Ake's Pains debuted in the University of Akron Buchtelite in September of 1977. The school's reputation as an institute of higher learning has still not recovered. Ake's Pains returns after a brief 32 year hiatus. It's back, baby!

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

This DNA Was Never Meant To Be Mixed – The Story of Me (Epilogue)

I actually considered writing this in third-person, but it sounded and felt weird, even for me.

According to the laws of nature, my parent’s DNA was never meant to be mixed. It is either through God’s design or evolutionary factors that compatible people produce offspring. My parents were thrown together by unusual circumstances. So, as the children produced as the result of rape or invading armies are unique and somewhat dysfunctional, so it is … 

When I started this series, I thought I would tell a basic story that I knew well. But in examining those situations closely and feeling the emotions they felt, I gained fascinating new insights into who my parents were, and thus who I am. For example, how do you feel when you are in an impossible financial situation, and someone hands you a big check that eliminates the problem?

I would come to the part of the narrative where I thought I didn’t know something, and then I would remember a story that my mom had repeated long ago, and then I had my answer. My mother was a good storyteller with a great sense of humor, and my father was as well. And their son writes humor books full of stories. Ain’t it funny how life turns out?

An important revelation in reviewing my life was realizing just how intelligent my mother was. No one realized this, and most people underestimated her, being a woman without a college degree. But she was smart and crafty. Her secret was never sharing her intelligence and insight with people because this was not to her advantage. Better for you to think she was just an average girl. There was only one person in her world who she would bless with her wisdom because in this case it benefited someone she loved deeply.

Therefore, I am the product of a genius father and a highly intelligent mother. I didn’t inherit all my father’s brainpower, but I got most of it. But these brain cells came from two very different people. I’m not right or left-brained, it’s more like I’m two-brained. I can switch between the analytic and creative instantaneously. This gives me the ability to solve difficult problems, explore all sides of an issue and see things other people miss.

However, there are two voices inside my head at all times, and they seldom agree. This results in important decisions being delayed and critical issues not getting addressed. I second guess almost all decisions I make, even when they turn out well. This creates indecision and a lack of confidence. And in a crisis, the competing voices create “brainlock” and I freeze instead of reacting, which at time can be dangerous.

My brain has a mind of its own (pun intended). It is always active, like a hard drive spinning rapidly and never stopping, due to my mother’s hyperactive mind. This sometimes allows my brain to keep looking for answers to difficult problems in the background and suddenly produce solutions out of nowhere. I have even solved problems during my sleep.  Yes, that’s nice. But my hyper-active big brain prohibits me from successfully hitting a golf ball – focus on only one thing at a time? And I don’t like to watch movies because I have to stop thinking for two hours and my brain doesn’t like to do that. I force my brain to rest once a year while on vacation, but it doesn’t always behave.

I was my parent's only child, the one they thought they would never have. I was cherished. I was the “chosen one” and raised accordingly.  Yes, it was a tremendous environment, and I had a wonderful childhood. However, all those negative traits of only children are present in me, some in excess. Spoiled? – Oh heck yes! And I am tremendously selfish, often expecting the world to bow to my will.  I hide these negative traits well, but often get glared at by my wife when they inevitably slip out. (I pity anyone married to an only child)

As a child, I was seldom criticized, which means I don’t take criticism well – just ask my wife or anyone I’ve ever worked with. Interestingly though I was seldom praised. In the last semester of my sophomore year in college, I received straight “A’s” for the first time ever in any grade. I had worked hard that term and expected my parents to be greatly pleased. My dad smiled but didn’t say much. Pennsylvania Dutch values say if you praise someone, they might become proud, and that is one of the worst things you can be. My mother smiled and said, “That’s nice.” The message to me was clear. “You have finally met expectations. You don’t get rewarded for hitting the standard.” You may think this was harsh, but the woman was crafty and knew how to motivate her son. In my last two years of college, in the harder classes, I only received two grades below an “A”.  

