Categotry Archives: Family


Surrounded by Jackasses in America

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Categories: Essays, Family, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The prairie dog’s bark echoed across the plain – a plaintive cry for me to break the rules and hand over some of my popcorn. I resisted, glancing over at the sign: “DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS!” Though my mother, stepfather, sister, and I were the only humans in sight, I could feel the park ranger’s phantom eyes upon me. I pictured Tonto on horseback, riding up to scold me – “Maize no good for prairie dog, Kemosabe.” – and snatching the errant kernel from my hand (or, perhaps, an unnamed Indian shedding a single tear over my proposed misdeed).

I crumpled the end of the bag closed and returned the popcorn to the back seat of the family car. A worn-out Pontiac, it had nevertheless ferried us from the gentle, green hills of northern Illinois, to the vast, scrabbly tableau of South Dakota, to this nameless drive-thru nature preserve in particular. Along the way, that car carried us over the Mississippi (which seemed less mighty with a giant concrete and steel bridge shrinking it to a five minute drive) and sailed sickening seas of soybeans in Iowa.

There we made a stop in Mitchell to see the Corn Palace, which is indeed made entirely of corn. (Curiously, there was no maze of maize in Mitchell, however.) There was heat, though; oh my goodness, the heat. I was amazed the Palace didn’t spontaneously pop. It smelled of cooked kernels. Not the left-too-long-in-the-microwave smell: this was the almost sweet scent of corn and oil in a pan on the stove from my childhood.

Outside there were hawkers of all kinds, with Corn Palace bumper stickers and Corn Palace T-shirts and Corn Palace corn cob stuffed animals and Corn Palace books and Corn Palace videocassettes (no Corn Palace DVDs, even though it was the mid-Nineties). I was glad to be rid of Mitchell and its thrice-damned Corn Palace. Nothing like rampant capitalism to shatter a perfectly good reminiscence.

The Crazy Horse monument in South Dakota was little better. Only the outline of the noble native was visible, with completion a decade or more away, yet still rocks blasted away from the face of the mountain were for sale. I shook my head and wondered what Crazy Horse would have thought about selling broken parts of the earth – never mind carving his image into his Mother’s body. Of course, we bought one.

The Crazy Horse rock sat in the back seat of our Pontiac, and I used it to hold down my half-empty popcorn bag. An arid breeze blew across the amber waves that day, and I was not about to explain how the animals came to be fed through my negligence and a gust. Tonto would not be scolding this Kemosabe today.

I started when what I assumed was the chief of the prairie dogs let out three sharp barks. “Son of a…” I said as I cracked my skull on the roof, but my mother’s peregrine ears caught me before I could complete my curse. “Language, son,” she said.

The prairie dog’s language became more insistent, as if he had understood and ignored my mom’s rebuke. His barks came faster, louder, commanding his tribe back to their holes not more than twenty feet from the road winding through the preserve. I pulled my now-aching head from the car to see what his bother was. Scanning the horizon, I saw no wolf or fox emerging from the wood for a snack, no buffalo stampede threatening the dog’s den or our dying Pontiac – in fact, I had not seen a buffalo at all in South Dakota, though I had eaten one the day before.

My mom (originally from Canton, S.D.) was advised by her cousin in Sioux Falls to try a local burger joint specializing in buffalo. Signs proclaimed buffalo an “All-American Meat.” Presumably, this was because the buffalo were, as another sign shouted, “Free Range,” not that I had any idea what that meant.

I understood after the first bite, however. That burger was the most exquisite mesquite-fire-cooked hunk of flesh I had ever experienced. No grease dripped down my chin, yet the patty was moist and tender; no preservatives taxed my liver, yet the meat tasted as fresh as new-fallen snow; no vegetables garnished my plate, yet every bite came with a whiff of grass and scrub.

The McDonald’s down the street had a sign indicating there had been “Millions and Millions Served” there. If this little burger joint had a similar sign, it likely would have proclaimed “Dozens and Dozens Served.” Still, I had no doubt even Crazy Horse would have called this burger a work of art.

Returning to my search of the source of the prairie dog’s stress, I turned my eyes to the painted sky. I scanned the expanse, so much bigger here than in Rockford, Illinois. The stratus and cumulonimbus seemed miles long, and their height threatened to scrape the Hubble. Still, even in the clouds of South Dakota, I saw no buffalo.

I saw the predator, though: the slow-circling falcon – or perhaps it was a hawk or an eagle (though not a bald eagle: those I had seen along the banks of the Mississippi as a child on my grandfather’s fishing boat). I pointed it out to my mother, who decided we should move on to a different part of the preserve. I was sure she wanted to give the raptor a sporting chance. I was also sure she wanted to avoid having to explain the “circle of life” to my younger sister if the bird’s hunt was successful.

