Good Tidings of Comfort and Joy?

It’s official! The holidays are here! 

When Eric and I do our grocery shopping, we go to a market we affectionately call “Freddy’s”; a Kroger brand store. This store is huge. It not only sells produce, but has home furnishings, electronics, and apparel. 

For major feed holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, we plan as if we’re going on an all day excursion. We make sure that we’re both caffeinated, have food in our bellies to prevent either one of us from getting hangry, and gas in the tank. Our market provides groceries not only to local residents in North Portland, but also residents in neighboring Vancouver, Washington who take advantage of Oregon’s sales tax free status. This means we sometimes must drive around the market several times to get a parking spot. Normally we’d walk to the store but when we are doing large scale entertaining for dinner, we drive so we can minimize the stress on our fingers and save our backs.  

In the store, the game is on. Eric and I double-check to make sure one of us has grabbed the grocery list! It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve arrived at the store thinking that the other remembered to bring the list and are forced to shop from our work-worn memories. We’ve also had this with our wallets too which meant that one of us (me) has to quickly walk home to retrieve them and return without having to abandon our cart. Not even in the store for a minute, we have our first challenge to overcome in the outer lobby; finding a shopping cart. We split up to check the other entrance for a cart to begin the Adventures in Holiday Shopping; 2019 edition! 

After methodically checking things off the list, it’s time for check out! Both self- checkout sections are packed with lines trailing into the produce aisles. The regular lines aren’t any better either. Some people lose all common sense during the “holi-craze” and block the path with their cart. Then we have to do a dance to jockey for a path to get by. Eric and I have this system when we shop together and head to checkout, whomever isn’t pushing the cart will walk ahead and check for a faster moving check out line. Usually this is the line with the most experienced checker. This time it doesn’t matter, all lines are jacked. We have no choice but to be patient and wait it out. Lucky for me I have Words with Friends on my phone to help pass the time. After 30 minutes, we inch our way forward but now there is a problem. We’re three people back, and the elderly person at the checkout is having technical difficulties. I’m not sure exactly what’s causing the issue but there is a collective groan from everyone behind them. Finally, the person completes their transaction and soon it’s our turn! By the time we returned to the car, more than an hour passed and it’s dark (the downside to Daylight Savings Time).

With Thanksgiving now a recent memory, the Christmas season is in full swing complete with holiday shows and carols. The ads for Black Friday and Cyber Monday splash on the screen like rapid fire strobes in a dance club; buy your loved one a car (usually a Cis heterosexual couple), your family will appreciate you year-round with an 85” inch television, or give her diamonds to really express how you feel this year. The commercials practically say we’re all losers if we don’t comply. Thank goodness, Eric is happy with his wheels, our 52” inch television, and isn’t fond of jewelry. I’ll have to find another way of showing my affections! Maybe I can bundle up my love, respect, and adoration? I understand. It’s hard not to get swept up into the madness of the season. When it comes to purchasing gifts, neither Eric or I have a want for anything that falls into the realm of materialism. If it’s something we need, we’ll simply buy it. The element of surprise and shiny wrapping paper (which isn’t recyclable btw) to conceal the gift isn’t necessary. 

If this is the most wonderful time of the year, as a certain holiday song would have us believe, why do I want to scream and it’s only the first week of December? For those of us who celebrate Christmas, and for those of us who must endure it, this jingly holiday season feels like it started back in September. Some well-known chain hardware store, actually had their artificial trees in place before Halloween. Yes, retailers are trying to tap into the green money stream sooner. I would also encourage sharing some of that holiday shopping love by supporting local small businesses too!

The winter holiday now has become less about the significance of its origins and more about the driver and fiscal savior to the economy. I love a good sale too, it’s just that I wish it could happen without the hype and drama. I think it’s tragically entertaining that some people will line up hours or even days in advance just to save money on the latest digital trend of the moment. The “doorbuster” deals often live up (or down) to the name when shopping frenzies begin at “o” dark-thirty. This often results in crowds of sleep deprived people pushing and shoving each other to quickly snap up the merchandise. Hopefully this year’s gift grab will be less violent. Last year at the Riverchase Galleria shopping mall in Alabama there was a shooting. Former US Army serviceman Emantic Fitzgerald Bradford Jr. was mistaken as the shooter by police was killed. Bradford, who was carrying a licensed firearm was also African American.

