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Marriage: A Recommendation and Disclaimer

Dear Loch,

Upon rereading my post about how to be a man, I realized that it was, in many ways, a love letter to your father. He is a marvelous man and someone I am so very grateful to have in my life. I am a big believer in marriage. It’s not for everyone, but it was definitely for us, and something I truly wish for you. Finding someone that you want to share your life with is one of the greatest gifts you could ever have. Someone who’s lived your history and is part of your memories. Someone who, at the end, knows you were here. Someone for whom you truly mattered. But lest you think it’s all puppy dogs and rainbows, I want you to know that it’s not just get married, happily ever after, that’s it, the end.

I once MC-ed a friend’s wedding and in my speech I said that marriage is like picking the person you want to spend the rest of your life in a car with. You don’t road trip with just anyone. You have to really like a person to do that. The road will have it’s ups and downs, you’ll go through good weather and bad, you’ll be lost then find your way, you’d stay in some great places and some where the water doesn’t work, people will join you for a while and then they’ll be gone. To navigate that kind of trip properly you have to like the same things but not be the same person and you have to truly enjoy and accept the other’s company because after all the games are played, the magazines read and the radio’s off, it’s just the two of you forever, and that’s not something to be taken lightly. Lately, I feel like marriage in general, is up for debate. Should gay couples be given the same right to marry as straight ones? My answer is yes. Should it be harder to get out of a marriage so people take getting into it more seriously?  I’d answer a provisional yes. Should you be able to be married to more than one person at the same time? I’d go with no. And are same sex marriages undermining the state of marriage? No, straight celebrity marriages are. I’m talking to you Kim Kardashian/Britney Spears/Renee Zellwiger…

If you find someone you want to marry – truly spend your life with, not, we’ll see how it goes –  then treat it with respect. It’s not about the wedding. A beautiful wedding does not a beautiful marriage make. Don’t get me wrong, a fabulous day that celebrates you as a couple is a wonderful way to spend your money, but you still have to work on the marriage itself. When Dad and I got married (June 22, 2005) lots of people asked us why not just take the money we would spend on one day and use it for something more practical like the down payment on a house. That never occurred to us. We really wanted that day. Our day. And we never regretted it. To be able to make those promises to each other in front of our family and friends was so special for us. On my death bed, whenever that may be, I won’t be patting myself on the back for my practicality but reliving my most wonderful memories, and my wedding (and subsequent honeymoon) is  right up there on that list.

Our wedding party in our “Vanity Fair” shot. Shot by Wedding Day Memories, Toronto.

It’s that memory. That day. That look you see on bride and groom’s faces that says “Oh my God we’re really doing this…” The way your relationship feels different after, no matter how long you’d been together before. It’s that legal and, if you believe it, spiritual bind that makes you truly family, truly an “Us” that makes marriage so special. Subsequently it’s that same feeling that makes same sex marriage a no brainer to me. Someone Granny’s age once said to me, “But why do they have to get married? They have all the same rights…” I responded with, “Why did I have to get married? Why did you?”. It’s different to be married. It means something different. It’s the ultimate statement of love and commitment and if you feel that way and are really willing to put your hands in and do the work you should be allowed to. No matter who it is you want to marry.

The thing is being married is no joke. It’s hard bloody work. It’s changing your pronoun from me to we. And though I’d advocate retaining your own identity within your marriage, you can no longer make decisions just for yourself and that’s hard adjustment to make. Your choices directly affect one another. You can’t just do what’s best for you. I’d hazard to say that’s why so many celebrity marriages fail.

Didn’t Work. As Scarlett rightfully said, she just wasn’t willing to settle in and “do the work”.

When you’re a celebrity or married to your job, you live in a world where you are #1. In a celebrity’s case you have a team of people behind you who’s livelihood depends on your success. People who put their jobs first find they can’t just scrap it all based on what’s best for the marriage. They have to stay on their game. Do what the job asks of them and not what the marriage needs from them. Subsequently the marriage falters. Living in a different city than your spouse? Never going to work. Both people trying to be #1? Never going to work. For a marriage to succeed there has to be give and take. And that means one person has to give. It doesn’t always have to be the same person but it always has to be someone. You can’t be both looking out for yourself. It just doesn’t work that way.

Worked. She adjusted and took a back seat to his career. It’s a tough gig but worth it. Just ask Paul Newman & Joanne Woodward.

