Less Me, More We

Over the past several years, I gradually became a more selfish person.

It didn’t happen on purpose, and it doesn’t align with who I am or want to be. But more than one of the people who know me best said they noticed it, and it didn’t take a whole lot of self-examination to realize they were right. Over the same time period, I also began self-imploding. On this I needed no outside warning — I knew it myself. I began drinking too much, even at work. I spent money on frivolous shit, despite money management being one of the few things I’ve naturally been good at my whole life. I quit taking my job as seriously as I should have, working fewer hours as well as allowing my performance to slip below my standard. I disengaged physically and emotionally from my family, seeking escape from a reality that 99% of the world would trade for theirs in a heartbeat.

I had to fight the urge to punch myself in the face. I didn’t want to kill myself because I knew the pain it caused me when my dad did it, but I was actively rooting for something bad to happen to me.

I found the recipe for the cocktail of my own destruction — one part dumbass, one part asshole.

I’ve been open about my struggles with depression, and while that still carries a social stigma, it’s easier than owning up to things I’m personally responsible for fucking up.

If you put cow manure in a microwave, you shouldn’t expect to see (or smell) a filet mignon when you open the door. Yeah, I have anxiety and depression — occasionally malfunctioning brain chemicals and all that — but there were a lot of things within my control that needed to be changed.

Don’t worry, this isn’t one of those “views from the other side of the mountain” posts. I don’t pretend to have everything — or even anything — figured out. I’m not trying to give advice. I still have lots of work to do, and there are things I need to make right. There’s also the possibility that things could go backwards from here.

But I have made progress to be proud of, and for that I have lots of people to thank. Some I’ve known almost my whole life, others I’ve just met as I’ve gotten involved in new groups and activities.

So thank you, in no particular order, to

  • Chad — You had to listen to hours of my bullshit, starting way before anyone outside my family knew there was anything wrong. You put up with me for a weekend baseball trip that was dampened by my disposition. Thanks for being everything one could look for in a best friend.
  • The guests, employees and fellow volunteers at City Care — It’s been such a blessing to meet so many amazing people there. I look forward to every Wednesday night. I’m receiving much more than I’m giving there.
  • Mike — I haven’t even seen you since you moved roughly 1 million miles away but you helped talk me through one of the lowest nights of my life. Love you man.
  • Brian, Grady and the rest of the Southside Warriors — I always used to make fun of men’s groups that meet at some ungodly hour before the sun comes up. But now that I’m in one I am learning firsthand the value of iron sharpening iron and implementing tools that make all of us better men.
  • Scooter, Byron, Jamesy, Rychy (can’t put his nickname on here) and the rest of my true poker and ex-poker friends (too many to name them all) — Thanks for being less gossip-y than others in the community and looking out for my best interests. Thanks for understanding when I couldn’t come to the last get-together, and didn’t drink at the one before that.
  • Summer — EMDR therapy has been a huge game-changer for me in dealing with stuff about my dad as well as how to move forward through the mess I’ve made. I’m glad I found you.
  • Clay, UNChurch, and my homies at Omerta — My relationship with Christianity and the church is complicated right now, so it’s been a blessing that God put it on Clay’s heart to start UNChurch (we meet at the Stag Lounge every other Saturday). The idea is to cut out the theological and political bullshit that clouds the message and example of Jesus. Cigars might give me cancer but they’ve also introduced me to a lot of amazing people. Calvin…I will be better than you at chess someday.
  • Keith, Josh, Ryan, Gibby, Zach and other friends that have known me since I was a virgin — The definition of a loyal friend is one who is there for you in different decades and on different continents.
  • Dave, Daniel and my Sunday night crew — It turns out I’m not the only person in the world going through some of this stuff. Thanks for the friendship, accountability, encouragement and strength you give me.
  • Will and Francine — Francine, thanks for consistently checking on me, sending me things and battling the robots on BBO with me. Your loyalty is priceless. Will, so much of this came from advice you gave me. Your honesty keeps me in check. As far as bridge…eventually I might be okay at it.
  • Mom, Allison and Andrew — I know I’ve pulled back from you over the last few months. Know that I love you all and value your support and prayers.
  • Addie, Myra, Maddux and Hawk — If you happen to stumble upon this when you’re old enough to remember what was going on, know that I needed every single one of those drawings, hugs, kisses and games. I love you more than you’ll ever know.

Trust me, I didn’t forget about Missy. The internet isn’t big enough to hold everything I need to say to her, and I don’t want to give her a half-assed paragraph. I know I’ve revealed a lot of personal shit here and in other posts, but it’s not my place to tell her business. She is an amazing woman. I’ll let everything else be between the two of us.

In general, I’ve taken more than I’ve given over the last few years. I also realize that I used the word “I” about 175 times in a blog about being less selfish.

Today, it’s about making the next right decision. It’s about having pure intentions and grace for myself and others when the execution doesn’t match the idea. I want to be there for you in the same way so many others have been there for me. Let’s build each other up.

Keeping My Eye on the Prize

The other night, Missy and I sat down to look at some old pictures and videos. They were from an old phone, no longer in service, owned by Missy’s mom.

We spent an hour looking at the photos, which spanned from about 2012 to 2016. At first it was just Addie, about four years old, with short hair because she decided to give herself a haircut.

Then we got Myra, and she smiles her beautiful little innocent smile with her beautiful little innocent giggle. And Missy is pregnant with Maddux.

Addie and Myra are singing “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” Myra is just going from knees to toes with her mouth as open as it could be.  Couldn’t possibly look cuter. Addie is holding court as always, singing loudly and showing off her dance moves.

Along comes Maddux, waddling around like a bowling ball on a mission. He used to take a book and walk backwards from the other side of the room until he bumped into your lap, then plop down and wait for you to start reading.

Soon enough Missy is pregnant with Hawk. We have a big gender reveal party, with lots of friends and family. You know, the kind of thing that was impossible in 2020.

Then Hawk arrives, laughing along to a KidsBop song. I didn’t remember him being that chunky as a baby.

I had a hard time sleeping that night. Looking at those pictures and videos brought back a strong mix of joy and regret. I can’t believe the time has flown by so fast.

Addie only has six years until college. Hawk has 13 and the others are in between. So I guess we are roughly at the halfway point on our journey toward Empty Nest City.

It was great seeing those memories, especially since they were from the vantage point of Missy’s mom instead of the more staged photos that usually end up on my phone. It was fun to see nieces, nephews, friends and their kids at such younger ages too.

Of course it’s also a little sad, seeing my kids at an age they’ll never be again. Then there’s also the realization that we’ll never get that time back. Could we have taken more trips? Made more memories? Just read more books or ate more meals at the dinner table together?

Recently I’ve begun playing chess a little more. Used to play occasionally with Dad growing up but just now started taking it 10% seriously and playing several different opponents online.

My biggest problem is that sometimes I focus on taking pieces instead of winning the game. I’ll make five moves to capture a bishop, then look up five moves later and get put in checkmate.

The object of the game is to capture the king. Not the highest number of pieces. Sometimes I feel like the flaw in my chess strategy is similar to the flaw in my life strategy. I always have a long list of things to do, and sometimes I let that list dominate the day instead of capitalizing on opportunities to live the fullest life and provide the best, most rounded upbringing for my kids.

I guess all we can do is try harder. In the meantime, hope you enjoy the cute pics of our kids.

Addie is mad, which is funny, while Myra and Maddux look cute
Maddux repping the Eagles
Maddux and Hawk with my mom

Holiday Fun 2020

This has been an unusual year for most people, and the Franklin family is no exception. We got COVID-19, the kids are doing school virtually from home, I can’t play poker in a casino, and Missy started a PhD program.

Our Christmas was a nice, relaxing return to semi-normalcy, highlighted by lots of family time.

My sister and her family visited from North Carolina. Their three children are roughly the same ages as ours, and they’ve always gotten along well. We had a big family dinner, went to see the Christmas lights in Yukon, and played a bunch of games.

