The Passing of Robin Williams – that could have been me

The recent death of Robin Williams hit me kind of hard. Here was someone whom I had never met, but somehow felt a loss at hearing of his death. From Mork and Mindy to The Fisher King, Moscow on the Hudson to Dead Poets Society, Mrs. Doubtfire to Bicentennial Man, he made me laugh, he made me think, and he made me cry at times.

I read a post from Mike Rowe today, and in it he was asked to comment on Robin Williams. Part of his post really stuck out. He said “Some people enter our lives and become benchmarks in ways we don’t realize. Then they exit, and we struggle. Sometimes, those people are high-school buddies, and sometimes, they’re strangers who somehow felt like friends. Either way, it sucks when they go.”  Very well put.  It explains my feelings very well.

But I digress. What struck me was finding out about his struggles with depression. Depression is an illness that many people do not understand. Somehow they feel that all they need to do is yell at you to “snap out of it” and instantaneously you are cured. It doesn’t work that way. I know it doesn’t. It did not work for me.

Many of you that know me know that I used to practice law for many years. I was a prosecutor for several years, then went into private practice as a defense attorney, and served for almost ten years as a Municipal Court judge and night magistrate. Then it all came tumbling down in a relatively short time. It cost me a marriage, my law license, my ability to make a living, and then another divorce from an ill-conceived marriage to a friend.

Was it drugs? No, never tried them, not interested in them. Was it alcohol? Nope. After a short time in high school and part of college I realized that my genes would not allow me to be a casual drinker – I had too many alcoholics in my family, particularly my biological father. So I quit drinking when I was 20.

The plain fact of the matter is that I was suffering from clinical depression. There, I said it. Very few people other than my immediate family and close friends know about it.  I went through some health problems, a divorce that I did not see coming, my ex-wife moved my kids 600 miles away, and I found myself horribly alone.    Increasingly I found myself going home on Fridays, locking myself in my apartment with the blinds shut, and never stepping out again until Monday when it was time to go to work.

I lacked the energy and desire to do anything at all.   That included the very thing that I needed most, which was contact with my family and friends.    Add to that my reluctance at the time to ask for help with anything (a misguided sense of self-reliance) and it made for a perfect recipe for what became more than just sadness.   I also quit doing the one thing that could have helped me a lot –  I quit attending church.    My faith had always been an important part of my life, especially considering that I made quite a change in my college years by breaking away from the faith I was raised with when I joined the LDS church against the wishes of my mom and my grandmother.

I could have very easily slipped back into drinking, or started experimenting with drugs, or even toying with the idea of just ending it all.   Certainly I was ripe for that to happen to me.  Luckily for me, I guess, I was hurt in a car accident.   The doctor I went to go see for my neck pain was also trained as a psychiatrist.   He recognized the symptoms right away.  After a short trial of antidepressants (did not like them at all) he referred me to a counselor that I saw on a regular basis for quite a while.    He made me think about things that I did not want to think about.   He made me do things I did not want to do, like reach out for help from friends and family.

Little by little, I came out of a very deep fog that seemed to surround my life.  I had a very good home teacher from church that would come by my apartment every Sunday, make me wake up and shower, and go to church with him.    He kept me busy helping do service projects for others and would take me to Goal Oriented Leadership Functions.  (GOLF).  After a while I realized things were not so bad.

I was very bitter about life, did not trust people, did not want to show any sort of emotion or vulnerability to anyone except my daughters.    Believe it or not, I learned how to trust and love again because I got a dog.  That dog helped me through a lot of my down times.  He was there when I was sick, when I felt low and when I was lonely.   He never went anywhere and showed me unconditional love.   That helped to start the turnaround in my life.

It was around that time that my wife came into my life.  I had met her earlier when we worked at the same law office.  We were friends for a long time, and that eventually led to what is now the best relationship I have had in my life.    She helped me to go visit my daughters in Austin.   She got me used to a day-to-day life of being around people and doing simple ordinary things that give your life structure and meaning.   My distrust of others and fear of opening up my feelings gradually went away because of her.  It took a long time, but we eventually got married.   Molly is who encouraged me to teach, which has become my passion.  It was because of Sam, Molly’s youngest son, that I became involved in Boy Scouts,   Scouting has given me a multitude of great experiences and life long friends.

