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02 May 2014

I'm nothing, if not a failure.

I am a father.

I was 12 years old when I decided I wanted to be a father. I knew then that I wanted to be a dad, wanted to raise a little me, and wanted to dedicate my life to giving everything I never had to someone that was a part of me that no one else could ever be. I wanted to be a parent more than I wanted anything else at the age of 12, and after years of patience, it finally happened. Xekan arrived!

I was 27 when my son was born, and it was everything I ever wanted and more. I fucking love being a parent. Raising my son is the best part of my life, and what I am most proud of. I can't even begin to express just how much I love being a father, and watching my son grow into this amazing person that I helped to create. It's fucking amazing.

Being a parent is what wakes me up in the morning and pushes me to accomplish things I never wanted to accomplish at any other time in my life. Like most parents, I find myself talking about my son and being a father more often than not. Given the chance, I will annoy the shit out of anyone with stories about how insanely wonderful Xekan is and how much I love being his father. I love my son and I am so proud of him and proud that I get the honor and privilege of being such a large part of his life.

Tubs have the best acoustics.

He's also a calm gamer.

Why would I want to be anything else?

There's more, though. Something I haven't mentioned yet, and something that I think too many parents are forgetting, especially mothers. You see, I'm not just a parent. It's true, and I know it can be hard to believe at times, but there is a lot more to me than just being a father. I wasn't born a dad, nor inducted into fatherhood at an early age. I was a lot of things before becoming a father. In fact, I am still a great deal more than just a father. Being a parent is an honor that I hold, and one that I cherish above all others, but it isn't my identity. I happen to be a writer, albeit a very poor and unpublished writer, but a writer nonetheless. I'm also a dreamer, a wannabe artist, a crappy musician, a friend, an IT dude, an atheist, a skeptic, a survivor, a lover, a joker, a white knight, an asshole, a bad poet, a podcast addict, a Whovian, a back porch philosopher, a psychology enthusiast, a brother, an uncle, and so so so many more things. Not one of which is vast enough to encompass me. I don't think anyone can be put into such a bubble, yet I see people placing themselves into these molds far too often.

Everyone knows that one parent that lost all sense of self the moment their child was born, and they became a parent and only a parent, right? No. No, that's wrong. Let me rephrase. Everyone knows a few groups of parents that lost all sense of self the moment their children were born, and they became parents and only parents, right? Yes, of course you do. They tend to find one another and treat parenthood as some kind of exclusive club that only an elite few are allowed membership to. It’s kind of creepy. Not staring too long on the bus creepy, but Stepford Wives creepy. That creepy that makes you think you're one glass of chardonnay away from being a matching set of diaper bags for a small group of enthusiastic parents.

How'd these people come to be this way? Any guess you make is probably going to hold true to someone. Some may have given up everything because of an obsession with parenting that might have been triggered by all of the books they read during pregnancy, others may have taken on the parental identity as a way of coping with an unplanned pregnancy that caused them to give up a lifestyle they were not ready to give up yet, or perhaps they had a parent or parents that made parenting their sole identity instilling in them ideals that led them to grow up only dreaming of being a parent. It could be their way of coping with financial struggles that keep them from doing anything else, or because they feel guilty or selfish any time they do anything that is not for their child. Perhaps they're just afraid of failing in front of their children and being seen as weak or less than perfect. Maybe it is a conscious thing, maybe it isn't - truth is it doesn't really matter. Whatever the reason, they are no longer any of the things that they were before their child was born, nor are they interested in becoming any of the things they wanted to be before becoming a parent.

It is more than just creepy, though. Being a parent should not be our sole identity, because we are not the sum of our children. What kind of example does that even set for them? Children tend to want to grow up to be like their parents. Qualities like passion develop from seeing it in action. Inspiration, magic, reverence, awe - these are things you cannot tell someone to feel. Children see mommy painting in her free time, and they want to become an artist. Maybe they only want that for a moment or two, but that little inspiration they get from watching their mother paint will give them an appreciation for art that they would never get from having that same mother buy them art supplies and just try to teach them to do those things. The real inspiration doesn't just come from painting with her; but from watching her creating her own art, on her own accord, because she loves it and is passionate about it. It’s in seeing her face light up as she shows them her latest creation or is suddenly struck with inspiration for her next piece. Same goes with kids watching dad play his guitar after dinner on the weekends, because he loves to play. It gives an appreciation that one doesn't get from being forced into music lessons by parents that do not seem to have any interest in playing themselves. Even the grandparent with the incredible collection of books that they are always reading and adding to, that instills into the child the importance of reading and learning. It all matters. You've got to be more for your children than just a parent. You have to set examples for everything that made you who you are. You can't just tell them what to do and expect feeding them and loving them will be enough. They not only need to know who you are, but they deserve to know who you are. You are their parent, and who you are matters to them.

It is your responsibility to show them how to be passionate. Passionate about anything, everything, something! You have to inspire, experiment, and encourage by enjoying the things you love as well as finding new things to love and enjoy as you continue to grow as a person. How else can you introduce them to these things and expect them to hear the beauty in a painting, feel the emotion in a song, and smell the history and imagination in an old book? They need your example.

Daddies are the best swing stabilizers.

There once was a man from Nantucket...

I feel very passionately about this issue. I'm unsettled by the idea of losing one’s self when becoming a parent, and I think I should give a little background and explanation as to why it is so important to me.

I grew up in a home with my grandfather and 4 generations of women in a tiny trailer in rural West Georgia. Mother, sister, grandmother, and aunt. My father wasn't around much, but my grandfather was, and he worked his ass off to support us all. The adults worked so much that most of their free time was spent sleeping or watching television while the kids stayed outside until it was time to eat or go to sleep. There was no energy for anything else. No one encouraged me to read for fun (I was 20 the first time I read a book for pleasure), even though my grandmother was a bit of a Grammar Nazi that I caught reading trashy romance novels a time or two. No one pushed me to play music, even though my father is a pretty good guitar player, and my mother I'm told was a pretty good drummer (apparently skateboarder and marksman are also part of her childhood resume that my sister and I never witnessed). I was never encouraged to pursue art, either, even though one night my grandfather let it slip that he'd enjoyed art as a child. It was never mentioned before, or after, but that one evening I had a sketch pad out and he saw me trying to draw a face and became very excited about it. He sat down with me, and he showed me how to draw an eye that didn't look like it belonged on a Simpson's character. He talked about how he loved to draw and paint as a kid; but I'd never seen him do anything outside of working on cars, computers, and electronics other than fishing when he had even an hour of free time (though we did watch quite a few westerns and a lot of Doctor Who when the ladies allowed us control of the TV). Other than that eye, I've still never seen anything he's created.

The thing is, I never got any kind of encouragement like that, and while I don't fault any of them for it, I’m very bothered by it. Bitter, even. My sister is a year and a half my junior and my aunt only five years my senior - I don't think they got the encouragement either. Sure, we were told to join band or play a sport, but I don't remember anyone ever asking me to play them anything I learned on a drum, and most of the time the sports just seemed like forced social activities that was more for them being out doing something than actually seeing us play - which I can hardly blame them for wanting. Like I said, I don't fault them for it at all. Life wasn't easy, and we were always struggling, so who had the time to do the things that they loved?

