At The Shady Acres, Where I Found War – Part 4

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The following is a work of fiction.

The first time I went to church with Carla, I went, of course, because I loved her. I wasn’t used to attending church; my family never went, except maybe at Easter time. I’d been invited in the past; some guy from Young Life must have asked me a dozen times during my senior year in high school, but I found him annoying, and I figured that whatever church he went to was probably full of annoying guys like him.

The pastor at Carla’s church–Pastor Stu was his name; he was a cool guy. By “cool” I mean, not that I thought he was cool, but he was one of those newish sort of pastors you hear about at the more casual type churches–the sort who wear jeans on Sundays when they preach, and they wear their collared shirts untucked and try to make the Bible sound more hip by changing the character’s names. Old Saint Peter becomes “Pete” and Father Abraham becomes “Abe”.

The evening I first met Pastor Stu, he wore the jeans and the untucked sport shirt, and he also wore about four days of stubble on a face that seemed to radiate a warmth every time he smiled, displaying a set of dimples a mile deep. He was an olive-colored man with a mess of dark, untameable hair, so wiry, his noggin would have made an excellent deck brush of some kind. He shook my hand with a hard, enthusiastic grip that caught me by surprise.

“I want you to take good care of my friend Carla, here.” he said, gesturing in Carla’s direction, while pumping my hand up and down with alarming enthusiasm. He looked me full in the eyes while he said this, which I found unnerving in the same way that I first found Frankie’s gaze unnerving. Despite his unnerving zeal, I decided early on I rather liked Pastor Stu. He didn’t seem to smell the stink on me. I mean, he didn’t smell the wordly, non-church smell on me. The few times I’d been to other churches that were similar to Stu’s, the people came across as calculating, like shaking my hand might be sort of a job, and they’d look forward to it not being Easter anymore, so they’d no longer need to pretend they gave a crap about me. When I met Stu, it was like I could have met him anywhere. We could have met over a game of pool at a sports bar, or been sitting next to each other at a basketball game, and he would have been as inviting as he was that day, when he was minutes away from delivering a sermon I’d never forget.

“Without vision, the people perish.” Stu said from a rickety podium, chips of white specked here and there across its blonde wood finish–like the sorry thing had once gotten caught in the crossfire of a lively pellet gun fight. “What’s that mean to us?” he asked. I caught sight of Carla out of the corner of my eye. She was watching me. She was glowing a smile. Her expression gave me a thrill, for in all our time together, I’d grown used to being the one watching her, smiling at her. In fact, I usually felt like she was well ahead of me – like she was keeper of some sacred bit of knowledge that life had denied me. Now, I was with her in a part of her world, and I wasn’t uncomfortable; she knew this, and I think it fascinated her. She took my hand, interlaced her humbly adorned fingers with my own, and placed our hands upon her lap. I’d loved her before, but it was love in the way of stories. Now, I was caught up with a love that was bigger than myself or her or the entire building in which we sat. I would give my life for her, and I would give my life for this purpose that Pastor Stu was speaking about, because I felt that purpose had something to do with Carla. That night, with Carla catching glances at me, holding my hand, I felt more at home than at any time in my life.

“How differently would you live your life if you truly understood that God had a purpose in mind when he created you? There are adventures He has laid out before you. There are people He has planned in advance for you to touch.” It wasn’t the words Stu spoke that I found compelling. I’d heard pastors say similar things; it was the way he spoke. It’s easy to talk about the plans of God in a way that makes a person anxious. You can become anxious because you don’t know what the plan is, so you might miss it–anxious that you could live your entire life wondering if the life you’re living is, at best, second rate. But his words didn’t incite worry in me at all, I think in part because of his genuine excitement. He believed what he was saying. The other part of my ease came in being too busy watching Carla, watching me.