So I guess I can say I am lucky.   Consider the following:

  • Men with depression are more likely than depressed women to abuse alcohol and other substances, according to Jill Goldstein, director of research at the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
  • Depressed men may also try to mask their sadness by turning to other outlets, such as watching TV, playing sports and working excessively, or engaging in risky behaviors, Goldstein told Live Science in an interview earlier this year.
  • Men’s symptoms of depression may be harder for other people to recognize, and the illness is missed more frequently in men, Goldstein said.
  • Men with depression are more likely than women with the condition to commit suicide, Goldstein said. Men with depression may go longer without being diagnosed or treated, and so men may develop a more devastating mental health problem.  Copyright 2014 LiveScience,

 

So I dodged the perfect storm.  I am alive today and very glad to be here.  But don’t get me wrong,  I am not bragging, nor am I putting down Robin Williams and others that were not able to overcome it, or who continue to suffer.  Like I said, I was lucky.   Keep an eye out for those you love.  Don’t leave them hanging.   Look for the symptoms of depression -

  • Fatigue or loss of energy almost every day
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt almost every day
  • Impaired concentration, indecisiveness
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping) almost every day
  • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities nearly every day (called anhedonia, this symptom can be indicated by reports from significant others)
  • Restlessness or feeling slowed down
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
  • Significant weight loss or gain (a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month)  http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/major-depression

If  you are depressed, you may not know it.  Even if you do know it, you are unlikely to reach out for help.  Don’t be afraid to reach out.   It could have cost me dearly if the right set of circumstances had not occurred that led me out of haze.  This is not easy to write or to admit, but I hope that somehow it may strike a chord with someone who needs that extra push to get help.

I join the rest of the world in mourning the loss of a great entertainer.  My hope is that his death may draw attention to this misunderstood illness.    “There but for the grace of God go I”

If you ever had a father figure in your life, you are blessed. If that person isn’t your blood, but treats you as such, you are even more blessed.

If you ever had a father figure in your life, you are blessed. If that person isn’t your blood, but treats you as such, you are even more blessed.

Those words really pierced my heart, because they were posted by my son Sam Gorena on my birthday a couple of months ago. They touched me because it confirmed to me that I had done a good job in helping raise this young man, a young man that I became aware of when his mom was 6 months pregnant with him and I attended her baby shower. Little did I know that I would be a part of his life for so many years after his father passed away.,

They also touched me because it made me realize how I had learned to love Sam as my own. I learned it from my Dad. He came into our lives in 1965, when my little brother Art and I were 9 and 7 respectively. My “father” had walked out on my mom many years before that and we were raised by my mom, with some help from my grandmother and my wonderful grandfather. We did not have a father figure in our lives until my Dad came into our lives and swept us off our feet.

From day one, after he married my Mom, we were “his” boys. He was not “Don” to us, he was just Dad. He was hard on us at times, and we did not really understand why he worked us so damn much.   I would have rather been roaming the streets with my friends than back at home rebuilding cars, going to salvage sales, or recycling aluminum and tin to make a few extra bucks for the household.   But when I am able to rebuild my brakes, change out a clutch, or build a raised garden bed from discarded decking material, I have my dad to thank.

I was a total butt to my dad as a teenager at times. I challenged everything he said, I was sarcastic, and I even at times ridiculed his ideas.   But at the end of each night, when it came time to go to bed, he always said “I love you son.”   I guess that is why I never uttered those words that many stepdads end up hearing – “You aren’t my real dad.”

After my mom passed, my dad’s relationship with me changed.   He now relied on me to help him with important decisions, make medical and financial decisions, and work out some pretty intense feelings of anger, loneliness and resentment that he had built up over his life.   We talked often, even when he left El Paso and moved all the way across the state to DeBerry, Texas.   (Yeah, I didn’t know where that was either.)

