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.

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.

Fishing Sucks; Family Fun; Should I Be Buried or Cremated?

Fun fact: 75% of the letters needed to describe how fish taste are already included in the word “fish.”

The worst part of going fishing is actually catching a fish. It’s just a pain in the ass. I don’t want to eat the fish. I don’t even want to hurt the fish. I certainly have no interest in touching the fish or otherwise rescuing him from his dumb decision to try to eat my hook in the first place.

I enjoy the aspect of fishing that involves sitting outside and drinking beer. I do that several nights a week, but instead of fishing, I smoke a cigar. Much simpler process. Less travel, less hassle, less cursing.

Having said that, our family had a great time fishing this weekend. Personally, I didn’t touch a pole. Or even drink a beer. But I was the official photographer and playground chaperone while our kids had a blast catching fish with their awesome momma.

We went to Enid this weekend for multiple reasons. One was fishing, which we did twice. We found a couple of ponds next to public playgrounds, and the kids loved catching fish with Missy and her brother Aaron. I snapped the photos and walked the kids over to the adjacent playground when they needed a break from fishing. I’m glad they have a mother and uncle who can do those kinds of things with them. I can see Maddux being an avid fisherman when he grows up; it suits his personality.

We also went to the Great Salt Plains to dig for crystals. This was the second time we’ve done that and it’s something the kids really enjoy. It was hella windy while we were out there, which took away from it somewhat, but the kids still had a great time and found a lot of crystals.

Missy made this out of the crystals we dug up on our first visit to the Great Salt Plains. I’m sure she’ll do something similar with our newest batch.

The other reason we went to Enid this weekend is because it was Memorial Day weekend, and that is where half of my grandparents are buried.

My grandpa was my hero growing up. Even when I was still in high school, I remember thinking that he must be one of the 10 or 15 smartest people in the world. He could solve hard math problems (he was an engineer) and finish the crossword puzzle every day. He drank his whiskey straight and he was good at golf. How could someone be any more awesome?

He was also a colonel in the Army during World War II, serving in France and Germany. In high school he came and spoke to our class about his war experience, and it was the only time in my life I’ve felt like the coolest person in the room.

My grandma, who we called Nanny, died of breast cancer when I was only 6, but I can still remember her yummy meatloaf and her devotion to Wheel of Fortune. She watched it every day.

On Sunday we visited their graves in Enid. We also visited my mom’s childhood home, which still looks great. The three youngest kids were surprised to see the name “Musser” on the grave. They knew “Musser” as my middle name and Maddux’s middle name. Of course we’ve told them where that name came from but I suppose it hadn’t been real until they saw it for themselves.

The house my mom grew up in.

It was really neat to see American flags all over the cemetery, marking the graves of people like my grandpa who bravely served our country. Sometime this week we are planning to drive to Jones, where my dad’s parents are buried.

We are also planning a day trip to Sulphur, where my dad’s ashes were scattered. I’ll bring my guitar and we’ll have a moment of silence and sing a couple of songs. Of course, that’s not the same as having a grave to visit, and Missy and I spent some time discussing the unpleasant subject of what we wanted done with our remains after we pass.

It’s something nobody really wants to think about, but of course it is an important topic that should be addressed before it’s too late.

The benefits of cremation: much cheaper, ashes can be divided among multiple family members and/or scattered in a sentimental location (like Sulphur, where my parents loved to visit).

Benefits of burial: Lasting marker for future generations to remember you by, with simple details like birth/death year or marriage/children info. It kind of sucks that my dad also served in the Army but there isn’t a grave to put an American flag on for Memorial Day.

I was always inclined to go the cremation route, mainly to ease the financial burden on my family and because I never really cared what happened to my body after I’m no longer in it. Plus, how far back do people really go in remembering their ancestors? I can easily go back one more generation, as some of my great-grandparents are buried in the same cemetery as my grandparents. But I have never visited a grave of anyone from the generation before that. A grave next to my grandparents’ was for a woman who died in 1971. It had no flowers on it, which seems kind of sad. But of course eventually that is the fate that awaits us all, grave or no. Within a couple of generations we will be forgotten by this world.

