A Father’s Wisdom to the Children I May Never Have

I actually wrote the first draft of this over the course of several weeks before Mother’s Day, but so that my mom and every other mom could get the maximum enjoyment of their well-deserved day, I waited to post it until now.

With Father’s Day rapidly approaching, I shouldn’t have been surprised by how often I’ve been overcome by depression this week. I’ve actually found myself curled up and crying at least a dozen times a day, but rarely for more than a minute, which is a blessing. For some strange reason, it took until this evening before we realized why: Father’s Day is this Sunday. I’d like to offer fathers the same courtesy I did mothers a month ago, but this holiday is so hard on me that I just can’t put this off any longer.


If you read my post “What is a Poem?“, you may remember the most personal poem I have ever written:

longing
fatherhood
despair

That succinctly sums up one of the primary causes of my depression (the other is the inevitable result of finally realizing just how badly crippled I was by the crash).

So as usual, I’m struggling to stave off the depression that always arises with the approach of Mother’s or Father’s Day. My mom is certainly worth any effort to recognize her accomplishments after raising the four of us to be mostly-responsible adults, but the melancholy that always settles in at this time of year makes it hard to be happy – especially since Mother’s Day arrives two weeks after my birthday, reminding me that I’m yet another year older but we still don’t have any children.

Ironically, it’s not quite as bad as in previous years partly because I’m so busy designing games, but mainly because I have finally accepted the fact that we will never be parents, despite how desperately we both want to be. There is, of course, an obvious solution: find another wife. But when faced with the choice of her or our children that didn’t yet exist, my decision was never in doubt: I will always choose my imzadi, my amnchara.

Contrary to my usual shyness, I have always loved reading aloud to people, so I have looked forward to telling bedtime stories. Now I will instead be recording myself reading a selection of children’s books, and making them available on YouTube.

In 42 years of life I have learned a lot that I had planned to pass along to our kids – I even daydream about teaching Caroline Mae Wilcox (named after our mothers) and Robert Nathan Wilcox (named after three people) various things. Those daydreams are nearly always followed by a bout of depression, but are wonderful while they’re happening.

The memory loss from the traumatic brain injury I suffered in the crash nearly 21 years ago adds a sense of urgency to my desire to record my fatherly wisdom, so I am writing a series of letters to Caroline, Robert, and every other child, no matter their age. But those are posts for another day.

In running our game store for three years and the WNC Pokémon League for an additional 11 years we have had a hand in raising in dozens of other people’s kids, and will continue to for as long as we are able. That is a small compensation, but it’s enough most of the time. I’ve said several times over the years that we have raised a lot of kids for a couple with no children. One of them proved it when she surprised Lura with a Mother’s Day gift this year. She cried. I still have very mixed feelings about it. Maybe once Father’s Day has passed I’ll finally be able to sift through those feelings.

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Hillside Games Driving Directions

Because of construction, traffic at the I-26/I-40/I-240 interchange is often sitting still, so here is an alternative route to avoid being late for our Pokémon tournaments:

From I-26 take Exit 37 (Long Shoals Road). At the bottom of the ramp, turn right.

Follow Long Shoals Road to Hendersonville Road, then turn left.

Go past Biltmore Village, then turn right onto Swannanoa River Road.

Turn right onto Bleachery Boulevard (it runs through the Walmart shopping center).

Take the second exit out of the traffic circle (roughly 3/4 of the way around, toward Kohl’s).

Turn left onto Fairview Rd. Take the second left into River Ridge. Take the first left into the shopping center parking lot. Hillside Games will be on the right, next door to Mr. K’s.


If you get lost, call either the store at 828-505-1195 or the TO’s phone number listed on the event page and ask for Lura.


A Cloud of Dragons

A Cloud of Dragons

© 2018 CC-BY-SA Frank Wilcox, Jr (fewilcox)

Before mounting his dragon, D’tan clasped arms with D’lar, his second in command – and oldest friend – as they have since their cadet days. As he vaults into his saddle, he can’t help noticing that his men are afraid. He stands in his stirrups and calls out, “Dragonriders! I know we have never faced a threat this large, but we can’t allow these invaders to destroy our homes. Our people depend on us, so let’s GO!” Spurred by their cheering riders, the dragons lept into the air, the buzzing of their wings creating a deafening drone as the sunlight sparkled off their shimmering multi-hued hides.

The Dragonriders form up into ranks in the air, half of them, lead by D’tan, ready to charge the larger invader, while D’lar organizes the rest. D’tan catches the eye of his dearest friend, both smiling to hide their fear and reassure their men – and each other. Shouting as one, they lead the charge.