Your father’s dream is to be a successful actor. When we met I was also an actor. Watching him go in and out of auditions with such confidence and success is one of the reasons I changed paths. He was loving it and I was becoming a neurotic mess worried about my hair and age and wrinkles. And when we decided to get married there just seemed like one too many actors in the family. At the time I likened it to being in Vegas where one of you is on a hot streak and the other is losing all their money. It just made sense for me to cash in my chips and give them to Sean. He had a better chance of winning for the both of us.

The trouble is, that was 8 years ago and though your father continues to earn a living as an actor, he still hasn’t “made it” and we struggle. We struggle to pay our bills. We struggle with my A type ambition and lack of “career”. We struggle with my realism vs. his “it’ll all work out” optimism. We struggle with my being sick and his having to earn almost all our income alone. We struggle when he’s away working one of his 3 jobs (on top of acting) and not seeing him enough. We struggle when he is home and working on one of the projects he hopes will take over from the side jobs, and we don’t see him enough. We struggle with the lack of time left in the day for me to get my dreams off the ground. We struggle with our fiery personalities and the fact that with 2 actors in the household someone always has the ability to get a little dramatic…

Baby, for all the great love your dad and I share, tying your life to another’s is a struggle. It’s worth it in our case, but it’s NOT EASY. When you were very little and we’d fight you’d scream. It upset us so much. We said we shouldn’t fight in front of you, but we weren’t so good at that. Now that you’re older you act like a little referee. You come into the room and if we’re raising our voices (which, despite our best efforts, we do often) you tell us to take a “Time Out”. I told you you could do that. I thought it might give you a sense of control when you might be feeling nervous about Daddy and me. It works. You like bossing us around and it gives us a chance to cool down. Your dad and I have a tendency to get on a bit of a train that neither of us can stop and our fights often escalate because of it. Having a period away from each other can help keep things in perspective. Sometimes, however, we don’t heed your advice and we keep at each other until we are both exhausted. That’s the thing, fighting is exhausting. I also think it can be healthy. We stopped trying to hide our disagreements from you for that reason. Is it pleasant? No. Does show you the truth of life? Yes. If you believed your parents never fought and then you got into a relationship and inevitably ended up fighting, you might say, “Well, this isn’t working. My parents never argued. This obviously isn’t the right person for me.” But if you see us fighting, then compromising, then understanding and then finally hearing and accepting each other you learn something much different. If we were parents that fought dirty, undermined each other and called each other names then perhaps you would just be learning nothing more than how to be cruel. But, for all your father and my bluster, we always work it through. We always come back to the table. We always end with love and that, in all it’s imperfection, is worth knowing.

And the things you fight about in a relationship are not all big things. More often than not is about dumb, everyday things like how you load the dishwasher. Sure, money, or our lack there of, is our biggest source of tension, but our most recent fight was about our cable provider. Dad wanted to switch and I didn’t. Everytime we switch something always goes wrong and we end up switching back. I wanted to avoid the anxiety and quite frankly I liked it all the way it was. I understood and could use it – and we have like 6 remote controls so that’s saying something. But the savings was $100/m, and I couldn’t in all good conscience say no, even though I really, really wanted to. The TV is my domain (your Dad’s more of a video gaming computer relaxer) so I’m a little testy about anything to do with it anyway.

So… we switched, and it broke down like this: Cable guy shows up and it’s not what they promised on the phone. We aren’t getting what we thought but are assured it’ll be “just as good”. The modem they install is faulty so they have to send us another one. The one they send us is different and doesn’t fit with the parts they’d installed. They have to send a technician to fix it. We go without cable, internet and phone service for 3 days. (Our cell phones don’t work in our house without our modem so we were really SOL). I stayed home from 8-12 to wait for a technician who never shows and when we call, they tell us that when they said “tomorrow” on Monday the person we spoke to was in INDIA and “tomorrow” actually meant Wednesday. I wait again the next day from 8-12. By the time I could actually turn on the TV, I found that my shows were now being broadcast with black bars on either side like I had a TV from 1987. When your Dad told me that was an SD channel and I had to find the HD channel to watch my show without the bars, I lost it. I told him I didn’t want to find it. I didn’t want to think this hard or try and relearn a whole new system that made me feel as technologically inept as my mother. I told him I was infuriated that I could no longer work the DVD player which was now his X-BOX and who’s controller felt like an alien in my hand. I went crazy and he was defensive and we subsequently lost it on each other. Terrible. Hideous. Behavior. 4 hours and multiple texts and phone calls later we realized that all he needed to say was, “I’ll fix it” and all I needed to say was, “Great, thank you” and the rest was just noise. But that’s the kind of noise you deal with when you tie your life to someone else. If I was single I’d just get the TV I liked and be done with it. But I’m not, so now I have to play You’ve Got Mail like I’m setting up for Modern Warfare 3 and do it with a smile on my face.