The mix of white-collar and blue-collar DNA sent me out in the corporate world with a college degree combined with those Pennsylvania Dutch values. And those values are not valued much in the business world; they are disdained. Those values are best suited for the farm, not the board room. In every large company I worked for, “powerful” people tried to press me into their image, tried to get me to sell out those values in exchange for the almighty dollar. And they failed. Naturally, my career suffered due to this. I had to use my brains to survive, but of course the brains prevailed. And to all those bosses and executives who tried to change me and failed: Hey, I’m good. No, literally I’m still good.

I am unique. (Some would even say my style is “goofy” as someone recently wrote critiquing a work presentation) My dad was proud of me, and if he could see me now, he would be even prouder but would be uncomfortable with the amount of self-promotion necessary to be an author. My mother was pleased that I always pursued the standards she set for me, even though I never quite achieved them.

Chronicling the bizarre circumstances of how I came to be, reminded me that life is a precious gift. It is sacred and should be cherished. It should never be cheapened or taken for granted. And when I look at the improbable union of my parents, I realize I am a miracle.

But guess what? You’re a miracle too. I know my circumstances because it was only one generation away. But I guarantee you, somewhere in your lineage was a chance encounter, a missed bus, a bumping into, a random seat assignment, a healed disease, a bullet that just missed, or something else that resulted in the unique DNA mix of who you are.

My story may be unique, but yours is too. One regret I have is that I didn’t ask enough questions of my mother about her story while I could. If your parents are still living, may I suggest that you have those discussions.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

What Happens In Niagara Falls Doesn’t Stay In Niagara Falls (The Story of Me - Part 3)

This is Part 3 of the story – for context, please read Parts 1 & 2.

This was an unusual honeymoon. Betty and Gene had only known each other for three months, following a ten-day relationship. Their infatuation, not even sure you can call it love at this point, was still burning hot on their honeymoon in Niagara Falls. This meant they engaged in frequent procreating activity. So, it should not be surprising that they indeed procreated during this trip.

Up to this point, they may have been living in a fantasy world, but it just got real. It GOT REAL, real tough, real fast. Betty and Gene had been acting like young lovers, but now it was time to face the adult world.

Betty called it her love-child. Maybe it was more of an infatuation-child. This was not the immaculate conception, but in their minds, it was a miraculous conception. A few months ago, they never thought they were ever going to be parents, and then without warning: Boom! Boom! Boom! Yeah, life was coming at them fast, and it was all good.

However, this unexpected, unplanned pregnancy created the first test of their still-fragile relationship. The intention was for Betty to keep working for a while until they saved up enough to have a child, but that plan was now shattered. You could argue that they should have been more cautious on that honeymoon, but remember, they had gotten engaged after knowing each other for ten days. Caution had been thrown to a whirlwind, and no one was thinking clearly.

The expectant baby created a crisis. Betty may have been willing to make sacrifices to live in that small apartment, but that concession applied only to her. She delivered an edict: “No child of mine is going to be raised in a small apartment.” This was non-negotiable. Gene had a big, urgent problem on his hands.

They needed a house now, but they had little money. The pressure was on; the clock was ticking, and there was no easy solution. Now you might expect Betty’s prosperous family to help them out of this jam. And family did step up, stepped up big time. But it wasn’t Betty’s family, incredibly, it was Gene’s Uncle Frank. Uncle Frank gave, not loaned, the money for the entire down payment. Sadly, Frank died a little over a year after this most generous act. (You can’t take it with you, so you may as well use it for great things while you are still here.)

This bailed them out of a tight spot. But you still have two strong-willed, stubborn, independent people, set in their ways, not used to compromise, with bad tempers, living in the same house. And they still don’t really know each other. Despite everything, how was this marriage ever going to make it long term? This union still had disaster written all over it, except for this wild-card they had suddenly been dealt.

The house was purchased, and the Kid arrived. And while usual circumstances put Betty and Gene together, the whirlwind of activity pushed them closer together. But long term, the thing that kept them together was the Kid. The Kid was the focus; he was the glue to this relationship.

