Friday, June 7, 2019

The Hawk Thing


This piece was first presented on City Dads Group a while back under the title: We Soar Like Hawks for Our Children.  You can see that post here. 


A pair of hawks, probably Cooper’s hawks, command the sky over my backyard and the surrounding acres. I spotted their nest high in an old oak across the street. I’m sure they are a mating pair, although at first, I thought maybe they were a hen teaching her fledgling to hunt. I actually thought that until two minutes ago when I looked up the breed and found out any hawks would only have eggs right now or, more likely, an empty new nest.

So, not a mother teaching a child to hunt or a father teaching a child to soar like I wanted it to be. What I’ve been seeing is likely courtship, nest building, pair bonding. I wanted to extend a metaphor about teaching children to soar and take care of themselves; about the joy of flying and learning and beauty. I had planned to beat that metaphor to death.

I continue to watch them, the hawks, even though I can’t mold them into the symbol I wanted them to become. They fly down again and land on a low branch on a maple not 20 feet from my window. They stand close together and … well. Their tails are red, one more than the other. Dammit, they aren’t even Cooper’s hawks; they are the much more common red-tailed hawk.

Now I won’t be able to share this quote from a college commencement speech Mr. Rogers gave so many years ago:
“In fact, from the time you were very little, you’ve had people who have smiled you into smiling, people who have talked you into talking, sung you into singing, loved you into loving.”
It’ll be hard to work in how those hawks made me think of this quote as I saw one take off and then the other and watched them soar and swoop in the cold February sky, thinking the whole time them parent and child. The effort and the ease of it, the work and then the reward of it all.

What better way to learn to circle through the sky than experiencing another doing it with you, showing it to you?

How can I say, now that the metaphor has failed, that we are like those beautiful hawks, we parents? I look to the wild and see labor of love. Nature doesn’t tell herself about love and ability, she uses no words, explains nothing, just as we cannot explain what love is, what a song or a story or laughter is.

“Smiled you into smiling,” a past tense verb leading to the present tense. And there, I think, is the essence of it all. Love must be a verb, teaching must be verb, parenting and mentoring, action verbs.

That means that we labor to show our children these things.

The first time I encountered the Rogers quote, I continued the thought in my mind.

When I see my nearly 14-year-old son honor someone, I know that I honored him.

When his twin brother marches up to me after an event at the school and says, “Dad, I broke my glasses,” I know his mother and I honested him into the truth.

A kind word to a classmate, is the kind word offered to them.

We laughed them into laughing, held them into holding, dreamed them into dreaming, cried them into crying, shined them into shining.

One of the hawks sends a shadow across the backyard. Maybe I wasn’t as wrong as I thought I was. Perhaps, now that I know they are just a pair of birds, what I noticed was the action of them, always above, on the hunt, always watching.

I probably won’t see when their nestlings are hatched and fed and ready to leave; the first fall from the nest; won’t see the wings open and watch as the wind fills them as they glide away. But I see it now, don’t I? I see it in the flaps and dives of these two birds, these parents.

Just as I see me, my wife, teachers, leaders, friends … you, mirrored in the hearts and souls of my sons, your daughters, our children.

We’ve shown them into showing.

Graced them into grace.

Hoped them into hope.

Flown them into flying.

Watched them into watching.


So, that's that.  I try do everything I can to have what I've written out in the innerwebs all in one place.

As always, peace.  If you ever wonder what I've been writing of late, well...

I am working on stuff, but, I'm finding it harder to hit the old "publish" button.  More on that later.

Thanks for stopping by.

 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

It's Quittin' Time, Again



My soul has been a bit sad lately, my heart a little achy.

Do I know why?

I think it’s because I’m human.

I also think it’s my smartphone…  (I’ve never typed that word before in my life.)

I’m not going to tell you why, you already know.  You’re very likely reading this on one.  That’s why I’m trying not to use long sentences or paragraphs, nobody wants that on a teeny-tiny-ass screen.  Dammit, that was long…

You already know how bombarded one can feel on social media. 

