Ever been in a relationship that hit a dry patch? Perhaps you are in one now. One that feels routine and mundane. No matter how much you love your partner or how wonderful you think your relationship is, things can often get a little boring. Healthy, happy relationships exist when partners work to bring out the best in each other. Relationships that are based on mutual respect and admiration. And let’s not forget about fun.
On today’s show, guest Boaz Frankel says sometimes you just have to get a little weird…together. The filmmaker, writer, and talk show host, along with his wife Brooke Barker, author of New York Times bestseller Sad Animal Facts, talks about embracing the eccentricities and weirdness of their personalities and relationship in their co-authored book Let’s Be Weird Together.
Let’s Be Weird Together is a fun book with quirky illustrations. It’s a rare relationship book that captures the rituals and micro universes that couples create together, in a sweet, fun package filled with humor and endearing quirkiness. They discovered that not only do they bring out the best in each other, they also bring out the weirdness too. Click the play button on the player to hear more about Let’s Get Weird Together and my conversation with Boaz Frankel. Be sure to follow the podcast on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you get your audio content.
Today is the day that we celebrate 30 years of marriage. It all started when I spotted Angela P. Brown on an MTA bus in Baltimore, MD. I had no idea that the young woman seated a few rows away shared my destination (both literally and figuratively). I wrote about that day in a previous post. As the story goes, she wore a tight skirt and paisley boots; a pensive look and shiny lip gloss. I was intrigued, smitten even. She showed zero interest in me but I had to make my move or forever wonder “what if”? The rest is a 30 year love affair full of laughs, tears, celebrations, and curses. Ours is NOT a perfect marriage, but the foundation rest solidly on love, respect, and mutual admiration. Our three decades together have been wonderful but not without challenges.
Imagine a marriage proposal that goes something like this, “So you wanna just get married?” I would 1,000% do it all over again if I could. But I can’t and I have to live with that failure for the rest of my life. This woman deserved a Hollywood styled surprise proposal and I came up short. And yet, she still said yes.
The wedding was a hot AF October Saturday. We played a passive role in its planning and it probably showed. But we were surrounded by friends and family and that was cool. Some I’m sure thought we would make it while others likely thought it to be a disaster in the making. We knew what we had and that’s all that mattered at the time.
The decade saw the birth of our first child Imani Khadija Lee; a frightening and exhilarating moment in what was, to that date, a two year marriage. Mix an infant baby with a toddler marriage and you have the kind of stress that could break a weak bond. We were lucky to survive but overjoyed to be parents of a beautiful baby girl. I had to be on air at WEAA FM by 5 AM and we only had one car. Finding a daycare situation to accommodate us was difficult and added to the stress. But our commitment to each other and our young family helped us push through.
As if a new marriage and newborn child wasn’t enough of a test, we tossed a relocation in the mix for the hell of it. Moving to a place over 300 miles from family and friends to a place where we knew no one was risky but we embraced the adventure and faced our future head on. Angela and I loaded up the black Nissan Sentra with what wouldn’t fit in the moving truck, strapped 1 year-old Imani in a car seat and headed to Syracuse, NY where the early struggle continued.
We were finally catching our groove in Syracuse. My Job was going pretty well and during this time Angela began her human resources career at Welch Allyn. The ten years invested in this union had already long outlasted that of my parents. In fact, there were very few examples of healthy relationships to learn from in my family. My brother, Roland, and I were determined to make marriage and commitment to family a central part of our identity. But we were making it up as we went along.
To ensure our success in Syracuse we needed to create extended family where none existed. Enter David and Melanie Littlejohn. Along with David’s sister Linda and her husband Langston, the Littlejohns represented the extended family network that we needed to survive in our new home. This was equally important to Imani’s development.
Make no bones about it, these were tough years on the marriage. We purchased our first home and were taking on more debt, living pay check to pay check. But we never fought over money. Disagreements, yes. Fights? No. In fact, fights are rare with us. We allow space for cooling off after heated disagreements and we never have and never will say things to each other that we can’t take back. And intimacy was a challenge during this time in our lives. Busy jobs, active weekends, and a child with a robust social calendar, we struggled to connect organically. For nearly the entire decade, I slept in the guest bedroom because of sleep apnea. Sex was a “by appointment” activity for sure. Sunday night was the night and is was as consistent as the sunrise. We considered it “marriage maintenance” and made sure to never lose physical touch.
So while we were working to keep our heads above water, the decade would take a turn for the worse. In two consecutive summers, Angela and I would lose two of the most important people in our lives. Angela lost her mother, Geraldine, and I lost my brother Roland. Poor Imani lost a grandmother and her uncle. There were bouts of disbelief and depression. For a while after, summers represented sadness. The music of those summers became the soundtrack of tragedy. But we had each other through it all. Never losing our center…the love we had for each other.