So before anyone calls me out for being a “holiday hum-bugger” or Scrooge, this time of year does force me, and hopefully others, to slow down and appreciate what we have, rather than focus on what we don’t. I’m grateful for my partner, family, and the diverse friendships I have. Eric and I attended a Friendsgiving this year (Thanksgiving celebration with friends) and some of the attendees, we hadn’t seen in a while. In addition to the delicious dishes that were shared, what I enjoyed most was celebrating our time together. Christmas brings me the same joy. Instead of turkey, we serve prime rib as the main course purchased from our local butcher Gartner’s Country Meat Market. This savory dish has become a tradition with Eric and his visiting mother Joan from Lemmon, SD, during her annual Christmas visits. Last year after pulling a service number, they waited over an hour to purchase a 17-pound marbled beauty, due to the volume of eager carnivores waiting.

It’s hard to escape all of the influences and sparkly things pulling at us this time of the year. But what really keeps me sane, is focusing on the wonderful new experiences and special memories we can create. This is what makes me smile and gives me peace so I can feel the real joy in the world, things that can’t be boxed or bowed.

However you choose to celebrate, have a happy and peaceful holiday!

My Inheritance

My gay DNA …not really

When I was younger I really loved to dance. I would get lost in the rhythms, moving with the highs and lows of the music. It allowed me to express myself; it still does. Though, I can no longer move at the level of a professional dancer, I can clear the dance floor when I’m really feeling the groove. Dancing through its various forms, helped establish my physical foundation and I’m still hitting the gym 4-5 days a week to maintain my condition. It’s important for me that I remain committed to a healthy lifestyle. I’ve even been told by other gym members that my dedication inspires them. It’s not easy waking up at “o’dark-thirty” and dragging my groggy and tired ass to the gym, but I do it. 

In 2013, just short of my 50th birthday, I started getting these strange and painful headaches. These weren’t the regular tension headaches or migraines I would occasionally experience from life. These headaches seemed to linger longer and even continued on during my sleeping hours. At times, they were bad enough that they would wake me from a sound sleep. Ibuprofen brought only temporary relief and when the morning came, I felt drained of my energy, and extremely on edge. I thought perhaps that it was the stress of my job, the lack of world peace, or climate change; I really didn’t know. 

It was a Wednesday evening and my partner (Eric) and I were invited over to the neighbors for libations. As the evening went one, my face started to tingle. I didn’t really think much of it until we returned home. While looking in the mirror as we were preparing for bed, it looked like the muscles on one side of my face weren’t working. The timing of this anomaly couldn’t have been worse. The following day Eric and I were fIying to San Jose, California to see his cousin and her family. Luckily, I was able to get a doctor’s appointment first thing in the morning to hopefully shine light on this mystery. Since my regular doctor was out of the office, I was assigned to another physician. Blood tests revealed nothing and due to the amount of time I’d been experiencing headaches, I was sent to have a CAT scan to ensure there wasn’t any nerve damage or even a stroke. It was about two hours before our flight when I received a call from the doctor’s office; I had Bell’s Palsy.

This day was not going well for me. Later in the evening after our flight landed in San Jose,  I received an email from the doctor with results that caused me to literally do a double-take. Here is a portion of that email. 

“Nothing huge to report although I did note that you have kidney failure. It’s stage 3 which is in the middle of the road. You need to make sure you follow up with your doctor.”

WTF!!!  First of all, this information is far too casual to share as an email to someone who’s not a regular patient, and second, I’d never heard anything about having kidney failure!  Apparently, I had been walking around with an undiagnosed case of prehypertension. But why wasn’t this information disclosed during other visits? The reason why my assigned doctor didn’t tell me about my potential organ failure was because on previous visits, I was being seen for something else. Really? If there was any indication of organ failure most people would want to know regardless of the time? (As you might imagine, I have found another doctor!)

But the story doesn’t end there. Right before Thanksgiving, I was given the news that no man ever wants to hear from a doctor; you have (prostate) cancer. Fortunately, it was discovered early (Stage 1), but getting a cancer diagnosis can be a life changing experience.

So, why am I writing about this? Most men aren’t ever motivated to go to the doctor, but complacency, avoidance, and denial can sometimes be a death sentence. The American Cancer Society recommends prostate checks at age 50. But in reality, men starting at 40 years of age should get their Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels checked twice a year just to make certain their levels are consistently low (4 and under). 