I never got the feeling that my mother and father ever wanted to be parents, or that they ever truly enjoyed it. My grandparents did, in their own little way, though. The kind of people that complain about the things they're doing, but obviously love doing (my grandmother especially). They are the ones that mostly raised me and my sister, and they loved their roles. Or, at the very least took pride in them. My grandma was a stay at home grandma that kept the home as clean as one can with 6 people in a tiny 3 bedroom trailer on a dirt road. At least until I was about 14 and she decided to work somewhere other than home (she was a babysitter for more than just my sister and me). She became a lunch lady, and she was so much happier doing that than she was at home with children. My grandfather worked from morning to night repairing everything from TVs, computers, and cars to every last thing around the house he could possibly repair. He took care of everyone and was often the only voice of reason in our home. My mother also worked, mostly for a credit office, but looking back that seemed to be as far as her parental duties could go. With an hour and a half commute each way, she was rarely home before bedtime, and never in time for dinner. So my grandparents did most of the major parenting, my grandfather working harder than anyone to support and teach us about responsibility. He seemed to be the most concerned about our character. He is the kind of person that people respect because they want to, not because they feel they have to. Even animals respect him like a strange pied piper, and he’s the primary reason becoming a father seemed so wonderful to me.

After my son was born, I thought about all of those things that kids on TV did that I never got pushed to do - piano lessons, martial arts classes, art classes outside of normal school, etc. I wanted (and still do!) Xekan to have it all.

Shortly after Xekan was born I started noticing patterns. I noticed that the occasional reading my grandmother did drastically increased after all the kids were out of the house. I looked at my grandfather, who had just finished breaking and repairing everything that my grandma would let him break and repair since his retirement, and found that he had taught himself to play guitar and banjo. He's in his 70s and taught himself two new instruments that I had never seen him play at any other time in my life. Not only that, but he bought a couple DSLRs and had taken up photography using online courses that he downloaded and still studies all the time. He was ordering brochures for culinary school, bought a quad to ride around his property, and just started doing all of the things he'd always wanted to do. He and my grandma now take random trips to places they loved when they were younger and they have so much fun doing it. They'll take off on one at the drop of a hat, and come back with little knickknacks for everyone (though my family has always brought me back hot sauce, apple butter, and honey from every place they go. No, I have no idea why they do this, and yes I do find it just as strange as you, but free noms are free noms!) They travel, visit old friends, and they make new memories together that they never did while raising their children. It’s fucking inspiring. My stepfather and mother bought Harley Davidsons, took up scuba diving, and bought a little cabin on a lake after my sister and brothers moved out. Everyone was doing what they loved, but only after they no longer had children at home to care for.

Like a thug do.
I know, I know, I was freaking adorable.

How about some fucking hindsight?

Fuck that. I don't want my son looking back at his father after he has gone off to college or started a family of his own and seeing me doing all of the things I'd wanted to do and didn't because I had made being a father my identity. I don't want him to ever feel like he held me back from enjoying life, because he is what makes life enjoyable and he needs to know that at all times. He needs to know that I am more than just a parent slaving away to provide for him. More than just know it, he needs to see it and have enough memories proving it to never feel it is even a viable consideration. He needs to know that he is an addition to my life, not a burden.

So I decided to make some changes, and in the last year I've started learning things I have always wanted to do, but never did for whatever reasons/excuses I gave myself. I've started learning to speak a new language, play guitar, and even how to paint. I am fucking terrible at every single one of them, but they're fun and I am constantly improving. I do these things with Xekan too, and painting is his favorite (though he loves racing me and his Tio Brent to respond to the Spanish language learning tracks while in the car). I'm even planning on learning to play the violin in the next few months, in hopes that learning two instruments will help keep me from burning out on learning to play guitar. I have reconnected with old passions, like writing and running and going to concerts as well. I'm reading more than I've ever read before, and I am encouraging Xekan to come up with new things to do while incorporating him into all that I do as often as I can (or that he allows). He turns 4 in September, and sometime after that I am going to have him take piano lessons, assuming the teachers that teach kids his age feel he is ready for lessons. Not only am I going to start him taking those lessons, I am going to learn right along with him. Then we are going to train in Bujinkan together. These are just some of our examples, (not including all of the science experiments and things we take apart and put back together) and as time passes more and more things will come up that we haven't yet thought of.

You see, I don't want my son growing up thinking a parent is only a parent and incapable of being anything else. I don't want him thinking I had to sacrifice any of my dreams for him, because I haven't. I do not sacrifice for him, because that assumes I’d rather do or have something else more than him. It says that what I do is out of obligation, not desire. If given the choice between going to a movie with friends, or staying home and cooking dinner with Xekan, I’m going to choose Xekan. I’m not sacrificing, I’m choosing. Making a choice does not equate to sacrificing all other possible choices. That is a mentality that bothers me. I’m not cool with it. I still have passions and dreams and goals that I am actively working toward. Now I am, above all else, most passionate about being his father - there is no doubting that. I'm still more than his father, though. I am all of the things that brought me to the place where I can be his father, and I want him to know that. I want everyone to know that. You don't have to give up everything about yourself when you become a parent and only hang out with other parents. In fact, most of the friends that Xekan and I see most often do not even have kids, and I'm beginning to think that is because I haven't lost my identity to parenthood. I haven't limited my activities and passions to what parents that only hang out with parents do.

We love Deadpool, so we paint Deadpool.

Xekan painted his mother a heart, and then declared his next piece would be a PB & Honey sandwich.

Strongbad, because THUG.

Brass tacks all over the place.

While it is true that I waited to become a parent when I was [relatively] ready, so that I didn't have to make any lifestyle changes, I don't think that's an excuse for giving up who you are. If anything, someone that is young and becoming a parent before they are ready should still have their idealistic dreams that society likes to beat out of those that wait as long as I did (which is not to say 27 is an old age to have kids). Which brings us around to the bullshit we've been programmed to say to each other when expecting a child. When someone becomes pregnant all they are told is how their lives are no longer their lives, everything will change, they can no longer do the things they want, raising a child is going to be the hardest thing they will ever have to do, life as they know it is officially over, so on and so forth. Why the fuck would we say these things?

People having their first child, especially when they're young, are told they have to give up everything that makes them the people they are simply because they're bringing a child into the world. This tends to be taken as good intentions, though I feel it is often said with a tone of disappointment coated in resentment. It's fucking horrible advice either way. It isn't true, and I can't think of anything positive that can be gained from advice like that. Seriously, those are fucking horrible things to say to anyone.

Telling these things to someone may let them know that they have to grow up and be more mindful of their choices, especially if they are particularly selfish and impulsive, but it also sends the message that having kids is horrible. It implies that in order to start a family, you have to be a particular kind of person with no sense of individuality. How often do we all say we are going to be this kind of parent, or that kind of parent? Why don’t we say, “I’m going to be me, just with kid(s)...”? Because that’d be crazy, so we have to put ourselves into a mold and use it to shape us into these made up parental archetypes, even if it means having our souls torn from us. That's horrifying. Isn't that essentially why most people are afraid of dying? Losing who you are is a living death.

So, why would I tell someone their life is over when they become a parent, if I feel like mine didn't really begin until Xekan was born? Why describe it as the most difficult job in the world, when being a parent is the anchor that reminds me how wonderful life is? No, I will not push those thoughts onto anyone, nor will I accept them from any person spouting the nonsense. Being a parent is not a reason to "sacrifice" who I am and what I love for a greater good, but inspiration for me to work harder for the things I've spent my entire life dreaming of. It's the inspiration that pushes me to inspire my son, and that's fucking wonderful. Seriously fucking wonderful.

