Last year, I bought a small drill press of an 80-something year old man. He was moving away from his home in Florida to North Carolina to be closer to his daughter. His ability to take care of himself and his wife just wasn’t enough anymore and he needed help. Time was clearly winding down for him.
Sometimes, when I feel the situation is right, I’ll ask the big question:
“Do you have any regrets?”
Usually, you don’t really get an honest answer, because people have to comfort themselves in the best way possible. But he answered quite honestly,
“No, no I don’t have many regrets. I just wish it wasn’t over. I regret that I can’t keep doing all the things I’ve loved doing. I just really wish I could keep on going forever.”
You could see the pain in his eyes as he looked around at his tools and cars, all being sold off now for way less than he paid for them, scattered to the four winds never to be seen again. He was accepting fate that his body just wasn’t working well anymore, and it was time to move closer to family to spend his last days with them, and to get the help that he would soon inevitably need.
I thought of that old man this week when I finally replaced some air tools that I had sold off many years ago. Well, about 16 years ago to be exact.
As I’ve written about before, one of my passions as early as I can remember in life has been custom motorcycles and cars. I grew up wrenching and I eventually opened my own custom shop a few years after I got out of prison in 2001, after graduating trade school for auto body and spending a few years traveling the country working and learning in various shops.
I had zero financial backing, zero family help and zero startup capital. Despite that, I made it for 3 years and I built some cool fucking rides, one that even took a second place at NOPI one year. I had amassed a shop full of high-quality tools and equipment, which in itself was a dream I made come true.
But I was married to a slacker and over the next few years I allowed myself to be pushed in various directions, exploiting my desire to be a family man first and causing me to put my own dreams aside. In the 6 years we were married, she worked maybe a total of 2 of those, and not all at once.
My little empire of cars, trucks, motorcycles and tools that I had accumulated, without debt and within about 5 years of being a free man, vanished much quicker than it came. The only good that came of it was that when I sold my main tool box full of name brand tools, it was to a young black kid who was obviously trying to work his ass off to change his position in life.
I felt good about giving him a great deal. I’m glad it went to someone like him and not some rich jackass that just wanted more shit to just accumulate in his estate. That kid, standing there that day with his young girlfriend and their baby, was gambling his last dollar on his own capabilities. That is who I will root for every time.
I sold off all my cars, my tools and my equipment. I did try to save my industrial sized torches and stored them at my dad’s house, but when I came back for them he informed me that he sold the whole set up, tanks and all, for $200. No, he didn’t give me any money.
We always needed the chunk money because we were constantly moving back and forth between her hometown in Tennessee, and my hometown in Ohio. It was a non-stop war between running from the drama of her psychotic ex-husband and her family and trying to plant roots in Ohio, only to run back when she got homesick again. The cycle repeated when the drama became unbearable like it always did. I had two little girls with her. I was trying to stick it out.
When I married her, I had half a dozen very cool cars, a motorcycle and lots of great tools and equipment. I eventually even owned a professional automotive paint booth. When I divorced her, I had one daily driver car and no tools or equipment.
I’d build it up again, or so I thought.
15 years, and another marriage and divorce later, once again I found myself without much to my name. But the worst part was the amount of time I had lost away from being myself, from doing and pursuing the things that make me happy or brought me fulfillment but also did not involve the happiness of another person.
As a kid, I had always been pushed into the idea that you always sacrifice yourself for your family and do what’s necessary, “no matter what.” My mother pounded that into my head.
Well, it’s that “no matter what” part that I think we get wrong. When we fail to care for ourselves enough to set boundaries and pursue what makes us who we are, we lose ourselves. When we allow our life to be twisted and contorted further and further away from what we want and who we are, we slowly lose pieces of ourselves. This can continue until we just feel empty, or at least like huge pieces of ourselves are just gone.
My mother, the one who gave me that horrible advice, died before she was 60. She died an extremely miserable person, completely depressed and hopeless. She had given up anything she ever wanted always trying to make everyone else happy, but everyone around her just took and took and rarely gave back. A son that was out of control, a husband that drank and snorted up all the money and wrecked all the cars, and a bunch of dreams that never came true. That was her life. She worked until her body was broken, and then she spent 20 years in a bedroom taking Oxycontin, smoking cigarettes and drinking Coke all day until she eventually gave up.