We piled back into the Pontiac and continued our languid tour of the prairie. Wildflowers and brush surrounded us and concealed the vicious dance of the smaller animals of the plain. My mother and stepfather decided our time in the preserve, and in South Dakota, had come to an end. As we made our way toward the park exit, one last obstacle kept us in Sioux territory a bit longer.

A pack of burros wandered along the narrow road winding through the prairie. Content and confident, they were little concerned about the car casually cruising toward them. My stepfather blared the horn at them; their ears moved, but not their hooves. Soon they surrounded the car, poking their noses in, sniffing for a treat (which they’d no doubt received from other tourists, despite the signs admonishing such activities). My sister cried when one of the donkeys licked her face, and so desperate measures were called for.

I took up the popcorn bag from under Crazy Horse’s stone, pushed a donkey aside with the car door, and climbed out, despite my mother’s warning. I opened the bag and offered a few kernels in my outstretched palm to the donkey I’d shoved out of my way. It seemed the best way to make amends for treating him so rudely. Ears up, the donkey devoured the popcorn in an instant.

Soon, I was making amends for crimes I hadn’t committed. The rest of the pack caught the scent of maize, and moved in to get their share. Shortly, the burros pressed against me, their short hair bristling my legs and arms like brushes. I was surrounded by jackasses there on the plain, just as I had been amidst the soybeans in Iowa.


Magnitude of Gratitude

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Categories: Family, Tags: , , , , ,

For those of you who aren’t aware, my family and I recently experienced a substantial trial in the form of a sewer backup that damaged our ground-floor apartment and large parts of our personal property. While the legal wrangling over ultimate responsibility and restitution for our time and trouble will undoubtedly not be resolved for some time, we are now in a safe, clean new apartment with the necessities of middle class life covered. We would not, however, be in such a position if it were not for the help of several key people whom I would like to acknowledge. Mom, Alex, Gary, Char, Jayme, Mike, Dan, Toy, Mike, Dave, Jess, Craig, and Kyle: thank you. I truly appreciate your time, hard work, and support. You made what would otherwise have been a nightmare a manageable crisis. We are in your debt.




Categories: Family, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

My apologies for the delay between this and my last post. College is back in full swing, I recently moved, and I’ve been working my butt off on my super-secret project. Recent events, however, have prompted me to write. I need to get something off my chest.

First, a little biography. I’ve never met my father. He has never been a part of my life, having left my mother and me when I was but a wee babe. I know very little about him, except for a few minor details. [Apparently I look quite similar to him, which is a credit to him. Despite the other things he might be, at least he’s goddamned sexy. ;)]

Last night I was contacted on Failbook by my half-sister. I’ve never met her, though I’ve known of her existence for about ten years or so. I’ve never tried to contact her before because, frankly, I could care less about her or my half-brother. I already have a sister, and her name is Mirel Vera Allegra Jones (though hopefully her last name will be Santiago again soon enough, but that’s a topic for another day).

I do feel for Jennifer, my half-sister, because she did not know for certain that I existed until last night. In that, we have something in common; we’ve both been wounded by the man who calls himself Allen and whose genetic material Jennifer and I share. My empathy for her situation does not change the fact that she is a stranger to me, however. My mother always told me never to talk to strangers…

This morning, then, imagine my surprise when I received another Failbook message from a stranger: my absentee father’s current wife. I’m taking the liberty of re-posting her message here:

Hi Darius my name is Melody Duncan I am Jeniffer Duncan’s step mother..yes that means Allen Duncan is my husband..I am not going to feed you a line of BS why he didnt stand by you or your mom, but I know sence I have been with himfor the last eight years he has been a good man …I do know when he was younger he drank alot and smoked a lot of pot. it wasnt until his other son David was 13 did he finally get his sh.t together…It look like you have done well for yourself and you should be very proud of how you turned out…you see neither one of his other two kids finished high shool, and I see you went to college..and you have a beautiful wife and child… and you are there for them.. I think he couldnt handle what ever was going on at that time in his life you and David are only 7 month apart…so how do you choose which family to stay with?? I do know you do cross through his mind form time to time… but there is nothing he can do to turn back time and make things right with you..I do wish you the best in life in everything you do.. Take care and may god always watch over you and your family………sincerly Melody Duncan

And here’s my reply:


I would argue that a good man would try to make amends for the mistakes of his past, even if he knew they were doomed to failure. It is the attempt that speaks to a man’s character, not the results. A good man would have revealed the truth to his other children. Therefore, your description of Allen as a “good man” rings hollow. Actions, indeed, speak louder than words.