The kids had to set up a picnic on the floor in Mom’s dining room for this family feast. Our kids love their North Carolina cousins, and I love my mom, sister and brother-in-law

On the same day that Allison and her family left, Missy’s sister Terri arrived with her four kids. Again, all the cousins have always gotten along beautifully and we had lots of fun with them too. Of course that included another big family meal, as well as helping the kids make sugar cookies and mine for precious gems (a backyard kit that was one of Hawk’s Christmas presents).

Ferguson Franklin the guinea pig and Peter the rabbit loved their new friends!
These boys enjoyed the sugar cookies they made in the Franklin diner.

Addison’s birthday is the day after Christmas, so we have even more celebrating to do than the average family. This year she turned 12, her last birthday before teenagery sets in. Seems impossible. She requested homemade brown bread ice cream, but that will have to be put on hold because Missy made too many great pies and sugar cookies.

This girl is 12. And hijacking my phone so she can post this on Facebook lol.

Hawk’s favorite present this year was an explorer kit, with a vest that has pockets for all of his explorer gear. It’s got a magnifying glass, compass, flashlight, fan, and a hat. Maddux got a guitar, which is special for me since I’ll get to teach him how to play. It has cheap plastic strings, which are easier for his little fingers to press down but also so flimsy that I broke one just tuning the thing right out of the box. Still, I’ve already taught him a couple of chords. Myra’s favorite present was her Easy-Bake oven. She made some tiny sandwich cookies that were great barely edible. But she had a lot of fun making them. Addie got a hoverboard, which she has been on it almost nonstop since she got it.

Hope you enjoy the pictures. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

Missy did a lot of cooking this week. That’ll happen when you’re cooking for 22 people (although we never had all 22 eating at the same time).
Missy got me this really cool whiskey set for Christmas. Has already been put to use.

My Bridge Mentor (Lem Harkey)

When I moved to Lawton in the summer of 2002 after graduating from OU, I didn’t know a single person there. I wanted to get involved in the community, so within my first week of living there I did two things — found out where the pickup basketball games were and called the local bridge club.

The basketball deal worked out great. The YMCA had competitive runs every Tuesday and Thursday, and they gave me a discount on my membership because I would write blurbs in the newpaper promoting their youth camps and tournaments. (That’s probably an ethical violation but it was 18 years ago and I needed the discount.) I made friendships through basketball that I’ve maintained all these years later.

Whereas I’d played pickup basketball my whole life, bridge was a different story. My parents and grandparents would play friendly games on occasion, and I learned the basics from them. I still have fond memories of sitting on my grandpa’s lap and telling him what I thought his next bid should be. He’d tell me whether I was right or wrong and why.

By the time I was 13 or so, they’d let me jump in on the games sometimes. But these weren’t competitive games, they were just for fun. I remember getting in trouble for doubling my grandma (in bridge terms, this is the equivalent of betting that she couldn’t make her contract) even though my bid was correct.

We played rubber bridge, which basically means that whichever team gets the best cards will win. Competitive bridge is played under a different format, called duplicate, which is far more skill-based. When I moved to Lawton, I had never played duplicate bridge and didn’t know how any of the scoring worked. I also knew nothing about the myriad special bids used to communicate to your partner to arrive at the best contract in the more competitive system.

I looked up the bridge club in the yellow pages, which was the last time the yellow pages were useful to anyone in humanity. I got ahold of the bridge club’s director, Bev Drzka. She offered to play with me since I was new to the city and new to the world of duplicate bridge.

The stereotype of bridge players is that they are all old ladies. I’m here to tell you that this is entirely accurate. There were a couple of older men mixed in, but it was 90% old ladies. And those old ladies are awesome. They immediately embraced me and treated me like a son.

After playing with Bev for a couple weeks, she told me that Lem Harkey thought I had potential and wanted to play with me. She said he was an excellent player who could teach me a lot, so I was excited to play with him. Several of the other ladies, however, said he was a mean old man and told me they’d have my back if he was ever mean to me.

He had no tolerance for shenanigans, something the old ladies would occasionally dabble in. He’d curtly tell them to quit gossiping and start playing, and he’d nip any illegal table talk in the bud immediately. But since I didn’t do any of those things I never faced his wrath. Lem was never anything but perfectly kind and patient with me.

Part of his reputation came from his demeanor. He had a perpetual scowl on his face, which didn’t have anything to do with his mood, it was just the way his face rested. He was also a large African-American man, so it’s possible there were racial reasons behind some of the animosity towards him.

I played with him for almost two years and learned almost every bid I know today from him. His teaching method was quite unique, but it worked. If he wanted me to learn a new bid, he’d just bid it, knowing I’d have no idea what his bid meant. We’d get a terrible score, sometimes tanking an otherwise very good session. But then afterward he would explain the bid to me, and I’d never forget it because of how bad a score we got. I remember giving him a bewildered look after one such hand, and he just grinned back at me and started chuckling. “That’s called a splinter bid,” he’d say. “Now you know it.”

After awhile, I started giving him a ride home from the weekly bridge games. We’d also occasionally travel to Oklahoma City or Wichita Falls, Texas for a tournament. During those car rides he shared a lot of stories from his fascinating life.

Lem was a fullback at the College of Emporia in Emporia, Kan. If you haven’t heard of that it’s because the college has been closed since 1974. But when Lem was there he led the nation in rushing with 160 yards per game and was drafted in the sixth round of the 1955 NFL draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s one of only three Fighting Presbies (yes, that was their nickname; the college was affiliated with the Presbyterian Church) to play in the NFL.

A College of Emporia football game from around the time Lem Harkey played there. I couldn’t find a photo of Lem playing, and this photo was undated but he was one of only three people from the school who went on to play in the NFL.

While Harkey was picked in the sixth round, the Steelers’ 9th-round selection that year went on to have the more prolific pro career. Pittsburgh picked Johnny Unitas but cut him in the preseason before he latched on with Baltimore and began his Hall of Fame quarterbacking career. Harkey played a couple of seasons with the Steelers and San Francisco 49ers before hanging up his cleats.

Racism affected his competitive bridge life, as Blacks weren’t allowed to join the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL). Harkey was a member of the American Bridge Association (ABA), where he accumulated thousands of masterpoints and found success in tournaments all over the country. When the ACBL integrated, Harkey and other ABA player were given only pennies on the dollar for the points they had already accrued. Nevertheless, he still had so many points that when I played tournaments with him, we were automatically placed in the highest level of competition.

I had virtually zero points and was a long way from being good enough to play against such stiff competition. Lem could have partnered with someone much better and would certainly have had better results. But he never complained, or even talked down to me when I made a mistake that cost us points. After the tournament, he’d let me know some of the more intricate plays or bids that our opponents made to beat us, and how I could start to incorporate those into my game. I can’t even describe how much I learned from Lem over those two years.

Unfortunately, Lem’s health began to deteriorate pretty quickly. Some of that had to do with his football career, which had given him bad knees and a bad back. His legs were incredibly swollen and he had more and more trouble getting around. Eventually he moved in with his daughter in San Antonio, and I never got to play with him again. I talked to him on the phone a couple of times, until he wasn’t in good enough shape to do that either.

I’ll never forget the phone call I got from Lem’s daughter while visiting my family in Oklahoma City for July 4 in 2004. She said, “I just wanted you to know that my dad passed away the other day. He didn’t have a lot of friends but he sure loved you and thought an awful lot of you.” Lem was 70.

After Lem passed I again partnered with Bev. After moving to Oklahoma City I’ve largely just played online. Francine and Will have been my two most frequent partners there, and I’ve learned a ton from each of them. But that’s all built on the foundation that Lem taught me.

He’s been gone for 16 years now and few of you reading this will have ever met him or even heard of him. But he was a great man who had a hard life, and he taught me a lot about bridge, perseverance and character. He always stayed so calm at the bridge table, even when I royally screwed up a bid or our opponents were doing something that seemed kind of fishy. I’ve thought back to moments like that during similar times at the poker table. Lem has undoubtedly helped me make money at poker even though he passed away before I even started playing.