John and his teenage son, Robert, were hiking though the woods when they heard a swift-moving creek off to the left, and veered off the trail to refill their canteens, having no idea what lay in store for them. Approaching the creek, they are startled by a sudden intense buzzing from the tall grass running along it, and even more so by the dark cloud rising up directly ahead of them. John turns to Robert, “I’ve never seen dragonflies swarm like that.” Then surprise turns to fear as the cloud races towards them.

As the Dragonriders swoop in at their faces, the hikers at first cover their faces with their arms, then stumble slowly back away from the creek, flailing their arms blindly in hopes of getting a few lucky hits on their aggressors.

At first the Riders are jubilant as they drive back the invaders while deftly avoiding the flurry of giant hands. Then catastrophe strikes: D’lar is just a split second too slow, and a collision with the back of Robert’s hand sends him crashing to earth.

D’tan screams in anguish. “Enough! To arms!” The two forces reorganize, giving the hikers a brief moment of respite, as half of them draw their bows, and the other half their long spears – mere toothpicks from the perspective of the humans. Attacking anew, the Dragonriders are merciless as they repeatedly pierce the hapless hikers with their weapons, the spearmen darting in and out as the archers provide cover.

“I didn’t know they could sting”, Robert managed to gasp out, trying to avoid falling as he scrambled backwards with increasing panic. “They can’t”, was all his dad could reply before a spear punctured his lip. Giving up, he grabs Robert’s shoulder as he turns, and they both flee. Let the damn dragonflies have their water.

The Dragonriders cheer as the humans flee, but D’tan’s only thought is of his fallen friend as he slowly circles down, loneliness and grief drowning out the excitement felt by his men.

Questions (or: how my 1999 self felt about school shootings)

After the massacre at Columbine High School on 20 April 1999 – which should have been our last school shooting – I spent the next two days holed up in my dorm room, watching the 24-hour news channels rather than sleeping or going to classes. At the end of that time, as my body’s need for sleep was finally overcoming the shock, I poured all of my feelings out onto the page.

Even with 30 years of practice, I have never claimed to be more than a mediocre poet. But this particular poem is only a first draft, and also the only freeform poem I am ever likely to write, so it’s especially rough. It’s also the raw, unedited original, exactly as I wrote it nearly two decades ago. The only changes I made were to style the title, and add the copyright and note at the bottom.

Since we just had yet another school shooting, this seems like a good time to share this with the world – as well as the haiku I started after the previous school shooting, and finally finished this evening and posted to Twitter:

(Please forgive the giant image. The limitations of HTML make it impossible to share this poem as anything other than a PDF or image.)

Goodbye, Patch

Goodbye, Patch

This is mostly a stream of consciousness because I took frequent breaks during Patch’s calmer moments to pet and talk to him, so expect some rough-to-nonexistent transitions between paragraphs. I’m also doing only minimal proofreading (spelling and punctuation) of what I wrote as Patch lay dying. How I said things at the time could be as enlightening as what I said.


2018-05-16, 23ish o’clock – The Passing

As I write this I am sitting in the living room floor next to our 15-year-old Australian shepherd Patch as he gasps for air, neither of us knowing which breath will be his last. Lura and I fell asleep and failed to be there for Ginger’s final moments, and Meekay clearly wanted to be left alone to die so we honored his wishes, but at least one of us is going to be sitting right here where Patch can see us and we can pet and comfort him until the very end.

Many years ago I started a flash fiction called “A Dog’s Life”, but ran out of steam and never finished it despite going back to it several times over the years. With the imminent passing of the last of our three dogs, perhaps now is finally the time.

Patch has stopped flailing his head around while gasping for air, but his heart is stubbornly beating – but just barely.

He finally passed at about 01:15, with my hand on his head, providing what comfort I could.


2018-05-17, 13:30 – The Burial

Meekay was half the size of Patch, but when he died several months ago we were just barely up to digging a large enough grave by taking turns with the shovel. At half Patch’s weight, Meekay was also pretty close to the maximum weight I can carry. So we knew we were going to need help.

Thankfully one of our oldest and dearest Buncombe-county friends came over to take turns with the shovel, and I was able to help him carry Patch out to the grave. He even whispered a few words over Patch before we picked him up, and over the grave after we filled it in.


2018-05-18, 17:30 – The Aftermath

If you follow me on Twitter or facebook you may know that I’ve been having a great deal of trouble with this loss. Ginger’s death 7 or 8 years ago was so sudden and surprising that it never had time to sink in. Meekay was miserable for several months before he died, so his death was a mercy.