I think if we fought about major things like the way we treated each other or how to raise you it would be different, but for the most part we fight about ridiculous things like emptying the garbages (this never gets done) or opening the curtains (which is a must for me in the morning and for your father is a, justifiably, obscure and irrelevant issue). At the end of the day you have to put the relationship first. Is it more important to be right or to be happy? Does it really matter that I have to open the curtains? No. Shouldn’t I just be happy he makes the bed? Probably. This is not to say you should just roll over in a marriage, you should just ask yourself what’s best for it and try and make your decisions accordingly.

Your Dad and I talk about everything. Years ago when I was maybe 14 or 15, I was eating with Granny and Granddad in the dining room table and Granddad finished, thanked Granny for dinner and got up to leave. I told him (in the cheeky way that only a child can) that if he was going to leave the table first it would be great if he cleared. He didn’t even bat an eyelash. He was like, ok, sure. And he took our plates so Granny and I could keep talking. You could have knocked Granny over with a feather. After, she expressed how she couldn’t believe I’d said what I’d said, and more so, she couldn’t believe how easily Granddad had complied. I told her at the time – and have told her many times since about my own marriage – if you don’t ask for it, how will you ever get it? You have to say what you want. Don’t secretly seethe for 30 years that someone doesn’t do what you think they should. Everything is a compromise but most things are much simpler than we give them credit for. If the compromises are too big then maybe that’s not the right person for you anyway.

For all the difficulties that come with marriage there are also so many amazing things. To truly feel like part of a team. To have that kind of trust. It’s priceless. I read an article in Vanity Fair a couple of years ago about a classic old Hollywood star, her husband, her lover and her husband’s lover all vacationing together in the 1940’s. Sean and I discussed it. Affairs vs. Open Marriages. What works. What doesn’t. And what it came down to – after a very lively “what if” discussion – is that we wouldn’t want to mess with what we have. That any short term pleasure could never compare with the long term security and unity we have with each other. That even knowingly accepting that breech of trust would be like poisoning the well and it wasn’t worth it. Committing yourself to one person for the rest of your life is hard but it makes it so much easier to know that all your feelings, and all you are, are accepted within that relationship. Nothing is taboo. Nothing is off the table. Anything is possible but everything is not necessary. We also discovered we wanted to take more vacations together.

Your Dad and I have made a pact to get remarried every 5 years. It’s fun. We get to have a different kind of wedding and re-commit to each other and remind ourselves of why we got married in the first place. It’s not for other people. It’s just for us. On our 5th Anniversary we renewed our vows in Vegas. Elvis did the ceremony in a total of 4 and a half minutes (no joke, we have a DVD) and though we laughed through the whole thing saying the vows again meant something totally different 5 years later just as it will 10, 15, 40 years later. When you first start out you think everything is going to be perfect. Life isn’t perfect. For richer for poorer means more now. So does in sickness and in health.

Our Vegas Wedding for our 5th! Just us, Elvis and the guy who took the pics, Dave.

Marriage is a journey and you have to celebrate your triumphs because not everyday is good. A couple that had been married for 60 some odd years was asked the secret of a lasting marriage and they said that neither had fallen out of love at the same time. That’s the thing. There’s ebbs and flows. You just have to keep growing and changing together. Encourage and help each other to become the best possible version of yourselves. Don’t swallow your feelings and be willing to trench it out to get to the other side of an issue. Keep working and keep finding new ways to respect and love the other. There are times when, at the end of the day your dad sits beside me on the bed and we just look at each other. As corny as it sounds, there is a stillness in his eyes. A calm I don’t have on my own and one I absolutely couldn’t live without. I’m safe with him. I’m happy. I’m cherished. I’m not alone. And that is worth everything.