Missy has always leaned the other way, toward burial. I don’t feel strongly enough about it to override her wishes. I’d rather be buried next to her than be cremated and scattered somewhere else without her. But she hasn’t fully made up her mind on the whole thing either.

I’ve always thought that having an expensive casket seemed stupid, and I’ve read about a much cheaper, more eco-friendly chamber/cocoon that sounds like a better option. No reason to spend thousands of dollars on fancy wood that nobody will ever see once it’s in the ground.

So I dunno. I know it’s a weird thing to write about but it might also be helpful to get my thoughts on paper and get input from friends and family members. My opinions on fishing are set in stone, but I’m flexible when it comes to where my earthly remains will reside for all of eternity.

Distance Learning 2020

We had a name for this already. It’s called home schooling. What’s with the “distance learning” thing? Isn’t everyone doing this at home?

Whatever you want to call it, we’ve been doing it just like everybody else during Coronavirus 2020.

I have to admit, I wasn’t looking forward to doing this. I’ve already completed fifth grade. And first grade. And kindergarten. And I’m used to working with/entertaining Hawk throughout the day, but now I was going to have to keep him from going crazy while making sure the other three got their work done.

It’s gone much better than I ever thought it would. The workload has been very manageable, and it’s nice to be able to do the work at any time of the day that we want. We’ve let the kids stay up later than usual and started the class day a bit later as well.

Missy is more of a night owl than I am, so I’ve been letting her sleep in while I get up and work with the kids in the mornings. Then she more or less takes over in the afternoons. There’s a good combination of technology-based learning and printed paperwork. Sometimes I’ll have all the kids do their paperwork at the same time while I rove around and check/help as needed. Sometimes I’ll put two kids on tablets to do the computer stuff while I work with the other one-on-one. They have separate math and reading programs on the computer, so it doesn’t get too repetitive.

The art, music, STEAM, library and PE teachers have also provided curriculum. We’ve mixed in some of that but are largely doing those things on our own. Missy’s garden is bigger and better than ever, and the kids have helped her get that going. She’s also a great cook so the kids have helped with that. I try to get all of the boring rote work out of the way in the mornings so Missy can lead the fun stuff like that in the evenings. Addie enjoys leading some art and science projects with the younger kids, so we’ve let her do that and (most of the time) the results have been great. I’m really proud of Addie being a great leader of the other kids during this time.

Of course, the weather has been fantastic overall. That’s made a huge difference. We’re taking Bailey on a walk every day, and the kids are getting plenty of playtime outside. All of the playground equipment and back yard toys Missy finds for super cheap are paying off big-time. I already blogged about our camping trip, which is something we’ll always remember. I’ve been running about four miles per day, which has helped with my mental state. I’d rather be playing basketball but since that’s not an option, running in this weather is a good substitute.

This is the last week of school. Schools are planning to return to normal next fall, but nobody really knows how this COVID-19 deal will work out. Things seem to change every day.

If it ends up being “distance learning” again, I’m OK with that. I’ve really enjoyed bonding with the kids. Also, home-schooling as a future option doesn’t seem nearly as daunting as it did a few months ago.

Before I leave you with some cute pics of my wife and kiddos, I have to brag on the kids for their performance on Mother’s Day. They really went all out, planning for two weeks in advance and working on it every day. They each did four or five pieces of art, adding up to about 20 items for Missy to see on Sunday. They also decorated the house and gathered lots of “presents” from around the house to wrap up and give to her. We ate Missy’s favorite pizza, Hideaway. She deserves a better husband but she sure hit a home run with our four lovely kids.

Mother’s Day pizza feast

Unplanned Vacation

Last week I went to OnCue to get gas and buy a few staples. The kid working the counter couldn’t have been more than 20 years old, and I guess he wanted to make small talk.

“So, are you still working during this thing?”

“No.”

“Well…are you at least still getting paid?”

“No.”

I wasn’t being curt with him, I just didn’t feel like explaining my life to a stranger. I wanted to get my milk, Monsters and Reese’s and get out of there. (Told you these were vital purchases.) I was smiling as I answered his questions but didn’t provide any other details. Through some combination of him sensing that I wasn’t super stressed about it or him just wanting to make an awkward situation go away, he gave me a wink, head nod and a smirk and said, “You’re gonna be OK.”

