I Like, Therefore I Am

I like that one of my boys will get me an iTunes gift card for Christmas.

I like that I already know the music I will purchase with that card.

I like that it’s music I want to listen to today, but I will wait for Christmas morning.

Because then, every time I listen to Soulshine, I will know one of my boys bought that for me.

I like that small plastic cards picked up in checkout lanes are like those Kindergarten crafts they once brought me. “Daddy, look. It’s my HAND!”

I like tiny fingers.

I like that I know a son’s favorite poet.

I like that I have taught another the difference between pitching and throwing. There aren’t a lot of 15-year-old kids out there throwing 2-0 curveballs, but he’s one of them.

I like to look down at my phone and see “Bean Man.”

I like running on the treadmill.

Not really.

But I do like looking to my right and seeing a son running next to me.

I like Rilke.

Even more, I like the smile of the person who brought him to me.

I like when a difficult day is interrupted by a call from a friend I’ve had since the second grade.

I like that he’s struggling, too, but he still picks up the phone to reach out to me.

I like that we touch on difficult topics, deep topics, yet we always end up laughing.

I like the text that hits my phone from a nephew who has been like a little brother to me since we were about 8, playing one-on-one tackle football in the rain.

I like that I stepped into a 1971 VW bus with five other fraternity brothers and about $200 in my pocket and, two days later, stepped onto a Baja beach that changed my life forever.

I like fighting back tears as I write in coffee shops.

I like that I know the guy sitting on the couch is a starving artist.

I like that I saw him at the post office the other day, mailing some art he sold.

I like that I cared about that, even though I don’t even recall his name.

I like telling bad aura No.

I like that I’m polite, so I actually say No, Thanks.

I like that I know one barista got a B on his physics final.

I like that I told him to stop apologizing for the fact he’s “only” in an Associate Degree program.

I like knowing that Josh, manning the espresso machine, woke up one day at 22, exhausted from street life in Southern California, stuffed what he could into a backpack, kissed his grandmother on the forehead, and started walking.

I like that he walked for three years. All the way through Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua.

I like that he found his answer somewhere in Costa Rica.

I like the look on his face when he’s out front, dragging on a smoke, and I pull up in my old VW bus.

I like our journeys in life.

I like the fact that after 30 years of singing along, I finally stood on a corner in Winslow, Arizona.

I also like that we got pulled over a couple blocks later.

And that the cop posed for a selfie.

I like that I know the owner of this coffee shop has wanted to run a place like this since he was in the third grade.

I also like that he tossed out the 13-year-old who was running his mouth at me a couple weeks ago.

I like that my barber rolls into this place between customers at his shop.

I like moss on trees.

I like that I can still smell my step-father’s Aqua Velva.

And my father’s Old Spice.

I like the feeling of taking care of myself.

I like the way my soul feels when I launch the Van Morrison channel on Pandora.

I like that I can drive up and down an Oregon interstate for four days and find people who love me at almost every exit.

I like that there still were so many exits I just didn’t have time to stop.

I like boxcars.

I like Bob Dylan on rainy days.

Most every other day, too.

I like that I see a five-year-old boy standing outside his apartment porch, holding a football, and I smack my hands and give him a target to throw to.

I like dropping in on the 90-year-old mother of my best friend growing up.

I like that before I knocked, I killed an hour in the local coffee shop, giving her time to get up and get going. I like that I made three new friends in the process.

I like that the old guy at the end of the coffee bar turned out to be another childhood buddy’s father.

I like small-town living.

I like that I know my step-father’s barber shop is a couple doors down. Walls have come down and it’s now a corner of a dive bar, but I still know where to find it. And I stop and look in the window every time.

I like that when I look in that window, I see a second grader sitting in there, looking over the top of his homework and listening to the men talk.

I like watching dogs run.

While I throw the football around with my boys, and still throwing a hard, tight spiral at 51 years old.

I like that my 17-year-old finally sat and watched Shawshank Redemption with me the other night. And only looked at his phone twice.

I like that he asked, “But didn’t you just watch this two nights ago?” and I said Yes, for about the 15th time, but it’s that good.

I like Christmas. But I don’t like a Christmas of bare walls in small apartments.

I like friends who pick up the phone and just listen.

I like my Birks. Even when it’s raining.

I like how the Stones will always remind me of Jack and his Mick Jagger imitation.

I like that I recognized a Crazy author and walked from the project.

I like that I finally value my space and energy.

I like that I am learning to protect it.

I like that Al and I have had the same running joke for almost 30 years now.

I like when my boys show me funny things on their phones.

I like that I laugh at Elf like I haven’t already seen it 28 times.

I like the rust and dents in my truck.

I like that the biggest dent came home with my son one day.

I like that he was anxious about my reaction and I shrugged and said, “Gives it character. What’s an old truck without a dent?”