Needing to lift our spirits, we chose to counter the loss with an addition to the family and, on a June afternoon in the year 2000, introduced Hadiya Asha Lee to the world. The LA Lakers were on the verge of beating the Pacers for the NBA championship and we were watching in the hospital room. Angie’s water broke early and labor was induced. I nearly fainted when she arrived. I dropped my wife’s leg and tripped over the surgical light cord on my way to the rocking chair. I made the grave mistake of looking down there as Hadiya’s head crowned. Hit simultaneously with the urge to hurl and shit my pants, I once again failed my wife. Left her to fend for herself during the birth of our second child. Hadiya was the joy that we needed. Another beautiful baby girl with an amazing spirit. Our little unit had grown to four and we were determined to be good parents. Through it all, though, we were equally determined not to let parenthood totally consume US. Research has shown that adding children to a marriage can decrease marital satisfaction. We made sure that parental duties were equally divided so no one partner absorbed more than their fair share of stress.
These were/are the good years. This what my wife refers to as “shit is gettin good” years. Debt was declining and income was rising. We purchased and moved into our second home and the girls flourished. But stressful careers and the demands of raising two kids put a strain on the relationship. We hit a rough patch and began to drift away from who we were as a couple. Losing our identity. Our center. Patience, communication, and love for one another is what helped us survive this tricky phase of marriage. A phase where things become almost business like as we divide responsibilities and work to manage those responsibilities. We were merely coexisting and that just wasn’t good enough for us. Increasing communication and being mindful of physical touch is how we began to change the narrative. And we began to clarify and put focus on our shared vision of the future.
Launching one child into the world and settling the other on campus translated into more alone time for Boogie and Bleezie. The much talked about empty nest. A period of stress and angst for many couples faced with detachment from their mom and dad identities. This was not our issue. The early investment in the relationship and our “us against the world” posture served us well. You see, Angela and I learned early on in our marriage that we were all we really had. There was no one investing in us but US. Best friends, lovers, partners cohesive and neatly packaged. So with a nest now empty, discovering life and growing together is how we forge our path. We enjoy and prefer each other’s company. Never losing what attracted us to each other during the early dating stages. We haven’t changed so significantly that we don’t know each other. Intimacy has never been better. We share both dreams and a vision of how to make those dreams come true. Truly living our best lives.
I asked Angela why she thought things worked so well between us and she responded with “marital norms”; and respecting each others space – both physical and metaphorical. Ever the business professional, Angela equates marital norms with workplace norms. That is having a shared understanding of roles and responsibilities and how you relate to and operate within your physical space. I call it having harmonic rhythm. We flow together like a river curving around rocks and banks, moving in the same direction and never diverging. And we have never tried to change each other because we believe that our differences balance us out.
Never Losing Touch
On mornings when I am the last to get out of bed, I walk downstairs to find Angela peddling around in the kitchen. I’ll hug her from behind when she doesn’t expect it or she will immediately walk into my arms for a warm embrace. This can happen all day long if we are not working. Touches, kisses, hugs…it’s hard to imagine being in the same room with her and not having physical contact. My hand resting on her thigh when I am driving. Holding hands for the 15 seconds that either of us can stand PDA as we walk down a city street. It is behavior that we want our children to see. We want them to know what a healthy, loving relationship is supposed to look like. “Couples who don’t maintain an intimate connection through both sexual and non-sexual actions are destined to become virtual strangers.”
The Next 10 & Beyond
Who knows what the future will bring. We plan to retire early and enjoy as much of what life has to offer us as we can. See the world a bit and develop new passions. We are just beginning to write the script and this love story is…TO BE CONTINUED
I never saw her get on the bus. It just rolled on down North Ave on its way to Harford Rd. The fumes irritated my nose and the shoddy suspension made my empty stomach queasy. The bus was packed tight on a Monday morning and I stared out of the window thinking only of how much I hated public transportation; its smells and passengers.
It was 1986; a transition period in my life and I was in the midst of an existential crisis. My mind fluttered back and forth between how and why I was occupying space and time and contemplating my few but significant shortcomings.
The carriage stopped around Greenmount Ave where most of its riders exited. And as the bus thinned, its then nearly hollow shell revealed a curious creature. She wore a tight short skirt and off-white boots decorated with paisley – a subtle nod to her favorite artist.
Her hair was tight, lips painted red, makeup neatly, tastefully applied. Her shit was together. The fitted skirt revealed womanly curves though one could easily tell that she was just a girl. Legs smooth as frog skin. Her plump, sweet lips clung to a face far too serious for her age and framed by dangling gold hoops. She looked out-of-place on the MTA bus and nothing about her spoke of Baltimore. I peeped that from the start.