Find it for yourself angel. Find it and don’t let go.

xo Mrs. McGowan (your mom)

Memos From Your Child

As an addition to my recent post on childhood I thought I’d include this note from a child to a parent. I wish I could source it, but I can’t. As far back as I can remember it was on the back of my bedroom door at the cottage. Even as a child I can remember agreeing with it. Now as a parent, I find myself constantly referring to it. I’m not sure where that poster is now, but the words have always stayed with me…

Memos From Your Child

Don’t spoil me. I know quite well I shouldn’t have all I ask for. I’m only testing you.

Don’t be afraid to be firm with me. I prefer it. It makes me secure.

Don’t let me form bad Habits. I have to rely on you to detect them in the early stages.

Don’t make me feel smaller than I am. It only makes me behave stupidly ‘big’.

Don’t correct me in front of people if you can help it. I’ll take much more notice if you talk to me quietly in private.

Don’t protect me from consequences. I need to learn the painful way sometimes.

Don’t make me feel my mistakes are sins. It upsets my sense of values.

Don’t be too upset when I say “I hate you.” It’s not you I hate. It’s your power to thwart me.

Don’t take too much notice of my small ailments. Sometimes they get me the attention I need.

Don’t nag – if you do, I’ll have to protect myself by appearing deaf.

Don’t make rash promises. I feel badly let down when promises are broken.

Don’t forget I can’t explain myself as well as I’d like. This is why I’m not always very accurate.

Don’t tax my honesty too much. I’m easily frightened into telling lies.

Don’t be inconsistent. It confuses me and makes me lose my faith in you.

Don’t put me off when I ask questions. If you do, you’ll find I stop asking and seek answers elsewhere.

Don’t tell me my fears are silly. They are terribly real to me.

Don’t ever suggest that you’re perfect or infallible. It gives me too great a shock when I find out you are neither.

Don’t ever think it is beneath your dignity to apologize to me. An honest apology makes me surprisingly warm towards you.

Don’t forget I love experimenting. I can’t get on without it, so please put up with it.

Don’t forget how quickly I’m growing up. It must be hard to keep pace with me but please try.

– Author Unknown

As far as I’m concerned, whoever wrote it was spot on. Children need our respect as well as our love and guidance. We can’t always be their friend, but we can always treat them like the people that they are.

Except when they’re whining…then all bets are off.

Millennium Manners

Dear Loch,

Recently we went to a wedding and our table of 10 had 4 people at it. The other 6 had decided at the last minute they couldn’t make it. It was the saddest little thing looking at our table with all those empty place settings knowing those meals were all going to waste in the kitchen. You couldn’t even clear away the settings to make it seem like those folks weren’t missing. Our table was deserted. The worst thing is, ours wasn’t the only one like that. The room was spotted with missing guests. I felt terrible for the bride and groom. If you RSVP to something, you’ve made a commitment to be there. Unless you’ve missed your plane or your leg has fallen off or your child is sick, you show up. The hosts have accounted for you in their planning and, in this case, ordered meals, paid for staff, and provided favors with that particular number in mind. To just not make it is incredibly thoughtless.

The thing is, I think thoughtless is becoming the norm. It’s a what’s best for me mentality. And it’s not just a few people. It’s lots of people. It’s half the party we just went to. Half. And it’ll be increasingly difficult to raise you with manners if what’s around you is general rudeness.

Manners are so important Loch, and though they’re becoming a lost art, there is still plenty of appreciation for those that have them. You are a particularly polite boy. You should be I guess, I’m all over you. But the response you get is phenomenal. There’s almost nothing better than a nice, well mannered child. Children are given a lot of slack in the manners department because of their age but when one is polite, it’s a real treat. Adults are expected to know better. Children are expected to be learning. Lately, I think adults could learn a little more.

With the recent rerelease of Emily Post’s iconic “Etiquette” book, there is clearly still a place for proper behavior in our new world. With that in mind. I’d like to go over my list of essentials in the manners department. I’ll refer to it as Millennium Manners. They’re in no particular order.

Table Manners – Your Granny was a stickler for these and I’ll be the same for you. At an early age I had to learn to set the table. Fork on the left. Knife on the right. Spoon on the outside of the knife unless it’s for dessert then it’s acceptable to put it horizontally above the plate. The glass (or glasses) goes above the knife to the right of the place setting. The napkin goes on the left to the side or under the fork (or forks) depending on the formality of the meal or on the plate itself depending on the design of the table. When eating you start from the outermost fork first. Small for salads. Big for Entrees. Small for dessert. Your knife and fork can go to at the 4 o’clock and 7 o’clock on the plate while your eating but when you’re done they go side by side at the 4 o’clock with the knife on top with the blade facing in. This might sound complicated but it’s not. I’m actually finding it more complicated to write it down. Once it’s ingrained in your head you never have to think about it. I actually have a real pet peeve about finishing your meal and not putting your fork and knife together. I’ve been known to reach across and push your Dad’s together. It drives him bananas. To be completely honest I have a hard time not putting my knife and fork together ALL the time. I hate seeing them splayed across the plate. (Super anal, I know.) I’ve confused many a waiter into thinking I’m done with my need for a neat plate.