Don’t take advice from someone like that.
I wish someone would have taught me to put myself first. Not in the bad, selfish way. No, that was my “dad” who only cared about his own good times and partying and never about our future. That’s someone who is childish and doesn’t really give a fuck about anyone.
What I am talking about is putting your physical health, your mental well-being and your financial health first before everything else. These three things will control most of your life and will determine how good, or terrible, that life will be. A broke, angry and weak man does not make a good father or husband. And, as I know from experience, that depressed woman who spent the last 25 years of her life feeling bitter about the past made a very disappointing and unhelpful mother.
Self-care is care for others. Keeping yourself healthy mentally and physically allows you to be the best, most productive and most enjoyable person you can be for those you care about. And here’s a huge hint: if someone in your life pushes you (or easily allows you) to sacrifice yourself for them, they are not caring for you. They will likely deplete you of resources and energy, and then blame you for being depleted. It’s just the nature of those types of people.
Sure, it’s one thing when life throws curve balls and you have no choice, both of you have worked equally hard and have to take the hit on the chin. It happens. But it’s a totally separate thing when someone will not put out effort to fix things yet will stand there and encourage you to deplete yourself of everything you’ve worked hard for. Yeah, screw that.
Don’t fall for the stoic bullshit or some misguided principles of chivalry, or the toxic machismo motivational trash that tell’s you “there’s no one to blame but yourself! It’s ALWAYS your fault! Do better!” Check this out: toxic people do exist. They will fuck your life up and it can happen while you are trying your best to live up to the roles you feel obligated to live up to.
You have to recognize your own faults and mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes are simply repeating the patterns of picking toxic or unhealthy partners or friends. Sometimes the behaviors you have to change are things you wouldn’t think you should ever have to change, like being close to your family. But when those family members are draining you, or are otherwise not out for your best interests, you need to protect yourself. You can not do that until you accept fault for the choices you make to be around them or allow them to affect your life.
But you also have to be able to place blame squarely where it belongs when someone else is at fault. This is a problem in today’s world where every “influencer” seems to be screaming all about self-blame. If you even talk about having a bad childhood or poor parenting you are ridiculed for “blaming your problems on others”. Fuck those people.
If you were given no examples of good decision making, relationship behavior or financial management all the way until you reached adulthood, was that your fault? The individuals who were molested or abused as children, was that their fault too? Can they get some leeway in their adult struggles for that, or do they need to “suck it up and quit blaming people for their problems”? When your dad has you out on the streets selling dope when you’re 14 and 15, like my dad did to me, is that the kid’s fault, too?
Bad people exist. Toxic people exist. Horrible parents exist. Cheating husbands, unappeasable wives, narcissistic family members…the list goes on. If you’ve lost years of your life to them, it’s only partially your fault. It’s also that shitty person’s fault. Put blame where it belongs, and then you can fix the problem.
If all you ever think is, “I have to try harder! I have to work harder, not be so dumb, do better!” then you may get stuck in a perpetual cycle of choosing toxic partners, family and employment situations that continually drain you of all of your best efforts until there is not much left of you for yourself.
Though I am in a better financial situation today, when I open that drawer of tools and look in there now, I think about how I broke the cycle of choosing relationships and situations that continually depleted me. I corrected myself so I would not put myself in those situations anymore.
My litmus tests for blame is two-fold. First, I can not complain about what someone has done to me or how they affected my life if I am not actively doing and/or have done things to change it. I have to have worked to remove their power over my life, and I have to have worked to improve myself and my own life in tangible ways. Otherwise, you’re just like a battered wife who recognizes and complains about the abuse, but never leaves or changes the behavior. To do it properly you have to split that blame proportionally and take action to fix it. You can work to change yourself, but you can’t change them so you leave them behind.
The second part is taking a peak back once in a while and seeing where someone is in their life years after you’ve left them behind. If you left someone, and your life immediately got better, it’s a clue. If years later you have improved your position in life, and feel much better, while they are literally still in the exact same place doing exactly the same thing they were doing when you left them, then there is your answer. You fixed yourself, cut off the pattern of relationships and behavior. Sometimes you’ll even watch that person go on to continue the same pattern of troubled relationships multiple times (painfully so if you have children with them.)