I wish that this was the part of the story where I could offer a tale of love-at-first-sight. One where we looked into each other’s eyes and saw our future. A story of rapid pulses and beating hearts. But I can not. The truth of the matter is that I saw chocolate thighs and she…well, she saw nothing.
I moved closer. Perhaps to get a better look, a whiff of perfume. I didn’t talk to strangers then. Not usually. I had no pick up lines at the ready. Two seats away I sat innocuously; eyes fixed firmly on her paisley ankle boots. My eyes worked their way up from ankle to leg to thigh and hip. And at the risk of sounding crude…noticed that she had a nice ass. A really nice ass.
Now normally, that would be the extent of my mental escapade. I’d admire a pretty girl and entertain a fantasy or two. Shyness was always difficult for me to overcome. But I noticed an “in”…a gateway to introduction. She and I happened to be gripping the same text-book. And I thought, “Surely it can’t get any easier than this.” So I spoke, “Excuse me. Did we have assignments to complete from that book”? Her reply was a cold, “yes.” There was no look of “oh are we in the same class” or “I’m glad to make a new acquaintance.” “Yes” was all she said and she continued her blank stare out of the aquarium-like window of the MTA bus. I swung, I missed, I felt dejected.
I thought myself a charming fellow but she remained immune to my charms for a while. Yet I remained obdurate in my backdoor approach. Overtime, in class, I earned her trust and friendship. I finally smashed it half-way through the semester.
I still remember the first kiss. The sound of her voice when she first said my name. Walks to the corner store. The first time she used profanity. Me showing her my small slice of Baltimore. Getting off the bus at Lexington Market. Extravagant lunches at Burger King. Late night phone calls when one of us would eventually fall as sleep. Not wanting to be the first to hang up the phone. Painful times. Fun times. Confusing times. Events and emotions that proved to be the genetic code of love and the foundation of our union.
Me and the girl from the bus played house. We made babies. We were the architects of dreams. But there never was a love-at-first-sight moment. No fantasy tale to tell. No eyes meeting and locking among the throngs of miserable faces on the MTA bus. Love is what you make of it and we chose to make something special.
I tricked MTA girl into loving me. Taught her how to love me, really, as she taught me to love her. 26 Valentine’s Days have come and gone. 26 Valentine’s Days have added 26 strong blocks to our foundation. And now, in retrospect, these 26 Valentine’s Days have given me a newfound appreciation for public transportation.
My wife Angela is undoubtedly a beautiful woman and takes “high-maintenance” to a different plateau. Aside from battling her for sufficient shelf space for my own personal care products, I am not affected by her beauty upkeep. It rarely disrupts my life. This morning was one of the rare occasions that it did. This morning, I found her beauty to be affecting and, in actuality, intoxicating.
She spent most of her before-work prep time in front of the bathroom mirror. I found myself looking in her direction quite often. I donned colorful socks and laced up my white shoes before stepping into the bathroom to brush my teeth. As I completed my oral hygiene routine, I moved closer to Angela to say goodbye and wish her a nice day. She was beautiful. More so than normal. She stood there, a vision, putting the final touches on perfection. Her hair laid perfectly. Makeup applied without flaw. Lip color popped like a single rose emerging from a dark stained glass vase. Her jeans defined contours that spoke to being a woman; grown and sexy. And she smelled damn good.
My overtures to “togetherness” were met with, “You’re just horny”. I know when I’m horny and this situation was far deeper than that. It was primal.
I refuse to boil all of that down to being horny. There were some other invisible forces at work here. I considered,for a moment, the possibility that I married a black-magic woman. That some voodoo root or spell had been cast on me. That she could manipulate me with a doll and a few stick-pins. Or some mystical concoction of chicken blood, dog hair and sassafras root had been mixed in my wine. But that would require that I believe in the mystical and I don’t.
Thoughts of her smell, her curves, her lips haunted me for most of my day and I had to know why. I needed to know why I felt this way today and not yesterday; why we are attracted to the people we find attractive; and if not a black magic root, then what? What drives our primal magnetism? How much does confidence, passion and personality come into play?
Turns out that there is a significant amount of research on what attracts us to our lovers and friends.
Research shows that a person’s most attractive trait is their availability. Somehow, Angela was communicating some serious availability this morning.
In dating relationships, it is about physical availability – will this person mate with me? Within long-term relationships it’s more about emotional availability. Is this person available to connect with me?