No, they didn’t stay together in a bad marriage for “the sake of the child”. They made the marriage work.  They MADE IT WORK because there was something, well, someone, who was more important than anything. And making this relationship prosper was tough, difficult work in the early years. There was considerable conflict. Yelling, lots of yelling. But the anger never persisted; there were no long-term grudges. After all, there was a child to raise. This turned out to be one of those few marriages that got stronger and stronger over time.

Gene turned out to be a great father, remarkable because he was raised without one. He had no role model, other than those uncles. He recognized that his son had not inherited much of his mechanical ability, nor his love of hunting or fishing. But he never forced the Kid into being something he wasn’t. Gene passed along his Pennsylvania Dutch values to the Kid. You work hard for what you achieve, but you never brag about your accomplishments because you are no better than anyone else.

Gene was pleased the Kid had inherited most of his intelligence, and strongly encouraged his scholarly pursuits.  Gene knew how much he had been restrained by his lack of education and wanted the Kid to have all the opportunities he lacked. This was so important to him that even though the grandparents on both sides had provided full funding for the Kid’s college, Gene paid every penny of the costs himself.

Betty had extremely high standards for her son. She also knew she had fallen short of her potential due to health issues and circumstances. The fact that the Kid was being raised in a working-class home instead of something more prestigious meant that the Kid was just going to have to work harder to get where he needed to be.

So she pushed the Kid hard. He was expected to succeed because he was her son, and that heritage made him exceptional in her eyes. There was no ridicule for failures, but there was no compassion either. Winning was assumed. Losing is supposed to hurt. If you don’t like the pain you’re feeling, then perhaps you’ll put forth a better effort next time. But she also supported the Kid, guided the Kid, provided the best she could for the Kid, loved the Kid. And always, always wanted the very best for “her child”. 

It began as a chance encounter in a small neighborhood bar. Two very different, desperate people infatuated with each other because they had only a few things in common: They were desperate to find love, they wanted a family, and they were quickly running out of time. But bit by bit, step by step, the relationship hung on, and then it flourished. It was patient, it was kind. It did not envy, it did not boast, it was not self-seeking. It was not easily angered (okay, this one’s a stretch), it kept no record of wrongs (this makes up for the last one). It did not delight in evil, but rejoiced in truth. It always protected, always trusted, always hoped. And it persevered -and never failed – until literally “death do us part”. It turned into love; strong, enduring love, in its purest form.  

This is for all the lonely people
Thinking that life has passed them by
Don’t give up until you drink from the silver cup
And ride that highway in the sky
-Dan Peek

Next Time: Part 4 – The Epilogue - How did The Kid turn out?

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Ten Days That Changed Their Worlds (The story of me – Part 2)

If you haven’t read Part 1 – Ah, Look At All The Lonely People, you might want to read it first.

Part 1 Summary

Betty and Gene are both thirty-five years of age. They are both single, never-married, but desperate to find love and start a family. They are very different people, but they find themselves in the same small, Akron bar after work on a Wednesday afternoon.

If that extremely rare species of male and female frog can find each other in the huge swamp full of other creatures on that Animal Planet documentary, then the only two single, thirty-five-year-olds in that small bar had no problems making connections that fateful Wednesday afternoon.

This is the way people met before the Internet, children. And it was a good thing in this case because it is doubtful that eHarmony would have matched those two up, even if they were the only two people in the database.

And this, of course, started off as just a light conversation between two pleasant people. It grew in intensity as each realized they had met a nice, attractive person who was the same age and had never been married. And there was a spark. The heat that overcomes you when someone tweaks your love interest. Neither of them had felt that spark in a while, so this new one was intense. By the end of the conversation, a date was planned for Saturday night. This was easy to schedule on short notice because neither Betty nor Gene had anything better to do that night. Their string of boring Saturday nights had unexpectedly come to an end.