I like that there was a time I would not have responded that way.

I like that I see the progress.

And I like that I finally give myself credit for it.

I like standing in a bookstore with a son at 9:30 on a Tuesday night.

I like when another son walks in the door for his time with me, carrying the little Silky terrier that he adores so much.

I like that she adores him, too.

I like cold, foggy days that take me back to 1974 school bus rides through the Oregon countryside.

I like when people stop to talk to me about my VW bus. Last week, it was the 20-something taking a picture of the In-N-Out sticker.

I like that she was from San Jacinto.

I like the jaw-drop expression when I told her my father used to be mayor of San Jacinto.

I like small worlds.

I like that each of our dogs has about 17 nicknames but we seldom call them by their actual names.

I like that they answer to all of them.

I like that my junior was working me to let him have today’s half-day off. “We’re only watching movies.” Let me see your grades, I said. He shows me – there’s a D. He always has an explanation – papers that have been submitted yet not graded, quizzes that have not posted, Spanish teachers with issues, etc. I like that I just hand him his phone back and say, “You know the deal. As and Bs, you get the benefit of doubt. Cs and Ds? Not going to happen.”

I like that six months ago, he would have railed on me.

I like that last night, he didn’t.

I like that he just rolled his eyes.

I like that he strolled through the room a couple minutes later and said, “Meh, I’m kind of fired up to watch the rest of Interstellar anyway. That’s a great movie.”

I like when a child tells me what’s on his mind even when I don’t ask.

I like that Chris Stapleton’s “Tennessee Whiskey” makes me want to stand in line at the coffee shop and sway slowly back and forth.

I like piles of leaves at the curb.

I like the blunt honesty of little kids. Like the five-year-old at the gym last night who, when his request for a snack was spurned by his father, said, “Well, that sucks.”

I like that he wasn’t wrong.

I like that day when my oldest said, affectionately even, that “Dad doesn’t give a shit what anybody thinks.”

I like that it’s not necessarily true, but it’s true more days than it’s not.

I like that I’m really not much in the mood to send Christmas cards this year and I’m going to be late with a couple of long-distance gifts but those people always forgive me.

I like that if I don’t recognize the number, I don’t answer.

I like that when I hear Piano Man, it’s like I’m 12 again, sitting at that counter of the burger place in Independence, singing along with Jack.

I like that my coffee mugs remind me of those who gave them to me.

I like that day when my oldest jumped into the mini-van at carpool and excitedly said, “Dad! Reid and I were listening to his iPod today at recess — have you ever heard of Who?”

I like that I didn’t correct him in His Moment.

I like that we put that same kid through three high schools in three years, the second of which was a daily nightmare for him. Yet every time we drove over that bridge, him looking out the window, me trying to convince myself I wasn’t the worst father in the world, he’d spot that dolphin swimming in the harbor and gesture toward me to look.

I like that he came out the other end with both feet on the ground, chest out, and a smile on his face.

I like that my iTunes library starts with Louis Armstrong and ends with Led Zeppelin.

I like that maybe the gift my God gave me for words might inspire somebody to pick up the phone today and tell someone they love them.

I like coming across that silly trophy I’ve held on to since 1977 because it reminds me of striking out my childhood bully to win the Little League championship. Him with his bat on his shoulder, us with our mitts flung high into the air.

I like that I can still smell the summer breeze of the ride in the back of the pickup truck to the pool party after that game.

I like my higher power.

I like my beanie even though everybody in the family makes fun of me when I wear it.

I like forgiveness.

I like that I have covered hundreds of miles of freeway pavement, all those wins and losses and bad fast-food restaurants and cheap hotels, and it was seldom about the games.

I like when one of them got into the car after a big game and reached for his Harry Potter book.

I like that I don’t really have to be doing anything with them to be doing something with them.

I like the very good friend I made this past summer who simply had parked his 1977 VW bus next to mine and came into the coffee shop to ask who owned the ’78.

I like that this same friend stopped his bus on the interstate the other day to help a lady whose vehicle had stalled in the middle of the on-ramp.

I like that as the ink dried on the purchase agreement to my oldest son’s first car earlier this week, I looked at him and said “road trip!”

I like sitting on a covered porch and watching a late-afternoon downpour in the South. With a nervous little dog on my lap. Because she’s gotta figure this out of we’re gonna hang.

I like talking to our dogs.

I like that they’re conversations, really.

I like that there’s an eternal flicker of a flame deep within that always holds a set of car keys and a burning desire to jump in the bus and go.

I like that it doesn’t really matter where.

I like that I’m having lunch today at noon with my youngest.

I like that most of our conversation will be his mind-numbing rattling off of ESPN stats but at some point, he will make me chuckle and shake my head.

I like that I’m driving to Durham this afternoon because I think I know the gift that’s going to get That Grin out of another son on Christmas morning.