Sexy body language also comes into play. An open torso is a non-verbal communication signaling availability. Folded arms will get you the opposite effect. Visible hands tend to signal trust. Studies show that we mistrust someone if we can’t see their hands.
Did you know that a man can detect a woman’s fertility? The is perhaps pheromones at work. A woman will give off a different scent during the fertility cycle that might make her more attractive to men. These are serious DNA level decisions that we have no control over.
Research also suggest that we are more attractive to bilateral symmetry. Meaning that a person’s facial features are aligned and proportionate. This is important to diversifying and deepening the gene pool. Asymmetry can mean that there is some DNA damage at play and our internal wiring will suggest that we move on to more attractive options.
Then we have the “cuddle hormone”, Oxytocin. Oxytocin is a powerful hormone that renders grown, macho men into snugly teddy bears. It plays a huge role in pair bonding. It is thought to be released when hugging and touching and can increase in men as they get older. It causes us to seek closeness and physical contact.
Wife’s confidence and swagger is damn near erotic as well. In watching her get ready this morning, I knew that she was preparing to kick ass in the workplace. She sauntered. When she saunters, you know her swag meter is on 10.
So here’s what likely contributed to this morning’s experience: 1) All of Angela’s mirror primping, hair adjusting, and makeup application revealed a perfect symmetrical face; 2) Angela was likely at the height of her fertility cycle and, thus, emitted high pheromone levels; 3) Angela communicated physical and emotional availability; and 4) my Oxytocin levels were off the chart. Then again, I could have been horny. Regardless of the cause, I’ll have a bit of fun further exploring this over the weekend.
ManUp has gone all audioish on you. Feel free to read the text version below or enjoy the audio version of this edition of The Making of a Miscreant by hitting the play button.
My name is Joseph Bradley Lee. My friends and family call me Joey. Professional associates call me Joe. There was a time in 1972 that I hated the name Joseph. I wasn’t particularly bothered by Joseph because most people called me Joey. It was a different story, though, when school was in session.
In 1972 I was a second grader at Carter G. Woodson elementary school in the Cherry Hill section of Baltimore, MD. Cherry Hill was a mostly African-American community. In fact, if there were any non-black students at Carter G. Woodson, I never saw them. Cherry Hill was a tough neighborhood; a nurturing neighborhood; and to a degree an isolated neighborhood. And unlike any other place I have ever lived, the black folk in Cherry Hill frequently butchered the name Joseph.
“Mrs Richardson, Jozup cut in line”! “Mrs Richardson, Jozup pushed me”! Mrs Richardson, Jozup is chewing gum”! Jozup, Jozup, Jozup! The “seph” in Joseph seemed to allude the students at Carter G. Woodson. Occasionally, a teacher or two would duplicate the error in pronunciation. It was nonsensical to me. Joseph wasn’t a difficult name at all, yet no one managed to get it right.
I was so fed up with Jozup, that on one particular spring day after school I literally kicked a can up and down the street as I contemplated a name change. I sat curb side on Seabury Rd trying to figure out how to break the news to Mama Lee. I poked at a line of marching ants on their way to investigate a crumb of potato chip. A clear indication of transference of energy; my bad energy to the ants and the ants in search of something to attack.
After a few moments of pissing off the ants, a fellow classmate joined me curbside. His name was Philip. Philip wanted to talk about how Mrs Richardson swatted Byron Barnes with a yard stick because he was talking in class. Yes, the teachers, and I use that term loosely, were allowed to inflict physical punishment on us students at Carter G. Woodson elementary school. Byron was a nice kid, but trouble always seemed to find him. He also had a mouth full of the tiniest, blackest teeth you ever did see. We chuckled about that too.
After a while, Philip headed home and so did I. I was determined to have a chat with Mama Lee about the name situation so, once home, I helped myself to a bowl of cereal and turned the TV on to Leave It To Beaver and awaited mama’s arrival from work.
“I don’t like my name,” I got around to blurting out. Mama Lee wanted to know why. “I don’t like the way people say Jozup,” my reply. “Well tell them to call you Joey,” Mama Lee said with a “boy get out of my face with that silly shit” look. “I tried but they don’t listen,” my frustrated response. Then came the litany of predictable justifications, “It’s a biblical name”, “it’s your father’s name”, “it’s a strong name.” Her mouth moved plenty, but all that came out of it was Jozup, Jozup, Jozup. Then came a question that I surprisingly hadn’t anticipated, “What name do you want then?” she asked. Up to that point, I gave no consideration to a replacement moniker. So I uttered…Philip. Mama’s face was twisted and her response…incredulous. “Philip! Why Philip?” I had no response and, in fact, felt like a silly child. I soon dropped my short-lived campaign for a name change. School would soon be out for summer recess and I’d return to be Joey.