For whatever reason, he’s been on my mind a lot recently. He’s a man worth telling you about.

Love you and miss you Lem.

Covid Chronicles

It’s Thanksgiving Day, and I’m sitting at the dinner table. We just ate microwaved nachos and cheese quesadillas.

We will have a more traditional dinner ASAP, meaning whenever Missy gets rid of her COVID symptoms, regains her sense of smell and taste, and our house gets disinfected so we can have relatives over.

I’m the one that brought the Rona into our house. You can never be 100% sure where you picked up the virus because it’s so easily passed, but I played in a poker game a few days before my birthday in which five of the players would eventually test positive. Nobody showed any symptoms at the game.

Two days after playing in that game, I had lunch with my mom. She got a little emotional and ended up crying on my shoulder for a couple of minutes. The day after that was my birthday, and I felt completely fine. Even went for a four-mile run. We were originally planning to have my mom and Missy’s parents over for a birthday meal, but Missy had a paper due for her school that night so we rescheduled it for the next day.

That night I had a hard time sleeping because of a mild cough but didn’t think anything of it. Ran a couple of errands on Friday the 13th and started feeling weird. Came home very tired and had a mild fever. By then I had heard about two of the positive tests from fellow competitors in the poker game, so I thought that was likely what it was. We cancelled the family get-together.

I looked for a place to get a rapid test and found out that I would need to wait until the next day to get one, as they are re-stocked every day but run out by around 10 a.m. because of the high demand right now. I felt like crap anyway so I went to sleep early and set my alarm in time to get to the clinic by 7 a.m. when they opened.

Instead I woke up at 5 a.m. drenched in sweat and feeling quite unwell. I drank a Gatorade and sat on the back porch, where the cool air felt good. I left around 6:30 to get a good spot in line at the clinic. On the way there, I got pulled over by a cop. I was going 50 mph on SW 134th between Penn and Western, where the speed limit is 50 mph. I was still going 50 mph between Western and Santa Fe, where the speed limit drops to 40 for no apparent reason. Honestly I wasn’t paying any attention to how fast I was going but it seems pretty weak to pull people over in that spot at a time when nobody is on the road anyway.

I managed to hit the triple crown on this pullover, getting three tickets. One for going 50 in a 40, one for my tag being out of date, and one for the insurance papers in my car being expired. My insurance was in fact up to date, so the last one has already been rescinded. Do we really need to have those tiny slips of insurance papers physically in our car every 6 months? Seems unnecessary. I probably could have accessed them from my phone but I was too sick to think about looking it up in the moment.

I was in a great mood when I pulled into the clinic right at 7 a.m. The line was already out the door. I parked and got out of the car. Right as I closed my door, an SUV speeds into the parking space next to mine. I’m walking over towards the line and the SUV’s driver jumps out and literally runs ahead of me, getting in the line before me. Then I hear a voice behind me. “Daddy, wait up!”

A boy, probably about 6 years old, is walking behind me trying to catch up to his dad. The guy turns around and yells, “Go shut your door!” The kid had left his car door open in an attempt to catch up. Or maybe he was just sick and forgot. It was clear that the kid was the sick one. Nevertheless, the boy turned around, shut the car door and rejoined his father.

I thought it was funny that this dude went so far out of his way to get one spot further in line, but it didn’t bother me. I would have laughed out loud if I had had the energy. We stood in line for five minutes without talking or moving when he abruptly turned around and said to me, “Do you want to go ahead of me? We got here about the same time but I don’t mind.” That actually did make me chuckle a little but I told him I was fine where I was.

The line was just for filling out your initial paperwork. Then you could wait to be seen either in the waiting area or in your car. I realized that the order in which you were actually seen was the order in which you turned in your paperwork, not your actual spot in line. Being a mature adult, I decided that my only goal for the whole day was to get my paperwork in before this sick kid’s dad, so that I would be seen before this 6-year-old boy whose father cut me in line 45 minutes ago.

Homeboy had a 60-second head start on me due to his position in line, but I was bee-bopping and scatting all over these forms. Didn’t even sit down to fill them out. Left spaces I deemed unimportant blank. Felt pretty damn good to turn in those papers and see my vanquished foe and his sick son still sitting in the waiting area while I waltzed back out to the parking lot to wait for my COVID test.

The wait in the car took another hour and a half. During that time, I debated whether I wanted my test to come back positive or negative. Of course, I didn’t want to have COVID, but I was pretty sure I did and wouldn’t have been confident even if I got a negative test. Then I started wondering whether I hoped the cop who pulled me over and gave me three tickets got COVID from me. I knew such thoughts were wrong, but since the cop was a white guy who gave off an air of entitlement, I gave myself grace and wished the virus upon him. As long as he didn’t have to go to the hospital or die.

Finally the call came and I walked back in to get my test, glancing back at the father-son duo in the car next to me to make sure that they knew that I was going in first. Once inside, the process was quick. I was dreading having the Q-tip shoved up my nose but it only took a fraction of a second. Fifteen minutes later the results were in. Positive.

They gave me a list of over-the-counter vitamins to take and sent me on my way. When I got home, Missy converted Maddux’s room into my new quarantine quarters, moving his stuff into our room. In fact, all the kids moved into our room and used our bathroom, and I stayed on their end of the house and used their bathroom.

That night was the worst night of my COVID experience. I was in extreme pain and couldn’t sleep. Missy kind of tried to talk me into going to an emergency room, but I really didn’t want to do that. I had a fever throughout the night too but I survived.

My COVID setup in Maddux’s room. Francine gave us the split pea soup and Josh and Sherri Ward provided the salad (as well as some great chicken parm which I ate the night before). Vitamins and Gatorade also pictured.

The next several days were very similar. I had virtually no energy but tried to get outside for a couple walks per day. The weather was great that week. Other than that, I just laid in bed and read my book or watched TV. I would walk out to the edge of the hallway and talk to Missy and the kids, but it was hard to not get to hug or kiss or even be within six feet of them.

One evening I was on a walk in the neighborhood. Things were going fine when I suddenly felt the urge to throw up. I stopped and hunched over right there on the sidewalk. Tons of saliva drooled out of my mouth and I got lightheaded. I dry heaved a few times, kept spitting out tons of saliva. Never did throw up. Made it back home and felt relatively fine within minutes.

Another night I was about half a mile away from our house when I felt a similar, yet distinctly different urge come upon me all of the sudden. I was certain I was going to crap my pants. I clenched my cheeks and jogged for maybe half a block, but then I was out of breath because of the COVID and had to walk more. By the time I was halfway home, my chest was puffed out like a peacock and my tail was tucked in like an ornery cat. I alternated jogging and walking, pausing to catch my breath after every short jogging session. When I got home I burst into the door and made it to home base just in time.

One night, maybe four or five days into my experience, my nose was completely congested. This isn’t unusual for me because of my allergies, but I couldn’t breathe fully through my mouth either because of COVID. It was a little scary. Felt like I was always half a breath short, gasping a lot. Missy took my pulsox and it was low but not low enough to force a hospital visit. Missy set up a bunch of pillows in my bed so I could sleep sort of sitting up, and some Vaporub opened up my nose enough to be able to breathe. It was never as bad after that.

Unfortunately, that’s about the time Missy started showing symptoms. She and the kids got tested two days after my positive result, but she was negative. When her symptoms persisted, she went and took another test, and this one was positive. Myra also got a positive test, and although the other kids’ tests came back negative we assume they all had it at one point or another. They all showed about the same symptoms, a little fatigued and a slight runny nose but nothing worse than that.

Missy’s case was worse, however. She lost all of her energy and all of her taste and smell. She didn’t have the fever or breathing problems I did but had more head and stomach aches than I did. For several days neither of us had any energy, but after my 10th day I started feeling fairly normal. A couple of days after that I’d consider myself 95% healthy. Even went on a two-mile run today.

Corona selfie. A tish pale.