In fact, I spent much of the remainder of that evening watching Carla, watching me. In those moments, I could not have told you the secrets written between the lines of the pre-composed annals of my life, hidden by the divine hand of the Maker of all things. I was certain only of two things: I was meant to be there that night with Carla, and whatever it was the Maker had in mind for her, I wanted in. I needed to be in. I needed it so badly; so enraptured was I by the light magic of Pastor Stu’s words, and Carla’s endearing smile, and the touch of her hand, that the moments of time following the service–the memory of coffee afterward, and meeting her friends, and the car ride home–dissipated in the way of smoke in the cool, evening sky.

Were I able to return to that night, I would better engage my mind. I would listen intently to Carla’s words–those about her vision and her purpose, and I would allow those words to wash over me–and understanding their impact, I would hide myself forever in the solace of her company. I would grip her hand in a way that I would never forget the sensation of her flesh against mine.

-to be continued-

At The Shady Acres, Where I Found War – Part 3

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The following is a work of fiction.

Part 1 here
Part 2 here

World War II History was the first class I circled on my community college enrollment form. While I was growing up, Dad watched countless films on the subject. When I was a kid, it annoyed me, but eventually, I would find myself beside him on the couch, fascinated by the stories of fearless young men–men only a few years older than myself–flying into, running and crawling through hell.

Five minutes into the first day of class, I became disappointed at the realization that it would be nothing like the days I spent couched with Dad in front of the History Channel. The professor was a late fifty-something lady with a skeletal frame and a bouffont that must have outweighed the rest of her body. Professor Colby was her name. My distaste for Professor Colby came the moment I saw her name inked upon the classroom’s white board. “Colby” always made me think of kolbe beef, which I’ve never had, and I don’t think I’ve ever even seen, but I could not hear her name and not experience the autonomic, mental hiccup – “kolbe beef” – pass through my consciousness.

Colby carried an irrepressible superiority complex as large as her dated hair-do, and it moved her to question the validity of many of the WWII films that Dad and I used to enjoy together. Any time the subject of this or that film came up, she would wrinkle her concave nose and raise her penciled-in eyebrows to the sky, saying, “You don’t actually BELIEVE that, do you?” As part of her exhaustive quest to enlighten her students on the non-propogandized tales of the war, Colby’s first assignment – given out the first day of class – was to locate and interview a living veteran of World War II. The audible groans that circulated the room were insignificant compared to my own internal and instanaeous groan. Blindly calling upon geriatric strangers–an introvert’s nightmare–was the last thing I expected to be tasked with at the start of my college career. There aren’t many of those old guys left, and the ones who are still alive are in no condition to speak to you; most could hardly recite their own names, much less answer the questions of an addlepated kid from the local community college.

But Captain Franks–when I found him at the Shady Acres retirement community–I call it “Shady Acres” just to be funny; it’s really called Parkview Manor, but I find that name to be forgettable; I like Shady Acres better; it’s the cliche’ that keeps on giving–when I found Frankie at the Shady Acres, it was the World War II vet tracking equivalent to scoring a date with the prom queen. The guy who sat next to me in class–he’d given up looking for a combat vet and had to settle for interviewing a nurse. It would have been cool were she a triage nurse stationed in France and Germany, but she wasn’t. She was a stateside nurse who took care of the soldiers after the limbs had already been blown off and the fragmented humanity stitched back together.

My relationship with Captain Franks was not intended to carry on so long. I simply needed sixty minutes of the old man’s time, but he got to me, I guess. He had this unhurried, deliberate way about him, and the way he spoke–I could tell he took a greater interest in me than seemed reasonable for a man with such a Large Story; I think that’s what started me coming back after our first meeting.