I like when my nephews and nieces share the joys and heartbreaks of their lives with me as if I’m their father.

I like that I might never lose these last fucking 15 pounds and I’m okay with that.

I like Yoga.

I like that Yoga doesn’t necessarily like me and that I’m okay with that.

I like spoonfuls of peanut butter.

I like that I still remember that train I got for Christmas in 1976.

I like the weird looks I get from people in coffee shops when I’m staring into the distance as I pause to think while writing and we make eye contact. Judging by their expressions, I’m thinking it must be a little Jack-Kerouac-meets-Jack-Nicholson.

I like rolling down the windows on a warm summer night and being transported to a 10-speed bike and country road outside Monmouth, Oregon. Hands off the handlebars, arms extended wide.

I like where the Marshall Tucker Band takes me.

I like that I remember that Christmas of ’85, watching another family drama play out with the police in the driveway.

I like that I finished my coffee, packed up my stuff, loaded my black lab into the car, and drove 5 hours back to the empty frat house.

I like that I kept a key in my pocket, because I’d had about 18 Christmases worth of experience on that one.

I like that I had friends who were like brothers to me and they took me in that weekend.

I like that Taking Me In was a pitcher of beer at Squirrel’s and, later, galloping through downtown Corvallis clapping our hands together like those fools riding horses in Monty Python.

I like that before I hang up the phone today, I tell these men that I love them.

I like that my step-father sort of looked like Johnny Cash.

I like that even though you’re beautiful and maybe even a bit sexy and seemingly accomplished and now hinting at a second date, when you make a quip about how your black Lyft driver reminded you of Samuel L. Jackson and you were “happy he didn’t drive you to the Congo,” I respectfully decline. Bye, Felicia.

I like that really no matter what they’ve done or how they’re doing it, my sons are doing it better than I did.

I like that my college transcripts arrived in the mail a couple weeks ago and reminded me of that.

I like the bonds that were formed over lukewarm beer and cheap cigars in dark, empty cul-de-sacs in Corvallis, Oregon. Talking about how bored we were.

I like that I really just want to be a high school English teacher. Or work with Special Ed kids.

And I like that as soon as I type that, I smile because my funny niece, the one who is the high school English teacher for the past 20 years or so, would make a joke about how one of those isn’t much different than the other in today’s classrooms.

I like funny nieces.

I like that I’ve lost my Mac for about three weeks to a repair.

Not that part, actually. I like that I’ve only called them once to press for a quicker return.

I like that adage that goes a little like this: Progress, Not Perfection.

I like backgammon.

I like that I remember the Christmas of 1986, my stepfather putting his coat on, asking me if I’d like to come with him to take my stepbrother’s Christmas present to him. He held a carton of Marlboros in his hand. “County jail.”

I like that I hopped in the truck.

I like that after years of playing all the macho competitive sports I’ve played, I like walking. In no particular direction nor schedule. Just walking.

I like that with any luck, it will be raining.

I like that I stuck my reading glasses into my front left breast pocket of my flannel shirt the other day. Just like my stepfather always did.

I like that I finally learned how to sit in quiet rooms.

I like rolling into Saturday morning 12-step meetings tired, grumpy, hurt, lonely, yet always walking out feeling a little bit better about life.

I like that we didn’t have smart phones in 1975. So I sat in old pickup trucks and watched my stepfather deliver paper bags of vegetables from our garden onto the porches of immigrant families he knew to be hungry.

I like that I’m not a Drop In On You kind of guy but I did just that last month with a friend from junior high.

I like that she was moody, withdrawn, puffy-eyed, and sullen when I met her at 13 but I made a funny joke in class to get her to laugh.

I like that she can still be moody and sullen.

And I like that I can still make her laugh at 51.

I like that she’s been through hell and back, several times, yet still can laugh.

I like finding her house and finding her husband coming down off a ladder. I like that he simply wiped his hands, smiled, shook his head, said “Jeff Riley? She’s gonna like this,” and walked me in the front door.

I like that she screamed “Holy Fuck!” and leapt off that couch and into my arms.

I like that I have no idea how any of this is going to turn out, and some days it feels like it’s all coming apart at the seems, but today I woke up and journaled and read some poetry and I’m okay with however it might turn out.

I like that I’m writing when I have a dozen other things I probably should be doing.

And I like that I could do this all day.





Latest Comments

  1. Lisa Hadley says:

    I like that every time I read what you write, you lift my spirit and make me smile
    Thank you, Jeff. You are a gift to this world!


  2. wagsmaclaren says:

    … and I liked reading it and smiling.


  3. Kathy Chenault -- World Witness says:

    The Van Morrison, yes. And Piano Man, Bob Dylan on a rainy day, throwing a tight spiral. And writing and walking and reading. And just being. Another day. Yeah.


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