The name game followed me for a good portion of my life. Teachers called me Joseph. Friends called me Joey. And in between…a variety of nicknames.
In Cherry Hill, I was White Hiney. “Hey White Hiney,” they’d yell. Evidence that we were the lightest skinned kids in the hood.
As a teenager, Mama Lee called me Poo Bear. In front of my friends no less.
When we moved from Cherry Hill to the Wakefield area on Baltimore’s west side, variations on a wolf theme emerged. Wolfboy, Wolfie, and Wolfpire became a new attempt at adolescent cruelty. Inspired by a short-lived TV show called Lucan which ran from 1977-1978, a few neighborhood kids called me Wolfboy because of my long hair. Lucan chronicled the life of a young man who, as a boy, was raised by a pack of wolves. I was the neighborhood Lucan.
The two moles on my neck that mimicked a vampire’s bite suggested to them that I was part wolf and part vampire, hence the Wolfpire reference. This didn’t bother me. Secretly, I loved the Lucan TV show and often fantasized about being raised by wolves.
During the same period, yet another nickname surfaced. It was Ugly. No, literally the nickname was Ugly. It was given to me by my adopted godfather, Johnny Miles. Johnny Miles was a shit-talking hipster from Marion South Carolina that took a shine to my adopted godmother, Mignon Ackerman. They would later marry and become influential figures (good and bad) in my life.
“Hey Ugly, come here,” he’d say with his raspy voice. Johnny was a big guy. Over six-foot tall and thick of body. Peeled right out of a Zora Neale Hurston novel, Johnny was as country as they came. Johnny was loud. You’d never not know he was in a room; and to watch a Washington Redskins game with him was intolerable.
“Let me holla at you Ugly,” he’d bellow. “Stop calling that boy Ugly, Johnny!” Mignon jumped to my defense. “What do you want me to call him? Cutie?” I was not a kid with a confidence deficiency. I knew I was attractive and I didn’t need the likes of Johnny Miles to validate it. Johnny adored me, as did Mignon. In many ways, I was as much their child as I was Frances Lee’s. After two weeks of protesting the name, Mignon finally fell in line with her beaux and she too called me Ugly. It was and is, to this day, my favorite nickname.
It doesn’t matter what people call you as long as you know who you are. I’m a Joey. Joey defines me. More so than Joe. And more so than Joseph. Joe is my professional moniker. It started with my first broadcast assignment. I’m Joe all day long. I now live in a town where I am only known as Joe. So when I hear my wife Angela’s beautiful voice call ‘Joey”, I’m transported home, to Baltimore, to my roots. It’s sweet and peaceful and loving, her voice. It provides a sense of place and reconnects me to me, Joe to Joey.
Do you have a favorite nickname to share? Perhaps one that you hated? Let me know in the comments section.
Yes, it is true. I love wine and everyone knows it. My Instagram account is full of wine photos, my Tweets are about wine, and my Facebook posts are largely centered around vino. A friend remarked that I appear to cherish wine over most things, including sex. Maybe I do and maybe I don’t; but here are 5 ways that wine is more enjoyable than sex:
Wine pairs better with food. Despite kinky movies like Nine 1/2 Weeks and others that try to convince you that sex and food are fun, it is indeed a messy proposition at best. A well balance Cabernet Sauvignon paired with a juicy burger or perfectly cooked steak will delight your senses. What it won’t do is tangle your hair, stick to your fingers, or create extra laundry. Keep your whipped cream and pass me a good Spanish red.
As they say, variety is the spice of life. There are many different grape varieties and types of wine to enjoy. Red wines, white wines, sparkling wines, dessert wines, fortified wines…the list goes on. Cabernet grapes, Chardonnay grapes, Pinot Noir grapes, Riesling grapes, Malbec grapes, Merlot grapes…this list, too, can go on ad infinitum. And while there are numerous positions described in the Kama Sutra, unless you are a contortionists or your partner weighs 80 pounds, you are probably experiencing 2 to 3 of those positions on average at best.
Wine last longer. According to Dr. Harry Fisch, author of The New Naked: The Ultimate Sex Education for Adults, almost half of men surveyed finish sex within two minutes. That’s about how long it takes me to brush my teeth. A good full-bodied wine will have a long finish on the palate and you can nurse a glass or two or three long into the evening for hours of enjoyment. And you won’t have a frustrated partner.
Wine is easy to open and get started. You need only peel the foil, pop the cork, and pour to enjoy the taste of great wine. It’s a three-step process people. There are 5 phases in the sexual-response cycle and let’s not mention the time, energy and effort needed for foreplay. That’s a lot of effort for 2 minutes of action. The economics here are not in your favor.