It is true Allen cannot turn back time, nor is there much chance of making things right with me. If I do cross his mind from time to time as you say, I wonder if the number 9,360 crosses his mind as well. That is the number of dollars the court ordered him to pay to help support me. If one were interested in making amends, that number would be a good place to start.

You see, Melody, in my thirty years of life, I’ve let go of the hate and anger and shame of being a bastard child. All that remains is a sense of injustice and a desire for retribution. I don’t feel owed love or compassion or affection. There is simply the matter of an unsettled financial obligation. Thankfully, time has a way of sorting these things out and making them right.

To that end, I’d prefer not to hear from you again unless it’s to tell me of Allen’s death. I harbor you no ill will; I simply have nothing else to say to you. If Allen wants to contact me himself, my info is pretty easy to find in cyberspace (and has been for quite some time).

-Darius McCaskey

I’m not really sure why I feel the need to share this, except that I am a believer in calling bullshit when people are deluding themselves. Maybe I’m hopeful I can shame someone into doing something they ought to have done of their own volition long ago. I dunno. Maybe I’m just an asshole. >shrug<


From Bitterness To Joy

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Categories: Family, Father's Day, Holidays, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Father’s Day used to be a source of bitterness and resentment for me. I was not born hating Father’s Day. I learned to despise it as a celebration of something I thought I never had.

My biological father, David Allen Duncan, has never been a part of my life. He left my mother and me before I was even a year old, so I have absolutely no memory of him. From what I understand, that’s probably for the best: most stories that I’ve heard about him paint a picture of an abusive, manipulative piece of shit. I don’t judge Mr. Duncan based on those stories, however. I judge him based on the things that I’ve experienced, the injustices he’s visited upon me personally.

Witness, wherefore, that this cocksucker never paid even the pittance of child support he was ordered to pay by the court in 1980. Behold, this asshole fled to Tennessee to escape his meager obligations as a father. Consider, this douchebag sired another child who bears his name but seven months after me. (Not that I’m particularly bitter. It’s really just the principle of the thing. Traditionally, the first-born son would carry the father’s name. I happen to love my first name. Being a Dave would be so blasé.)

Obviously, my actual father was not a source of happiness and love on Father’s Day. My erstwhile step-father was not much better.

My mother’s ex-husband, Erico Santiago, was, in some ways, a worse influence on my life than my absentee father. Whereas Allen was not present to love me and nurture me, Eric was available physically, but completely stonewalled emotionally. He came into my life when I was about five years old.

As a child, I tried every way I knew to make Rico love me. I was rewarded with indifference for my efforts. When I behaved in ways expected of me, I was met with silence. When I misbehaved, I was rewarded with physical abuse and neglect. I could fill an entire post with the blatant and subtle ways in which this man hated me, but there’d be no point to it over than to play upon your sympathies in a self-serving attempt at garnering your pity.

In time, I gave up trying with Eric. He had taught me, along with the absence of my actual father, that seeking validation from without was as pointless as seeking rain in the desert. I learned that the only sustainable sense of worth came from within.

On the other hand, my grandfather, Ed McCaskey, was one of the few men who showed me unconditional love and compassion when I was younger. His deep, booming voice comforted me when I needed it and corrected me when I needed that too. He made me understand that despite my flaws and errors, I was worthy of love and forgiveness.

My grandpa is also directly responsible for my enduring love of sci-fi. One of my earliest movie memories is watching the copy of the Star Wars trilogy he taped from TNT or TBS. My grandpa is also a Trekker from back in the day, and while I prefer the Next Generation, there is a certain fondness in my heart for Kirk, Bones, Spock, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, Checkov et. al.

In a charming bit of serepidity, I became an ice hockey fan as a teenager; my grandfather is also a huge hockey fan. (He’s got season tickets to his local team, in fact.) As a kid, I never knew of his love for the sport, though it doesn’t surprise me. He’s from South Dakota. There’s not much to do there in the winter except for hockey. I only mention this to illustrate two points: 1) I regret that I didn’t spend more time with my grandpa before he moved to California, and 2) I may be more like my grandpa than I previously knew. That would make me very happy.

>>>2 paragraphs redacted to reflect my new reality<<<

My Grandpa McCaskey taught me that hard work is eventually rewarded. I’ve learned from him that one must stand up for what they believe in and that one cannot simply run away from one’s problems: they must be confronted and overcome. He’s taught me that one can be better than one’s past says they should be.