As a gay man, the diagnosis of prostate cancer sent a wave of emotions over me. The one thought that echoed in my head was MY SEX LIFE IS OVER! When the urologist discussed the results and treatment options, he mentioned a procedure called a Prostatectomy , the removal of the prostate. I just wanted the cancer out of my body and decided that the Prostatectomy  was the best course of action. This was a knee jerk reaction. Eric asked about the number of these procedures (300+) the doctor had performed. This was a valid question. We were given a couple of brochures and a DVD detailing the robotic procedure. I was strongly encouraged to take the weekend to think things over; a weekend that was filled with a trip out of town for a family birthday celebration. Celebrating, was the farthest thought from my mind.

I didn’t know how to tell my friends what was happening to me, but it had to be done.  It was difficult enough to say the word, CANCER, aloud so I did something I never thought I’d do,  I shared my news on Facebook. The outpouring of support by friends and the community was beyond anything I could have imagined. Even the local LGBTQI newspaper (PQ Monthly) ran a story on my disclosure. Soon other men disclosed to me that they have either had prostate cancer themselves or knew someone that was currently seeking treatment, which made me feel less alone in my diagnosis. After speaking with others and researching treatment, I was able to think further about my options. Feeling more informed, I decided to forgo an irreversible surgery for external radiation. This treatment option was better suited to my cancer’s progression, my age, and lifestyle to ensure my quality of life.

Man up guys! Prostate cancer is nothing to be ashamed of or be embarrassed about. Having a conversation within one’s circle of friends can also be a great way to gain peace of mind during a very personal illness. Unfortunately, none of us are immune from health issues that are embedded in our DNA no matter how fit we may appear on the outside. But when we share our stories, we can empower and engage the community in ways no one can imagine. It can be a very humbling experience if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable!

It Comes in Threes

This text is dedicated to my mother and all mothers, natural and otherwise, with a special shout out to the daughters: Lisa and Sandy, Deirdre, Danielle and Kimberly. Ladies, thank you for sharing a piece of your hearts.

It’s only a myth that bad things come in threes right? Events of this year have really started to make a believer out of me. Over the last few months, three of my female friends have been confronted by the heartbreaking death of their mothers. These deaths strangely all happened within three weeks of one another too. Due to the regularity and the numbers, my partner reminded me that we are now men of a certain age when loss will again play its hand in our lives. The last time was in the 80s and 90s when we said goodbye to many of our male friends and lovers from a then mysterious and deadly virus.

I was fortunate to have met these mothers at various times during the friendship with their daughters. The first mother I met only briefly at her daughter’s wedding now almost 13 years ago. The second rewarded my partner and me with a gift of cookies from a secret recipe, as thanks for helping her embarrassingly distraught daughter with her exterior home paint colors. The third relationship goes back to a time when I was a young, clumsy, and awkward teen being introduced for the first time by the eldest of two daughters. The oldest was also classmate and childhood sweetheart. The younger sibling still remains a dear friend today who I love as a sister. The above mentioned matriarchs have produced amazingly wonderful and loving offspring; each one compassionate, talented, and philanthropic in their own way.

I feel very blessed that my mother still remains a part in my life. Though we don’t see each other as frequently as she would like, as a good son (at least I think so) I call her weekly to check in. Time thunderously marches on in our lives and she won’t always be there to tell me everything will be alright. This is something, my sisters and I, often forget about. Growing up, our mother was definitely no Wonder Woman with her golden lasso of truth. In contrast, our mother had the “switch of discipline” or the “belt of defiance.” Believe it or not, I was usually on the receiving end! Before anyone passes judgment on my mother, keep in mind this chapter occurred a very long time ago and was a regular part of the environment in which my mother grew up. Nowadays, anytime we adult kids appear to “get too big for our britches”, my mother threatens to throw us over her knee. That image alone makes me laugh! Her spirituality, love, and wisdom have been a source of comfort for me and my sisters; thank you Ma!

Regardless of the timing or the cause, death is never an easy experience to process.

We all are the product of a mother’s love. Happy Mother’s Day!

A Mother’s Love

A breath of life and the bond created;

This is a mother’s love.

Soft caresses and tears wiped;

This is a mother’s love.

A void of hunger and an appetite suppressed;

This is a mother’s love.

A voice of hope and confidence learned;

This is a mother’s love.

Memories shared and experience gained;

For this is a mother’s gift.

This is a previously published piece from 2017.