Everybody is handling this pandemic in their own way, and I don’t waste my time telling other people they’re doing it wrong. Missy and I settled on our strategy a couple weeks ago and we’re sticking with it until new information changes it. Of course, Missy still has to work her nursing shifts. In fact, she’s working 12 hours tonight. Her teaching gig is up in the air, but it appears she either won’t be doing it at all or will be doing it remotely from her computer.

I’m not working, despite opportunities to continue to play poker. I’d feel terrible if I inadvertently got someone sick, and live poker seems about as risky as anything you could do right now — sitting at a table with 9 different people, touching the same cards and chips. No amount of money I could win would be worth how bad I’d feel if someone I knew got really sick and there was even a chance they got it from me. I could try to play online and eventually might go that route, but I’ve never enjoyed that experience and for now we are not in bad shape financially. So I’m using the extra time to spearhead the kids’ home schooling and do fun things as a family.

Just like with my hospitalization last month, we’re trying to focus on the positives that come out of a bad situation. While I’d prefer to be able to play basketball and use the weights at the gym, I’ve been able to go for a run in the neighborhood almost every day. We take Bailey on his walks. We’ve been playing a lot of board games. We’ve tried a couple new recipes. And this week we went on a family camping expedition that we wouldn’t have been able to take had school been in session.

We went to Beavers Bend State Park in Broken Bow and stayed two nights. Neither Missy nor I had been down there before, and it was beautiful. When we parked, the kids jumped out of the van and let out some of the energy they’d stored up during the four-hour drive. A man who looked to be about my age was camping alone, and his tent space was only about 20 feet away from the one we had reserved. I gave him a wave and he just stared back at me. He was clearly getting annoyed at the kids, who were just being kids. Collectively the four of them can make a fair bit of noise but they weren’t being particularly crazy. Also, it was the middle of the afternoon and we were in the middle of the freaking woods. After being there less than five minutes, when it was obvious this guy wasn’t happy about our arrival, I leaned over to Missy and whispered, “I feel sorry for this poor sap.” At one point when I wasn’t close enough to hear him, he told the kids to keep it down. I tried to toe the line between letting the kids be kids and being respectful of my neighbor, but in the end I basically said eff that dude. We followed all of the campsite rules, especially the quiet hours from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., so it was really just his problem. But it bothered Missy that he kept giving us dirty looks.

Views from our campsite at Beavers Bend State Park in Broken Bow.

That first night, we got our tents set up and roasted hot dogs and smores for dinner. I slept in the bigger tent with the three smallest kids, while Missy and Addie shared a smaller tent. The kids were all so worn out that they slept pretty good, but me…not so much. Oh well, the weather was beautiful and everyone was excited to do a lot of exploring the next day.

Breakfast and dinner of champions.

Missy made pancakes and bacon on our little propane camp grill, and they turned out great. Our grumpy neighbor packed up and left, prompting Missy to say, “Don’t let the outdoors hit ya where the good Lord split ya.” (We got new neighbors the next night and they were cool.)

The first thing we did after leaving the camp was find a fishing spot, but there weren’t many good ones if you weren’t a fly fisherman and you didn’t have a boat. So that was basically a swing and a miss. We caught a couple branches. Then we went on a little hike, which was fun. Then we found a swimming hole, and the kids really loved that. We spent several hours there. Maddux swam back and forth across the pond about 20 times — I don’t know how he had the energy.

Addie at the swimming hole

There are a couple of craft breweries in Broken Bow, something I was completely unaware of until my buddy Jacob Unruh saw where we were on Snapchat and told me about them. I called into one and ordered some beer to go, then we picked it up on our way back to the campsite. It may have been the weather and scenery more than the actual beer, but either way it was one of the more enjoyable beers I’ve had in my life.

Shout out to Mountain Fork Brewery and to Jacob Unruh for the recommendation

After dinner and more smores, we were completely zonked out. I was supposed to get the three youngest kids to sleep and then sit by our campfire and talk with Missy, but I was so exhausted that I feel asleep with them and actually got a good night’s rest.

These kids wore me out!