Hopefully Missy will pull out of this soon. It’s weird not having any concrete plans for Thanksgiving, just playing wait-and-see until she gets to feeling better. I have to thank all of our friends and family who checked on us and offered to bring us things. Special thanks to my mom, Missy’s mom and Josh and Sherri Ward, all of whom brought us food and supplies to help us get through this thing. Hopefully the end is nigh.

Somehow, my mom never did catch the virus, despite that lunch and all those hugs after I was infected. Missy’s parents have avoided it so far as well. Everyone’s experience with this thing is different. Many of you have asked me about my experience, so I’m writing about it. For me personally, although it distinct from the common flu, it shared a lot of similarities as far as my symptoms went. I wouldn’t wish a 10-day flu on anyone though, except maybe that cop.

Dad

I think about my dad every day, even now that it’s been 16 years since he passed away. This is an especially hard time of year because the last time I saw him was at a family dinner celebrating my birthday (November 12). I wrote this blog six years ago. It’s probably not the best thing I’ve ever written, but it’s the thing I’m most proud of. Re-reading it tonight brought back a lot of emotions and allowed me to pause and reflect on how my thoughts and emotions have changed over time.

In truth, they haven’t changed much at all. My own mental health struggles have intensified in the years since, and I’ve written about those (see this and this). But my memories of dad largely remain the same. Since this is a long post as is, I’ll leave the intro brief. I updated this in terms of my number of kids and details like that, but otherwise this is my original post from 2014. For those who knew my dad and those who didn’t, I hope this gives a good glimpse of both who he was and how depression can look, especially to those who have never seen it up close.

One of my earliest strong memories of my dad involves a game of catch in the backyard. I had just started playing baseball and was only beginning to be proficient at catching a ball from more than a few feet away.
Dad was rolling me some ground balls, lobbing a few fly balls, and tossing a few soft liners, one of which hit me smack in the nose. I started crying, but the main thing that has remained in my memory was dad’s reaction. His eyes got huge and it was obvious that this event affected him way more than it did me. Of course he had no reason to feel guilty; he hadn’t thrown the ball hard at all and it was a sheer accident. I don’t even remember if I got a bloody nose. But he was shaken up for the rest of the day. Causing the slightest bit of hurt to anyone — especially his children — was something dad could never abide.
Delbert Kenneth (Ken) Franklin was the antithesis of the overbearing parent. He never pushed us to do anything we didn’t want to do, and he provided 100% support and 0% criticism in everything we did. I’m not saying that’s the best formula for perfect parenting, but that was the only way he knew how to be a father.
My siblings and I had varied talents and interests. I was pretty much all about sports and writing. My brother was an incredibly talented musician/dancer/singer. My sister was something of a hybrid, an All-State athlete with artistic and journalistic skills to boot. Dad, a former athlete with a Master’s degree in music from Oklahoma City University, had the ability to give each of us 100% of himself in all of those areas. He was the loudest cheerer at Allison’s cross country races, the first one to give a standing ovation at Andrew’s musicals and the first one to want to read my newspaper stories and tell me how good they were.
He never got onto a ref for a bad call or onto a coach for more playing time. Part of that was being the most non-confrontational person I’ve ever known. Part of it was having more unconditional love than anyone I’ve ever known.
I can only remember him raising his voice a handful of times and never saw him even close to raising his hand in anger, despite his three kids giving him ample reasons to do so.
In my mind, there was never a question of which one of us or our hobbies dad loved more. They, and we, were 100% equal. This is something I once took for granted; now I recognize how special it was.
The same can be said for dad’s work ethic. Five days a week for 25 years, he came home drenched in sweat after walking several miles in the Oklahoma sun with a heavy mail bag on his back. I can still instantly conjure an accurate nasal memory of the smell of that sweaty postal uniform. The job was taking a toll on him physically and he hated the politicking that kept forcing him to change routes, change start times, or do more work in less time than he felt was physically possible. But he clocked in every day, and when I would meet him for lunch at a fast food place that was on his route, the other mailmen eating with us inevitably told me that they envied dad’s always-sunny personality. Some of them made fun of him for it.
That always-sunny personality could sometimes be pretty annoying. When we went golfing, he would be optimistic that the balls I shanked all over the course would turn out to be good shots. He’d yell “Bite!,” “Get legs!” or “Turn over a little now” as soon as it was obvious to everyone else that I’d be nowhere near the green. He always thought we’d be able to find the ball that I’d hit into the middle of a dense forest, long after I was ready to give up and move on with the round. Still, those once-a-week golf outings were special times for me, and I’ve hardly played in the 16 years since then because golf just isn’t the same.

Now that I’m a father of four with a wife and a mortgage, I recognize the sacrifices that my parents made to give us the best upbringing they could. Mom and dad could have driven nicer cars, gone on more dates or put more money toward their retirement, but instead they spent that time and money on their kids.
For dad and I, that meant playing golf when the weather was nice and going to baseball, football and basketball games together. Dad was a huge St. Louis Cardinals fan and I rebelled by cheering for the Chicago Cubs, a decision that has so far cost me a couple World Series celebrations. But in the middle of the steroid era, we drove to St. Louis for a three-game series between the two rivals. In the car, dad said he hoped to see Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa hit three home runs each and the Cardinals win two out of three. I told him he was delusional, then watched Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa hit three home runs each and the Cardinals win two out of three. I saw it as a crazy coincidence, but dad didn’t act surprised at all. He always expected the miraculous. He always had faith.
Although that series certainly ranks near the top of all of my “dad memories”, for me nothing will beat the games.
My family was always playing games; that’s what we did. Board games, card games, dice games, you name it, we played it. I couldn’t even begin to guess how many different games we played over the years. Dad and I liked playing games more than the rest of the family, and often it would be just the two of us.
After I moved out, I loved to come home, get a free meal, and spend the evening playing cards with mom and dad. For mom, one or two games was enough. But dad and I would play until he had to go bed. It wouldn’t even be a discussion. One of us would pick up the deck, shuffle and deal. I usually didn’t know which game we were playing until dad quit dealing. Four cards was a quirky but fun game called casino, six cards was pitch, eleven cards was gin rummy, etc. We’d talk about sports, school or work until the game neared its end, then all our attention was on the finish. Dad loved dramatic finishes, which was annoying when he won. But he would show the same enthusiasm for the game if he lost on the final play. I can still picture our post-it notes filled to the max with scores from various card games. Dad always wrote and circled the letter W under the name of whoever won, although we never made any effort to keep track of who was winning the games long-term.
Then there was the laughing. Always the laughing. Slapstick was by far his favorite, although he could laugh at just about anything, especially himself. There was no mistaking or hiding that laugh. No restaurant big enough to keep everyone in the place from hearing it, no one else’s laughter over the same topic loud enough to not be drowned out. If a moment was bereft of laughter, he’d pick up some random goofy object, put it on his head, cross his eyes and make a Three Stooges face until you laughed. And if you didn’t laugh, he’d laugh so loud that you couldn’t help but laugh at the fact that he cracked himself up so easily.


When I was 16, I bumped into a car in a parking lot. I was a straight A student who had good influences for friends and never got into trouble. I didn’t want to get in trouble for this either. So I panicked and drove off. Luckily, someone spotted me. I fessed up and got a good lecture (and probably a grounding of some sort) from my parents, and then I had to call the person whose car I hit and apologize. That lady was understandably upset and gave me another good lecture which included calling me a few not-nice names. After all of that, I felt like a loser. I’ll never forget hanging up the phone and walking over to my dad, who was standing in the middle of the living room, about to go upstairs to bed. I wrapped my arms around him and just started sobbing. Dad wasn’t real good at giving life lessons or expressing his emotions, but he let me hold on to him as long as I wanted, then he told me that I was a good kid and he loved me.
That was quintessential dad. In that moment, I didn’t need advice or a scolding. I needed a dad that would hug me and tell me he loved me. Luckily, I had that dad.