Captain Franks–”Frankie”, I came to call him–was like one of those characters in a movie who you think would never exist in real life, with pale-blue eyes, deep set beneath a snowy set of brows and a long face, ovaling a regal nose and rugged scars below his sloping lower lip and along the left line of his chin–mementos of his wartime adventures. Well into his eighties, he still owned a majestic plume of white hair that never budged from the meticulous styling instilled by the Captain. It was like he’d trained the strands of his hair to follow orders the same way he’d trained the men in his unit back during The War, and the manner of his training was a simple one; at least, he made it look easy. He looked you straight in the eyes, always in the eyes, disarming you of any sort of pretense or bullshit. Frankie did not practice bullshit, nor do I think he understood it, because he had none in him–never did. There’s no better guarantee you’ll be respected and revered than if you lack bullshit, because the only person who doesn’t bullshit you is the person who doesn’t care what others think of him. When I met Frankie, I thought he must be the last human on earth in which there was no deception. I decided at the start that I loved him for this, because I’ve felt most of my life that I am steeped in fakeness. And what a relief it was for me, a man fluent in bullshit, to be forced into speaking reality, for once.

Our first conversation started with me questioning his background, how he’d entered the military–he’d volunteered–, where he’d served–the Pacific. Frankie always furrowed his eyebrows when I asked him questions about the military or the war. At first, I thought the expression appeared from him formulating answers before I’d finished my questions. Later, I understood it wasn’t an indication of thoughtfulness, but one of perplexity. It was him thinking, Why would anybody be interested in this stuff? I thought it surprising that he never cared much whether or not he talked about his wartime experiences. A man like that, you’d think it would be all he wanted to talk about, because what else was there for the old guy to do, besides shuffle around the assisted living place, waiting for the next helping of lackluster, facility-imposed cuisine, or hanging in the community lounge, playing gin rummy while The Price is Right! droned in the background? I mentioned Frankie was a man lacking in bullshit; that’s true, but he also lacked in pride. Not dignity–he held that in plenty. But pride was absent in him. If you can imagine what it would be like to care for yourself without caring about yourself, then you can imagine Frankie. That was him. He cared without caring.

“You have a girlfriend, son?” he interrupted me at one point during our first interview.

“I’m sorry?”

“You know, a lady? They’re a lot like us, but curvier and better looking!” he chuckled.

“Ahhhh, yeah. Well, sorta, I guess.” I said.

“You guess?” he leaned close to me, boring through me with steady eye contact. “What’s that supposed to mean? Don’t tell me; you’re one of them love ‘em and leave ‘em fellas?”

“No, sir! No, I just…” I stared at the prickly, blue-grey carpet on the floor of Frankie’s sparse apartment, suddenly desperate to escape his burrowing gaze. “I just wouldn’t call her my girlfriend, is all.”

“What’s her name?” he asked.

“Her name?” I became quite uncomfortable and started counting the reddish flecks intermixed within the carpet’s fibers.

“Yes! Her name. The one you wouldn’t call your girlfriend?”

“Carla. Her name’s Carla.”

“And why does Carla lack the privilege of being called your girlfriend?” I knew the Captain’s eyes drilled into me still, though my own eyes remained fixed to the floor.

“It’s not that…” I mumbled through a clog of snot in my throat. “It’s the other way around, you see.”

“Ah, ‘She’s just not that into you’, is that it?” he said.

The reference to such a modern cliche’ caught me off guard, causing me to chuckle a bit. “Nah, it’s just…I guess I don’t know. I don’t know if she’s into me. She likes talking to me, from what I can tell.”

“What does she like to talk about?” he asked.

“God stuff, mostly.” I said. “She does stuff with her church–mission trips, that sorta thing.”

“Go to church with her.” Frankie said, abrubtly.

“I don’t know. I haven’t been to church much. I think I wouldn’t know what to do there. I’d feel stupid.” I wondered how in the world we’d gone from talking about his military background to my love life.

“That’s why you gotta go there, son.” Frankie said, and his words came out in a way that was measured. For some reason, this was important to him. I don’t think I’ll ever understand why, but to Frankie, it was important that I learn how to relate to this girl. “Take an interest in what interests her.” he said. “At least try to take an interest. If you do that; if you’re sincere about it, you can win over almost any gal. If you try her church stuff out, and it doesn’t suit you, then there ain’t much point in pursuing her, is there?”

At The Shady Acres, Where I Found War – Part 2

The following is a work of fiction.