I told him it worried me that he was 6 hours away and that I was afraid something would happen to him and I would not be able to be there right away to help him.   My worst fears were confirmed when I got a call one late December evening telling me that my dad had suffered a heart attack and was found laying out on the back porch.   We had talked just two evenings before, shared a few laughs, made plans for me to go with him all the way back to El Paso to see his cardiologist, and talked about some ideas he had to remodel some stuff in his house.     His last words to me?   “I love you son.”

Sitting with my brother one day several months after my Dad’s passing, my brother said something that still sticks to me to this day.   He said our dad taught us a lot – how to work, how to survive, and more importantly, how to love.  Sam’s words to me were directly the result of what my dad gave me; it was his legacy to me.

I would give anything to hear those words again – I love you son.   I miss you Dad. Happy Fathers Day.

Don’t let the last name fool you.

I cannot tell you the number of times that people have tried to classify my ethnicity by my last name.   In fact, I have blogged about this in the past.   My father was from Michigan, the son of parents that were half Canadian.  But since he was not a part of my life after the age of one or two, my upbringing was certainly influenced by my mother Evangelina and her parents – my grandmother Mauricia and my grandfather Arturo.

Since I am a first generation American on my mother’s side, and my abuelos spoke no English, it should come as no surprise that I learned Spanish early.  In fact, it was my primary language.  My mother, who had learned to speak passable English from living in the Mormon colonies in Mexico with my aunts, emphasized the importance of speaking English well since we would be living in the U.S.  As a result, i was bilingual from the time that I can remember having any conversations with others.

I started first grade at Vilas Elementary in El Paso in 1962.  There were no kindergarten programs at the  time, so we all started in first grade.    There was a boy in my class (Jorge) that spoke very little English, and my teacher Miss Wilson spoke no Spanish.  That certainly presented a problem to both Jorge and Miss Wilson.

During recess Jorge and I struck up a conversation in Spanish and quickly became buddies.  Miss Wilson noticed that we were talking and was shocked at my ability to communicate with him.   She loudly asked something to the effect “Randy Bullis!  How on earth did you learn to speak Spanish?”  Apparently when my mom had brought me to school that day she assumed my mom was the maid.  (which is an entirely different topic that I will address some time.)  Because my last name was Bullis she assumed I could not possible know Spanish.

Jorge and I were assigned to sit with each other for the school year and we worked together with me translating as we went.  By the end of the fall, he spoke English much better.  (Isn’t it amazing how quick kids pick up language skills?)

I never thought much of my ability to speak both languages, it was just part of who I was.   I spoke English at school and with some of my friends, I spoke both languages at home, and I spoke Spanish with my family in Juarez.

It came in handy a lot of times, and I know it saved me from harm at least one time.  My brother and I and some friends were at the little park near our house when a group of thugs approached us at the park.  I listened to them as they planned, in Spanish, to take the baseball equipment from us.   As they approached i was able to warn my brother and friends to run before they got to us.   They seemed confused about how we knew what they had been talking about until my brother stopped, turned to them, and yelled some choice words in Spanish.  I don’t remember what he said, I just know that once i reached over and grabbed him to keep running that I couldn’t help but laugh.

Fast forward a few years.  My mom met my Dad (not my father) and they quickly married.  My dad spoke no Spanish except for the naughty words that he had picked up here and there.  Because of that, we quit speaking Spanish at home.  During the mid to late 60’s there was a large push in the schools to prohibit speaking Spanish, so we pretty much quit speaking it at school too.   In a short time my ability to speak Spanish was almost gone.  I struggled to speak it well enough to still speak to my loving grandparents.

In high school I dated a  young woman that insisted that I speak Spanish when I could, especially since she spoke Spanish with her parents.  There would be times when she would only speak to me in Spanish and forced me to respond in Spanish as well.    Thanks to her I gradually started to regain my ability to speak it, although with an accent.  During our marriage it was common for us to speak Spanish, and we tried to make sure our daughters learned it as well.  Although we are no longer married, I am thankful that she made me embrace my culture and language.