I was already moved out and in college when I got a call from mom that dad was in the hospital. He was dealing with depression and anxiety. That didn’t make any sense at all. Dad was never anything but happy, relaxed, carefree. He pretty much let mom make all the day-to-day planning decisions and just went with the flow without complaining. I remember seeing him cry when his mom died — and that was about the only time I saw him cry. I dismissed the whole thing out of hand, but I did go to the hospital to visit him. He was acting weird, and showed me a drawing he had made of an apple being eaten by worms. He told me that it represented his heart, which was corrupt and bad just like the worm-riddled apple. I looked at him and the drawing in disbelief, told him he was the most loving person I knew and that his drawing was in no way reflective of his heart. Then I got out of there as fast as I could. I refused to believe that this person was my father. I assumed that in a short amount of time, he’d snap out of whatever this was and go back to being normal. Then I could forget I had ever even visited him at the hospital or that he had made this weird drawing. Let’s just get back to normal. Give me my dad back. That’s basically what happened. He wasn’t in the hospital very long, and when he got out he was back to being my same old dad. Happy, laughing, talking sports. At least 95 percent of the time. When I was around, anyway. I wanted to get as far away from that other dude as I could. I didn’t want to lend any credibility to this poisoned apple business, didn’t want to talk about it. Occasionally I’d ask him or mom how he was doing. I knew on some level he was still struggling, but it didn’t make any sense to me and I just kept thinking (hoping, really) that it would go away. It was awkward. I told him I was interested in learning how to play guitar, and he bought me a really nice Taylor acoustic for my birthday. (More than 15 years later, I still get compliments on the guitar). Dad was a good guitar player who, prior to meeting mom, had made a living playing and singing in various bars and clubs around town. He taught me the basics, then wrote down the chords and lyrics to his most popular song, one for which he was offered a decent sum of money (1970s money anyway). On the top it said, “By Ken Franklin.”
I said with a laugh, “Dad, why did you write your name on the top here? Are you afraid I’m going to take this song and claim it as my own and become famous without ever giving you credit?” He just smiled and shrugged his shoulders. I thought it was weird. Makes more sense now. Also weird was how dad started bowing out of our card games half the time. I was driving more than an hour to have dinner and hang out with my parents. Mom always went to bed at 8 p.m., but I expected to get a couple more good hours of card playing out of dad. Sometimes that would happen like normal, but sometimes he’d play one or two or zero games instead of 20 and go to bed at 8:30. Said he was more tired than usual lately. Makes more sense now. What does depression really mean, anyway? Aren’t we all sad sometimes? I never thought there was any chance dad would hurt himself. In my 25 years I’d never seen dad hurt a fly, never do anything but walk away at the first sign of conflict. 

Our family got together a couple of days after my birthday to celebrate with a dinner at Red Rock on Lake Hefner. I brought my girlfriend Missy, who dad always loved. She enjoyed a good laugh almost as much as he did. After the dinner, we all went back to mom and dad’s house. I said good night to mom and she went to bed. It was just dad and I in the living room. I asked him if he wanted to play cards. He said no, he was heading to bed also. He told me he needed me to pray for him, that he was having some bad thoughts. For someone who never shared his personal feelings and emotions at all, who in fairness didn’t even know how to share his personal feelings and emotions, this was a massive statement. But I refused to carry its full weight. I didn’t want to talk to the guy with the weird drawing. Let’s just get back to normal. Give me my dad back. I assumed that his (and all) depression was a temporary feeling that would eventually subside. Suicide is for people who don’t have moms, dads, kids, friends or co-workers who love them. I refused to even consider the possibility that this was a serious medical issue that was relentlessly attacking my father.

On top of all of that, I was the son of a man who never shared his personal feelings and emotions. I’m not good at it either, and I didn’t know what to say. I know I told him I would pray for him, and I know I did pray for him. But I had no clue what was really going on and I have no idea what I said or prayed in that moment. I decided to go ahead and drive back to Lawton that night. It was a Sunday, and I had to work Monday afternoon anyway. In the doorway, after my little chat/prayer with dad, he gave me a huge hug. It was just like the one he had given me nine years before, when I hit-and-ran in the parking lot. We were standing in almost the exact same place in the house. Again, he squeezed me tight and told me he was proud of me and he loved me. I told him I loved him too. It was the last thing I ever said to him.

Mom called me early Wednesday morning — November 17, 2004. Told me dad had abruptly left the house before dawn, still wearing his pajamas. She didn’t know where he was, maybe I should come home if I could. I left my apartment without changing out of my pajamas. I didn’t pack anything, just hit the highway. My brain was going a thousand miles an hour, but within minutes all the clues started coming together and I knew I’d never see him again. I didn’t know how he’d done it, but I knew he did it. What was an impossibility days earlier was now a certainty. While driving 90 mph up I-44, I slammed my fist against the steering wheel. Again. Again. Again. My hand hurt. I yelled at the top of my lungs. I was pissed at him. At myself. At him. My throat hurt. My heart broke. By the time I got to the house, my siblings were already there. They held out hope of finding him. My mind wanted to believe that was a possibility, but my heart knew the truth. A friend of the family called to say they saw a car that looked like his parked next to a pond close to our house. I drove over there with my brother-in-law, saw that it was indeed his car parked askew near the pond.

“He’s in there,” I said, never more certain of anything in my life. I didn’t want to be there one more Godforsaken second. I got back in the car and drove home. My brother-in-law talked to someone, and soon enough a firefighter dive squad went in and got him. They fixed him all up at the funeral home. The rest of the family went to see him. I refused. A family friend told me to reconsider, that this would be my last chance, that it might help bring some closure, start the healing process. I still said no. I wanted that bear hug and those I Love Yous to be my final memories of him. I still don’t regret it. I couldn’t handle the funeral. Every single seat in the church we grew up in was full. The choir loft was full. It was so humbling, an awesome tribute, to know how many people my dad had touched. It was also maddening, knowing he wasn’t supposed to go this early. What if he knew he had impacted all these people? What if he knew all these people loved him?…Every emotion imaginable flooded me the moment I walked in and saw the crowd. I was supposed to be strong for my mom, who was clutching my elbow as we walked down the aisle. I wanted to be strong, but I cried uncontrollably the entire time. Later, our family drove to Sulphur, Oklahoma, a beautiful place with a bed and breakfast mom and dad would often go to. I took out the Taylor and played this song as we scattered his ashes.

Sixteen years. Can it have really been that long? A lot has changed in that time. Dad got to walk Allison down the aisle, but he didn’t get to meet her three awesome kids. He didn’t get to see the miracle God worked in Andrew’s life, meet his wife Jordyn or their four kids. Didn’t know I married Missy or get to meet our kiddos, all of which are displaying the same zeal for laughter and life that he had. He didn’t know that I now play card games for a job, that all of those hours we spent with post-it notes at the kitchen table were in fact crucial training sessions for a future career. Who’d have thunk it? I think about it now, at least once a week while sitting at the poker table, and I can’t help but smile.

I’m not going to lie, I still get mad at dad sometimes. For missing out on all the things I just mentioned. For not being there for mom. For ruining golf and slapstick comedy for me. For not playing guitar with me. For not playing Chutes and Ladders with my kids. For making me feel guilty for being so incredibly ignorant and not doing more. Ultimately, however, I know that I’m just a kid in the backyard who took a baseball to the face. He never meant to hurt me. I understand now better than ever how lucky I was to have such a loving and committed father, who was there for every milestone in my life while he was alive. Who busted his tail to put food on the table and allow us to have the experiences in life that we’ll never forget. Other kids had nicer cars, nicer clothes. I shared a clunker with my sister but got to watch Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa hit three home runs each in one weekend.

I still cringe when I see or hear people make jokes about suicide. You know, the whole finger gun to the head and pull the trigger thing. It’s ignorant, just like I was until it hit me real close to home. This is a serious thing, yet it seems like the public and even the medical community is centuries behind in dealing with it. Just like cancer can make a strong person weak, depression and other mental health issues can slowly or quickly damage an otherwise healthy person. I hate telling people that didn’t know dad that he committed suicide, because I think it gives the impression that he was moping around the house all the time, when nothing could be further from the truth. He loved and appreciated the small details of life as much as anyone I’ve known. He was healthy, he got sick, it kept getting worse, and eventually the disease won. I’m not going assign a certain percentage of blame to him. I know who he really was.

