Category Archives: Writing

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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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.

Dog Haiku

The first thing Lura and I did after getting home from our honeymoon 15 years ago next week was adopt an adorable stray mutt we named Meekay. Wednesday afternoon he breathed his last breath. I have of course started a tribute poem, but in the meantime here are some hilarious dog haiku to serve as a memorial.

Meekay, our small, black terrier mix dog at the age of 7


Note: The authorship of these is matter of some debate. If you know who actually wrote them please let know so I can give due credit.

Love my master;
Thus I perfume myself with
This long-rotten mouse.

I lie belly-up
In the sunshine, happier than
You ever will be

Today I sniffed
Many dog behinds—I celebrate
By kissing your face.

I sound the alarm!
Paper boy—come to kill us all—
Look! Look! Look! Look! Look!

I lift my leg and
Whiz on each bush.
Hello, Spot—Sniff this and weep

I sound the alarm!
Garbage man—come to kill us all—
Look! Look! Look! Look! Look!

How do I love thee?
The ways are numberless as
My hairs on the rug.

I sound the alarm!
Mail carrier—come to kill us all—
Look! Look! Look! Look! Look!

My human is home!
I am so ecstatic I have
Made a puddle

I sound the alarm!
Gardener—come to kill us all—
Look! Look! Look! Look! Look!

I Hate my choke chain—
Look, world, they strangle me!
Ack Ack Ack Ack Ack Ack!

Sleeping here, my chin
On your foot—no greater bliss—well,
Maybe catching mice

Look in my eyes and
Deny it. No human could
Love you as much I do

The cat is not all
Bad—she dots the neighborhood
With Tootsie Rolls

Dig under fence—why?
Because it’s there. Because it’s
There. Because it’s there.

I am your best friend,
Now, always, and especially
When you are eating.

My owners’ mood is
Romantic—I lie near their
Feet. I fart a big one.

To Serif or Not to Serif

The debate of whether or not to use serifs in fonts has raged almost since Gutenberg invented the printing press back in 1440. What are serifs, you may ask? Serifs are the little decorative marks on letters, like the bars on the top and bottom of the capital “I”. Sans-serif literally means “without serifs”.

Since I write both fiction and rulebooks, I looked through an assortment of our roleplaying books and novels, and also some boardgame rules.

In our roleplaying books serifs are very dominant. I checked a sampling of our GURPS 3/4e, D&D 4e, OVA, and HackMaster 4/5e books, and they were exclusively serif fonts other than tables and sidebars in HM; sidebars, examples, and sample characters in OVA; and monster blocks in D&D. In other words, they use serifs unless the text is small enough that the serifs might make it harder to read.

Possibly the oldest novel in our collection is my much-loved and rather battered 1978 edition of Heinlein’s Space Cadet. It uses sans-serif for chapter headings and page headers, but serifs otherwise. My wife’s 2013 library book is the same – and some people say that’s the problem, but I’ll go into that shortly.

Boardgame rules are less cohesive simply because they come in a number of formats: sheet or two of paper, pamphlet, booklet, the box or similar material (Ultimate Stratego’s rules are written on the card used to divide the board while players set up). From what I have seen, those that print on card- or pasteboard tend to use serifs, while those on simple paper don’t. Munchkin uses fonts that fit the game’s mood, resulting in a mixture of serif and sans fonts in booklets. Pyramid Arcade includes a 75-page rulebook, entirely in sans serif.


The serif debate is as nuanced as any, but most people seem to fall into one of two groups:
* In long lines of uninterrupted text serif fonts are easier to read because the serifs help guide the eye.
* Sans-serif fonts are “cleaner”, and therefore easier to read. Serif fonts only seem easier to read because they are what we are used to.

I fall into that first group, but also agree that sans-serif fonts look “cleaner”, but in mixed case sans serifs can be confusing. Think of how the word Illinois looks without its serifs. In all caps or or all lowercase it doesn’t matter, but in mixed case capital “I” and lowercase “l” look exactly the same.

As a compromise I have developed the habit of using sans-serif (Arial for screen or Verdana for print) for headings, especially if they are all caps, and serif (Times New Roman) for text. Purely out of curiosity, I mocked up a fake page from my roleplaying game’s rulebook with one written completely in Times New Roman (right), and the other with Verdana headings (left).

Font Test with mock up of rpg rulebook page

So which do you prefer?

Happiness Jar #7 for 2017-03-27

Had several good things in the last week. One was the big 50th wedding anniversary party for my parents on Sunday – a goal far too many people these days will never reach.

I also finally got back to work on the lite game I made and then abandoned five years ago. First thing was copyediting the original post. How it got past my usual meticulous proofreading is beyond me – the number of errors was appalling. But it’s fixed now, and version .2 is nearly done.