But Patch was different. He’s the only pure-bred member of our pack (we’re almost certain he escaped from or was dumped by a puppy mill), and Aussies have an average lifespan of 12 years, so we’ve been anticipating his death every day for several years. Every time we got up in the morning or arrived back home after several hours, we were prepared to find that he had died.

But he stubbornly hung on, until he seemed to suddenly give up Wednesday morning. He wouldn’t or couldn’t stand up, and refused both food and water. Late that night we realized the end was near, and decided to stay with him until it came.

During those final hours he suddenly regained his will to live, and fought for every breath. Because he was gasping for several hours we think he ultimately suffocated to death. Thankfully, in the final minutes he passed out before finally drawing his last breath.

Patch was also unique in one other way. When we adopted Meekay he rode home in Lura’s lap, and thereafter was her dog. He developed such a close emotional bond with her that he was even subject to whims of her Depression and Bipolar 2 – the poor empathic thing.

Ginger was technically Mom’s dog, but she couldn’t take care of her, so we did. Ginger was also very much no one’s dog but Ginger’s. She was highly independent and also super laid back.

Before I started a pain management routine I frequently threw out my back, forcing me to lie down wherever I was. On those occasions Meekay would be confused and just walk away. Ginger would either step on me in passing, or use me as a pillow.

Patch, on the other hand, would do his best to get Lura’s attention so she could come help me. He also tried his best to comfort me whenever my Depression or temper (which I kept a tight leash on until the Depression made it harder to control) got the best of me. Sometimes it backfired and he got yelled at for annoying me, but he still tried again the next time.

Patch was the closest to being “my dog” of any I’ve ever known, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that his passing has been so much harder on me than the first two.

He’s also the last of our three dogs. We got Meekay when we had only been married about two weeks, and Patch and then Ginger joined us about six months later. For 15 and a half years we’ve always come home to find someone happy to see us. We went out for several hours after the burial, but as we got out of the van at home my first thought was what it always is: that I needed to run wake up Patch so he could pee. That sucked.

Thanks to my traumatic brain injury, it is really hard for me to change long-held habits or develop new ones, so I expect to have to go through that again every time we come home for several weeks at least.

For the 12 years since I’ve been on Disability and Lura has been working, the dogs have been my only companions for large chunks of time. She’s unemployed right now, but once she goes back to work I’ll be lonelier than I have ever been in my 42 years.

Normally I say that people who equate the loss of a pet with the loss of a child are fools, but losing the last of our dogs is giving me empty nest syndrome and making me think that perhaps those people weren’t so foolish after all.

The Art of Mathematics

After a break of more than a decade, a couple of years ago I got back into creating math-based art I call “The Beauty of Math”. Some of it involves drawing Bézier curves on graph paper, like this one I did back in 1994 during my Freshman year of college:

Others are drawn with just a compass and a ruler, combining circles, arcs, and lines in interesting ways. I have now taken those skills and applied them to creating coloring pages like this one, all of which can be found in my DeviantArt gallery:

Please note that this is a low resolution image, not suitable for printing. See my DA gallery for the high res version.

That brings me to LibreCAD. I still start all of my designs with pencil and compass, with lots of erasing, trying something new, and starting over, but then move to LibreCAD to make a clean digital version to share.

LibreCAD is an open source 2D CAD program for Windows, Android, and Apple. It somehow manages to be very powerful, but also lean enough to run easily on our Asus Transformer netbook (Coloring Page #4, pictured above, was made almost entirely on the Asus while at Bojangles one afternoon). While it’s no AutoCAD, it’s also not hundreds of dollars a year.

Even if you don’t have an engineering degree or any interest in engineering at all, as you can see in my coloring pages, LibreCAD can also be useful for various other arts – I even used it to design the cards for my forthcoming game Spellslingers.

The DXF files I made with LibreCAD are available to my Patrons. The exported SVGs are available to the public exclusively on Patreon, but only Patrons can access the DXFs.

My First Two Print-on-Demand Games

A month ago I announced the impending release of my first print-on-demand (POD) game, Cribbage Dice. Unfortunately, once my sample copy arrived I discovered that The Game Crafter’s (TGC) d12s are nearly sequential, which means they can’t be used as randomizers.

More fortunately, TGC’s Hook Box Challenge has inspired me to create three new games. Two of them proved to be untenable for the contest, which requires the entire game to fit into 18 cards and the box that holds them, but will be great as larger games. The third, Spellslingers, is nearing completion, and will be available for POD purchase shortly thereafter. The contest deadline is in six weeks, so expect frequent announcements on Twitter.