My deepest fear is turning into my father. The first time I experienced depression was two years after he died, on my honeymoon. I had no idea what hit me. I couldn’t stop crying, wasn’t eating and didn’t want to leave the hotel room despite being in the Arenal Volcano Mountains of Costa Rica, one of the most gorgeous places on the earth. This was obviously a sucky situation for Missy, who didn’t know what to do. She’d been married for 24 hours and her husband was already losing his mind. All I could tell her was that I loved her and had no regrets about marrying her. Those things I knew deep down in my heart. But that was all. I had no idea why I was so sad. Maybe it was because I never really dealt with dad’s death head-on, never got counseling. Maybe it was because all the people at our wedding reminded me of all the people at dad’s funeral, such an unexpected outpouring of love that I wasn’t equipped to handle. Whatever it was, it went away after about three days and the rest of our honeymoon was awesome. In the eight years since then, I’ve had a few other, less severe episodes. Not many. I don’t like talking about it, not even with Missy. I’m not good at it. I don’t feel like I need medicine all the time for something that pops up less than once a year (so far), and I don’t trust the medicine out there anyway. I personally know a lot of people who have been tremendously helped by the medicine, but I also know at least one person who got significantly worse. So I do nothing. This is probably exactly the same thing most people do, up until it’s too late.

Or almost too late. In some ways, I already am turning into my father. I’m pretty easy going, I’ll usually go along with whatever my wife wants without complaining. I got begged into getting a dog about whom I am at best ambivalent, yet I’m the only one who feeds him and takes him to get his shots and haircuts. I spend my free time reading nonfiction and watching sports. I’d rather eat at home than go out, and I’ll eat just about anything. I sweat like a faucet when I work out. I laugh a lot, don’t cry much. Still not one to talk about feelings and emotions. Does that mean I’ll be fine for another 20 years and then it will hit me like it did dad? Was he struggling with it hardcore the whole time and just hiding it up until the end? Will I learn from what happened to him and do something different? Has the world around us changed, making it easier to deal with these issues and get help? Or is it harder now? These are things I think about.

On Monday, November 17, 2014, Addison bounced up to me and asked if we could play a game. Please? Please? We played Memory, letting Myra play too although she didn’t know what was going on and kept trying to turn all the cards up even when it wasn’t her turn. Maddux tried to eat a card. Addison loves playing games with me as much as anything. Hide and Go Seek is her favorite, but she’ll play anything I want for as long as I want to play it. I’ve even taught her a card game or two. We always play by the rules and I never let her win. I help her make the best strategic decisions, but what’s really important to me is her attitude. When she played T-ball and soccer this year, I didn’t care how good she was or what the refs did. I wanted her to give 100% and then I told her how proud I was when the game was over. This is the only way I know how to be a father to my kids, because it’s exactly the way my father taught me. And if I can show my kids half the unconditional love and grace that he showed me, then maybe turning into my father isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Family Shenanigans and Temporary Abstinence

2020!

I’m so over 2020!

Actually, I’m over people being over 2020. Celebrities die every year (RIP Sean Connery) and stuff happens every year. Maybe not on the level of a global pandemic, but complaining never did anyone any good.

Complaining about the complainers, however, is totally valid. I’m enjoying the view from atop my high horse.

Anyway, these last couple months have been different and hectic for the Franklin family. I’ve cut down on my work, which is a nice aspect of being self-employed. That is partly due to some junior high-ish BS involving my work, which is not so nice. But the main reason I’m staying home more is because of school.

Missy started her PhD program, which is somehow even more time-consuming than we thought it would be. Losing our power briefly this week actually allowed her to take a tiny respite from it. She’s working on it nearly every waking moment. I’m so proud of her because she’s stuck with it despite the enormity of the task and also because she is doing very important work fighting human trafficking. I get to proofread her papers and I’ve learned a lot of things that make you cry while also making you proud knowing you are helping make a difference. Or your wife is, anyway.

We have elected to do virtual school for all four kids. Overall, I’d say it’s going just fine for three of the four and we feel good about the decision we made for our family. With Missy’s packed schedule, I’ve taken the lead on the kids’ school. It’s really made me feel closer to all four of them than I felt before the pandemic.

We didn’t get to do anything on Fall Break because Missy had two big papers due that weekend, but we took advantage of the flexibility online school offers to take a family day trip to the Wichita Mountains on a weekday recently. Of course we went to the top of Mount Scott and took in the beautiful view there. We also visited the Holy City, walked on a hiking trail and spent some time at one of the small lakes on the refuge. The kids loved looking at the bison and longhorns roaming around. The only downside to the day was when poor Maddux stepped directly onto a small cactus. He fell down and got the quills all over his sweatpants. It was a slow and painful process to remove his shoes and pants, and we had to swing by a Wal Mart in Lawton to buy him something to wear before we went to dinner, but he’s a tough dude so he survived.

Great Scott! It’s Hawk and Addie at Mount Scott! Below is all four kids there.

Next on the list of fun stuff that happened in October was the YMCA Halloween festival. They did a great job of keeping everyone socially distanced while still providing plenty of games and candy. Missy was busy working on another paper but I took all four kiddos and the only problem we had was that we ran out of time and didn’t get to play all the games. Hawk dressed up as a dinosaur, Addie was an old lady, Myra was Elsa (I think. Either that or Anna, not sure which is which) and Maddux was Tigger.

Last night we had Myra’s birthday party (she’s 8 now!) and carved pumpkins. She said it was her favorite birthday ever, which always makes you happy as a parent. She requested an Oreo ice cream cake for her dessert, and as always Missy made an amazing one. That thing probably has 100,000 calories in it and I’m determined to eat half of them myself. At least it’s keeping me from stealing Halloween candy from my kids. I don’t know anything about those missing Reese’s cups.

Earlier I alluded to some juvenile BS going on at work, and that has caused me some increased anxiety over the last couple weeks. Because of that, I decided to abstain from cigars and alcohol until my birthday, which is November 12. It’s been about 10 days so far and I haven’t had more than a couple small cravings, both of which were for cigars and not booze (if that matters). I’m not sure if it’s really made any difference in my life so far, but it can’t be hurting. Plus, I don’t ever want alcohol to gain a real grip on me. Abstaining for 3.5 weeks ought to allow me to really get sloshed during the holiday season. (Just kidding Mom.)

My real point in sharing this is to encourage everyone to check in on your family and friends. Even those who haven’t gone public with mental health issues might be struggling with something they’ve been keeping inside. Even if they don’t want to share that with you, they’ll feel loved that you cared enough to talk to them.

This is a hard time of year for many people, as the weather turns chilly and the days get shorter. Holidays bring up memories of loved ones lost. The upcoming election is a stress-builder for many as well. We can all lift each other up.

No more of these shenanigans until at least November 12!

Restaurant Review: The Mexican Place in El Dorado, Kansas

Up until five days ago, Missy’s parents lived in El Dorado, Kansas. Most every time we visited, we ate at the Mexican place. I’ve eaten there several dozen times over the years, but until our final visit I never knew the name of it. We just called it the Mexican Place. Turns out its proper name is “Fiesta Mexicana Mexican Restaurant,” which is perfect.

Since I most likely won’t be stepping foot in El Dorado ever again, I thought I’d pass along the experience of dining at this fine establishment in case any of you happen to wander into town and want some great Mexican food.

It’s located in the heart of downtown El Dorado. Any old restaurant can have its doors face the street, but Fiesta Mexicana Mexican Restaurant brings its customers in through the back. While this quaint town of 13,000 doesn’t offer the bright lights and urban noise of a major metropolis, Fiesta Mexicana Mexican Restaurant brings a slice of the big city to you by forcing you to walk through an alley lined with trash bins before reaching the back door. On the plus side, nobody will see that you are eating there.