With wine, you can have as much as you like when you like. Wine doesn’t have a bad day at the office. Wine doesn’t get headaches. Wine doesn’t have to be quiet because the kids are awake. Wine doesn’t get PMS. And you don’t have to wait 24 hours until you have another.
I don’t know if I woke up that morning with a plan or, like many boys, decided to turn found junk into opportunity. Or perhaps it was another kid’s idea. But the plan on a hot, sunny, summer’s day in the early 1970’s was to catch some frogs. Nothing at all unique about this endeavor for rural preteen boys, but for urban youth, it required a measure of planning and adventure.
2438 Seabury Rd in the Cherry Hill section of Baltimore, MD was home. It was my home. I lived in Section 8 housing but I didn’t know it at the time. A single mom and two boys living in an apartment on the right-hand side of the court, eventually moved to a townhouse over on the left. That court was our world and we did not often venture far beyond its borders except to cross the street to the elementary school playground and basketball court, or to the nearest corner store to buy penny candy. We all new each other. It was the kind of place, and a place in time, when the neighbors were empowered to discipline you. And the maintenance workers might toss a football around with you in between tasks.
On this day, though, we were going to catch us some frogs. But where? First things first. We needed a vessel for the frogs. My friend Keith, a brown, lanky kid with a small afro, and my brother’s friend, Tony who was a year or two older, joined me as I rummaged through neighbors hot garbage cans for frog storing containers. We emerged with plastic jugs and milk cartons that we, with ghetto ingenuity, transformed by cutting the tops off and creating handles using pieces of twine.
Now, where? Beyond the borders of the court and the elementary school, sat the Patapsco River which fed into Baltimore’s harbor. Good for catching crabs, not so much for frogs. Our attentions turned west to the train tracks.
Someone told someone who, in turn, told Keith that creeks and streams ran parallel to the tracks so we surmised that frogs must exist in the general vicinity. In tank-top, cut off shorts, Jack Purcells and pals in tow, I headed west for a couple of miles in search of amphibians. Along the way, Keith tells tales of strings of fireworks that dangle from passing trains. He tells us, “If we can hop the train without getting caught, we can snatch some firecrackers to take back home.” Even as an 8-year-old, that hardly seemed plausible. But what the hell, I was up for anything.
The tracks were rusty looking and raised above grade. They were surrounded with crushed stone on each side. To our delight, a stream ran along side a portion of the tracks, among a thin line of trees. Even at 8 years old, I had experience catching frogs. My grandparents bought a parcel of land in Carol County and I spent many a summer’s day catching frogs, snakes and turtles. So I lead the way. We filled our containers with water from the stream and set them on leveled ground.
Wading ankle-deep, hands held 6 inches or so apart, we moved slowly so as not to disturb the wildlife. Frogs sat along the bank of the stream, unsuspecting, warming their cold blood. Keith, too anxious, misses his first. He mutters a choice profanity or two. I snag my first. Then a second. The others join in with better success having watched a pro in action.
In the distance, we hear the clacking of train wheels on tracks drawing neigh. “Firecrackers”! Keith yells. The frogs that we managed to catch were put into the 3 containers and sat closer to the tracks. We waited patiently and grew excited as the train came into view. Keith told us to run along side the train and grab any rail or handle to pull ourselves up. I think Keith lied about the fireworks. I saw none. Still, hopping a moving train seemed fun and so we moved, like experienced hobos, to make our way on-board.
The train appeared to move slow on approach but seemed to gain steam as it was upon us. Clacking with rhythm. Clacking with purpose. And so were we. Moving alongside the train as fast as our little preteen legs could carry us. We three intrepid boys searched for something to grab onto. I trailed the other two and began to run out of steam. Keith and Tony kept trying in earnest. Laughing and running along side the cars, looking for something, anything to grab a hold of. Hands on knees, huffing and puffing, we three boys watched the train move on down the line. Victorious.
An overwhelming sense of relief washed over me. I was scared and afraid to admit it. Not afraid of getting on the train, but getting off of the train. Jumping off of a moving train was not something I even remotely wanted to attempt.
We made the long trek back to the frogs, failures as hobos. What seemed like miles of track was most likely a few hundred yards. Back at the site, the frogs were gone, containers smashed. Shocked and perplexed, we three boys stood there silent, speechless, and dumbfounded. Who would do such a thing? Who would ruin the perfect afternoon? It was such flapdoodle that we struggled to comprehend what might have transpired during the short time that we chased the train. One frog remained in my plastic milk container, smashed and bloodied. A sad and truculent act.