You already know the hollowness of comparing yourself to others in your circles.

You also know the emptiness that digital communication leaves in us, the ice between the ones and zeros.

You know the isolation of the so-called connectivity - head down, shoulders in – lost in absolutely nothing.

Listen, maybe I shouldn’t assume you feel the same as I do.  I’m sure many of you use your phone with great care and prudence.

You know what?  I can’t maintain this style.  I can’t continue on with these short sentences and I love long paragraphs and I like to juxtapose them to short ones.  It’s a balance game writers like to play, to visually move the reader’s eyes and encourage them to move along in the narrative, an impossible tactic on a three by five screen.

***

As all boys do, I watched my father a lot growing up.  He whistled and I learned to whistle.  He put his hands in his pockets, I still do.  He crossed his right leg over his left, so did I.  And, he smoked and so did I for over thirty years.

I don’t have many moving-picture-like memories, I tend more towards polaroids and panoramic landscapes, Dutch still-lifes and a nude or two.  One of the few I do have is a short scene of my dad getting up from his chair in my childhood home.  He is dressed in a suit, a charcoal one, as was the fashion in the late fifties and well into the sixties when this takes place.  He is slim and the suit fits him nicely, he has a muted maroon bowtie on and brown loafers and belt.

The light is morning like, I’d guess we are headed for church.  His chair has a footstool which he likes close when he puts his feet up.  My mother calls and he brings his knees up and gets his feet on his side of the stool and pushes it out so he can stand.  His hands go to his knees, I can still see his turquoise and gold ring, he makes the dad grunt and sort of rocks up still bent at the waist, he straightens up slowly.  I don’t think he sees me watching him even though I feel close, close enough to smell his Old Spice, black coffee and Camels.

As he gathers himself he absented-mindedly taps his hand on his left breast.  The hand, not satisfied, then reaches inside the coat, first into his shirt pocket, then the inside pocket of the jacket.  Now, both hands, in tandem, quickly shoot into the outside pockets of the jacket – they worked back then – and then into the front pockets of the slacks.  These jingle satisfactorily, but the dance goes on to the back pockets where they linger.  He looks silly, in fact, it all seems silly.

Dad looks perplexed, I am straight-up confused.

Finally, he looks down and over at me.  He smiles at me and cocks his head as he sees them out of the corner of his eye, a pack of Camel’s and a white book of matches.  His face is pleased, relieved.  He chuckles at himself, as men do, and winks at me as he put them in the inside pocket of his coat, pats them knowingly a couple of times, deftly buttons his coat with one hand and walks towards the kitchen.

End scene.

***

More than anything, what impressed my little eight- or nine-year-old self was his satisfaction at finding them and, to some extent, the matching anxiety at not having them.  Years and years later, I worked in a restaurant where, as a bartender, I wore a suit and tie every day.  I probably did that cigarette dance a dozen times a week.  I caught myself at it one time in the mirror behind the scotch and bourbon and saw my father, I gave myself the same wink he had given me that Sunday morning past.

Why, I wonder, am I bringing this up?  Because, I see this same dance these days, but now it’s for a phone.  Just last week at the grocery store I saw a lady do the extended version of it.  As she stood just outside her car, door still open, with growing anxiety she checked all her pockets and rifled somewhat madly through her purse, finally ducking back into the car and coming back up with that satisfied, relieved look, and… a phone clutched triumphantly in her hand.

I watched smokers for years as a bartender and waiter, back in the days of smoking sections and lounges.  I’ve watched, as, mid conversation a hand reaches for a pack and, with seemingly no concentration or effort a smoke was acquired and lit.  The same way I see folks so absentmindedly reach for their smartphones these days.  I’ve seen the agitation of a guy out of cigarettes concerned about when he’ll get another mirrored in the look of someone whose phone is out of power or, worse, not connected.  I’ve watched as one person at my bar lit a cigarette and the whole bar lighting up at the scent of the first just as I’ve seen one person check their phone and watched as those around them looked at theirs.