So yesterday’s Father’s Day was filled with joy in place of bitterness. Thinking about the father figures in my life, I reflected on the lessons I’ve learned from them. I hope to take what my past has taught me and raise my daughter to be strong, compassionate, hard-working, peaceful, geeky, persistent, and considerate.

I hope that when my daughter reflects on her childhood, she’s happy that I was her daddy.


In Bloom

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Categories: Family, Randomness, Tags: , ,

The weather in northern Illinois was simply beautiful today, so I took some time off work and headed home to spend some time with the family. I tried feebly to take a bit of a nap too, but could not fall asleep. I did get to spend some time playing and being silly with my daughter, however. That was really the best part of my day. I wish I had more moments like those, but the long commute I pull means I have far less time with my little girl than I would like. I hope when she gets older she understands why I wasn’t around very much. I hope she understands that I love her more than life itself. I hope she’s happier for the life I’ve been able to provide for her than not.


Status Report

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Categories: Angst & Wrath, Blackhawks, Family, Gaming, Hockey, Poetry, Shadowrun, Writing, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

It’s been a while since I posted something, so I thought it would be prudent to put together a quick update on what’s going on in my life right now.

The Olympics are over. I’m quite happy with Team USA’s performance in hockey. Both the men’s and women’s teams medaled, which is excellent. The men, especially, should be proud of their performance. For  a team that no one thought would make it to the medals round to go to the gold game and then force overtime on the Canadian team is quite exceptional. The real superstar of Olympic hockey is not Sidney Crosby with his reputation saving, national hero overtime goal, however: it’s Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks. In seven games, he racked up an impressive eight points (seven of them on assists) and had a plus/ minus of plus-9. He also lead Team Canada in faceoffs won, “winning just under 65 percent of his draws,” according to the Fighting Sioux website. Wow! I’m sure glad that he’s a Blackhawk.

I have managed reduce my weight to 215, a net loss of five pounds from my starting weight. I’ve also gone down one notch on my belt just the other day. Slowly but surely I’m making progress on my weight loss goal. It’s not happening as quickly as I might like, but I am making progress, so I’m happy.

My daughter has to wear glasses now. She’s only two years old. They seem to be helping a lot and she doesn’t fuss with them much, so I guess it could be worse. Her eye still wanders a bit, usually when she’s tired, but she goes back to the ophthalmologist in a few months. I’m sure her current pair of glasses will not be her last. Thankfully, we paid less than $40 for them, so if she does need another pair (or two!) before the end of the year it’s no big deal.

My debut poetry book, Angst & Wrath, is published with about as much success as I’d envisioned it would have. Thanks to those of you who like me enough to buy a book of poetry. Let’s face it: America is not the culturally enlightened Mecca that, say, France is. I’m well aware that poetry is dead and that any asshat with a word processor can spew out a book of shitty poems. That’s OK though: I published the book for me.

On a related note, I’ve finished writing my first children’s book. The project is now in my wife’s very talented hands. It’s short and simple and will be beautiful once Tiffanie is done with her part of it. We’re planning on self-publishing for now, though I may be interested in shopping it around to some agents too. The title of the book is “You Can’t Tickle A Goldfish” and should be released later this year or early next year.

Thanks to a scheduling change, I am once again participating in a regular role-playing game session. I have become a full-time player in Alex Rodriguez’s Shadowrun 4th Edition game. Aside from a few minor issues, it’s been going great. I’m honestly just happy to be back at the table, rolling dice like the good old days.

That’s about it for current events in my life. My friend Dan Sehr, who’s in the Air Force, is leaving in a few days for an extended overseas tour. He’s been back in town on leave the last few weeks and it’s been great to see him again. I wish him the best of luck and hope he comes back safe and secure. We all appreciate what you do, Dan. Thanks for standing up and doing what’s right.


Parental Guidance Needed


Categories: Family, Health, Tags: , , ,

My wife sent me a picture message of my daughter, Muirne (MEER-nah), the other day and I almost burst into tears. Not because it’s a bad picture; quite the opposite, she’s a very cute kid. I was upset by the picture because it makes painfully obvious something about her.

We’ve recently noticed that Muirne’s right eye is lazy. It’s especially pronounced when she’s tired, but it wanders even when she’s awake and alert. I was concerned at first, but I figured a temporary eye patch and maybe glasses would solve the problem. Then someone mentioned to me the possibility that Muirne might need surgery and I kind of lost it.

We have an appointment with an opthalmologist, but it’s not until February. I’m going slowly insane waiting for the next two weeks to go by.