I guess what I am getting at with all of this rambling, is that I'm sick of people describing something so positive as something negative. Turning themselves into martyrs that sacrifice everything that makes them who they are so that they can be the best parent they can be, while ignoring just how detrimental that mentality truly is to their children. Honestly, is it so hard to see the light in a sunbeam that people have to deny its luminescence in order to fabricate a dim flicker of an interpretation? That’s just ridiculous.

Do I need to repeat anything?

In the end we're all just jelly beans anyway.

It’s ridiculous, because I believe parenting is one of the greatest joys in the universe. Well, it is for me and countless other parents. Parenting isn’t something everyone wants or should do, nor should anyone be made to feel damaged or selfish for not wanting to have children. Parenting is a choice. Regardless of your opinions of the options available, it is still 100% a choice, and it is a great honor and privilege that not everyone is capable of experiencing. Sometimes it’s hard, frustrating, terrifying, and heartbreakingly painful. Most of the time, however, it’s incredible.

Being a parent is a great many things to everyone lucky enough to experience it, but it is not an excuse. Though what parent hasn't used their kids to get out of doing something with friends they just didn't want to do? It still isn't an excuse to give up on your dreams, to throw away everything that makes you who you are, or to stop doing the things that make you happy. The things you want and love may change daily, and parenting may change them more drastically than winning a lottery, but changing your dreams and goals does not equate to giving up on them. Those things are vital in providing the best for your children.

If you really want what is best for your kids, and you believe they can be anything they want if they try, then you have to be ready to show them how to try. Telling them to do something that you are not doing, and using the excuse that you're not doing it so that they can, is seriously fucked up. It’s lazy, riddled with guilt, and just a horrible thing to put on a child’s shoulders. Saying or feeling that way does not make you a martyr. Saying you do without so that your kids do not have to, is not a good parental quality. Unless, of course, you're talking about food and water - things needed for life, not entertainment or creature comfort.

You can't be an artless breeder and expect your kid to stay a dreamer for very long. You can't expect them to want more from life than you've achieved if you are not trying to achieve more. If they see you content with just being a parent without any passions beyond your children, then they are likely to aim for the same life. Likewise, if they see you dwelling on what might have been and feeling bitter with life, accepting that you can't have more and shouldn't even try; well that is probably what they're going to do as well. You can't hide those feelings from them, they will notice. They see almost everything, and what they don’t see, they feel.

There is no excuse for quitting your pursuit of hopes and dreams after becoming a parent. The only deadline we have to achieve the things we want to achieve is death. Until then, there is time to dream and achieve, so don't let having kids convince you that it is too late. That just puts more pressure on them to figure out what they want before they've had time to live and dream enough to even figure out how to know what they want. If you have time to watch television at all, you have time to pursue a dream. You have time to practice a hobby. You have time to work on being the best possible you that you can be. Your kids are not an excuse to give up on yourself.

If, however, you feel that parenting is a noble job worthy of being a person’s sole goal in life… Well, I don't really know what else I can say that will show you why I feel the way I do. I don't know how to explain why I can't accept, what is essentially just having sex, as a legitimate career goal. Even if I could view it as a job, I don't think I could understand the mentality that leads someone to desire a job that has literally no requirements beyond willingness to have sex and having been born with functioning reproductive organs. Would you be okay with your child saying they want to make a career out of earning minimum wage somewhere that employs teens still in high school with no experience or actual qualifications? It pays more than just being a parent does, so why not? I'm guessing you'd want them to want and do things that showcase how incredible they are. Things that utilize all of the potential you see in them every single time you look into their eyes. So tell me why you can't love being a parent and love doing other things. Your potential isn't something you have a finite amount of that transfers into them during conception in hopes that they do more with it than you did. It’s still there, waiting for you to utilize it like only you can.

I can't understand not wanting more from myself or from life, but I can understand the path that may lead someone to that point. Parenting, like all relationships, has the potential to consume us so that we forget that we are more than that relationship. We are more than the best friend, more than the spouse, more than a sibling or nibling or aunt/uncle, more than an employee or boss, and more than a parent. We are our passions, our desires, and every single moment that led to the one we are in right now. It’s important that we remember that, and even more important that we do not allow ourselves to lose or forget it.

If you aren't actively working on who you are and who you want to be, you'll just become a noisy bag of bones talking about who you were and who you could have been. If you feel you've lost your identity, or can't remember the last time you felt like more than a parent, do something about it. Get off your ass and paint a picture, try something you've never done before, attempt to enjoy something you are not good at. Have fun being bad at something, and watch just how fast your identity stops being a singular thing. Then watch your children grow in the ways you've always hoped they would, and never knew they could. Realize that their growth depends so much on you remembering that you don’t stop growing when your height plateaus or your children are born. So long as your brain is functioning, you are growing, and the direction of that growth is solely your responsibility. Own it. Our children depend on us being more than just their parents. They need us to be people, individuals, characters; so that they can grow into the people they want to be rather than who they’re told they should be. Be an innovator so that you can raise innovators, because innovators are what the world needs more than anything else. Baby makers are a dime a dozen, but great people that inspire and create change are priceless.

We are all capable of more than we think, and we can't let the fear of failing in front of our children stop us from testing those capabilities. Failure is key to growth, and should be embraced by everyone. You learn far more from failure than you do from success, and it is important that our children understand this. I’m happy to be a failure for my son, and I hope that when I'm gone he remembers me as more than just his father. I hope he remembers me as a loving failure that encouraged him to fail, learn, and grow with me rather than for me.

So, are you willing to fail for your kid? Can you give up your parental identity and don that of ‘Failure’ for your child? I challenge you to give it a try. Spend 30 days trying things you've never tried before, things you know you will fail at, and then enjoy those failures. Learn from them. Take some time to reflect on them. Embrace them like compost for your soul, encouraging personal growth and pushing aside the dry sand you've had your soul planted in since you forgot who you are. Or, you know, don’t. I’m just some weirdo on the Internet with obscenely high opinions of his opinions, so what do I know?

Embarrassing a two year old is an art.

14 February 2014

My Name is Jordan Reeves

This is part of a short story I started last summer as a way of expressing what my divorce has felt like. It's part 1 of ? and I'm not sure when I will write or post part 2. I figured the best motivation to write it would be to go ahead and post this one.

Part 1: Who Are You Anyway?

I awoke to the sound of a steel gate sliding open with no regard for the sleeping. Eyes stretched open in early morning confusion, and I found myself somewhere unfamiliar. Concrete walls around me, and a hard cot beneath my back. Sat up to see bars on a window and a small aluminum toilet in the corner of this small cell. A man in a uniform stood at the entrance he’d just opened, staring at me with a grin. He wasn't much taller than myself, but seemed a lot more solid than I am. Shoulders a little more broad. “It’s your lucky day, son” he said with a hint of sincerity.

How did I get here?

I stood up, trying to gain some composure. Trying to remember where I was, why I was there.

Have I been here long?

Outside the cell was another uniformed guard. His grin a bit more genuine and his eyes seemed slightly glossed over. He was taller than the other guard; face had more of a round shape too. Not quite as fit, but still not someone I’d challenge to a fight unless I absolutely had to, and yet, there was something jolly and disarming about him. I felt a little more at ease, but no less confused.

What is going on?