Once inside, you’ll be offered your choice of a table without plates, a table without salt and pepper, or a table without plates. I’m just kidding — there’s no choice involved. You won’t get all of those things. For our final visit last week, Fiesta Mexicana Mexican Restaurant rolled out the red carpet and gave us the combo deal without any of it. They told us the plates were currently being washed but just gave an “oops, I’m sorry” when asked about the other stuff.

After driving four kids three hours up to your in-laws, you might be ready for an adult beverage. You’re in luck! Fiesta Mexicana Mexican Restaurant has some of those. They offer a pitcher of margarita which is actually drinkable. I usually split it with my mother-in-law, who probably needs it to prepare for a weekend with four kids and a smartass son-in-law. On this most recent trip, however, I declined the booze and Karen just got a single frozen margarita. She drank half of it and said it made her sick. For those who can’t handle the hard stuff, Fiesta Mexicana Mexican Restaurant offers a variety of beers ranging from Corona to Corona Light.

Fiesta Mexicana Mexican Restaurant is set up like a sports bar. There are several big TVs all over the place and lots of Kansas City Chiefs mumbo-jumbo. For whatever reason — and I have wasted a lot of time in my life trying to figure out why — those TVs are ALWAYS turned to the most random sports stations. I’ve never once seen one showing ESPN or even ESPN2. One is always on ESPNU, one is on ESPNNews, one is on CBS College Sports. Clearly, if you’re paying for those channels you also receive ESPN or Fox Sports or something with a higher rating than a rap station in Alabama. A couple of times we’ve been in there during fairly significant sporting events that I’d like to watch. Unfortunately, those events aren’t being broadcast on ESPN Ocho. Maybe Missy calls ahead to have them switch the channels so I won’t be distracted.

After 15 minutes, you’ve probably received your plates, silverware and condiments. Cheer up pals, it’s time to eat! Or, as they say at Fiesta Mexicana Mexican Restaurant, it’s time to eat! (Everybody speaks English at the Mexican place in Kansas.)

Your chips and salsa come first. The salsa just looks like a tomato that had diarrhea. Quite runny, no flavor. If the chips were thin, the salsa would roll right off every time. Well, the higher-ups at Fiesta Mexicana Mexican Restaurant are too smart for that, so they made the chips as hard a rock, but with less flavor. Missy always orders some of their white cheese queso. That stuff is actually pretty good. Not even being sarcastic for once. She also orders the guacamole, which is also very good.

Fiesta Mexicana Mexican Restaurant has a secret recipe for its guac but I harkened back to my days as an intrepid investigative reporter and figured out what it is. At the risk of being sued, I’m going to share it here.

They just mash up some motherf***ing avocados. Literally nothing else in it. No tomatoes, no onions, no lime juice, no garlic. Nada.

The first time we ordered it, we asked if they messed it up or if it was really just avocados and nothing else. The waiter went back into the kitchen, came back a few minutes later and confirmed that it was just supposed to be avocados. I was really mad for a minute before I got yet another reminder of how awesome my wife is. She had them bring out some pico de gallo (which I was shocked they had), and she mixed that into the guac, and it was excellent. Even had just a little kick to it.

The entrees are your typical Tex-Mex fare. I will say their fajitas are somehow above average. That’s what I should have ordered for my final visit, but instead I went with the beef chimichanga, which was touted as world famous on the menu. It was literally a quarter pound of fried bread with half a pound of hamburger meat inside. Literally nothing but beef on the inside.

After putting a pound of questionable meat and grease into your body, you might have occasion to use the restroom. In all likelihood, you’ll be S.O.L. on that front. The restaurant seats about 100 people and the men’s facilities consist of two urinals and one pooper. If you expect these to be halfway clean, you’ll be S.O.L. times dos.

On our last visit, Maddux told me he had to go to the bathroom. I asked him if he could hold it for a few minutes and he said no. I asked him if it was a numero uno and the answer was no bueno. I took him to the bathroom but the toilet was occupado so Missy had to take him to the women’s room, which I’m sure is much more pleasant.

After finishing the meal and tipping the white waitress with the barbed wire tattoo, you’ll be escorted back through the trash alley to see how strong your stomach really is.

All in all, I’d say this is the best restaurant I’ve ever been to in El Dorado, Kansas.

Having said all that, I’m gonna try to mend some fences here at the end of this thing. We have some really good memories from this place because we did get to spend a lot of quality family time there. Missy does have a pretty solid order there every time she goes. She just eats the cheese dip, the doctored guac and a burrito that she likes a lot. During one of her pregnancies she had a craving for it and got it more than once on a single weekend visit.

Also, I’m very happy that her parents moved to Oklahoma City this week. They were able to swing by for a dinner the other night and it’ll be great to have them so close and be more involved with our kids.

Fiesta Mexicana Mexican Restaurant — a great place to eat.

Is OU closer to being Clemson or Texas Tech?

Ever since Lincoln Riley took the reins from Bob Stoops in Norman, I’ve shuttled between these two opinions. It’s been evident since Day 1 that Riley is an offensive genius. The only question is whether or not he can get the other side of the ball to a championship level.

When everything is clicking, the Sooners look like Clemson. When the defense falls apart, OU looks like Texas Tech. Oftentimes — like Saturday’s 38-35 loss to Kansas State, you get to see Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the same game.

Even with two turnovers in the first half, OU looked great. The defense forced four straight punts to start the game and Spencer Rattler showed why he was the top-ranked QB in the country coming out of high school. His arm strength is already markedly higher than Mayfield, Murray or Hurts, and those guys finished first, first and second respectively in the last three Heisman tallies. Occasionally Rattler will leave a ball high, but otherwise he’s very accurate, and we can assume that he’ll only get better under Riley. He has decent foot speed (nowhere near Murray or Hurts but more than Baker) and hopefully will develop better awareness of when to tuck it and run. I like that he keeps his eyes downfield but he did miss a couple opportunities to convert third downs with his feet late in the game.

Anyway, we know the Sooners will put up points every Saturday. What we don’t know is how many they’ll allow. Skylar Thompson looks like the guy who played quarterback at my high school. OU made him look like Jalen Hurts, throwing a couple touchdown passes to wide open receivers and powering his way into the end zone a few times with his legs.

The defensive lapses hurt OU on the offensive side of the ball as well. Smelling an upset, the K-State defense started zeroing in on Rattler, who was constantly on the run. Riley basically abandoned the running game because he knew the O-line was tiring and couldn’t overpower the Wildcats up front for 80 yards. The Wildcats started playing loose and the Sooners started playing tight. A blocked punt here, another pick there…the Sooners have gotten lucky and survived second halves like this several times over the past couple seasons, but not this time.

When the Sooners play like they did in the second half, they look a lot to me like Texas Tech with better athletes and cooler uniforms.

Come this offseason, OU may be looking like Texas Tech in more ways than that. Anyone else see what Kliff Kingsbury is doing in Arizona and think it’s only a matter of time before an NFL team drops a helicopter load of money onto Riley?

Like I said, it’s been obvious from the moment he stepped foot in Norman that Riley is an offensive genius. Kingsbury has done some cool stuff, but he’s not in Riley’s league as a play designer and establishing an offense that can be lethal on the ground or in the air.

I thought it was absurd that an NFL team would hire a college coach who won about half his games, but it makes more sense now. There are tons of lifelong NFL coaches who can coordinate a defense, and you’ll theoretically have as much defensive talent as any other squad. So an offensive guru like Kingsbury or Sean McVay can really give you a competitive advantage in a league where the margins are razor thin.

I know Riley loves being at OU. He’s very well compensated and seems to thrive on the recruiting grind that makes many college coaches want to move on to the NFL. But this might be the time for the NFL to steal him, with the NCAA showing its ineptitude on crafting a uniform schedule across major conferences and instituting draconian suspensions for pot smoking even when it’s legal in almost every state now. Riley riffed on that latter topic at his press conference this week.