Napkins go on your lap when you sit at the table not when you start eating. If you get up during the meal, they get loosely gathered and placed to the left of your plate (many leave the napkin on their chair but Ms Post says that’s incorrect). You eat soup by holding the spoon and scooping it away from you rather than towards you. This is a hard one to remember and seems kinda silly with chowders etc. but still, it’s good to be aware of the rules before you break them. Certain foods can be eaten with your fingers – asparagus, ribs, chicken legs/wings but never lick your fingers – or if you do, NEVER put your whole finger in your mouth or do more than 2 fingers at a time – it’s gross. I’m sure Emily would say NEVER but sometimes it happens. Just try and be subtle about it.Granny used to say, “would you eat that way with the Queen?” and I’d say, “When the Queen invites me to dinner, I won’t do this.” Mostly, it was about my sitting with my legs crossed, yoga style, in the dining room (infinitely more comfortable). But no, if the Queen or Kate invited us to dinner I would sit with my feet firmly on the ground and you wouldn’t lick your fingers.

If something in your mouth is gross, it is acceptable to quietly take it out and put it on the side of your plate. You don’t have to hide it in a napkin or, as I was taught, “Take it out the way you put it in.” Do you know how hard it is to spit something back onto a fork? Hard. And gross. I’m not going to teach you to do that. Apparently it is acceptable manners to sop up your plate with bread but you’re supposed to use a fork to do it. I’m going to say, again, it’s good to know the rules before you break them, but if it’s a casual meal at home, don’t bother with the fork, and if it’s a formal meal, maybe don’t do it at all. Elbows on the table are perfectly acceptable when there are no plates but not when you’re eating. At a table of under 8 people it is appropriate to wait until everyone has their food to begin eating. If people say, “please go ahead.” you may. If the table has more than 8 people, you may begin when 3-4 people have been served. I personally think, it’s nice to wait for those around you to have their food. If you and the 2 people at the other end of the table have plates, I don’t think that counts. Feel it out. At a big table you aren’t really eating with everyone anyway, but more with the 4 or so people around you. Keep and eye on them. If they have your food. You can eat. That seems appropriate. Also, always show up on time for big dinners out. That way you don’t get stuck at the end of the table talking to whoever was relegated there – usually random new boyfriends or girlfriends.When you cheers, look people in the eye. I had a dear friend who took that part quite seriously. We used to joke around with her by madly staring into each others eyes – stalker style – to rile her up. But really, she was right and it’s a nice thing to do. As a side note: Do you know why you clink glasses when you cheers? It’s so all 5 senses are incorporated. Taste, Smell, Touch, Sight and then Sound. I always thought that was kind of cool.

Subsequent note on booze: When offering a drink, never ask why or push alcohol on anyone who has declined. You don’t know why their not drinking and it’s not your business. Accept their no and politely offer an alternative.

Don’t eat too fast. Finish the food in your mouth before you speak. If you don’t like something, don’t eat it but don’t mention it either. If pressed on it, answer as kindly as possible. “Didn’t you like the beef?” “I don’t think it was for me.”  Asked to be passed things rather than reaching. And taste your food before you salt it. I rarely do this but it’s a good idea. I recently watched a show where one of the characters said he did job interviews over food to see if the potential employee salted his/her food prior to tasting it. To him it meant that the person was set in their ways rather than being attune to the situation at hand and adjusting as needed. I’d never thought of it like that, but there you go. It makes sense. If a waiter is not available, make sure you refresh people’s wine glasses and beverages as needed. Technically, you aren’t supposed to pour your own wine or sake, but very few people know this so don’t get too fussy about it. Never take the last of anything without asking or at least acknowledging you’re doing it. “Would anyone like the last shrimp?” “Would you like another piece of bread?” or if you really want it, do the “If no one wants this last piece of cake, I’m going to go ahead.” Few will stop you. If you are at home or a friend’s, when the meal is over clear the table. The proper way to do this is to start with the women (oldest to youngest) and then do the men. Clear from the right side of the plate so you can control the knife and fork from falling on their laps. And do your own plate last. Most people don’t know this so it might seem like you are just clearing at random, but it is the correct way and older people really appreciate it. When you’re finished your meal you can put your napkin back on the table and thank the host or the cook. Nice manners kid! You make your mama proud.