I followed them down a long corridor, cells with other men sleeping on hard cots on both sides of the path. All of them still sleeping. All of them motionless except for the occasional rise in their chests as they pulled air into their lungs in long, deep breaths.

“Wher – Where are we… going?” I finally managed to choke out of a dry throat that felt like it hadn't been used in years. “You’re no longer welcome here, so we’re taking you out,” chuckled the first guard. Trying to remain calm, I turned to look at him when the second guard chimed in, “He’s fucking with you, son. You’re being set free today.”

Being set free from what? From where? To where?

I must have been silent for too long, because the second guard spoke again. “You've been here for 8 years, son. No, you aren't crazy. Well, you may be, but not about this. Today you are finally being set free.”

“Why am I here and how… did I end up here?” I said swallowing hard. The confusion was only worsening as I was becoming more alert. He gave me a sympathetic smile. “You put yourself here. Everyone here comes here by choice. None of them really know where this place is, or what it is that they are putting themselves through, but they all do it. You too. Marcus and I have been your guards since the day you arrived. My name is Sean.”

I looked around at Marcus and then the other prisoners we were passing. All of them were out cold, unfazed by the sound of our loud footsteps and voices echoing throughout the concrete chambers around us. Not even a twitch.

I nodded toward one of the cells, “When will… they be free?” “They won’t,” boomed Marcus, “Most don’t ever see freedom again. Honestly, we didn't think you’d ever see it again.” “Don’t say ‘we,’ Marcus!” Sean gleefully interrupted, “I believe I bet you $50 that he would make it out of here before year 10.” “Yeah, yeah, try not to get too wet over there. It’s just one $50 bet, not like you won the lottery or anything.”

We reached the end of the corridor, and Marcus started working on the series of locks that were keeping us inside. I turned to Sean and he had the look of a man that knew exactly what I was thinking, as if he’d gone through this a thousand times before. “They’re to keep people out, not to keep you in. When people come here, it is to get away from the rest of the world. Our job is to make sure they stay out and do not disturb you while you are here.” He sighed and continued, “Most people never see the outside world again once they enter here. They stay here, believing they are happier than they could possibly be out there, not even realizing they are not out there…” He trailed off, staring at something far beyond the floor his eyes had turned to. “Your agent will explain everything when you get outside.”

Marcus finished opening the last lock, and we walked into the brightest goddamn room I had ever seen. Solid white marble from floor to ceiling, except for one window on the opposing wall from where we stood, that seemed to have the sun blaring directly through it, illuminating the place like a tanning bed. The only hint of a shadow in the place was being made by the tall man standing in the middle of the room with a smile that reeked of salesman. He was well dressed, thin, and had his hand motioning for us to come forward. 

“Go ahead,” nudged Sean, “he isn't going to bite you.”

I walked forward and the slim man reached out to shake my hand. As I took his hand, he smiled and showed teeth as bright and white as the room we were in. This man has teeth like God’s shoeshine. That song will never sound the same again. That is a real song, right? What if everything I thought, every song I loved, every movie I ever saw… No, they’re real, they have to be real. This man must be my agent. I have to know. I reached out to shake his hand and smiled as I said, “It’s nice to meet you. I’m –“ “Jordan Reeves. I’m well aware of who you are-," he gleefully interrupted. Jordan Reeves. My name is Jordan Reeves. I remember that. "and everything about you. I’m your agent, Mr. Godbee. Barry Godbee. You can call me Barry,” he said with much enthusiasm. Much more than felt necessary. I was nobody, and he sounded like a fanboy talking to the cast of Firefly. I hope I didn't dream up that show... or do I? Is it stealing if I steal something from someone in a dream? Focus, Jordan. Focus. Figure out where you are and what is going on right now.

“Okay… Barry. Why don’t I remember… coming here? Where exactly is here, and… why have I never heard of a place like this? It clearly… isn't a mental institution, or at least not like any I have ever seen. Why… am I suddenly being set free today?” I felt myself getting worked up and my throat was feeling worse, so I cut myself off, hoping he’d answer at least one of my questions. Explain some things to me. Anything.

His enthusiastic smile changed from fanboy smile to the small smile a doctor gives a patient before informing them that they have cancer. My heart sank, hands started to tingle, and my already dry throat became a barren desert. “Let’s go for a ride, Mr. Reeves. We have much to talk about.” Agent Godbee placed his hand on my shoulder and guided me toward a door in the corner that I hadn't noticed before. It was nearly invisible in this bizarrely sterile white room.

What the fuck is going on?

As Agent Godbee opened the door, I turned back to Sean and Marcus, and they were both smiling. Sean gave a nod and half yelled across the large room, “Don’t worry, Jordan, everything is going to be better than you ever thought possible.” “Go on, you lucky bastard,” Marcus said with a dismissive wave and friendly laugh. I turned back to Agent Godbee to see him holding the door waiting for me to enter… or was it an exit? I stepped toward it and looked back at the guards again, wondering why they could not accompany us. Marcus was shaking his head and pulling a wallet from his front pocket.

The door took us into a hallway with lights that came on as we walked, but I could see no censors anywhere. There were no doors, and it was barely wide enough for the two of us to walk side by side. Sharp turns at random distances made the place feel like a maze. Agent Godbee was walking next to me, humming a tune I recognized but could not quite place.

I know this song. Ugh! It’s right there, on the tip of my tongue. We turned another corner in the hallway. Fuck! What is that song?

“Oh, no! I’m so sorry, Mr. Reeves! You must be dying for something to drink, and I have not offered you a thing. Would you like some water, or some juice? Anything?” As thirsty as I was, I had been so distracted by the confusion of everything that I had not thought to ask for anything to drink. “Yes, please. Anything will do.”

We stopped in front of the only door I’d seen since entering this hallway, and Agent Godbee removed a key from his front shirt pocket. When the door opened, there was nothing in it but a vending machine. Not any vending machine I had ever seen before, either. It was covered completely with buttons, each with an image representing a flavor drink or food. He stepped aside and motioned for me to make a selection. There was no place to insert money anywhere among the wall of buttons before me. I pressed the one that had an image of a mango on a soda can and the one that looked like a bottle of water. A can of mango nectar and a bottle of water fell into the slot at the bottom. I removed them and immediately opened and chugged the can of mango juice.

I have never tasted anything so delicious.

I finished the juice, and stood there breathing heavily and sighing with relief at how amazing the juice tasted and felt on my parched throat. Agent Godbee pointed to a slot on the lower right of the machine. I placed the can in the slot, and heard it sucked into oblivion.

“Thank you,” I said as I opened the bottle of water and took a sip, “I hadn't realized just how thirsty I was. It feels like I haven’t had anything to drink or eat in years.” You haven’t,” he said so matter-of-factly that I wasn't sure how to respond.

Haven’t? Haven’t? How have I not had anything to eat or drink in years? Didn't I have pizza just last night with my wife? Oh, god! My wife! My son! Do they know I’m here?!

“Barry, where are my wife and son?” I tried to sound as calm as possible. “Do they know that I am here? Are they okay?” He placed a hand on my shoulder and smiled reassuringly, “Don’t worry, Jordan. Charlotte and Xavier are fine. Everyone is fine. I will explain everything on our ride to your new life.”

That’s a relief… New life? What?

We reached the end of the hallway and stood there as Agent Godbee went through another series of locks keeping us inside, and everyone else out. He was much more efficient with the locks than Marcus was. He opened the last lock, and we were outside, bright yellowish white sun beating down on us. It hurt my eyes, but felt nice. I closed my eyes, and took in a deep breath with my face to the sky.