I watched Keith’s eyes as he spied a figure emerging from the tree line. A boy, much older than the three of us, carrying a hunter’s bow with bladed arrow. This older boy told us that he was looking for some “white dudes” that assaulted his father. I couldn’t help but wonder if this would-be hunter of white dudes was not himself the capricious, frog-murdering bastard that ruined my afternoon. But Tony and Keith were enchanted by the bow and arrow and did not share my suspicion. They had never seen and hunter’s bow and arrow up close. Neither had I for that matter.
“How far can that thing go?”, Keith chimed. “Really far”, answered the stranger. Now he had my interest and attention. “Let me see”, I added. “Shoot it up”, I pointed to the sky. The stranger, bow in left hand, motioned with his right, gesticulating that we give some clearance. He pointed the bow upward, pulled the string back to his ear, and loosed the arrow. It flew straight up, climbing until it was out of sight. We three boys stood, planted in the gravel, mouths wide open and eyes bulging out of our heads. The stranger’s faced turned from a look of accomplishment to having a real “oh shit” moment. “Run!”, the stranger yelled.
Without knowing the intricacies and particulars of the laws of gravity, even we three boys knew that what goes up, must come down. We scrambled. Nervous laughter echoed and gravel flew as we made our way to the tree line. My foot slipped and I landed on one knee. With a thud, the arrow landed in my back. Lodged into my right scapula.
I don’t know what was worse, the pain or the shock of being shot. Given all the wide open space, what were the odds that a single arrow shot into the air would find its way through my flesh and into bone? I fell face down in the gravel, arrow shaft sticking out of my back. Cowboys and Indians for real. The stranger panicked. He grabbed hold of the arrow with one hand and placed the other hand on my left shoulder. He yanked. He shouldn’t have done that. Every western movie you have ever seen said don’t yank the arrow. But he yanked. And he ran. I stood. And I bled.
Gash in the back and bleeding profusely I, with my friends, started the long trek back to Seabury Rd. The energy drained from me with every step. The sun grew hotter and my tank top began to stick to my skin as the blood coagulated. The boys were concerned but none of us had any idea how serious the situation had become.
My fortune in the wife department runs deep. I am endowed beyond category.
Like the sun, she is the star that illuminates my solar system. The star that gives light to the planets and moons that revolve around her. She warms me. Keeps me grounded. Keeps me dreaming. She is at the center of it all.
I am like the moon, dark and mysterious. Moody and in need of anchoring lest I float aimlessly without light, searching for gravity and synchronicity.
Like the moon, I appear bright on the surface, luminescent without cause. My sun is the reason I shine. My sun is the reason I continue to revolve and evolve into something greater than what I was.
While there are billions of suns in the galaxy, my sun shines brightest of them all. She provides the light by which I see and the warmth by which I am nurtured.
Today is a day that I celebrate my sun, the star of my solar system; the one that shines brightest in the galaxy.
May your sun shine as brightly on this Valentine’s Day.
There’s a term that sports announcers like to use when referring to a shooter’s hot streak – the heat check. The reference relates to the next shot that a shooter takes to test just how hot he/she is. I too have a “heat check”. It happens when I reach for my wife Angela under the covers to see if I can generate a physical reaction. An equipment check if you will. A good portion of the time, I am less interested in intimacy at the moment and more interested in the equipment appearing in good working order.
Virility is a major concern of men over 50. We are far more concerned with having strength, stamina, energy, and a strong sex drive than we are in the degradation of youthful appearance. The heat check, for me, is a way to gauge my virility. Lately, I find that recovery from vigorous workouts is taking a bit longer, my energy is down, and I think about sex far less than I ever have. And I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t a concern. This is my new reality.
It’s a concern of many men but we just don’t talk about it. When men talk about sex, the conversation is full of half-truths and gross exaggerations. Rarely does the discussion center around issues or concerns. I had a recent conversation with a friend who shared some of the same concerns and described experiencing similar psychological and physiological changes. It was comforting to know that I wasn’t alone in the journey.
The saying is that men think about sex every 8 seconds. While that claim has never officially been proven or disproven, I can guarantee you that it is a lot. At least in our teens, 20’s and 30’s. My friend pointed out that if we had focused our thinking and directed our energy on other things rather than the thought and pursuit of sex, we might be brain surgeons or astrophysicists today.
When the fellas get together to talk about sports, their golf game, careers and family life, here’s what we are NOT talking about:
Andropause – the male version of menopause. Yes, there is such a thing. Also referred to as “aging male syndrome” (AMS), andropause happens roughly the same time that women experience menopause: somewhere between the ages of 35-70, but most commonly experienced in the early 50’s. In its simplest form, AMS is the decrease of the male hormone testosterone. Symptoms include a loss of energy, lower sex drive, decreasing strength and endurance, mood changes and erections that are less strong. All difficult things to discuss with your homie. I can imagine the conversation, “Hey Joe, how’s it hanging?” “These days it’s hanging low and a little depressed. How about you?” Crickets.