I read an article I can’t find right now that said something to the affect that in fifteen or twenty years we’ll all be wondering what the hell we were thinking giving iPhones and androids to children, just as we wonder now what society was thinking when we let – encouraged, really - young men and women begin smoking in their teens.

I know you may be thinking that this analogy is a little dire and, seeing it here in black and white, I’d tend to agree.  However, I know what addiction feels like, I know its ups and downs, its desire and relief.  I know the dopamine rush as well as the physical anticipation of that next hit.  I know how good the ritual of an addiction feels, how true and real the desire for a thing can be.  I know.

And, as God is my witness, my smartphone feeds that cycle today just as surely as those Marlboros did for all those years.

I don’t like it.  What’s weird is, truth be told, I liked smoking and damn near every cigarette was enjoyable, honest.

Not with my smartphone.  It mostly just pisses me off and disappoints me.  The news is so dire, so ugly mean and intense.  So much so that, for me, even a decent, happy story, a “feel-good” story I think they call them, can taste saccharine, treacly.  Facebook consistently disappoints me.  In the early years I really enjoyed it, but now so few friends even post anything, it seems a bit pointless.

There’s one more thing I’d like to say:  I am not on this earth to be advertised to…

Well, that’s not a very good sentence.  Listen, that smartphone is specifically designed and coded and programmed to advertise.  “Sponsored” posts on FB, ads in every video, Amazon notifications out of the blue.  Ads on the games we play, the blogs we read, the podcasts and vlogs.  I won’t go on. 

Damn, I completely forgot you were reading this on your phone.

I’ll let you go.

I’m gonna turn my Facebook off later tonight, Fat Tuesday.

I will set my phone down where the house phone used to be - it's a pretty spot - and turn up the ringer and hope for the best.   It'll be right here, on top of that wooden box, nestled under the shamrock which I noticed has two hidden blooms:



You see, I still need a communication device, I like texting and I need to get phone calls.  That’s the insidiousness of the whole thing, something you need, something useful, paired with this lame entertainment device that just wants to separate us from our money.  That’s fucked up.

(My apologies again to those using great care and prudence with their phones, and those few who still read things on their computer.)

I plan to keep writing here, but I won’t be able to promote them by posting on FB, so ya’ll won’t know it’s here.  Oh, well…

Keep in mind these are just my observations, my responses, my feelings.  One cannot qualify every statement and sentence with an “IMHO” or “for me” or “I can’t speak for you, but…” in a bit of writing, it becomes tedious.

I’ll probably return to FB after Easter, but, I hope to get rid of this phone for good.

It sorta burns my hand…


Peace.  

Look me up sometime if you think of me.

I’ll be here.

Friday, February 1, 2019

On Groundhog Day, 2002



A select few hurt my heart a little but, overall, it has been relatively easy to write the pieces I’ve done here over the past eight years – four-hundred-and-eight-eight of them.  Earlier on I was so blinded by and enamored of the boys that, honestly, if there hadn’t been the time restraints, it’d be in the thousands.

As the boys got older, I attempted to transition away from talking about them, I started talking about myself.  It is both easy and hard, liberating and confining, joyful and miserable, to talk about oneself.  I’ve taken to it alright, though, with the exception of how to present the other players in my past.  I’ve tried to skirt the issue – you know, the old “the names have been changed…” thing – but anyone I’ve represented in these tales would immediately recognize themselves in my words.  This has made some stories impossible to tell, some of which I’d very much like to share.

You may wonder, as you often do, what I am getting at.

I’d like to tell you a little bit about my wife, Marci.  I’m in a weird situation here, the vast majority of the folks that read this know her, so, I don’t really need to give her curriculum vitae.  I don’t really feel like it’s my business to share her business, so, there’s no need to tell you all what she does, short of that what she does is in service to others.

She’s a wonderful wife and mother.  She’s my best friend and confidant.  She’s funny and cute and usually pretty happy.  She is kind and understanding and clever and…

Listen, I could tell you about this Christmas, about how the Nintendo Switch the boys got glitched out and “error code” died.  She got on her phone and laptop and dealt with it for hours.  In less than two days a new one arrived and the old one was gone.  I would have just gone ballistic on someone and we’d still be waiting for resolution.