“This way, Mr. Reeves.” I opened my eyes and shook myself back into focus. Taking a long drink of my water, I followed Agent Godbee toward a gate about 30 yards from the door we just stepped out of. On the other side was a long, silver limousine. The ride to my new life. I don't know what that meant, but I knew I was almost free of a prison I had no idea even existed until 20 minutes ago.

03 July 2013

A Blog Post About Suicide

Suicide is a sensitive topic. One that most all of us have had to deal with, whether with the loss of someone we know, or with the idea of taking our own life. It is often said that suicide is a selfish and cowardly act. That giving up on life, forgetting everyone you know, and thinking only of yourself is so selfish and stupid that not much else surpasses its cowardice. Cowardly, because staying and dealing would be harder and far braver.

I get sick to my stomach when I hear these things. More often than not, I stay quiet. I know that saying these things is merely a coping mechanism for most people. It is a way for them to deal with the loss of a loved one, or to suppress their own dark thoughts and guilt for having not stepped in when they could have. I can understand the need for this, but I cannot accept it as the most beneficial way of coping, or even the least harmful.

I am going to try and explain why I do not agree with these thoughts, and why I feel they are harmful to have, share, and/or encourage others to have. I do not know of any studies showing whether or not these opinions are actually harmful, but will probably be motivated to search for some before I'm through here. I am merely expressing my opinion based on my own experiences as someone who has seriously attempted suicide several times, and as someone that has lost many friends and family members to suicide.

Why is suicide a selfish act? A common argument is that suicide is selfish because the person committing it is not thinking of anyone but themselves. They are not concerned with the pain and suffering that their loved ones will endure. They're just concerned with ending their pain, and nothing else.

I feel there are a lot of flaws in that thought process. Mainly, the assumption that every single person contemplating suicide has the same thoughts and reasoning behind their decision to end their own life. It seems to assume that they are all so self absorbed that they do not care about anyone or anything; or worse, that they are spoiled teens that think it will be the ultimate revenge on people that have been cruel to them. That it will give them some sort of legendary status. The forgotten always remembered.

That's a bit too presumptuous for me to accept, though. It leaves out so many things. Namely those people with mental illnesses beyond depression and teen angst. Not once did I ever feel like ending my life would make people remember me, or feel bad for treating me the way they did. Nor did I ever think people would love me more after I was gone. When I was at that point, it was the thought that the people I loved would be better off without me that made the choice seem more like the right one. I felt like I was a burden on everyone I knew, dead weight that none of them needed or deserved. If I just ended everything, they would be better off. I knew they'd miss me, but they would be relieved of the troubles I caused them all. These thoughts were so strong, that I felt like a failure when I woke up alive. Even more so when I ended up in ICU for a week and had to endure visitors and the knowledge that everyone I knew was now aware of yet another of my many failures. I felt like a freak show that people felt sorry for. I felt that I was an even larger burden, because on top of everything else, they now had to worry about me taking my own life. I felt like everyone that walked into that room was thinking I'd only attempted what I did so that I could get attention. That if I'd been really serious about it, I'd have swallowed a thousand prescription pills rather than the 500+ that I did take.

That is what that kind of severe depression does to you. It rationalizes things that are not rational. It makes you believe that everyone else wants you to do it, and that not taking your own life is the selfish act. Everyone wants you to go. No one wants to deal with you and your pain.

Then there are those that kill themselves out of severe mental illness. Several years ago I lost a dear friend suffering from paranoid delusions, believing the government was after her. She felt she was being watched at all times, and was so afraid that she asked a family member for a pistol to place under her pillow as she slept, just to be safe. A few weeks later, she used that pistol to take her own life. It had been a couple of years since I had last seen her, and only a week after I'd asked a friend how she was doing and to invite her out for my birthday the following month. She had been off medication and recreational drugs for over a year, and that was long enough for her to go from one of the smartest and most amazing people I'd known, to someone so distraught with paranoia that the only way she could save herself and protect her family was to end her own life. I was told she did not leave a note.

I would also talk about those that kill themselves in order to save their family from debt through life insurance, but I do not believe I personally know of anyone that has done this. My uncle may fall into this area, but I never wanted to ask anyone any more details than I was already given. From what I did learn, he was severely depressed and felt helpless. I’d like to stick with only those that I have more definitive knowledge of, and experience with.

Why is suicide a cowardly act? It often said suicide is cowardly, because it is taking the easy way out. Instead of taking the high road and working on their problems, they are giving up. They are basically running from them in a way that they can never turn back. They are scared of life, and scared of the hard work that comes with it.

I'm really not sure why people forget how scary death is when talking about suicide. To not only attempt it, but to seriously think about it beforehand and still do it, is far from cowardly. It takes a lot to follow through, which is why so many go with falling from buildings/bridges and swallowing pills. Things that are quick and as painless as possible (the irony that swallowing pills, slitting wrists, hanging, suffocating, drowning, etc; can be quite painful and drawn out in comparison to a gunshot, is not lost on me.). This is not to say people should be commended posthumously for their suicides. I do not believe anyone that takes their own life should be thought of as brave for doing what many cannot, because the events leading to the act are full of missed chances to have changed things.

Each time that I attempted to end my own life, I thought very long and hard about what I was doing, and why I was doing it. I prepared for it (with the exception of one incident that involved plastic and duct tape) and took my time to make sure it was exactly what I wanted and needed to do. It wasn't easy, and each time I was scared shitless. This was a permanent decision. If I succeeded, there would be no second chances. I was sacrificing everything to end the pain that had turned me into a burden that everyone I had ever loved was forced to carry. The feelings in the moments before and during felt much like those felt when placing myself into harm’s way to protect a loved one. The primary differences were society calling me a coward looking for attention and society labeling me a kind of hero. To be honest, placing myself in harm’s way for a loved one has always been a much easier choice to make. It is natural, while suicide goes against all of my natural instincts.

Why is suicide a stupid act? I have heard many times over that suicide is stupid, because there are always people worse off and not taking their lives. That the only people being hurt by suicide are the loved ones left behind to mourn. That it is stupid for the same reasons that make it selfish and cowardly.

The people that I often hear say this appear to be those that are the most afraid of their own mortality. It rarely has any rational thought behind it, and I feel that this reason is the most harmful of them all, and the one that exemplifies most why there needs to be more dialogue and discourse when it comes to suicide. Regardless of what most people claim, death is the one thing our species fears most. It is what we are trying hardest to cure. Be it through faith or science, just about everyone wants to live forever. So to try and imagine what it is like to no longer want to exist. To not have that primal instinct to survive; well, that can be damn near impossible for many people to imagine, let alone accept.

This does not make suicide stupid. This makes the lack of education and awareness of mental illness stupid. This makes societal etiquette when it comes to what people should and should not talk about stupid. It does not make the act stupid, and it most certainly has no bearing on the intelligence of anyone that has attempted or committed suicide.

Someone in a place that makes suicide seem like an answer to anything, is not a stupid person. Anyone in that place knows there are other answers, and they have thought about them. They have weighed them against one another. They have hit a point where they go from sad to a point in sadness that many people may never know. A point where the realization that they have hit the place where suicide is a serious option increases their sadness in a way that it no longer seems like a choice. It turns into something that has to be done, because the point of no return has been crossed and long since left behind. The act no longer feels like it is even about them. It has become an act for the greater good. Once this point has been reached, it is not following through that feels like the selfish and cowardly act. Many of those lucky enough to survive an attempt know exactly how much it hurts to wake up and realize that they have “failed.” Given enough time that feeling can turn to gratefulness. Having people that are not afraid to talk about it without pity or judgment can greatly decrease that time.