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Part 1 here

“…for there are other passions, deeper passions; you know this. You saw fit to sow them there. Sometimes I wish I was not so aware of their presence–beneath the crude folds of my temporal flesh, beneath even the heart and blood which nourish this painfully ephemeral body of mine–down deep, in the unseen burrows of my own humanity–there exists an insatiable hunger, a striving for perspective–a striving to find it and to share it.”

It was Dad’s caretaker who first suggested I speak with the Army about having his GI bill transferred to me to pay for my community college. At first, I disregarded the thought, because it seemed an awful lot like my dad gone to Iraq and got his brains scrambled so that I could get free school, but the nurse was persistent; she was persuasive. Her name was Carla. She was a few years older than me, and she was beautiful.

I was nineteen at the time the nursing service changed staff, and Dad’s caretaker changed from Jeanne–a fifty-some-year-old curmudgeon with the build of a lumberjack–to Carla, an attractive, twenty-four-year-old with understated style and gracious bedside manner. Carla possessed a charming quality that bordered on the maternal. Were I not so attracted to her, I’d have wished she was my mother.

The thing about Carla had to do with her eyes–a pool of blue-green wonder, they were. You always hear about people with piercing eyes – eyes that move you, but I think piercing eyes are not as hard to come by, because piercing has to do with moving forward, possessing direction, and there are plenty of folks with direction, even if it’s direction to nowhere. Carla’s eyes weren’t at all like that. Hers were inviting. It was almost like she’d stumbled upon some fantastic place–someplace otherworldly, and somehow she managed to be there while also being wherever with you in the moment, and she was beckoning with those gorgeous, inviting eyes of hers – saying, “Come here! Oh come with me! I have something amazing to show you!” When I looked into Carla’s eyes, I felt peaceful. I fell in love the first time I met her.

Once I fell in love with her, it took Carla little time to convince me to contact the Army about the GI bill. I was impressed she cared enough to bring it up to me. I’d been working as a construction laboror at the time, an ephemeral job for me, due to a lifelong proneness to injury. After her routine with Dad – getting him exercised, bathed, fed, dressed–she would check on me; inevitably I’d have a series of minor flesh wounds – blistered palms from a shovel or pick-ax, bloodied knuckles from gutting walls. Carla would clean and bandage my wounds while I took in generous inhalations of the shampoo scent in her hair, and became transfixed by the tenderness of her touch on my skin. She would talk while treating me, often about places she’d been and even more about places she wanted to go–how she dreamed of travelling overseas to do humanitarian work, and sometimes she talked about church and God–things I didn’t understand, but I always listened, because it was Carla speaking.

She had this thing she did with her mouth whenever she spoke about God and about service. She stretched her lower lip to the side as a way of emphasizing certain words, then she would bite down, as if to demonstrate that seeing others in pain was also painful for her. If she spoke of helping orphaned girls in Thailand–that’s where she wanted to go someday–she would stretch and bite her lower lip when she spoke of that country or when she talked of how much God loves the orphan girls over there, that he doesn’t want them to be exploited by human sex traffickers. I wondered how she could talk of such things and still maintain her positive radiance. When I think of poor Thai girls being exploited by human sex trafficers, I feel depressed. Carla sees an opportunity to help.

- to be continued -

At The Shady Acres, Where I Found War

The following is a work of fiction

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It was long after the media had stopped glamorizing the daily numbers of wounded or killed in action that my dad suffered the injury that changed his world and mine. He was mentioned briefly in the news, but only on the local news stations, squeezed between an inaccurate weather report and a story about a sewer backup in the basement of the down town DSHS building. I suppose there were a few lines typed out on the web somewhere – though I never had the heart to look – something like, Sergeant Jameson of the 41st Infantry Brigade, wounded by makeshift explosive. Suffered severe brain damage. Now a mumbling vegetable.