We dodged a bullet the next morning when we were packing up. It looked like it was going to rain the whole time. We even felt a few sprinkles and some of those ominous cold wind gusts that usually precede a storm. But it never rained hard and we were able to get the van loaded back up and make the drive home without incident.

It was truly a great time. Anyone who knows me knows I’m not an outdoorsman by any stretch, but between the beautiful scenery, the perfect weather and the sheer joy on my kids’ faces, it was a very rewarding experience.

I can’t pretend to know how long this thing is going to last or what it will look like. We’re just going to keep doing what we feel is best for our family, tightening our bonds and making memories that will last a lifetime.

Mom, Dad and Sports

We were going to get Mom an ice maker. The kind that makes the Sonic-style ice that she loves so much.

So we went in with my sister and got Mom the ice maker for Christmas. The last couple of years, we had gotten her tickets to a Thunder game for her Christmas present. She loved those, but with the team trading Paul George and Russell Westbrook in the offseason it seemed like a good time to get her something different.

The ice maker was still sitting in its box a couple of weeks after Christmas. Mom said it was too tall for her to reach on her kitchen counter. I said it was no problem to take it back and asked what she might want instead. Of course, she said she didn’t want anything. Of course, my sister and I were not going to give mom nothing for Christmas.

I asked if she wanted to go another Thunder game. Her face lit up. “Well, if you want to. That would be fun.”

So we went. And it was a lot of fun, even though the Thunder got behind by quite a bit early and lost to the Toronto Raptors.

We posed with a cardboard cutout of Steven Adams, Mom’s favorite player.

This season was supposed to be something of a bummer after trading away the two big stars. Instead, fans have really embraced this squad that shares the ball and plays hard on both ends of the floor.

No one has gotten more emotionally involved in this team than my mom. I think the only reasons she owns a TV are Fox News and Fox Sports Oklahoma, and not in that order. She watches every game (at least the ones that aren’t played on the West Coast after her bedtime) and is very concerned with the health and well-being of the players. I get texts asking about Andre Roberson and Terrance Ferguson on a regular basis. Her favorite player is Steven Adams, whom she said she’d like to have dinner with.

These Thunder aren’t the first sports team my mom has been obsessed with. My dad was also very into sports. So I suppose I come by my attraction to sports honestly.

When Mom and Dad were growing up, baseball was king. And since MLB.TV hadn’t quite been invented yet, there weren’t a lot of options when it came to which teams to follow.

Growing up in Enid, Okla., Mom latched onto the New York Yankees and their Oklahoma-born superstar, Mickey Mantle. They were frequently on TV for the Game of the Week, and there were plenty of stories about the team and the Mick in the newspaper. Mom made a scrapbook of many of the newspaper clippings, which we still have. It’s pretty cool.

If you weren’t a fan of the Yankees in those days, the St. Louis Cardinals were probably your favorite team. Growing up in Jones, Okla., dad could pick up Harry Caray’s radio call of the Cardinal games and became a fan.

Both made treks to see their favorite teams before meeting each other. Mom got to go to a Yankee game in Kansas City and followed Mantle and a few of his teammates to a local watering hole after the game before avoiding further trouble. Dad joined the military and was stationed close enough to St. Louis to get to catch a few games when he was on leave. He said the longest home run he’s ever seen in person was hit by Willie Mays at one such contest.

When I was growing up, Dad put a basketball goal in our driveway. I used to throw the ball onto the roof of our house, wait for it to bounce off and then catch the “pass” and shoot. My goal was to be able to beat Dad at one-on-one, which was no easy task since he was 6-foot-4 and pretty good at basketball. I quickly learned to put a lot of arc on my shots since that was needed to get them over his arms.

Mom and Dad were great sports parents. Very encouraging and always attending our games but not berating the officials or telling us all the ways we messed up.

As far as their favorite teams went, Mom more or less abandoned the Yankees after growing up and having kids of her own. She really didn’t have time to be a fan of anything other than her kids. Dad never wavered from his Cardinals but didn’t get to watch many games.