I hope he stays in Norman, but if he takes a few more jobs he might be like my favorite NBA player, LeBron James. Yes, I know that was a crappy segue but I’m leaving it in. James just made the NBA Finals for the 10th time in his career. That’s a lot.

Debating whether LeBron is better than Jordan is silly, because they play different positions, different styles, and played in different eras. So I always say LeBron is my favorite player, just because I enjoy his well-rounded game. If you preferred Jordan, that’s completely fine. Just don’t let that take away from your enjoyment of what James is doing right now. This isn’t the 1950s, when the whole NBA consisted of about 8 teams and the Celtics had 60% of the talent in the entire league. Making 10 Finals in those days is still impressive — it’s not like those players could control what the rest of the league was doing — but this is a whole new ballgame. LeBron is definitely past his peak, but he’ll be a favorite in the Finals this year and there’s no reason to think he doesn’t have a run or three left in him after this. What a beast.

With this weird 2020 sports calendar, we have football, basketball and baseball all going strong at the same time. The MLB playoffs start this week, and I have to say I’m less interested than ever. It feels like the season just started. They let more than half the teams in the league in the playoffs. And no fans takes away a lot of the fun.

Tonight the Cubs clinched the NL Central, which is bizarre considering they’ve played 59 games, barely won half of them, and score about 1.3 runs per game. That last stat is an exaggeration but most of the lineup is hitting around .200. It’s hard to get into a team when it rarely scores outside of a home run and those aren’t exactly flowing bountifully. I’ll definitely watch the Cubs playoff games but I doubt I tune in for Indians/Twins or whatever the other first-round series are.

I was vehemently against the runner-on-second thing to start extra-innings games, but I actually like it. Still not a fan of the 7-inning doubleheaders although I understand why they did that for this year. Hopefully it goes away along with the Royal Rumble playoff structure but I fear those are here to stay. The almighty dollar demands it.

Major League Baseball will take the cash grab of extra playoff games. Will Lincoln Riley take the NFL’s money next fall?

From two Bud Lights to near death to Paw Patrol cake

I’m a rule follower. Always have been. (Mom, this is when you should stop reading).

That’s why my first drink of alcohol came on November 12, 2000, the day I turned 21. I went to O’Connell’s (back when it was still on Lindsey St.) and had a Bud Light with a couple of my journalism colleagues. Thought it tasted terrible, then ordered another one. Still tasted terrible.

No shots, no beer bongs or shotgunning. Just two shitty BLs followed by the usual games of dominoes at the apartment.

Over the next several months I would occasionally have a beer or two, but never mixed drinks, liquor or shots. Maybe it happened and I just don’t remember it, but I don’t think I ever got drunk until the day I puked in my own car and almost died 600 miles from home.

I covered the OU football team for the school newspaper, and in 2001 they played an early-season game against the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. I had to go to cover the game, but several friends wanted to check out the AFA and the beautiful scenery around Colorado Springs so we made a trip of it. I know Keith, Josh and Ryan were there, and we took my old Honda and split one room. My memory is that we had another carful of friends who drove separately and stayed in the same motel but I don’t remember who was in that group or exactly how many we had. Probably our photographer Paul and maybe George or the douchey yearbook guy they stuck with us a lot. Maybe one of these guys can add some details in the comments.

Anyway, we got to Colorado Springs on Aug. 31 and found a bar the night before the game. The fact that we were completely outnumbered and stood zero chance in a fight didn’t stop us from talking some good-natured smack to the cadets. It was a lot of fun hanging out with them and at the end of the night we made a friendly wager on the next day’s game. We wagered a shot of alcohol on whoever covered the point spread. They had the exact same number of people in their group as we did ours. My (probably faulty) memory is that each group had eight people in it and that OU was favored by about 28 points. We agreed to come back to the same bar the next night after the game and settle up.

Whatever the point spread was, OU covered it. The final score was 44-3. Immediately after the game, everyone else in our group went to eat dinner while I did interviews in the locker room and wrote my story. I sent that Pulitzer-worthy piece in via dial-up internet (no joke!) and my boys picked me up at the stadium when they finished eating.

We headed over to the bar, although I was convinced there was no way these Air Force dudes were going to show up. Why go out after your team got throttled just to buy shots for obnoxious Oklahoma punks? But not only were these gentlemen there, they paid off the bet in a much more generous way than I would have ever guessed.

Since our groups had the same number, I assumed that we were betting one shot per person. Had OU lost, I would have bought one guy in the other group a shot. I can assure you I didn’t have enough money in my wallet to buy all eight guys a shot, yet that’s what they decided to do for us.

By now, I’m sure you know where this story is headed. Guy who doesn’t drink that much and didn’t eat dinner gets presented eight shots in a 30-minute span from Air Force cadets who were cool and being super generous. These weren’t the first shots I’d ever taken in my life, but I do remember thinking it couldn’t be that big a deal because shots are so small. I also remember Keith asking me how many of those shots I’d taken and seeing his eyes widen when I answered, “all of them.” He knew I was in trouble.

I still contend that the eight shots of Jagermeister put together didn’t do as much damage as the single shot I took with Josh shortly thereafter. We happened to be walking past the main bar when the bartender climbed on top of the bar and yelled, “Free tequila while it lasts!” He had a fountain spray like they use to add Coke or water but it was full of the lowest-quality tequila the world has ever seen. He was just spraying a shot of it into the mouths of whoever was in front of him, which unfortunately included me and Josh. I remember turning to Josh immediately afterward. We both had looks of utter disgust on our faces and we knew our stomachs would not soon recover from this blow. I’ll never forget him saying, “Dude, we’re fucked.”

The next thing I remember is being outside of the bar with Josh, trying to find an alley to throw up in. That didn’t pan out and the other guys thought we should head back to the hotel. Ryan was our DD and hadn’t drank anything so I sat in the passenger’s seat. As we’re driving on a winding highway back to the hotel, I can tell I’m not going to make it. I tell Ryan to pull off and he does. Josh and I get out. He threw up (maybe he threw up back in the alley, but he got it out of his system anyway). I decided to just lay down on the grass next to the highway. I knew I was going to throw up but it wasn’t coming out and the other guys were worried I’d get arrested for public intox so they loaded me back up into the car. Couldn’t have been more than a mile from there when I puked violently all over my own car.

We get back to the motel and I pressed the elevator button corresponding to whatever floor we were staying on. I remember one of the guys saying, “I can’t believe he pressed the right floor.” The next thing I remember is laying in the bathtub, shivering and dry heaving after throwing up everything in my body. I really thought there was a decent chance I’d die from alcohol poisoning. So far in my 40+ years of life, that’s the closest I’ve ever felt to dying.

Just as my stomach gave up everything it had, I must also give it up to my boys. They completely cleaned out my puke from my car that night. We had a 10-hour drive to make the next day and I don’t remember it smelling at all. I also have to give it up to 21-year-old me for being able to recover so quickly. I felt like crap when I woke up the next morning, but we ate a super-greasy breakfast in Colorado Springs and I slept for the first couple hours of the drive home. Then — voila! — the well-oiled machine that was my 21-year-old self felt more or less fine. I took the wheel and drove the last eight-ish hours home. Didn’t miss a class the next day. Age-40 Matty Frankles would be hooked up to an IV for three days after a night like that.

Actually, age-40 Matty Frankles put his stomach through a different kind of test today. Cheap pizza, ice cream, and a delicious homemade birthday cake to celebrate my youngest son Hawk turning 5. (I used to have a baby…my kids are growing up too fast!)

The weather was beautiful and Hawk loved riding his new bicycle around the block. This being 2020, my mom was only one invited to his birthday party.

In 16 years, perhaps Hawk will have two Bud Lights at O’Connell’s to celebrate his 21st birthday. Ten months later, assuming college football still exists and they allow fans in the stands, I hope he gets to go someplace like Colorado Springs, see the beauty of it and meet some new people. But do your tummy a favor, son, and stick to the Paw Patrol-themed birthday cake instead of nine shots of liquor.