In truth, a reduced mental capacity was one of Dad’s more minor symptoms. Iraq’s greatest gift to my dad, and thus, to my family, was the mood swings. His words were few, and he fumbled with objects as simple as a spoon. When he deployed, he was a stalwart – strong, independent, dependable; he returned with the mental capacity and motor skills of a child–but he was no child, and beneath his newly suffered disabilities, he knew it was not always like this. The doctors said that his memories of the incident and much of his life before were likely indiscernable to him, but I always knew somehow that Dad was aware. He knew he’d lost something, and the loss frustrated him.

At times, he would grow belligerent, throw things and begin to beat himself in the temples. The doctors said it was mostly the headaches that he got from the head trauma, but I think there was more to it than that. I think rage had something to do with it. Not anger; anger is immediate, temporal. Rage is a step beyond. It’s what lingers long after anger’s fires have cooled. And it never goes away, because it’s fueled by the knowledge that you are helpless to change anything. In Dad’s case, he knew would never again be what he once was.

Mom left six months after Dad moved back home. She was angry when he’d deployed in the first place–he was only a reservist after all – and in her opinion, the country’s need for his services overseas came at a most inconvenient time. Didn’t the army know that she was preparing to do a major remodel on the kitchen? How dare they expect her husband to shift his attention to armored tanks when it ought to be devoted to stainless steel appliances and bamboo flooring. In the end, I wonder if those things, those modern comforts, were the “freedoms” that my dad and all his friends were fighting for. They were fighting so shallow, soulless people like my mother could maintain the freedom and the affluence to pacify their desire to have model kitchens that they rarely cooked in, unless they were entertaining friends, and they felt the need to **inspire envy.

She slipped away during the night. By now, I suppose she’s found someone new, someone who can hook her up with granite countertops. That left me and Dad and my younger brother. Two high schoolers and a discontented handicap. I could have had Dad put in an assisted living place, but it would have been hell for him. The army only pays for so much of that sort of thing, which meant the facility would have been shit. Besides, I sometimes felt that the only thing that made life tolerable for him was knowing he had his boys around. If I put him away, it seemed to me, there was little point in his living anymore. As it was, he was hardly him anymore. As long as he was near family, life still meant something.

Shortly after Mom left, my brother followed her lead and moved in with his girlfriend. I never blamed him for leaving, not given the constant anxiety from living with a guy like my dad–a war hero imprisoned in a fractured brain, a broken spirit – the daily trepidation as he’d walk home from school and wonder what sort of state he’d find his father in and what a wreck he’d made of the house, or himself.

And there was the sleepwalking. The irony of Dad’s nighttime episodes was that, in his semi-conscious state, he became more aware of who he was and what had happened to him – far more so than he ever was while awake. Problem was, because he was sleeping, he didn’t realize that he was safe at home, that he was not in immediate danger of attack by a foreign enemy. So the enemy became anything. One night, the enemy became my little brother. Dad had burst into Sam’s room at 2:00 in the morning and pounced on him like a crazed animal, started slapping the shit out of him. I could hear him screaming from the next room, “Where am I? Why have you brought me here? Let me go!”

I flew to Sam’s room and jumped on Dad’s back, hollering into his ear as loudly as I could, making myself hoarse in seconds, begging him to calm down, pleading that this was his son he was beating on. I think my shouting finally woke him up, because he stopped flailing, stopped doing much of anything. He stared absently into his nothing world for several moments, then walked out of the room, drooling. Like I said, I never blamed Sam for leaving; I never even tried to talk him out of it.

**to be continued**

Faces In The Sea #8 – Jonathan the Deep

“File name not found. Command cannot be performed.” he said to me. I’d seen him at the library before, and it was obvious from the first that he had a disability. Today, it was my job to tutor him. Jonathan had an essay to write. We had an essay to write.

Once a week, I volunteer as a tutor at a local library. I don’t do it because I’m remarkably generous. Where it comes to charity, I feel I ought to be doing more. I know a lot of us feel that way. Tutoring is something I do because it helps me. A characteristic of the age in which we live is our tendency to strive incessantly – running ourselves beyond the edge of exhaustion, for a set of priorities which ultimately have little meaning. Awareness of this fact torments me. Tutoring is a struggle, sometimes painfully so, but it’s a good sort of pain, like the sort you feel after exercise.