My first job out of law school was in Laredo, Texas.  I was quite surprised when I moved there in 1981 that the city was quite Spanish oriented.  Everyone spoke Spanish.  It did not matter if your last name was Sanchez or Bullis, people spoke to you in Spanish assuming you knew the language.   It was there that i regained my familiarity with the language, to the point that I did presentations for the DA’s office at schools, PTA meetings, etc. in both English and Spanish.

I have shared the story before about the poor shocked criminal defendants who appeared before me as a night court judge and cursed me repeatedly in Spanish, only to have me start reading them their rights in Spanish. The look on their face was priceless.

Back in the days before databases and other software programs, the courts in El Paso used an old Rolodex to appoint attorneys to represent defendants.  If you were bilingual, you were in as a pink card.   If the defendant spoke no English they skipped to the next available pink card.  I was a pink card.  My ability to speak both languages helped me keep my law practice afloat.

I do not turn my back on my father’s heritage.  I embrace that part of my ancestry with no qualms.   But I was raised in a different culture and I love it.  It is who I am.

My stomach turns when people say that i should not identify myself as Hispanic, that I am an American first.  Really?  I can’t be both a proud American and embrace the culture that defines me?

in fact, I am quite surprised that in my adopted home town of San Antonio that more Hispanics don’t speak Spanish.   While they ostensibly accept the culture, they don’t speak the language.  I think that misses a huge part of what it’s all about.   So let me say this to the many persons who in the past were surprised by my ability to speak Spanish  – Don’t let the last name fool you.

Good, I got that off my chest.

 

 

 

 

Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them – a reflection on the death of a polarizing figure

I do not revel in the death of any human being.   I know that even those that we may “hate” or “dislike” have loved ones that would miss them if they were no longer around.  That having been said, I was reflecting today on the death of Fred Phelps, founder of Westboro Baptist Church, known primarily for protesting at the funerals of our fallen soldiers.   At the risk of going against what I just said, I am glad that Mr. Phelps will no longer be around to be a major distraction with his homophobic, disrespectful, and outrageous comments and actions that he did “in the name of God.”

The damage this man has done is almost irreparable, not only because of the hurt he inflicted on so many people, but because of the stereotype that he perpetuates to others about the lives and beliefs of Christians.  There are way too many people who look at this man, who perverted the central message of Christianity for his own vain purposes, and assume that all Christians have the same tenets and beliefs.  He is no more a typical Christian than the sadistic terrorists of 9/11 are typical Muslims.

It pains me to see people paint with broad strokes based on what they may see one or two people doing.  Some people that know that I am heavily involved in the Boy Scouting program automatically assume that I am homophobic, when nothing can be farther from the truth.  People see my lovely daughter Erica and my son in law Shaun and assume that because they have tattoos and piercings that they certainly must be drug users.

I would be lying if I said that I have never jumped to these types of conclusions.  I may never had said this out loud, but the first time I saw Shaun with his Mohawk, and found out he played in a metal band, I instinctively said to myself – “Not with my daughter, you don’t.”    But I allowed myself the chance to know him, and he has been an absolute gem of a husband to my daughter.  I would not trade him for anyone else in the world.  I love that kid.

People who make snap judgments based on limited data don’t understand.  This is not what it is all about.  We all have different beliefs, values and tenets that guide our actions on a day to day basis.  You can disagree with my beliefs, but don’t categorize me as a hater because we don’t feel the same about politics, religion, music, sports, etc.   I value you for who you are, not for what you believe.   Admittedly sometimes as Christians we get a bit judgmental.    By the same token those who are not believers are just as guilty of being judgmental of those who profess a religious belief, thinking we are all looking down our noses at them.

So the death of this man takes away one target.  Unfortunately, many other are in line to take his place.  And this happens on both sides of the political and religious spectrum as well.  Some conservatives would freak out to know that I don’t believe that all liberals are like Bill Maher.  (by the way, I think he is the flip side of the coin to Phelps).   If he were to lose his audience, someone else would jump in his place and start making snap judgments and overly broad characterizations.

