reviews.

In October 1966, Simon and Garfunkel released their brilliant album, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. Not really a folk album, but for some reason it was reviewed in Sing Out! I thought the review sucked, and decided to write a letter to Sing Out! saying so. I considered myself rather a social rebel at that time, but being shy, I rebelled mostly in writing.

The letter was short and to the point. I don’t remember the reviewer’s name now, so I can’t quote the letter exactly. Here it is.

     Dear Sing Out!

Your review of  Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme sucks. Perhaps Mr. (reviewer} just doesn’t understand poetry?

Well, they published the letter. But it read, in publication:

     Your review of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme . . . .  Perhaps Mr. (reviewer) just doesn’t understand poetry?

Such language delicacy wouldn’t happen now. People say something sucks all the time. I still say it sometimes. People say “fuck” all the time now, too. I say it sometimes, but only with people I know won’t be offended. I don’t consider “suck” and “fuck” my always go-to words, as many people seem to these days. Those words are meant to have shock value, and I think they just get boring when they’re used all the time.

Well, times change. As I said, I’m showing my age.

Thank you for reading my blog.

Marjorie Beck

 

An Email to Jeff Sessions

I said in an earlier post I would stay away from politics. But there’s always an exception.

Here is the text of an email I sent today to AG Jeff Sessions on the DOJ website:

How dare you use Romans 13 to justify the racist, immoral, inhumane separating of families at the southern border. I would expect such from Trump, a sociopathic narcissist who cares only for himself.

You call yourself a Christian.

Well, here’s another Bible verse for you.

Matthew 19:14, But Jesus said, suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

Put that in your Christian pipe and smoke it, you scrofulous little racist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flawless Documents

I have not posted for a while because I have been setting up my new business, Flawless Documents Proofreading and Editing. I invite you to visit my website, http://www.flawlessdocs.com, if you would like to learn more.  I serve clients in the Eugene-Springfield, Oregon area and online nationwide.

Here is one of my local business ads:

Flawless Documents Proofreading and Editing

Marjorie Beck, Eugene, Oregon

I help you create Flawless Documents: Letters, Manuscripts, Term Papers, College Application Essays, Resumes, Dissertations, Family Histories, Memoirs, Whatever. I love to work with your words.
I can work with online text editors, old fashioned typewriting, handwriting. (I taught 7th and 9th grade English classes; I can read just about anybody’s handwriting.)
I am a meticulous proofreader and editor. At minimum, I will guarantee your document is free from grammar, punctuation, spelling, and word use errors. If you feel your writing needs a little more help, I will edit as much or as little as you want. I enjoy helping non-native English speakers with their writing.
I charge $20/hr, with a minimum of $20, and a 20% first-time discount for new clients. For really long documents, I will negotiate a maximum charge. I guarantee my work. If you don’t like my editing, you don’t pay.
Call 541-913-1370 or email marjoriebeck@flawlessdocuments.net to tell me how I can help you with your writing. I also invite you to visit my website, http://www.flawlessdocs.com.
Thanks for reading my blog. 
Marjorie Beck

 

My Three-Legged Stool

My depression is one leg of a three-legged stool. The second leg is shyness and anxiety, and the third is introversion.  Depression, shyness, and anxiety are disabilities to be managed. Introversion is not a disability; it is an innate part of  who I am and is to be understood and embraced.

Today’s post is about shyness and anxiety.

Growing up I was morbidly shy and anxious.

How shy and anxious were you?

 I was so shy . . .

When I was a Camp Fire Girl in Seminole, Oklahoma and it came to time to go door to door selling candy, I would stand on the front porch and pretend to ring the doorbell, wait a few seconds, and leave.

Later, in Norman, Oklahoma my mother gave me a coupon from a beauty salon that offered a shampoo, haircut, and coloring all for $20. Quite a bargain, and money was tight for us in those days.

At the salon, the stylist gave me the shampoo and coloring but not the cut, and I was too shy to ask why no cut. When the shop then charged me $60 instead of $20, I meekly paid the $60 and was too shy to say I was supposed to get a discount. My mother had a hissy fit when I got home, because it was her $60.

When I was in a store looking for something, I would scour the store aisle by aisle rather than ask a clerk for help. If a clerk did ask, I would say “I’m just looking, thanks.” Anything to avoid talking to a stranger.

In a room full of strangers I would stand in a corner and hope not to be noticed.

I was so anxious. . .

I would lie rather than admit I’d made a mistake,

or done something bad,

or didn’t know something,

or couldn’t do something.