And this was, in the history of first dates, one of the best ever. Whatever spark was generated that Wednesday had turned into a raging fire at the end of the night. Now, of course, this wasn’t love, it was infatuation. They were not teenagers, but their desperate situation was making them both behave strangely. It may have been infatuation, but it was rampant infatuation.

It’s not known how many phone conversations Betty and Gene had the following week. It was at least one, to plan that second date. And the second date was even better than the first, with the infatuation level rising to torrid levels. This relationship was so out of control that it ended bizarrely. Gene was very logical, careful, and not impulsive. Everything he did was well thought out and carefully planned, but in the literal heat of the moment, that didn’t matter much. At the end of the evening, he proposed.

Now, this is a horrible move for many reasons. You don’t really know the woman; she doesn’t even know you. You are very different people. You don’t match up well socially; you come from different economic classes. Your personalities work well as friends, but not so much as lovers. Now you have rushed things and risked ending the relationship before it even began and with it, any slim chance it had to work out given enough time. It was a desperation move. A “hail Mary” pass blindly heaved to the end zone. In his head, Gene could hear the game clock running out, five seconds, four, three … “the pass is in the air …”  

But the unexpected proposal did present a dilemma for Betty. There was now an offer on the table. There had been several of these offers over the years that had been rejected because the guys weren’t good enough for her high standards. Now you are presented with an offer significantly inferior to those. But you are desperate. You thought there would always be another chance at love, but it never came. Some guy you just met has proposed to you. This just isn’t right and there is so much wrong. But that same game clock is ticking in her head, three seconds, two, one …… She can either grab that pass for a touchdown or let it fall to the turf.

This was a big decision, so the intelligent thing for Betty to do would be to tell Gene she needed some time to think about it. That maybe they were rushing things. She would take time to consider all the consequences, maybe talk to her friends to get their perspectives, before making such a huge step. And she did think about it – took her about 2.5 seconds to respond. So, what you have is a ten-day courtship. Ten days, just ten days. Ten, only ten days. A week and a half, that’s all.

And while this pronouncement caused unbridled joy in one household, a few miles across town, it was met with shocked apprehension. Betty’s parents were happy that she was getting married and happy that she was happy, but a ten-day courtship with a factory worker was difficult to accept. Betty’s mother was probably 100% percent against this pairing, but she never expressed those feelings. Sometimes you have to support your children even when you think they are making a mistake. And she knew she couldn’t talk her head-strong daughter out of this decision if she tried.

So, Betty and her mother threw together a traditional wedding as fast as you could in 1957. I’m sure her mother pressured the printer and the baker to cut in line in front of other customers. And at some point, their families had to meet. There is not an English word for the degree of awkwardness present at that event.

The wedding went off without a hitch. There were probably rumors that the wedding was rushed due to those “unplanned circumstances”, but of course there wasn’t time for anything like that in a ten-day courtship. And besides, Betty couldn’t care less. She had a beautiful, albeit rushed, wedding. It may not have been everything she wanted, but it was a wedding she never thought she was ever going to have.

However, this was just the beginning of the concessions Betty would have to make. It actually started before the wedding. She paid for her wedding ring because she wanted a much larger diamond than Gene could afford. Even at age thirty-five, he was dutifully turning over his entire paycheck to his mother, and receiving an allowance back. They would now be living in a small apartment. An apartment! Betty surely didn’t see that in her future.

Instead of a luxurious honeymoon in the tropics, they would be vacationing like
“commoners” at Niagara Falls. But that really didn’t matter much. They had only been together about three months, and the passion was still intense. Which means this was one steamy honeymoon, with lots of time spent inside the hotel room – maybe even in the afternoon, if you get my drift.

But was this enough? At some point, the heat was bound to cool off, just like in any relationship. Then you would have two very different people living in that small apartment. And by the time they figured out that maybe they had both rushed into this, it would be too late since they were already married. This had all the makings of a disaster waiting to happen, but something totally unexpected happened on that honeymoon that changed everything.

End of Part 2

Part 3 – What Happens in Niagara Falls Doesn’t Stay in Niagara Falls