Tuesday, May 25, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 102

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 41
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son
Cassy Howley: my daughter


I like to think I’m not complex but I know I’m not really simple. I’m eccentric in many ways and I don’t do things that most “normal” people do. I’ve spent most of my life doing things in ways that seem contrary to the current trends. My business accountants tried to encourage me to use other people’s money by borrowing money from a bank to expand my business. I didn’t want to do it that way. I expanded my business only as sales allowed me to do so. I wasn’t comfortable taking risks with the future of my comic book stores. I have a responsibility to the many employees and their families to keep this business profitable. Slow and steady growth was my plan.

I was also unconventional in my home life. My wife and I tried carefully to plan most of the major events in our lives, especially children. We waited almost six years before we had children so we could get to know each other without the stress that children may bring to a relationship. Once we had kids, we wanted to raise them in a loving environment. I didn’t like the way many other parents let their kids control the whole family life. Many of these parents stopped enjoying a social life because they thought the kids couldn’t be quiet and they’d only be able to sleep in their own beds. I believe that children are flexible and adaptable. We brought our kids almost everywhere we went and when it was time for them to sleep, they’d just lie on a blanket on the floor and fall asleep. Mal always brought blankets, books, paper, crayons, and toys to keep the kids quiet at get-togethers. They learned that there were times that it wasn’t appropriate to speak. We taught them to behave in restaurants. My kids were almost always well behaved. We also taught them to have fun and there was usually lots of laughter in our family.

Laughter was one of the few emotions that I was comfortable expressing although I was capable of experiencing other emotions. If I watched a sad movie, I’d realize that it was sad but I was never moved to cry. In fact, I hadn’t cried since I was a young teenager. My wife, Mal, was very emotional and she had no problem crying. Cassy occasionally cried. Adam had a very sensitive side and he had no problem expressing it. When he was a sophomore in high school he learned of a schoolmate who had been involved with some drug use. It bothered Adam so much that he and a few other students went to her, Bible in his hand, to pray with her. He cried when it was apparent that she was going to continue using the illegal drugs.

Unfortunately, I had no reservation when it came to expressing anger. It didn’t take much for my anger to build up and explode in a rage. Although I know it wasn’t true, it seemed as if Adam was deliberately trying to irritate me. He was a great kid; well-behaved, courteous, intelligent, loving, out-going and funny, and I was proud of him; but there was friction between us because he didn’t always do things the way I thought they should be done. Adam was almost never disrespectful to me but he’d just say something “wrong” and it would trigger my anger. I’d end up screaming at him. Adam never yelled back at me. He’d just listen to me and when I really hurt his feelings he would cry. It was really a problem with me, not with Adam. I rationalized that I wanted “the best” for Adam and I thought it could be achieved only by doing things my way. Mal loved Adam, unconditionally, while I wanted Adam to accomplish certain things as he got older because that was my plan. I wanted to control him and guide him to be what I wanted him to be. I was wrong to impose my plans on him. I needed to be there to guide him as a parent should, but I certainly wish I hadn’t been so hard on him. Somehow, I did have patience when it came time to teach Adam how to drive a car. I’d heard from other parents how tense this could be but I really enjoyed this whole process. I was delighted that Adam was becoming an adult and I was glad to be a part of his life during this time. Adam always knew I loved him even after one of my “screaming angry attacks” and within a short while, we’d be laughing about something together that only the two of us shared with our bizarre sense of humor.

Cassy, on the other hand, was Daddy’s little princess. She was adorable and fun to be around. It seemed as if there was nothing that she could possibly do to upset me. Before I retired from day-to-day involvement in my comic book stores, I’d come home from work to be greeted with joy by Cassy. She would run to me and jump into my arms exclaiming, “Daddy’s home!” Adam would also come running to me. This continued for years until one day when Adam was about twelve years old and Cassy was eight, I came home in a grumpy mood and snapped at them, “Please just give me a minute before you jump on me! I’ve had a rough day!” I know I hurt their feelings because they were rarely so excited to see me come home after that night. As a parent, I should have known better. What could be more important than expressing and receiving love from your children?

Both of my kids loved to act and they performed in plays every year beginning in the first grade at The Imago School. In 1996, as a sophomore in high school, his girlfriend, Meridith, convinced Adam to get involved with a local community theater group for teens that she had been involved with for many years. Adam auditioned and got the part of “Nathan Detroit” in “Guys and Dolls” opposite Meridith as “Adelaide.” As the lead male comic character, Adam was fantastic. He danced, sang and acted as well as any of the other actors in the theater group. Now, you may think that I was impressed mostly because he was my son but the opposite is true. I was highly critical of my kid’s performances. I thought it was better to be honest with them rather than praise less than good performances. If they asked me how I thought they did, I’d tell them the truth. They knew I didn’t “praise” everything they did, like some parents did, unless I thought it was above average. Usually, both Adam and Cassy did a great job when they were on stage. They were always prepared and their “delivery” of the lines was very natural, as if they were saying them, not merely repeating lines they had memorized. Cassy had major parts in her seventh and eighth grade school plays of “Tom Sawyer” and “Wagon Wheels West” and she showed that she had the dedication and skills needed to be a talented actress. I was proud of both of them and Mal and I attended every performance.

Now that I had been retired for a while, I found that I was missing the interaction with my friends and customers from the stores. I guess I enjoyed the attention I got from them. I was once known all around the country as an expert and a leader in the comic book business while I worked with my old partner, Jay, at “Sparkle City Comics.” We really dominated the comic book conventions in the late 1970’s and we were very influential in the pricing trends of that time. We worked as advisors to the comic book price guide and provided important sales information. In the small world of comic books we were famous (or infamous) but when we split up, Jay got the convention part of the business and I got the store. I no longer had to travel forty weeks each year and I could establish relationships with my local customers in a way that couldn’t happen when you’re in a different city almost every week on the convention circuit. But I was no longer important as a “national” comic book guy. I realized that I missed that bit of recognition. I came up with an idea that could give me national recognition again.

I called Ken, one of my most trusted employees, and asked him to find out what it would take to have us nominated for the prestigious “Will Eisner Spirit of Retailing” award for excellence in the comic book business. Ken tackled this task with his usual enthusiasm and attention to detail.

Next chapter: The hoops we were put through.
Pictures: Adam and his girlfriend Meridith performing in "Guys and Dolls."

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