One of my first sports-related memories was the 1987 World Series. The Cardinals were playing the Minnesota Twins and I was 7 years old. My bedtime was well before these games ended, but I snuck out of my room and into the hallway, where I could catch a glimpse of the small TV in our living room where Dad was watching the games. It was a great World Series, with Minnesota winning in 7 games. I loved the atmosphere in Minnesota for the games there, with the “homer hankies” and Kirby Puckett making great catches. I asked for something Twins-related for Christmas and got my first ever ballcap, a snapback with the Twins’ “M” logo.

Every Twins fan waved one of these at the Metrodome in 1987.
This is what my first ever baseball cap looked like. Now I have way too many of these things.

The 1987 World Series got me hooked on baseball, but there weren’t many ways for me to get a fix in those days. The only teams that were on TV regularly were the Chicago Cubs on WGN and the Atlanta Braves on TBS. Both teams stunk back then but the Cubs were on during the day and had the always-entertaining Harry Caray (the same guy that got my dad hooked on the Cardinals) calling the games, so I picked them.

I didn’t know that the Cardinals were the Cubs’ chief rival, and by the time I figured it out I was too entrenched to do anything about it. Ryne Sandberg was my favorite player.

Eventually I was able to beat my dad at basketball, mainly because he wasn’t great at dribbling and I could steal the ball from him. But he could always shoot it about as well as I could and I definitely couldn’t guard him in the post. Unfortunately, he had a bad back and was worried about making it worse so we didn’t get to play too much after I finally beat him.

We did, however, start golfing together. That was the one thing he almost always did on his day off from work if the weather was decent. He was a pretty good golfer, usually scoring around 85-90. Once at Earlywine he was hanging around even par for 9 or 10 holes, which was exciting. He tailed off at the end but still broke 80 which was a rare occurrence.

Once, we thought I might have hit a hole in one. Turns out the ball had either rolled into the pin and not stuck into the hole or it rolled just behind the hole. Either way it was about 6 inches from the hole directly behind the pin, but it was exciting nonetheless. I was never as good as dad but on a couple of lucky days I did manage to beat him, and that was always a good feeling. I very rarely golf anymore and the main reason is that it brings back so many memories of rounds with dad that I’ll never be able to play again.

When I graduated from high school in 1998, my graduation gift was my first ever trip to Chicago. Mom and Dad both went with me and we went to a pair of Cubs games. We sat in the bleachers for my first game ever, arriving early enough to sit on the front row in right field. I leaned over the wall and snatched a piece of ivy. I was scolded by security but I got to keep the ivy. That was a special season as Sammy Sosa hit 66 home runs and the Cubs made a rare playoff appearance. Sosa didn’t homer in that first game but we had a great view as he made his trademark sprint to right field to start the game, and the Cubs won.

Dad and I both got into the home run chase of 1998, which was eventually won by Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire. In 1999 Dad planned a trip to St. Louis for the two of us to watch a Cubs/Cards weekend series at Busch Stadium. On the drive up there, dad said he hoped to see McGwire and Sosa hit three home runs apiece and the Cardinals win two out of three. (This was generous of him, wanting me to get to see one Cub win. I of course wanted the Cubs to sweep the thing.) Sure enough, McGwire and Sosa hit three home runs apiece and the Cardinals won two out of three. It was a really memorable trip and a great time.

Around this time, perhaps because of some of the home run hype, Mom started getting back into baseball. All of us kids had graduated and she finally had some free time on her hands. If she had any struggle over which team to support, she didn’t show it. She got really into the Cubs.

In 2004, the three of us went to St. Louis for another Cubs/Cardinals series. While eating lunch before the game, we saw Cubs broadcaster Steve Stone. I was too intimidated to bother him but Dad walked right up and introduced himself. Stone was very generous and told us that if we wanted to see the Cubs players up close, we could go to such-and-such hotel at some specific time, as that’s when they’d board the team bus to head to the game.

Mom’s favorite player was Moises Alou. Let’s just say he was the Steven Adams of 2004. Mom was kind of obsessed with him. Anyway, Mom really wanted to see the Cubs up close so we went to the hotel at the time Stone told us to. Sure enough, we got to see the team. When Alou emerged from the building, Mom started yelling, “Moises! Moises! Moises!” and blowing him kisses. Mind you, we’re only standing a few feet away from him. Alou glanced our way and gave a wink, then started chuckling as he boarded the bus.