I could tell you about how just this week the boys needed to work a rough plan for classes and “paths” and requisites, both pre and co, and such for high school next year.  She patiently sat down with each of them and figured it out.  She went to the parent orientation, met their counselor (no doubt a new friend, she’s good like that), quickly understood the whole process, all of that, and then patiently sat down with each of them and figured it out.  I found it all overwhelming and, frankly, I’d’ve sucked at helping them, that’s the truth.

I could tell you how easily she makes friends, how she’s good friends with the ex-wife of an old college friend of mine and the current spouse of another, and they get together more than I see my old pals.  People are drawn to her.  People care deeply for her.  She shines.  Me, not so much.

I could go on with these “I coulds” but I won’t.

What I will say is this, she’s made me a better person.  Fact.

I am kinder because of her
.
I am more joyful because of her.

I am stronger in my Faith because of her.

I am more content than I have ever been because of her.

My love has never run so deep.

Because of her I have a family and a home and a dinner table and good shoes and self-worth and… sons – things I never knew I wanted or were even possible for me. 

Dreams I never knew to dream have come true.

She’s given me so much and I’ve no idea how to thank her for it all.

There’s a song from a band called Sister Hazel, the chorus is:

“It's hard to say what it is I see in you
Wonder if I'll always be with you
But words can't say, 
And I can't do
Enough to prove,
It's all for you.”

It might seem trite, cliché even, but it’s true.

Can I be honest with you?  Over the years I’ve read a lot of bloggers and the like who seem to, well, bitch a lot about how hard being a parent, especially a stay-at-home-parent, can be.  Mostly they complain about the labor of washing and cleaning and cooking and such, but they also whine about how emotionally difficult it can be.  I’ve never felt that way, in fact I’m always surprised at, and, even found offensive, some of these notions.

I’m not saying it isn’t hard, ‘cause it really is, or that it’s not emotionally draining, because, well… kids.  But, to resent that seems counter-indicated at best, but, mostly, it just seems sad.

I don’t hate every load of laundry I do, every floor I sweep, every meal I prepare.  I don’t sit and seethe on the tractor as I mow the lawn on a hot summer day.  I don’t wait fuming in the school parking lot waiting for play practice to let out.  I don’t mind the snow-shoveling or the weeding or the wood-splitting.

I never cussed at the dirty diapers, or projectile vomiting.  I never hated the messes.  Never rued the long trips in car seats or the hot afternoon t-ball games.

I won’t hate waiting up late for them to get home as they get older.  I will not be afraid to teach them to drive in just a couple of years. I won’t question their decisions – if made wisely – or try to change them. 

Do I, did I, will I find these things hard?  Of course, yes, labor and hard emotional effort suck sometimes.  But, I knew I was better for doing them, in fact, I know it's the least I can do for what I've received.

But, more than anything, I love what I have been given the opportunity to do.

It is because of Marci that I have this chance - this chance to be of service, to help, to teach, to love, to preach, to be a good man.

“It’s all for you,” sweetheart, you’re the best one.  I cannot underemphasize that.

On February second, two-thousand-and-two we were married at Bellarmine Chapel on the campus of Xavier University.

02-02-02.


 Seventeen years.


And, yes, the second of February is indeed Groundhog Day, thanks for asking.  (There was a groundhog groom's cake.  True story.)

Thanks for coming around today.  Try to remember the honor and joy at serving others and at being served.

I hope it's not seemed to corny, but, love goes that way sometimes, don't it?

Peace.

Hey, since we're celebrating her, here's a one of those Facebook thingees she does:

... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ...

N: "I love my dad."
Mom: "I love your dad, too."
Z: "I love popcorn."
Dad: "Well played, Zack."

I love Sartre...


Ya'll know there's more to every story, here's today's.  When I asked Marci to marry me, I did so with a song.  I try to figure a way to play it for her on or near our anniversary.

This song:



I love you, Miss Marci...  thanks for saying yes.