I feared I would appear bad or ridiculous or inadequate,

and quite likely provoke my mother’s wrath.

Hooray for Paxil!

When I started taking medication for depression in 1997, my doctor prescribed Paxil, which was developed initially for social anxiety, and later prescribed for depression. It proved a lucky choice for me.

A reaction many people have when they start depression medication is “I’m the me I always wanted to be!”

And so it was for me.

In addition to working on my depression, Paxil started eliminating my social anxiety. This was an effect I had not anticipated, and it surprised and delighted me.

I started asking for help in stores. I started cheerfully admitting  it when I didn’t know something or had done something wrong. I even sometimes made small talk with strangers. An amazing transformation.

Being who I always knew I could be is so much fun.

So that’s the second leg of my three-legged stool. My shyness and anxiety reinforced my depression in lethal ways. Now my shyness and anxiety and depression still show themselves from time to time; they are, after all, thought to be at least partly genetic. Medication alone doesn’t fix everything.

But for me medication plays a big part in the way I can now manage these two legs of  my three-legged stool. And, as Martha Stewart would say, that’s a good thing.

Still to come: The introversion leg of my stool. Stay tuned.

Thanks for reading my blog.

Marjorie Beck

Twitter, Hatefulness, and Karma

In this internet age of instant communication, it seems everyone from individuals to politicians to news organizations uses Twitter now.  I wish Twitter  had never been invented. Sometimes I wish the internet had never been invented.

No, not really. I think the internet is a marvelous addition to our lives with benefits too many to enumerate. I use it daily. Yet it is also an agent for great harm, such as identity theft and election tampering, to name just two.

My greatest beef with Twitter is that it too often brings out not the better angels of our nature, but the worst. It is easy to spew venom at the world while masking your identity behind an anonymous handle. It’s a safe way to say hateful things you don’t have the courage to say otherwise. I wish all social media sites required posters to use their real names. Maybe it would promote a little more civility in online discourse, which would be a very, very good thing.

Of course, some people do say hateful things on Twitter using their real names. I feel sorry for them. I think they must hate themselves a little bit to lash out so hatefully at others. I think they are building pretty bad karma for themselves.

In closing, I wish you good karma and civility in all your interactions. May you always remember what goes around, comes around.

Thank you for reading my blog.

Marjorie Beck

Politics

When I introduced my blog I said politics was one the topics I might be writing about. Well, I mostly  lied. I think the current political climate in our nation is too toxic and painful to write about. I would like to offer more positive posts. I will, however, write about our  political history from time to time, a topic I find intensely interesting .

     History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

This adage has been popularly attributed to Mark Twain,  but there  is little evidence he actually said it. Whoever said it, it is very, very true.

Thank you for reading my blog.

Marjorie Beck

 

 

What’s With The Blog Title?

It’s time for a little something on depression. There are lots of ways to be depressed, beside the one most people think of, feeling sad and hopeless and crying all the time. Feeling sad and hopeless and crying all the time is what drove me to see my doctor in 1997, when I got my depression diagnosis.

Sadness was only one of many ways depression had me in its grip, and to explain more about that I need to start with my blog title, Wish I Could Have Been There.

It comes from the song I Wish I Could Have Been There, by John Anderson, one of my favorite country singers. The song tells of a man reflecting on all the times his occupation (country singer on the road maybe?) pulls him away from his wife and children and all the important family events he has missed.

The song came to have profound meaning for me after my depression diagnosis. It explained something about my high school reunions that always left me baffled and disturbed.

I attended University High School in Norman, Oklahoma, a small laboratory school for the College of Education at the University of Oklahoma. I was one of seventeen in the graduating class of 1962.

At one time many universities operated these laboratory schools; they were designed to provide students a solid, classical education from teachers who challenged their students to embrace learning in an atmosphere of experimentation and innovation.

Most of the schools have closed by now, which I think is a shame. Most of my classmates to this day would testify we received a superior education at our University High School. Almost of us had at least one teacher there we absolutely revered.

Being a laboratory school for the university, UHS attracted a lot of professors’ kids, and the nerd quotient was pretty high. I was not a nerd.

My family moved to Norman in 1957 from Seminole, Oklahoma, when my mother accepted an invitation to teach first grade at University School. I entered the 8th grade at the high school and quickly made friends.

By the next year I was a cheerleader, and head cheerleader my senior year. In my junior year I was homecoming queen. All through high school I ran with the really cool kids. I was very popular.