As a side note to table manners: When eating and drinking in establishments, be nice to your servers and bartenders. I am of the opinion that every North American should have to do at least 6 months in the service industry before they’re 25. Just like Italian citizens used to have to do mandatory military service, we should have to do mandatory waiting on others. Being served is a huge part of our culture and knowing first hand how the other half lives is key to being humble. I never worked in retail but I was a waiter/bartender for 10 years and it’s not all Tom Cruise in Cocktail. You make money. It can be fun. But overall, it’s a soul sucking job that’s both physically and emotionally depleting. There are career waiters and bartenders/mixologists, but for the most part, the people doing it dream of being something else and that’s a tough pill to swallow when someone’s screaming at you over how long it took you to get their Miller Light. If we all knew what it was like to do that job it would give us the perspective that patrons so often need. Having done it myself, I know not to get mad at my server if my dinner is late or badly done. They didn’t cook it. I recognize when they’re in the weeds (overly busy, just trying not to drown) and I’ll cut them some slack on their service during that time. I know that at a busy place the bartender will get to me when they can. I get a space at the bar, establish eye contact, smile and wait. Believe me, they’ll come to me faster than the person yelling at them. Like I said, it’s a s*^# job and they are doing the best they can. Tip 15-20% minimum. Believe me they’re earning it. The only time this isn’t the case is when your server/bartender is rude or incompetent. I am the best and most understanding customer unless you are useless or surly. Then I’m the worst. It doesn’t take much to be fine. To be serviceable. To be polite. But if you are rude or completely blow it on the orders and don’t really care, I’ll be the person talking to your manager and you get a 10% tip, if that. There are too many good actors and musicians out there looking for jobs for that person to be taking one of them.

Also, tip when it’s an open bar. It’s classy and they’re still doing the work even if you aren’t paying for it. That goes for weddings too.

Phone Manners – This is bigger topic than it was in my day as now everyone has a phone on them at all times. I definitely touched on it before in my technology post but the gist is this: Try not to be on the phone (and that includes texting) too much in the presence of a real person. The real person always takes precedence over the virtual person. If you must take a call or respond to a text/email, excuse yourself and, if appropriate, explain ever so briefly why you are doing it. “I just have to let so-in-so know where we’re meeting tonight.” Otherwise your company feels slighted. Maybe your generation will think it’s normal to ignore each other for your phones, but I’m not from your generation, and I want you to know it’s rude. It’s also rude to hang up without saying goodbye or a sign off of some kind. I knew someone who used to just hang up because she felt the conversation was over. I hated it. Hanging up on someone without acknowledgement of an agreed upon end is the height of rudeness. I’m embarrassed to say it is also something I occasionally do when I’m mad to your father. It yields poor results. It is polite to respond to a voice mail within a day even if it’s just by text or email. If someone has left their voice on your system they deserve to be responded too immediately. Do the best you can with emails. I know there’s a lot to go through, but I find it’s most efficient to comb my emails for personal ones first. Even if you’re just saying you’ll get back to them later on something, people like to know they’ve been heard. Finally, somethings should still not be done on the phone/text/social media sites – breakups and condolence calls. In person is the only way for the first and the second is best said in a hand written note.

Crane Stationary

Thank you cards – Are in the same category as the hand written note which, along with condolence letters, are nice for birthdays and apologies. The hand written note is a time killer for sure but people really like getting them and it’s the nicest way to say thanks. Presents deserve a hand written note. I try to get them out within the week I received them. If you don’t they just pile up and smother you while you sleep. Our wedding thank you’s were kind of like that. I was literally having stress dreams about finishing them. Thank you notes are also great for good meetings and when you’ve been invited over to someone’s house for dinner. Really, just get yourself some nice stationary -don’t roll your eyes, I’ll get it for you if I can – and use it to say thanks. They don’t have to be long, just make them as personal as possible. And when you get married, don’t pawn this job off on your wife. Or if you do, at least be VERY grateful.