Why I feel it is harmful to talk about suicide as selfish and cowardly and stupid:

Shame. First and foremost, shame. When you talk about suicide in these ways, you are making those with suicidal thoughts feel shame for thinking about ending their own life. Secondly, you are keeping suicide taboo. You are encouraging others to keep suicide a taboo subject in which people are afraid to talk about out of fear that they will be negatively judged. No one should ever feel ashamed of their feelings or afraid to talk about a serious topic because it makes others uncomfortable. Especially when talking about it may save someone’s life.

Someone in a state that already has them contemplating suicide is most certainly not in need of added guilt and shame for feeling that way. To be in that mindset one already feels hopeless and alone, and does not need anything else strengthening those thoughts and feelings. No one should ever feel ostracized for feeling badly.

The next time you catch yourself thinking suicide is selfish, cowardly, or stupid; ask yourself what is more likely - people contemplating, attempting, or committing suicide are these things; or is it more likely that being unable to get beyond your own discomfort with the subject is what is truly selfish, cowardly, and stupid?

Suicide is not selfish, it is heartbreaking. It is not cowardly, it is tragic. Suicide is not stupid. Suicide is preventable.

Be someone that brings awareness to others, and not someone afraid to accept a serious reality for many people. So long as suicide is considered a taboo conversation topic, lives that could have been saved will continue to be lost.

Here are a few links about suicide that I feel are worth reading:

14 June 2013

Double Standards Of Parenting

The toughest thing about being a parent is dealing with other people. Doesn't matter if they have children or not, almost everyone seems to have an opinion on what all parents are supposed to do if they are to be a good parent. Throw in something about yourself that doesn't fit in with the All-American nuclear family idea from the 50's, and you've got a whole new set of things you’re doing wrong coming your way. You could be a parent that is LGBTQ, a different race from the person you had you child(ren) with, different religion from the norm you were raised around, political views that are not in line with any social norms, or even someone that is just a lover of tattoos and other body modifications. There are so many things that will drive people to telling you just how wrong you are for having that thing you have that they do not also have.

I have a few of them. Politically I am a Centrist, which basically means I hate politics and choosing a side, which often ends in all sides accusing me of being whatever opposing side they are upset with at that moment. I am a lover of tattoos, and am always working toward expanding my collection (or updating my canvas, if you will). My son’s mother is not the same race that I am, from the same country (though technically U.S. territories are “part” of the US, it is another country), nor do we share the same native language (and yet her mastery of the English language goes far beyond my own, and I don’t speak any other languages). I’m also an atheist, which I’m sure comes as no surprise to anyone reading this blog.

It is very rare that anyone brings up politics as a reason to tell me I’m wrong. This is likely because I do not talk about politics very often. My hatred/annoyance of them keeps me from discussing them, not because I do not care about the state of my country, but because it is almost always people arguing over who has the better oranges and what it takes to grow a great orange and the best methods of juicing oranges, then they go and vote on apples and kiwis. Same with my son being of mixed races, which is more than likely because his mother is fair skinned and does not speak with the accent one would expect of someone from Puerto Rico (though every last one of her friends and family members I have met from there have an accent). I have a lot of tattoos, but no longer wear any body jewelry, so I do not get the stares I used to get, and the quality of my ink is amazing, which is something even the most hateful of tattoo haters cannot deny. So I rarely get anything negative from those people other than how ugly my skin will look when I’m 80. No, the main thing people love to attack me for, is being an atheist. Maybe it is atheism that keeps them from attacking me on other fronts, or maybe our culture is truly progressing in how we accept the differences in other people. I’d like to believe that to be true.

I am going to focus on raising a child as an atheist, because that is the one thing about me that causes the most headaches from other people. Plus it is the only one that I think I can write more than a paragraph or two on before I feel like I've said all that needs to be said (I could probably write for days on LGBTQ parenting and how amazing it is for a child, but I have no firsthand experience in that, so I’ll save it for another day).


As a parent, I am one of the two most influential people in my son’s life. Because of this, I am constantly working to be the very best example I can be for him. I do this in every facet of my life. What I believe in regards to religion is very important in who I am* and what kind of example I am setting for him. If I keep that from him, what kind of example am I setting? Especially when almost no other person he meets each day will keep their beliefs from him? How is my letting him grow up not knowing that I do not believe in god, while allowing the rest of his family to encourage a belief, right? It isn't. It isn't right at all.

I will not hide any part of who I am from my son, regardless of what my peers feel. I want to encourage him to always be true to himself, and open about who he is. Hiding a part of me from him will not teach him to come to conclusions on his own, it will teach him that there are parts of who we are that we have to sometimes hide when they are not in line with the ruling majority. That is the opposite of standing up for who you are, and it is not equal to the kind of “pride” one talks about when they refuse to walk away from a bad situation. It would be hypocritical of me to tell him to be proud of who he is, while appearing ashamed of who I am.

I want to raise my son to be someone that is not afraid to be open and honest with himself, and about himself. No shame in liking what he likes, loving who he loves, believing what he believes, and being whomever he turns out to be. I cannot do that if I am not setting the example by being that. How can I tell him to be open and honest about whom he is if I am hiding a major part of me from him? How can I ask him to stand up for what he believes if I am constantly censoring myself simply to keep from upsetting people that do not like anyone different from themselves?  I can’t ask him to be these things if I am not also these things, or at least trying my very best to be them.

So I will tell my son my beliefs. I will not shove them down his throat, but I will present them to him exactly as they are -- my beliefs and nothing more. I will not tell him he has to believe what I believe, nor will I push him toward it. I will simply share what and why I believe what I do, and encourage him to research and ask questions to find out what he thinks is true or not. Believe it or not, it is possible to share an opinion with someone without needing them to agree with you.

I will let him come to his own place, in his own time, and in his own way. However, I will NOT send him off to church on Sundays, Vacation Bible School during the summer, or anything else that I do not agree with or would not want to attend myself. That is not opening him up to new ideas and experiences, that is sending him off to be indoctrinated. I will not do that to him. In fact, I will not allow him to attend these things until he is old enough to ask to go because he wants to and not because a family member or friend told him to ask after making it sound like going to the park for free candy. Their intentions be damned.

So, no, I do not have any intentions of pointing my son down a path I believe to be false and harmful simply because I walked that path to get to where I am. That’s stupid, and in my not so humble opinion, bad parenting. I am his father, and it is my job to teach him the lessons that I have learned, not sit back in silence waiting for him to make the same mistakes. I am to clear the paths that I walk in order to make the road he is to start out on. That way he is not repeating my lessons (though many will be repeated) and can focus on finding his own paths to clear for his children and future generations.

One thing that is often brought up in parental conversations is: “You were raised with religion, and you were able to come to your own conclusions and leave it. Don’t you think your son should do the same? Shouldn't you allow him to come to that conclusion the same way you did? Isn't it more rewarding that way?” The short answer to that is “no.” The long answer to that is, “Fuck no, you goddamned dolt.” You see, for [most] atheists that deconverted from the religion they were raised in, it is fucking horrible giving that up. We’re often accused of only being able to be atheists because of a traumatic experience, when the truth is leaving behind the religious faith we’d always known is extremely traumatic. Not just because of the fall out that often happens with friends and family, but because that is giving up a core part of your being. Mix that with being from a country in which odds are pretty high that you will instantly become the black sheep (if you weren't already) by no longer believing what everyone around you believes, and you've got one hell of an internal battle going on inside your mind that should not even be going on.