It’s tough to adequately explain how I feel about this. Maybe I’m overreacting, but I hoped my daughter would be… perfect, I guess. Not perfect in the overbearing, you’d-better-have-straight-A’s kind of way, but more that I hoped she wouldn’t have to deal with any difficulties early in life or ones that would be permanent. The thought of my 2-year-old going under the knife terrifies me in a way no horror flick ever could.

Hopefully, it’s a non-issue and in a few years she’ll have no problems with the eye whatsoever. Send out prayers to whatever god you believe in for my little girl, please.


So I Heard…


Categories: Family, Uncategorized

By now, I’m sure most of you have heard that I’ve moved. If not; I’ve moved. I’m not exactly thrilled by the turn of events, but it could be far worse, all things considered.

I am extremely grateful to my parents-in-law for allowing Tiffanie, Muirne and me to rent part of their home. I am also extremely grateful to the multitude of friends and family that helped us on moving day.

We are in the middle of the foreclosure process with the bank and are awaiting our bankruptcy discharge, which should be granted toward the beginning of February. Normally, I wouldn’t share an embarrassing personal detail like that with the world, but it’s a matter of public record, so it’s really not all that personal a detail. And if, for some reason, knowing that I was abysmal at managing money makes you think less of me as a person, I invite you to step out your front door and play “hide and go fuck yourself.”

You see, the reason that I’m not that upset that I’m losing my house and destroying my credit is that I have a child. My choice was to either maintain the status quo, raising Muirne in a house falling apart around us with creditors threatening to take my paycheck, or to file bankruptcy and find a home for her in a safe, secure structure. Tiffanie and I made mistakes with our money in the past: Muirne should not and will not suffer for those mistakes in the here and now. I am a pacifist, yet I know I would kill for that little girl: surely swallowing my pride and embarrassing myself should be no challenge.

So, in the event you find yourself questioning my motivation for anything I do, remember that my child means more to me than life itself. I will sacrifice anything to secure her safety, health and comfort.

Thanks again to everyone that has helped to make this difficult time just a bit easier for us. Here’s to clearer skies and smoother sailing in 2010!


…And A Happy New Year

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Categories: Blackhawks, Christmas, Family, Gaming, Hockey, Loves Park, Poetry, Shadowrun

Now that the holiday season is winding down and life is returning to a semblance of normality, I’d like to thank everyone for all the gifts I’ve received throughout the year. 2009 has been a tough year for many(the McCaskey family included) and the help, support and camaraderie of family and friends has been invaluable. Your gifts, both tangible and otherwise, have helped sustain us, keep us sane and generally lift our spirits. Thank you.

As we look forward to 2010, there are several reasons to be hopeful:

  • Things are starting to come together with some of the writing projects I’m working on: big news on at least one of them is forthcoming.
  • I’m finally going to be rid of the house in Loves Park that has been the bane of my existence for the last six years.
  • I’m still involved in my first tabletop role-playing game in many years, Alex Rodriguez’s Shadowrun 4th Edition game. It’s epic and I’m happy to be a part of the story, even if I can’t be at every game physically.
  • I should be running my own tabletop game coming up soon.
  • My daughter keeps growing and developing everyday. Some days are challenging, some are a breeze, but she makes it all worthwhile.
  • I will be back in school in the fall, barring any unforseen snafus.
  • The Blackhawks are doing great this year! I don’t want to jinx it, but this could be the year Lord Stanley’s cup returns to the Windy City. At the very least, it’ll be an entertaining ride, even if Chicago doesn’t hoist up hockey’s Holy Grail.

So, here’s to the future. May it be better than our past!


That’s Right, Bitches!

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Categories: Aegis Studios, Bastille Day, Blog, Cold Sun, Family, RPG, Rush

OK, so I swore I would never do this blogging thing. I lied.
So, what’s going on in Dariusland?

  1. My tooth is killing me. I had a cavity filled on 1 July and apparently it’s aggro’ed the nerve, so now I have to have the tooth removed. I go tomorrow for that.
  2. I’m working on my tabletop RPG entitled Cold Sun. I expect to begin playtesting before the end of the year. Chances are extremely good that it will not be published by Aegis Studios, the company of which I am a partner. More on this to come…
  3. It’s Bastille Day! I would encourage everyone to check out the Rush song entitled, appropriately enough, “Bastille Day,” from their A Farewell to Kings album. Congratulations on your revolution, frogs! (Just remember we did it first. 😉 )
  4. I’m doing some geneology research about my family. There’s some pics of my family on my flickr feed. It’s quite interesting to see where we come from, and just a bit challenging too.

That’s all for now.