Erectile Dysfunction – While not a direct result of aging, impotence can come with age due to increase risk. It can be caused by mental, emotional, or physical factors. It can also be a side effect of certain medications or excessive drinking. Concerns about developing ED could lead a man to perform the occasional “heat check” on his wife. How do you even start a conversation about this with another dude? It’s easy actually. Just ask. “Yo, how’s your sex life these days?” And hope that he is completely honest with you. According to the National Institute of Health, 5% of 40 year-old men suffer from ED. So if you’ve just finished a full-court basketball game with the fellas, bring up the issues of ED, and they all say there is no issue…the shortest person on the court is lying.
Attachment – Here’s an interesting one. Apparently, as testosterone levels decrease and oxytocin levels stay the same, men tend to attach more to their partners after sex. Testosterone can drive sex and interest in sex while oxytocin (the love hormone) is responsible for bonding partners and children. A 2012 study that increased oxytocin in monogamous men found that they were attaching themselves more to their partners after sex. So the conversation after shooting hoops goes something like this, “Yo, want to grab a brew or something later?” “Naw man. I think I’m going to stay home and cuddle.” Crickets.
Recovery time – It used to be that the amount of time that you needed to recover for round two with your babe was about 15 minutes or so. That was in your 20’s. According to the Male Health Center, the “refractory period”, the time it takes to achieve another erection, can take 24 hours or more for men in their 50’s. But if you’re like me, you don’t even want to think about it until next weekend any way.
The Premie – A University of Chicago study showed that 31% of men in their 50’s experience premature ejaculation. There are two primary reasons for this: anxiety and penis-centered sex. Penis-centered sex puts more pressure on the male organ than it can handle. Actually, that sounds kind of fun, huh? Anxiety comes with concerns over performance. The pressure is daunting and can lead one to “fire one off” well before he or his partner is ready.
The possibility of interesting and helpful conversation exist if we would assiduously share our experiences and concerns with one another. One thing’s for sure, I’m not telling you mine unless you tell me your’s first.
A recent exchange with a family member had me reminiscing about my childhood and how I was reared by extended family and…got me thinking about Adrian Peterson.
Peterson’s recent off-field activities have landed him in hot water with the law and on the wrong side of public opinion as it relates to child rearing. His detractors emerged quickly as did his supporters.
The ass-whooping is lore in the black community and many of us have comical tales of having to procure our own switches and belts to aid in our corporal punishment. There was something about having extra time to think about your transgressions and come to grips with your inevitable thrashing. We have, over time, romanticized and accepted corporal punishment as a part of our hardcore upbringing. If you’ve ever seen a stand-up routine from comedian DL Hughely and others, you have undoubtedly heard them joke about the subject. Former NBA star, Charles Barkley, famously spoke out about the Peterson situation and claimed that it was an accepted fact that hind-parts were not off limits in addressing adolescent mischievousness if you were a southern black.
And it’s not just a black thing. CNN reported that in a 2012 national survey, that half of women and three-quarters of men in the U.S. believe a child sometimes needs a “good hard spanking”. But there are physical and emotional consequences with each swing of the switch. In that same report, CNN reported that numerous studies showed detrimental effects on trajectories of brain development, increased aggression, a decrease in cognitive ability, and decreased levels of gray matter. We aren’t simply beating the shit out of our kids, we are also beating the potential out of them.
The emotional effects are equally damning. We don’t know how every swing of the belt, swat of the paddle or bare hand whacking shaped the relationships that we have, or don’t have, with our elders. I often think about how envious I am of friends and associates who have very close relationships with parents, grandparents or other care-givers. I wonder if my own relationships might be closer and more fulfilling had a different approach to discipline been used.
The day that the Peterson story broke, my social media timelines were flooded with comments like “I got my ass whooped as a kid and I turned out just fine.” Hell, I think I may have written something similar. The truth of the matter, though, is that we have no idea what or who we could have become had a different parenting approach been taken. For the record, I have no doubt that AP loves his children. He just needs a different approach to raising them.
My own approach to child-rearing in general and, more specifically, disciplining, differs vastly from my own upbringing. Love, encouragement, and currency has been the general rule of thumb in the Lee household. And I suspect, indeed hope, that the yield will be long-lasting, love-filled, close relationships with my girls.
What do you think? Does/did your parenting style differ from that of your elders? Do you agree or disagree with the research? Have a funny ass-whooping tale to tell?