“I’ve got it all it seems, for all it means to me. But I sing of things I miss and things that used to be…” – This One’s For You” (1976) – Composers: Barry Manilow & Marty Panzer
I am convinced that many of us writing posts in our blog pages do so for therapy sake. It’s okay, you can disagree. I can really only speak for myself. So, I will.
If you look over my entries since I began writing the Fuel For The Race blog, you might find I often write of loss, personal loss. I’m not sure about what that says about me, or if it states anything vital at all. What I will say is, each university ought to have a course on loss. I’m terrific at loss, just a loser when it comes to letting go. How about you?
On my semi-daily walk, I have come up on lots of yard and garage sales in my neighborhood. The weather is warmer and the buds are out, tis the season. Slowing down, but not truly shopping, I love to see what people are laying out on their lawns for a quick buck. I saw an oxygen tank yesterday (really), an old travelling chest that had to be 100 years old and a car seat for a newborn. With a sigh, I shook my head and walked on thinking to myself how there are some things I just couldn’t part with. Yet, I am well versed in parting with precious things…unfortunately. My grief is old and long.
At the top of the page is one of my treasures. Not the painting, but the girl. Meet my middle daughter, Megan.
Let me be blunt at the risk of sounding rude and bitter. My first marriage was a lesson in damage control. Without dragging you through a good mound of dirty laundry, I will fast forward to 2006. After 26 years of marriage, I desperately needed to divorce my wife. In fact, I had wanted to since 1988, or so. Again, this will not turn into a thrashing of my ex-wife, but I will tell you the results.
Living in Buffalo, NY at the time, we had a beautiful house in Williamsville, a picture-perfect suburb with lamppost-lined streets and zero crime. Two nice SUVs sat in our two-car garage, and three lovely daughters, each with their own separate bedrooms, 18 trees towering over the property with a huge backyard where our Yorkie and Great Dane could pow-wow. Down the street was a large nature preserve. Often, wild turkey and deer walked through our lawns. It was a peaceful place, a place I shopped for over three months. It was my first home purchase.
I had moved to the area in 2003 to take an offer to host and produce an afternoon drive-time music radio show. I was an on-air talent and a vet in the industry, so it was an opportunity I felt I couldn’t ignore. We had dreams of living there, at least until we retired. Along with the dream were images of watching my girls prepare for prom, graduate one-by-one, attend college at nearby University of Buffalo or Buffalo State, and maybe even see the family expand with weddings in the future. However, dreams can also be nightmares.
In October of 2006, all came crashing down. I made a decision to end the marriage. Losing the dream would be in the mix, splitting of possessions, valuables and beloved pets. Then came the decisions of our individual lives. D’Anna, my youngest (almost 8 years old at the time) would go live with her mom as they were moving back to the Dallas, Texas area. Right or wrong, at the time I thought D’Anna needed her mom more than her dad during this time of her life. My oldest, Tabitha (just turning 18) was a graduate and already on her haunches to make a new life in the workforce and would roommate with a friend from high school. Then there would be Megan. She was about to turn 16 while in the middle of her junior year in high school. All I could think of was my responsibility to get her through her junior and senior years as a single dad unscathed, hopefully, from the trauma of the marriage. Megan and I (and Jojo, the Yorkie) streamlined, downsizing to the max, leaving a 12-room house and squeezing into a nearby apartment. We made a home for the two of us, as we picked ourselves up off the floor from a devastating pile of wreckage. We had our challenges, but we did it. We got through the next couple of years as she blossomed and excelled in the music arts. I loved it! She was being…me! I am an actor/singer and always have been. Now, here she is, a chip off the old block, with 30 years in between us. She and Tabitha both were tremendous child-actresses. Megan wowed audiences from the time she was 4 years old onward, but I didn’t expect a knock-out singing sensation. She left acting behind and picked up the mic, with the exception of playing the female lead in “Guys and Dolls” her senior year.