Dad passed away in November of 2004, which naturally changed everything. As far as the Cubs were concerned, Mom still rooted for them but not with the same vigor, especially since Moises left the team after that 2004 season.

Dad’s favorite Cardinal that year was Albert Pujols, who was emerging as a superstar. At first, Dad didn’t know how to pronounce his name (Pu-holes). But then, even after he learned, he would purposely mispronounce it (Pu-joles) because he thought it was funny. Dad did things like that a lot. It’s kind of crazy that Pujols is still collecting paychecks and home runs in the major leagues, more than 15 years after Dad quit calling him Pu-Joles.

Mom was never an NBA fan, but that changed when the Thunder came, as it did for many Oklahomans. When Kevin Durant left us for Golden State on July 4, it ruined Mom’s Independence Day. Truth be told, she probably didn’t get over KD leaving until Russ got traded this summer.

At the Thunder game we went to, Mom made fast friends with the young man sitting next to her. Between talking to him and yelling for the Thunder, I don’t know how she had a voice left at the end of the night. It was really cool to see how much fun she was having.

I think I know what I might get her for Christmas this year.

Putting a Bow on 2019

Personally, Christmas isn’t my favorite time of year. Too many commitments, too much mayhem, too many pine needles. And in our family it’s always a little extra hectic because Addison’s birthday is the day after Christmas. But it is truly priceless to see the innocent joy on your kids’ faces when they are completely overjoyed, and Christmas produces a lot of those moments.

Our main present to the kids this year was the announcement that we are taking them to Disney World in May. Missy put together a cool scavenger hunt that helped them piece together the clues. They were even more excited than I anticipated, although Maddux is already scared of the airplane and Hawk seemed to think we were leaving immediately.

Got 3 happy kids out of 4, that’s not bad!

We always try to make Addie’s birthday a completely separate event from Christmas. This year we pretty much let her dictate how we spent the whole day. She chose a “girls only” visit to the movies for Frozen 2, which made me very sad — NOT. Then we drove all the way to Lawton for her favorite restaurant, the hibachi place Kudo. It was great as always.

I can’t believe that girl is 11.

A couple days after that, we watched OU get embarrassed by LSU. Of course, you want to see it be more competitive than that, but we knew this Sooner squad was outmanned even before the suspensions and injuries. That’s why, a couple blogs ago, I wrote that my dream scenario was for OU to win out in the regular season but miss the playoff so they had a chance to win a major bowl game.

Honestly, they probably weren’t going to beat Georgia or whoever else they might have played in one of those things so I guess they might as well be able to say they made the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. It’s an impressive accomplishment no matter what the haters say. The program is in great shape. Let’s cool the jets on all this negative talk.

As I look back on 2019, my personal highlights were getting to see the Cubs play in three different states (Spring Training in Arizona with Chad, in Texas with James and in Chicago with Randy). Turning 40 was also kind of a big deal, and I got to celebrate that in a big way with my friends here and also in Mexico with my beautiful wife Missy.

Now we’re visiting Missy’s sister just outside of Austin, Texas. This is where we were exactly a year ago, and I’m sitting in the same room where I wrote my first blog on this new platform. My New Year’s resolution for 2019 was to get back into writing by doing one blog per week. Mission accomplished! I’ve truly enjoyed it and will keep up the blog.

However, I am planning to scale back just a bit. Sometimes I felt like I had to throw something together just to meet my goal and it wasn’t always my best work. Also, I basically abandoned my guitar for the year and I’d like to get back into that. So my goal for 2020 is to do at least two blogs every month and also play guitar at least twice a month. I also have work and personal financial goals I’ll be striving for this year.

I want to give a heartfelt thank you to everyone who gave me feedback on any of the blogs I wrote this year. I don’t think I could have stayed with my goal if not for you. The encouragement was very encouraging (yes, I’m quite the wordsmith).

When I take stock of my life, I can’t believe how much cool stuff I’ve been able to do. That pales in comparison with the quality of people I get to call my family and friends. Y’all are the best. Have a Happy New Year. See you on the other side.