So what’s my point?  I was reading something important in Matthew in the New Testament the other day.  Whether or not you accept it as scripture, the lessons in Chapter 7 bear repeating.

. 1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.     (pretty straight forward, isn’t it?)

 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. (some people call this karma)

. . . .

12 Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.  (We know it as the Golden Rule)

. . . .

and finally, when you get right down to it, this is what my point is:

 20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.  (Actions speak louder than words)

If we are going to talk the talk, then we need to walk the walk.  I hope that I can live my life by that adage.  In the end, I want to be known not for my worldly accomplishments, but as a good son, a caring brother, a faithful and loyal husband, a loyal friend, and a loving father and grandfather.     Can’t we all try to do this?

Jerry Jones is an idiot

My very first memory of the Dallas Cowboys had to have been in 1962 or 1963.  It had to have been one of those years because Eddie Le Baron was still playing quarterback.   Since that time, when I was 6 or 7 years old, I have followed the Boys without fail.   My heart broke when they  lost to the Packers two years in a row in the championship, including the Ice Bowl.   I really despaired when Jim O’Brien  kicked the field goal for the Colts that beat the Silver and Blue in the Super Bowl.     I was as happy as anyone when they won their five Super Bowls, and still rooted for them when they went 1-15 in Jimmy Johnson’s first year.

High or low, good or bad, champions or not, I have always supported the Cowboys with little or no complaint for 50 years.   Even when Jones fired Tom Landry in the shameful way that he did, I followed the party line that it was all in the best interests of the team.   When the Cowboys of the 90’s were arrested , or involved in drugs, or found with hookers, I nonetheless continued to give them my support.

Quite frankly, when the “general manager” of the Cowboys made mistake after mistake in personnel and coaching decisions, I still held out a faint hope that it would all work out in the end.

That time is over.   Jerry Jones is an idiot.   Making Kiffin as assistant head coach for defense instead of firing him?  Really?   After leading one of the worst defenses in team history, if not NFL history, you PROMOTE the guy?   After forcing Bill Callahan on Garrett as the play caller last year, you bring in one more person to call plays, but leave Callahan as the offensive coordinator, even though Callahan wanted to leave to go to Cleveland?  Even the most loyal fan has his/her limits.  Mine has been reached.

I hereby place all my friends and family on notice.  Please do not give me anymore Dallas Cowboy memorabilia, clothing, books, etc.     I will not spend one more dime on the Cowboys, nor do I want anyone that I know to do so either.  Jerry Jones will not benefit financially from me or my family until he fires that moron that is his general manager.  I am not holding my breath.  Jones’ ego is so bloated that he will never admit making a mistake.

Will my boycott make a difference?  I doubt it.  There are plenty of “sheeple” that will follow Jerry to the very end as he drives this once proud franchise straight into the ground.

Fifty years is a long time to follow a team.  I cannot and will not change my allegiance to any other team.  It’s just not in my DNA.   There are plenty of band wagon jumpers that do that from year to year anyway.   As much as Jones makes my skin crawl, I still want the Cowboys to beat the Redskins, Eagles, Giants, 49ers, Steelers and Packers.  It is what I have always wanted, it is what I will always want.

I am not resigning as a Dallas Cowboy fan.   I just refuse to line Jones’ pockets while he turns the Cowboys into the Oakland Raiders.   If Jones had a sudden epiphany and actually hired a football savvy guy to run the team, I would be the first to jump right back in.    In the meantime, I hope my Cowboy regalia is high quality, because it is going to have to last a long time.   I don’t imagine Jones finding a brain any time soon.

It should have never worked – a reflection on two very important lives.

It should have never worked.   She was a naturalized American citizen born in Campo Madera #2, Chihuahua, Mexico, with two little boys.  He was a former moonshiner from Cedartown, Georgia.

She came to the United States at an early age to work as a maid, married a soldier who left her alone while the boys were young, and worked a lot of hours at a hospital in El Paso to support her sons.

He ended up in El Paso after working several different jobs and a couple of marriages that had gone bad.