Jonathan is autistic. I’m no expert on the condition–is it even correct to call it a condition?–but I surmise his version is about a four on a five star scale. I’ve tutored the blind, deaf, dyslexic, and several dozen ESL, but Jonathan is my first autistic. He’s also ESL. In the world of volunteer tutoring, ESL is more or less a given.

“File name not found. Command cannot be performed.” he repeated the Windows-type error message for the fourth time, though the computer before us putted along as smoothly and error free as any half-decade-old library loaner ever could. His weary mother sighed and clutched him by the arm, imploring him to focus on the task at hand. Her English is limited to the degree that I wondered if she was aware of her son’s cleverness. Clearly, this mantra of his was more than just a playful way of putting off homework. His message to me was plain: “I don’t know what to write.” Nothing unusual there. Isn’t that usually the problem?

The assignment was for his seventh grade language arts class – an opinion essay. Jonathan’s teacher had given him a detailed outline. He merely needed to fill in the blanks with some basic details, describing at least two reasons why he did or did not think physician assisted suicide was a good idea. It should have been a simple task; I gleaned immediately that Jonathan was no stranger to doctors. In fact, his familiarity was what created the challenge. To him, the idea that doctors existed for anything aside from recovery was a foreign one. In that way, he was not so different from most of us; in that, we all must eventually face the reality that there are some things a doctor cannot fix. There are some ailments – some pains, no human can fix. And doctors are as human as the rest of us. Funny how often this eludes us.

It took some wading through Jonathan’s internal “system errors,” but I eventually gleaned that he was not in favor of assisted suicide. His reasons were less than complex:
1.) Doctors are there to help people get better. That is a doctor’s job; that is a doctor’s only job.
2.) Once a person is dead, he or she cannot come back. In other words, a person’s decision to commit suicide is too final for Jonathan’s taste.

As Jonathan and I struggled through our task, I couldn’t help marveling at the boy’s mother–a conflicted sphere of exasperation and patience in one body. As weary as she appeared of bearing the burden of supporting her autistic son, she managed to display a warm, motherly grin each time his obsessive nature demanded he go back to correct a grammar error, as Microsoft pointed each of them out with its green, wavy pointer fingers. She laughed audibly as I tried to explain to him that, sometimes, the computer points out grammar errors that aren’t actually errors. To his look of confusion, I responded, “Computers aren’t very smart.”

An hour of pinpoint keyboard tapping with his abnormally long, robotic-looking fingers – an hour of stern focus upon that glowing laptop screen with dark eyes, so deep I found them unnerving–only one simple, fleeting hour, and our task was done. How did Jonathan do? I don’t think anybody would accuse us of changing the world with that little five paragraph piece, but I’ll tell you that Jonathan changed me with his closing line–”…it is important to remember that life should be good.”

Well said, Jonathan. I think you deserve an ‘A’.

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Oh, the Cleverness

Yesterday, during a characteristically hectic day at work, I forced myself to escape for 30 precious minutes to indulge in some trans-fat sustenance and a little word swapping with the Good Lord:

I shouldn’t be here. It’s been busy at work, and we’re down a man. I’m breaking my own law today. I’m a thief. I’ve stolen time. Oh, the cleverness of me!
What prompted Peter Pan to say that? If I remember right, he said it after Wendy Darling finished sewing his shadow back on. “Oh, the cleverness of me!” What a great word – “cleverness.” I don’t recall seeing it used at any other time than in the Peter Pan story. It’s a perfect word for a smart-ass like Peter. I wonder why he thought he was so clever. There he sits, blubbering like a baby, until Wendy re-attaches his deviant shadow, and suddenly he’s ascribing hallelujahs to his own superior wisdom. What did he do that was so great? He flew into Wendy’s room, that’s what. It was certainly more of a happy accident than clever planning.
Humans must do this all the time with You. We stumble into a solution that You graciously provide for our problems – to recover the loss of something most precious to us – and once rescued, we exclaim, “Oh, the cleverness of me!” Funny thing, Wendy didn’t get too upset with Peter. And maybe You don’t get too upset with us, either. Maybe You flash a semi-wry grin, let us have our little moment, then go on being the precious, beautiful One You are.
Today, I’ll make a small dent in the gigantic heap of bullshit we’ve accumulated in the process of shoveling misappropriated praise.
Today, I will say, “Oh the cleverness of You!”
That felt pretty good. Felt so good, I’m inclined to follow with saying, Oh, the cleverness of me!

