Thursday, July 7, 2016

“Oh, Thank God, We’re Home”

This piece first appeared on the website City Dads Group and I have permission to post it here.


The light lingers over the lake, the boat bobs, tubing is done for today. My twin boys and their new friend from school are using towels as capes. The sun has kept us out later than we should be, and we have a 45-minute drive home. It’s time.

“Let’s get going, boys, it’s late and you’ll have to get up in the morning,” I shout down the hill from the deck we’ve been enjoying. They are done, sunburnt and weary. They head our way.
“Watcha gotta do in the morning, dude?” the new friend asks.
“We have to go to Mass.”
A blank stare from the boy.
“You know, church.”
“Wait, you guys go to church?” the new boy asks.
Without missing a beat, my other son says, “Wait, you don’t?”
I grew up going to the Heritage Presbyterian Church, on, you guessed it, Church Street in the great Midwest. I’ve never not gone to church, even in my groggiest college days. I’m not talking every week, just as often as I could.
My wife grew up attending Catholic schools, sang in choirs and was one of the first girl altar servers her church allowed at the time. She was a youth minister for a number of years and works in ministry still. She’s gone to Mass regularly for as long as she remembers.
There was no doubt our kids were going to church. You’d probably guess there was some difficult decision making that had to be done. Nope, not really. We went with the one with incense and water and coded garments and saints.
It’s time for me to be a bit more honest. I’m not a good Christian. The dogma borders on myth to me. I’m uncomfortable with some of it, unsure. Religion asks a lot of a man, in my opinion, and sets him up for failure, doubt, pain. So, why do we go to church?
The sunset is spectacular out my rear­view; high cirrus clouds take the red light and bend them pink here and orange there in stripes across the sky. The familiar, comforting voice of Marty Brennaman calls the Reds game on the radio, three to two in the seventh. The country road cuts through cornfields, forgotten little towns with unnecessary stoplights and down a long hill that leads us home. It is pastoral, serene, simple, right.
A boy sighs audibly, the scent is grape Jolly Rancher. The other boy says in a quiet voice, “Thank you, God, for this beautiful day.”
I whisper, Amen. They doze off and I am left to contemplate in the quiet, now sacred, cab of an old F-150.
You see, if you set the theology aside, forgo the dogma, there is great simplicity in faith. In seven words, my son pretty much summed up where 50 years of hard thinking got me. Prayer, thanksgiving, beauty.
I want my sons to pray, not this specific prayer or that one, no, their own prayer. I hardly believe prayers are answered — people die, lotteries are lost, tests failed­ — and I learned long ago not to ask for things. But prayer makes you listen. When you ask Yahweh or Mary or Buddha or Ra for answers, you have to find them. They’re between your heartbeats, behind a setting sun, between the stars. They are there in the moment between the breaths of two dozing man-­cubs in the backseat of a red Ford truck.
I want my sons to give thanks. My question for those unfaithed ­– for lack of a better word –­ has always been, “To whom do you give thanks?” In this crazy, selfish world, it is easy to become the center of everything.
Giving thanks changes that. It is an admission of vulnerability, of need, of humility. The joy of giving thanks, outwardly, overwhelms the vague smugness of self-praise. It’s never mattered where the thanks go –­ upward, downward, inward –­ what matters is the search for thankfulness in the rooms of the heart marked “Love and Kindness” and “Truth and Beauty.”
I want my sons to see beauty. Sunsets, trees, cathedrals, oceans, faces, eyes, hearts ­– it is everywhere. In beauty, one sees the mask of, well, I’ve tried to avoid it, but, God, and behind the mask is … I dunno, truth? Somethingelseness?
One of my sweet boys, 3-years-old at the time, thought a dethorned rose was so beautiful he carried it around like a touchstone for a whole day. The next morning it was wilted and he was sad but thought it was “still sorta beautiful,” I’m still not sure if he meant the rose or the rose’s story. Another time, we sat on a soccer pitch on a warm fall evening and watched the sunset. The other boy, then 8 years of age, said it was “glorious,” which it was. He knew the science of it all, but he still offered the question, “Why would God do this for us?” Grace, I whispered.
Children are ill-prepared for theology and dogma. Without the benefit of experience, the tales of commandments and compassion and resurrection and redemption are jumbled in detail and mystery. What a child learns from these stories­ — common across the cultures — ­ is that there are rules and justice, that love is way important, that renewal and do­-overs are possible. It is not the “redeemed one” that’s important, it’s that there is a redemption song.
I don’t know, then, if I can teach faith to my sons.
I can show them mine, though.
And, they can show me theirs.
It is dark in the driveway. I open the back door. My breath catches as the soft light shines on two slumbering, sweatshirted, rosy little boys, and I offer up a quiet prayer of thanksgiving for these beautiful, beautiful boys, and, before my breath starts again, I know it has been heard.
One little boys stirs, “Oh, thank God, we’re Home.”
And yes, he did capitalize “Home.”