They met when he came over to her house to share Thanksgiving dinner with the family.  Apparently they had a mutual friend that got the two of them together.  Talk about a blind date.  Since she did not have a phone, he just showed up for dinner that night.    What could have been a rather awkward meal actually turned out rather well.   He came over the next night to take her out for dinner and made big brownie points with her sons when he brought over two model car kits for them to work on.  When they complained they did not know much about cars, he offered to take them to car dealerships on Saturday so they could see what the cars looked like.   That’s right; he dated her sons as well.   Took them to see cars and bought them cheeseburgers. Still, it came as a big surprise when they got married 3 ½ weeks after they met.

The marriage lasted 36 years, ending only when she passed away from a long struggle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  In those 36 years there were a lot of ups and downs.  They started off poor, as many young couples do, but worked their way up slowly to a rather comfortable position in life.  He retired from the railroad, she retired as a respiratory therapist.  They raised her kids together, and never once did he call them his stepsons.  They were always “his” boys.    To them he was always their dad, and they called him dad from the day they got married.

It wasn’t easy.  There was a rather wide difference in culture, upbringing, and religious backgrounds.  He was raised in a very dysfunctional family and trust was an issue for him.   That caused a lot of strife in the relationship, but they worked through it. Together they achieved a lot of their personal goals.   But then she got sick.

After several years of struggling with her disease, she passed away 12 years ago  on January 28th.  He clearly missed her after her passing.  His four years as a widower found him sad and confused.   He moved 700 miles from one side of Texas to the other side of the state to avoid seeing daily the things that reminded him of their life together.    Unfortunately it also left him far away from his sons.

He died alone on the back porch of his house; he was found 24 hours after he passed. I still remember the call that I got telling me that they had found my dad.  That happened eight years ago and I still miss him to this day.    My dad made a big impact on my life, and I miss sharing the details of my life with him.  He taught me a lot – mechanics and home repair, being a hard worker, and how to love your kids.   We did not always agree.  In fact, we argued a lot.   But we both knew we loved each other, and I am glad that the last words I said to him were “I love you Dad.”   Those words apparently came the night before he passed.

My mom was a huge influence in my life.  She taught me about love, about sacrifice, about love of country, and the need to get an education.   There is so much that I would love to share with her – my highs and my lows, my problems and my blessings.   I wish she were here to share the experiences in her life that always made a difference in how I looked at things.

It’s funny, most people thought that the relationship would never last.  They seemed such an odd couple.  But they had love for each other and shared that love with their boys. My brother and I will always be grateful.  I miss them both dearly.

A daughter is a day brightener and a heart warmer. ~Author Unknown

Nobody wants to see their daughters get out of the little girl stage.   They are cute, lead uncomplicated lives, and they adore their daddy.  Unfortunately, there is no way to stop it from happening.  They get older, start getting other interests, and they eventually start liking boys.  An anonymous author once said:

Daughters are like flowers, they fill the world with beauty, and sometimes attract pests.”

I have had those “pests”  hang around, and it was tough to let go when my girls told be to quit scaring them away.  

They marry, leave the house, and start having babies of their own.   It was tough for me when my daughters’ mom and I divorced.  I was not able to be around them on a day to day basis.  I missed some of the growing up that they do, especially the little things.

I am grateful that my youngest daughter Jessica, who was only 4 at the time of my divorce did not let that affect our relationship.  She has always wanted to be a daddy’s girl and wanted approval from her old man for the things she did.  (Special note:  Erica, my oldest daughter and I have our own special relationship and this is not a comment on the status of that relationship.)

Jessica turns 28 today.  She has turned into a beautiful young lady, a wonderful kindergarten teacher and a fantastic mom.   It is hard to be a divorced single mom, but she handles it with a lot of class, patience, and sometimes with tears, but she handles it well.  Although Round Rock is only 81 miles away, I do not get to see her and my granddaughter Chloe as much as I would like.   I miss them.  I miss not being able to be there and hug her and console her when the single mom routine gets her down.

But I am a proud dad.  She brightens my day when she calls.  She will always be my favorite youngest daughter.  Happy Birthday sweetheart. 15859_625225650875_1977861_n