My response to this question is often countered by being told it should be something that is difficult to go through and decide like that. They say, “Whether or not you believe in a god is the most important ideological decision anyone will ever make.” To which my palm magically transforms into a placeholder for my face. Belief is not a choice, it is the conclusion drawn from the data processed by your mind. But more than that, the battle going on inside the mind is not whether or not to believe in a higher power, but whether or not we should accept it. The fight is in trying to deny the conclusion you've already come to, because it isn't the conclusion you expected or that the people you love came to. It is in trying to hide it, and in trying to make it go away so that you can just be normal [again] like everyone else. I imagine it is quite similar to someone fighting the realization that they are gay. At least that is what I have been told by LGBTQ atheists and how it sounds when talking to LGBTQ friends about their experiences coming to grips with finally admitting who they were to themselves.

I know many believe that in an ideal world, one would keep their personal beliefs personal and let each other person in the world decide what it is that they want to believe for themselves. Luckily, this is not that ideal world, and very few people my son meets are going to keep their personal beliefs personal. If they did, we would not have the literature that we have, the music, movies, TV shows, etc etc. We would not have the art that we have. We cannot grow without some kind of challenge, and we get that through sharing personal parts of ourselves with one another. Granted, this is not always done in the best of ways, but most of the time it is.

What is frustrating about this, is the knowledge that when it comes to people who do and do not share their personal beliefs with him, it is the atheists that are the least likely to share. Even those that know I am an atheist are going to bite their tongue more often than not if the subject arises around him. If they do share, it will not have any detail, because most will not know what I believe other than what I do not believe, and have no clue how social stigmas impact my parenting style. Plus it can feel pretty damn uncomfortable sharing that with a child. Because you never know what parent is going to get upset with you, you try to avoid speaking about them at all costs. Hell, I don’t even talk about it with my brothers without feeling like I am going to upset their mother. I will answer their questions, but I have never told them to stop believing in a god because Christianity is all bullshit anyway. No matter how much doubt they had at the time of coming to me, I never gave them any kind of a push. Just encouragement to keep asking questions and learning as much as they can in order to come to the most accurate conclusion they can. Mostly, though, I let them know that no matter what, they were loved, not alone, and would be okay. Their mother and my father and most everyone else in our family are Christians, and not a single one of them would have spoken with them in the same manner. Had they been approached by someone showing the kind of doubts they have shown me, they would respond by telling them they are being tested by Satan, telling them that they don’t really have doubts because they “know” god is real, and whatever else they could think of to keep them from walking away from Christianity. All with good intentions, and no realization at just how cult-like it is to do that to someone.

I can’t blame them for that kind of thinking, though. If you honestly believe people that do not have faith or belief in your god are going to burn in Hell for all of eternity, and you do not try and warn them, you’re not a very good person. I’m not talking about pushing something onto them long after they have told you to stop, but just reminding them why they once believed or offering them something you think might be super insightful in hopes of saving them. Yes, I will get frustrated with this, and I will even make fun of you if your “insight” is ridiculous enough. I won’t, however, lose respect for you so long as you are being respectful in your presentation (which I cannot make fun of you if you accomplish this). I understand that with this mentality, hearing that an atheist is sharing their beliefs to someone at an influential age is probably equal to someone trying to sentence your child to death, which I imagine is scary as fuck. I can’t accept it as absolute, though. I cannot look at the reasons, understand why they are this way, and then refuse to try and change them. If I am to believe that someone with those beliefs should share them with me, then I also have to believe that my opinions and beliefs should be shared with them. Neither are any less important than the other. We need to hear each other in order to accept each other and especially if we are to love one another.

As I am writing this, I am realizing so many ways in which I still censor myself for others. I can no longer do this. I’m not going to start running around telling every kid I see that there is probably no god, but I am no longer going to avoid the question when a child asks (or anyone else for that matter), regardless of whom the child is or who their parents are. I’m not hiding it anymore.

So long as he keeps smiling, I don't care what he does or does not believe in.

*Atheism is not important to me as in it defines me, but in that it is a major reason why I am as open and accepting as I am (or am not, depending on who you ask). However, I do not believe it would be very important at all if I were raised in a country that is predominately atheist. I've posted previously about this here and here.

18 April 2013

I just don't think god is necessary for living a good life.

In my last post I talked about how most conversations pertaining to religion with an atheist (this includes talking to other atheists) tend to be why we do not believe in the religions we were taught and/or the other available religions in the world. What aspect of each we find ridiculous, immoral, and factually wrong. In all honesty, those conversations are nearly always the same, and I'm sick of them. Why I do not believe in a god or gods is irrelevant to who I am. Why I do not need to believe in a god or gods, however, is an insight into the true depths of the kind of human I am.

So I want to try and explain why I do not need a god, rather than why I do not believe in any religion. Because this isn't a format that I am used to speaking in, or have ever heard/read, I apologize if it still comes across as why I do not believe in Christianity in many parts. I am most familiar with Christianity, so the examples I give will mostly be from that particular faith, though the claims are pretty universal when it comes to mainstream organized religion.

Here are six reasons I do not need a personal god. There are most certainly more than 6 reasons one would not need a personal god, but these are the first six that come to mind. They are anecdotal, yes, because they are about me and how/why I feel this way. They are not arguments for anything, or in any way trying to convince anyone to believe anything or not believe anything. Just a little insight into some of what makes me who I am.

1. I am happier and more confident without god. Growing up a Christian in West Bumblefuck, Georgia meant "knowing" from the moment I was forming cognitive sentences, that no one could be happy without god. No one could be happy, or as happy as possible (how people are capable of quantifying their happiness in order to compare it to other happy people, is pretty fucking pretentious, and beyond me) without knowing that someone with the power to create the universe is watching over you. Watching, judging, waiting to punish you if you step out of line, "reminding" me that I am born a sinner and in need of forgiveness for being born exactly as the god I need forgiveness from created me, and offering a form of forgiveness that is only given if you ask. A god, that for all intents and purposes, loves you. That love is supposedly the only way to be truly happy. You cannot reach peak happiness without feeling the love of that god.

Well, I find that idea to be a bit silly, and cannot express how much happier I became when I let that idea go in the trash along with all of the other bad ideas I gave into as a naive child. Including believing Hunter Ethridge in the 4th grade when he told me lemon pepper made for great cologne. Yeah, I spent a full day telling creepy strangers at the mall I had no idea why I smelled so delicious.

Something I've learned, that contradicts with needing a god's love to be happy, is happiness should not depend on other people. I've observed this and been taught this, and many of those that have instilled this in me have been strong believers in a god, without realizing the contradictions of the two ideas. It's clear the idea of depending on anyone or anything other than yourself for happiness is lazy. The key, for me, is to find happiness in myself through the choices I make and actions I take. As far as the love of others goes, my happiness is not dependent on them, regardless of how affected by it I may sometimes be. This is why I choose to surround myself with people I can be happy alongside rather than people that I depend on to be happy or that depend on me to be happy.