On receiving gifts – Always be gracious. Even if you don’t like something you say thank you. Find something positive to say about it. Horrible hat? “Thank you, I just love the color red!”Terrible sweater? “Thank you! I can’t believe you were out shopping for clothes for me! That’s so nice!” People blow it a lot in the gift department. You just have to put a smile on your face, be sincere in your gratitude and hope there’s a gift receipt.

Respecting your elders – Older people have been here longer than you. They’ve seen more than you. They know life better than you. You might be younger and faster and, in all probability, better looking, but you are not smarter. Or if you are, you are not allowed to act superior. Listen with respect. Understand the advice you’re being given is an attempt to help you. To give you perspective that that person’s age has afforded them. Open doors for older people – heck open doors for everyone – give up your seat on the subway, call older men sir – if you can’t call them by name – but be careful of calling older women Ma’am. We all wish we were still a Miss. Let your women and your elders go first into, and off of, elevators and doors. Offer to help carry heavy things or help them into cars. Trust me: Boy scout manners have moved many a man forward.

Driving Manners – Driving manners go hand in hand with safety most of the time but I’m going to give you the highlights anyway. I’m the first to say I’m an aggressive driver. I don’t weave but I’ve been known to find my opportunity and move up. I never cut anyone off. I signal my lane changes – very helpful safety wise as well as being courteous. I let people in when they ask. I drive slowly in residential neighborhoods and parking lots, and when I park, I make sure my car is in only one spot when I get out of it. They actually sell “You suck at parking” business cards to put under peoples windshields now, which leads me to believe there’s a real market for them. Don’t be that guy. Make sure you have enough room to open your door without smashing the car beside you or have them smash yours and make sure you don’t park too close to someone so they have to crawl over their passenger seat like I had to do the other day – Thanks a lot black Avalanche!

Don’t text and drive because it’s not safe, but also because it makes you drive like an erratic freak. The amount of times I’ve said, “What’s this guy’s problem?” and then driven past him to see his/her head in their lap typing away… Don’t follow too close behind the car in front of you. One, if they brake and you’re that close, the unavoidable accident is your fault. And two, it’s annoying and it makes people mad. And mad drivers are bad drivers. Much to your Granny’s horror I am a big proponent of the horn. I think it is only rude if it is laid on unnecessarily. The horn is there to say, “Hey, the light changed.” Beep Beep. or “You can go.” Toot. Or “Dude, watch what you’re doing!” Beeeep! There are very few reasons to lay on a horn. Almost sideswipe me on the highway – yes. Too long at a stop sign – no.

As an off-shoot of driving manners I’d like to discuss pedestrian manners. Yes, a driver should stop for you if you are, say, about to cross the street at a cross walk or a light during a walk sign. The driver should not make a right turn before the folks waiting to walk across the street have cleared the area. But pedestrians should also not jay walk right in front of cars like it is there right to cross wherever they want. Jay walkers do not have the right away. They must wait till there is truly no traffic or until some kind soul sees them ahead and slows down to let them go. Same goes for walking in parking lots. You are in the car’s domain and not the other way round.  You yield to them. Walk to the side of the aisles. There is nothing more annoying than driving at 1 mile an hour behind some clueless shoppers meandering up the middle of the parking lot aisle. Move. Out. Of. The. Way. Really it all just comes down to…

General courteousness and having a thought for others – That guy is having a hard time getting out of his driveway onto a busy street? Stop and let him in. The woman behind you has two things to check out at the grocery store and you have 30? Let her go ahead. Pregnant lady getting on a crowded bus? Get up and give her your seat. Don’t wait till the front of the line to figure out what movie you want to see or what you might order off the dollar menu. Look people in the eye when you speak to them. Cover your mouth when you cough. Say “bless you” when someone sneezes. Be a good winner and a good loser. Put the toilet seat down. Use a match. Knock. Be on time. And if you RSVP-ed? You go. It doesn’t matter that something better came up. Leave early if you have to, but you’re going. And please, be understanding of the mother with the crying baby on your plane. Trust me, she’s WAY more miserable than you are.

In short, use your head AND your heart when dealing with others. It’s the golden rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And the words, Excuse me, May I, Please, Thank you and Your Welcome are non-negotiable. Because let’s be honest, when it really comes down to it I want people to say, “What a nice boy that Lochlan is. His mother raised him right.”

I love you darling.

xo your Mom