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Stay Present

This won’t be an easy one for me. I will be touching on things that make me uncomfortable, but I think I ought to say what I am compelled to say, and I believe I need to read these words, once they’ve tethered to one another and been birthed into the world.

I will start by confessing that I have no idea what it means to be a good father. I know I’ve been described as one, but I don’t believe it’s quite true of me, and that’s not false humility talking. I know myself all too well to call myself good at something as impossibly challenging as fatherhood. I am too lazy, too impatient, too self-absorbed to call myself a good father. I’m far too weak. A good father is none of those things, certainly not weak.

When news trickled down the Facebook vine that my nephew and his girlfriend are expecting a baby this year, I felt an unspoken burden upon me to share some sort of advice for this first time father-to-be. My unspoken burden increased in scope and weight when I came to the realization that the advice I might offer is quite limited. Certainly, I could share the things you read in books: be tender, don’t discipline out of anger, teach kids to be respectful, etc–but I feel rather uncomfortable preaching such tenants, when I struggle so futilely to maintain them myself.

This is what I came to–it’s just one thing. There is one thing I can say that, up to this point, I’ve done, and it has worked. In fact, I believe this one thing must be the launching point for all the other good things that might be accomplished by a father toward his children. Stay present. If you can do just that, you have a solid start toward being a good father. Stay present. When every fiber of your being screams to run away, to escape the stress–the crushing weight of responsibility and the unconscious echoes of it’s all on me–when you long for the Space of some other place, stay present.

During my short time in college, I was able to maintain a 3.8 GPA, while working full time. I’ve never been much of a study bug, especially with subjects that bore me, and I don’t think I was any smarter than most of my classmates who received lower marks than I did. If I had a secret, it was this: I showed up to class. As long as I showed up, even if the class was a drudgery, and I was hopelessly mal-equipped due to my deplorable lack of math skills, I could still do well in a class. Maybe this approach works with parenthood as well. Just show up.

My boys adore me. In the future, this may not always be the case, but it remains for now, and I can’t say I understand why. I’m so run down from life much of the time that I can’t even stay awake long enough for a viewing of “Despicable Me”, and good luck getting me outside most of the time. I did make it outside for a little while recently. It snowed in our neighborhood, which almost never happens, and the boys were primed for snowmen and snow forts and snowball fights. Old dad rolled his tired bones outside and managed to make a morning of it. Old dad showed up. I stayed present.

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What is it about our children? They are living mirrors–little mirrors in which you see reflected both the best and worst parts of yourself. Your strengths, and especially your weaknesses, are on display upon those little mirrors. Maybe this is why so many men succumb to the temptation to run away. Nothing draws out your inadequacies as a human being faster than a needy child. Let’s face it–many days, it hardly seems worth it. I’ve had days. Oh my, I’ve had days. I’ve had countless, frustrating, find a happy place sort of days. I’ve had frantic, anxiety-ridden days boil down into crucial moments, where I find my finger poised upon the “purchase” button of a one-way-ticket to New Zealand, but for me it’s in my boys’ eyes, you see. I cannot peer into those stunning portals of blue–confounding mixtures of earnestness and trepidation, anger and innocence, fear and loving devotion–I cannot bring myself to walk away.

So, this is my advice to you, dear nephew. When you are struggling, gaze into the eyes of your child, and stay present. When you feel low and you feel inadequate, and you feel like the entire world hates you and you hate the world, stay present. Your kid is going to need you, for all your strengths, as well as your weaknesses.
Many, many blessings on you.

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