Not only do I find myself happier taking responsibility for my own emotional well being, but I find myself feeling so free knowing that I am not under the thumb of any deity. I am so very happy and proud of myself for still wanting to be a better person without the idea of reward after death. Actually, I find myself even more motivated to be a better person now that I have let go of the idea of heaven. 

2. Identifying right from wrong is easier without god. In every major theist religion there are rules for being a good person and making that god happy. Many of those rules are good rules, like not killing other people (though these kinds of rules almost always have loopholes). These "good" rules, however, are never more than common sense. The kind of people that need someone to tell them that killing other people is bad, are not very likely to A.) Care, or B.) Have the capability to live on their own and care for themselves.

Many of these rules, however, are silly and/or morally corrupt. Rules about the fabrics you wear, how you cook your food or related to food in general, rules about hairstyle, etc.; are just ridiculous and completely ignored by most sane people. There are those, though, that are morally wrong. Not a matter of opinion, but actually WRONG. Owning slaves is wrong. Owning women is wrong. Beating a child for talking back is wrong. Getting away with rape by paying some money and marrying your victim (which in Christianity says the victim must be a virgin, which seems to be encouraging rapists to go after younger and more innocent women) is FUCKING WRONG. The list goes on to include saying who you can love and how you are allowed to love.

So how does getting over the myth of god help me tell right from wrong more easily? Simple, it allows me to decide for myself what is right and what is wrong. I do not know anyone that openly believes rape is okay under any circumstance. Unfortunately, there are many people that look at the more ignorant and reprehensible rules/laws within their given religion and support it despite how they actually feel about it. I have family and friends that I love dearly, who are opposed to certain civil and human rights simply because their religion says they should be. They have no qualms with those their beliefs affect, and actually love and respect those people up until the point their religious beliefs tell them they can't. This is wrong. It is heartbreaking, and it brings me to my third reason why I do not need a god.

3. Love and Acceptance are actually easier without god. As a believer I was constantly at war with who to love and who to accept, who to judge, and who to reject. I was a Christian, so I was told to love thy neighbor. Love everyone, accept everyone, and judge no one. Only god could judge. Only, the faith I was following and the teachers that were "educating" me in this faith all acted as if the lessons did not contradict the lesson of loving and accepting everyone. I was taught to avoid people of certain opposing faiths (or lack thereof), restrict civil liberties and human rights to those that did not follow certain rules I was told I must follow, and the list goes on. It always goes on.

The thing I noticed the most during my first week of deconversion was how beautiful people were to me. Everyone was so beautiful. Every last person I saw or heard. I truly saw and heard people for the first time the day I realized I did not need a god. It was like having a filter removed from my vision and hearing that let me see people as more than rule followers and rule breakers. Let me hear more than just words wasting my time until it was my turn to speak. People are more than that. So much more. I was able to see the joy and pain in every face I passed, and realized how unimportant those religious rules truly were. People were not sinners; they were not good or bad based on what they believed, or who they loved.

Who they loved.

How could anyone ever think love a bad thing? I was a fool for ever thinking I could define love for anyone but myself. A goddamned fool.

4. I am a better person without god. Without the threat of punishment or reward, the good things that I do are more rewarding. When I believed, no matter how genuine my actions, I still had a thought in the back of my mind wondering if it helped or hurt my chances of getting into heaven. I was more likely to compare myself to other people. I felt the need to push my beliefs onto other people, and justified this with the assumption that there was no way their life could be fulfilling without god.

The fear of punishment was a little motivating as a believer, and was always brought up in church. The fear is always there, even for the most fanatical believer. Especially for the most fanatical believers. But it wasn't the fear that really takes away from good deeds. It is the reward of heaven for being a good person. The very idea of being rewarded for worshipping a god is greedy. It is greed of the worst kind, because it is fighting for a reward so amazing it prevents you from truly enjoying the present. It turns good intentions into brownie points, and clouds judgment to the point of making us feel as if we know what is good, regardless of what those we are affecting think. As a believer I would have voted to take rights away from anyone that did not fall in line with my faith, not because I hated them for not believing what I did, but because I honestly thought it was best for them and they just didn't realize it yet. That was so very wrong. I’m ashamed of having ever had those thoughts.

I'm even more honest without god. Most everyone has doubts of some kind, at least some of the time. My first serious doubts came around age 8 or 9, and I denied them until I was 20. During that time, I did a lot of lying. Which everyone does, I know. My lies, though, I feel now had a lot more to do with my denying my doubts than I thought possible back then. Once I admitted to myself that there was probably no god, I felt this feeling of relief and joy I had never felt before. It felt like what so many believers had told me the Holy Spirit felt. Only, the cause of my feelings was not caused by a placebo, but by me being completely honest with myself for the first time in 12 years. I openly admitted something I had been hiding for over a decade, and it felt amazing. Since then I have strove to be as open and honest about everything as I possibly can, and it has helped me become a better person. A much happier person, and the best Jason I have ever been.

5. I am smarter as an atheist. I know it sounds arrogant to say, and can be taken as a ridiculously pretentious assumption. It’s true, though. I'm not saying myself or any other atheist is smarter than anyone else that isn’t an atheist. I’m not even saying I’m a very smart person. All I am saying, is that Atheist Jason is smarter than Christian Jason, and Christian Jason would have never come close to obtaining the same knowledge, insight, and genuine curiosity that I have as an atheist.

It is my admitting to myself that there is no god that allowed me to admit that there are probably lots of things I did not know or that were probably not true, which eventually lead me to realizing that the amount of things I do not know is infinite. Realizing these things lead me to realizing all of my questions that had previously been answered with “god” no longer had answers. This is what lead me to reading more, learning more, and craving more knowledge in general. It pushed me to talk with more intelligent people about things I didn't know. It created discussions about things I would have never discussed, and that required me to do more than spout off a response that I thought sounded clever, but had nothing to back it up beyond my own misinformed opinion.

If you want to know the difference between Christian Jason and Atheist Jason, just talk to someone that knew me before I was kicked out of High School. I was not known for being very intelligent, at least not by very many people, and especially not by me. Today I am still no genius, but I'm not an idiot. I’m not known as an idiot. The friends I make and the women I date all mention my intelligence (don't even act like you haven't asked anyone the same thing) as the biggest reason for wanting to get to know me. Christian Jason was always told it was because he was "goofy."

Had I not let go of the idea of a god, I would not have had the same drive to learn and expand upon my knowledge. I know this is not the case for everyone, and being an atheist isn't going to make anyone instantly smarter or more driven. It did improve me, though. It took away my excuses for not learning. It took away my excuses for being lazy. It introduced me to people that inspired me to expand my mind, rather than shut my eyes to reality by telling me that everything that contradicts the existence of god is a lie by Satan that is merely testing my faith.

Being an atheist has taught me more about myself and the universe I live in than I could have ever learned in any religious text. Not because there is no knowledge within religious texts, but because there is no end to the knowledge outside of them.

6. There is no positive ideal/moral/value/philosophy that is unique to any religion. There really isn't much more to say about this one beyond that one sentence. There are good things within most every religion, be it a monotheistic or polytheistic faith. There is no denying that fact. There isn't  however, any one idea in any religion that would not or could not exist outside of that religion. People can debate what is positive and what is not, but I have yet to find anything positive in any religion that is not simply a quality of a good person.

So, that’s it. I could go on forever with this, but who really has time to read all of that? Who would really care? The bottom line is there probably is no god, and I am okay with that, because a god isn’t necessary for living a good life as a good person.