But later when I went to class reunions, other classmates would regale me with remembered stories involving me. I had no memory of many of these incidents. I laughed with my old friends as if I too remembered the events, but inside I was gobsmacked at how their memories could be so different from mine.

After I was diagnosed with depression and learned more about the illness, I finally understood why.

Depression runs in both sides of my family. After my diagnosis in 1997 at the age of 53, I recognized I had had depression most of my life. It started manifesting subtly in my childhood and grew more obvious, to me at least, as I got older.

I had lots of friends, I was popular, I had a successful career, yet often I was miserable inside. I would sometimes look forward to activities with friends and then find within an hour or so I was bored or stressed and dying to get away. Sometimes I would get irritable and lose my temper.

So one of the things about depression is that when you’re in it and feeling it, you are focusing on yourself and your own misery, not on the people around you. Like a narcissist, except the self-absorption is not about how great you think you are, but about how inadequate you feel.

Thus I may have been there physically with my high school classmates, yet far, far away emotionally. This emotional absence was true for me much of my life. It cost me friendships I didn’t have the energy to maintain. It cost me my marriage. It cost me the love of my life.

Thus the title of my blog, Wish I Could Have Been There. When I got diagnosed with depression and started taking medication, the person inside me who had been struggling to come out all those years came out. At 57 years old, I was finally the me I had always wanted to be.

I wish every day now I had been that me all along. There is so much in my life I  missed. So many bad choices and lost opportunities. So much regret.

I know, you’re not supposed to dwell on your regrets. It’s toxic.

But when you know how different your life would have been if you had escaped that depression cocoon so much earlier, it’s hard not to have regrets. So far, I haven’t figured out how to get past them.

There’s  more to tell about how depression has shaped my life, but that’s for future posts.

Thanks for reading my blog. If you like this post, follow me and you’ll get notices when I post new ones.

Peace and Joy,

Marjorie Beck

Do Animals Have Souls? Part One

My thinking on this question  has evolved.

I grew up with a succession of three small family dogs: Lucky the cocker spaniel, Skippy the wire hair fox terrier, Adolph the dachshund. We knew next to nothing about the breeds of the dogs we bought (yes, bought–back then we never even thought about adopting a homeless dog). Thus we knew nothing about the kind of behavior to expect from each one and whether that behavior would be a good match for our family. We got the dogs as puppies and we based our buying decisions on the cuteness factor of each pup.

Our dogs spent most of their time outside in a fenced yard and slept in the garage at night. They got cheap canned food and minimum necessary vet care. (Spay or neuter? Nobody did that.) We had male dogs because they couldn’t get pregnant.

Back then the dog training we knew emphasized punitive measures like rolled up newspapers and blasts from a garden hose, and when we employed such disciplinary measures we thought we were properly teaching our dogs how to behave.

Lucky and Skippy and Adolph were sweet pets, and we cried when each one died. But they were dogs, not people, and we thought them capable of only very basic thought and feeling.

I was an English major in college, and as a graduate teaching assistant I taught English 101, an introductory course for freshmen. One day we were discussing an essay that claimed humans were the only beings who could  understand that they and those they loved would die some day, and thus were the only beings capable of grieving. No members of the animal kingdom could do that.

Discussion followed. The freshman boys sat mostly silent and bored, but some of the freshman girls argued quite strongly that animals could understand death and thus did grieve, using as examples elephants gently caressing the bones of dead elephants they encountered, or chimp mothers refusing to give up the bodies of their dead babies, or old and weak prey animals going off by themselves to die, so as not to endanger the rest of the herd.

No, I countered gently, that wasn’t possible. Only human beings could feel impending death and grieve at the death of others.

I believed the essay’s author and I had the truth. The young women believed they had the truth. I don’t think any minds were changed.

After years of  amateur study of animal behavior, behind-the scenes encounters with zoo animals, volunteering at homeless animal shelters, and living with a succession of eight cats and four retired racing greyhounds, I know the college girls were right, and the essay author and I were wrong.  Animals are sentient beings. They have intelligence. They have souls.

I’ll share more on this topic in later posts.

But I’ll end with this declaration. I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in an all-seeing, all-knowing god, and I don’t believe people go to heaven or hell when they die. But I believe  there is a rainbow bridge and a kitty cat lane. All dogs go to the Rainbow Bridge, where they are young and spry again, with all their illnesses and injuries gone. All cats go to Kitty Cat Lane, where they too are young and healthy again, and the sun is always shining, and all the mice are slow and fat.

Thank you for reading my blog.

Marjorie Beck