Some things you never expect, even on the edge of possibility. Among the volley of pitiful pitfalls, bankruptcy was an unavoidable exit ramp I was forced to take in the immediate wake of the marriage. (Longer story there.) There was a repo of one of the SUVs. (My ex had possession of it in Houston, Texas for a time.) She chose to take one of our vehicles, electing to drive away with the one we were still paying on. She agreed to make the payments, but neglected to do so. Emotionally, and psychologically, I was far worse than I realized. My mental state was at an all-time low. The following Spring, I lost my dream job, due to a format change at the radio station. I would not have done it, but I do understand how some make the decision to end their life on this earth, which is always the wrong exit. Meanwhile, I had to protect Megan and see to it that she finished school with adulthood looming. I took another radio show at a network some 3 hours away, southeast of Buffalo. The drive was beautiful, but non-negotiable in the winter months. I would stay near the station Mon-Wednesday, then ending the week driving back and forth on Thursday and Friday, staying at the apartment with Megan over the weekend. When there were events at school, IE: musicals, choir concerts, talent shows, or Megan singing with their jazz band, I always drove back for those nights. It just about killed me, as well as the $4.25/gallon gasoline prices. That was my schedule for a couple of months. Soon after, I was speaking to a friend about a new job back in Buffalo, where I would be a dad, present and accounted for.
Megan also had joined a garage/basement rock band from her school. Little did I know it would be the start of what she would fall in love with.
Over the summer of 2008, right after Megan graduated, I began talks with another radio station back in Dallas, Texas where we originally came from. In late August, I made the decision to move back and take the job even during the negotiation process. One afternoon, I sat her down to let her know what my plans were. I offered to take her with me and start a new life back in her hometown where she still had old school and church friends, not to mention family on all sides. She surprised me by choosing to stay in Buffalo with her many friends and familiar stomping grounds. To be honest, it was painful to hear her answer. Of my three girls, Megan was, and is, most like me on many levels. I was Mr. Mom for her and Tabitha when they were little, which built a tight bond that I will always be grateful for. With that said, I wrestled with it all for a long time. Many sleepless nights I wrangled with the thought of parting ways, leaving my pal to take over the apartment, to live life on her own without my protection. It was soooo hard for me. If memory serves me right, I believe I went back to her to see if she would change her mind. No dice. She assured me she would do well, stay safe and make wise choices. Interestingly enough, later her older sister, Tabitha, made her way down to Texas with her roommate as well. Soon, the entire family would be within an hour of each other, except for Megan.
If you’re wondering, if I made the right choice, as well as Megan, here’s the scoop. Today, she is considered one of the most highly regarded vocalist in western New York and with two high quality stellar bands. She’s been on the cover of magazines, newspapers, recordings galore, radio and TV shows. She’s been voted as best female vocalist of the year via Buffalo, NY voters at least twice. Her original band, Dirty Smile, is an internationally award-winning, highly sought after group and has played in several cities on the northeastern seaboard. She and Grace Stumberg have put an all-girl band together, Rust Belt Birds. Grace is super talented. She’s Joan Baez’s duo partner and guitar girl. I AM ASTONISHED at Megan’s accomplishments. She has done well all by herself, without me holding her hand. She always says I taught her how to sing and perform, but it’s HER work ethic that developed this success rate.
“To succeed you must suffer.” – Bruce Lee
I had to let go of my life during this personal storm. We all had to forge through it in our own ways. Sure, loads of possessions were left out by the curb as well as good standing, credit crash, prime property, vehicles and pets, but that wasn’t the worst of it. It was almost spirit-sucking to say good-bye to D’Anna, my 8 year old. We remain pals to this day. (See last week’s blog posting.) It was heartbreaking to see my Tabitha leave while sprouting wings that were not fully in use just yet. Letting go of a marriage, as difficult as it was, it was a marriage I held together for 26 years, in spite of the damage we all experienced.
Letting go that August day of 2008 was one of the hardest things I have ever done by far. Certainly, part of it was because Megan is like my twin in so many ways. The other part of this painting, she was the final string I was holding on to from a life I once had. We remain close to this day. I love my daughters and I hate geography.
At the end of the day, it’s okay to lay out that old antique travelling chest, the empty oxygen tank and the baby car-seat. After all, it’s just…stuff. Right? Family is forever.
Letting go might be hard, but much easier when filled with fuel for the race.
“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.” – Hebrews 13:5 (NIV)