 If this seems better than what I usually throw down, it's because it was expertly and tenderly edited.  Yeah, it's sort of noticeable isn't it?

It's important to remember that I am trying - trying, mind you - to use this space as basically a long love letter to these boys and, I hope, a few others.  I'm having fun, most of the time, and hopefully I'm archiving some memories for the boys but...  well, I want them to know, really know, I loved them.  Love is a damned verb, folks forget that.  It takes action, effort and deliberation.

I need a image...  let's see.

I always refer to my  spirituality as a journey.  A path behind, a path ahead.  I just don't always have someone to hold hands with... I'm glad they do.

Peace on your journey and thanks for walking with me on mine.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Foreshadows of Dawn

I've been carrying a note I wrote to myself in my purse for the last several weeks. (I've included a capture of it as an attachment.)

The top line says, "What dif can I make," and there is a downward arrow which points to the bottom line, " there a difference to be made?"

The arrow is the key. You see, it represents the passage of time. When I was younger I used to ask myself what a difference I could make. Not in some altruistic, giving sort of way, but also in the differences I could make every day and, also, perhaps sadly, about the difference I might make as an actor or singer or famous guitarist - pipedreams, fantasies, wishes on fishes.

And then the arrow.

"Is there a difference to be made?" is a question I ask of myself frequently. I usually answer yes, the yes that is in action - to love, to cherish, to honor, and sometimes, to hold on. However, from somewhere deep in me, sometimes I hear a 'no.' I heard that no a while back, a month I'd guess, when I was struggling on a piece of prose, working and listening to it, spending hours on it, reflecting deeply and profoundly and... 'no'.  I was overwhelmed by the truth of it.

Short story, long, I listened to it. I thought about that sense of truth I'd felt. I realized, late night, lager in hand, that it was a tired voice, firm, but raspy, weathered, worn out, weakened. A voice whispering retreat, not defeat. A voice, somehow defiant in its despondency. A voice which was weary.

I reached for my vintage Alvarez and played John Prine's "Paradise" and haven't really written much since.

I've been learning new songs, including this one by Guy Clark (which is a must-listen if you had a father, or are one)

"The Randall Knife"

and I've been trying to memorize and rehearse my more popular songs.

"Is that really gonna make a difference?"

A raspy voice from the cellar of my soul calls up, "Yes!"

I can't say how it's making a difference. The boys are home and underfoot most of the time so I play when they are on their laptops playing Wizards101 or or whatever. They hear me, though, and know I am practicing and I suppose that's a good thing.

I play in the late evenings to the frogs and fireflies and hooting owls and cicadas. I sing to the stars and the racing, ebbing summer moon. I sing to my god and your god and my neighbor's god and the gods of our ancestors and the gods yet to come and a harmonic comes back to me that seems, well, right, pure... eternal.

I play sometimes to my technologies but they intimidate me and I don't play well with them. I've tried dozens of times now to record some originals from my CD on my phone so there is a visual archive, a physicality to the memories I am laying down.

The difference being made is, more than likely, that I am learning so much. Just as writing and the dad bloggers scene and crafting a novel and writing bad poems taught me so much about myself, singing and playing is doing it as well, if not better. Honestly, the guitar was my first teacher - besides books - to take me aside and whisper, "There's more, you know." I'd sort of forgotten how much the stories that only music can tell meant and mean to me.

So, short of one post, This Raised Sword, which I wrote in anger and profound sadness, I've been away from the keyboard, which I am sure is evident by the previous several paragraphs. There are a lot of pieces I've ideas for and one just needs to be done but, I keep shying away from it. Hell, before I started this I ironed six shirts just to avoid it. I'm weird like that. I know the voice is getting better, maybe this is a trial run, maybe...

I am well. Thanks for asking. I've been, as I suppose is evident, introspective, which always leads people to ask if I'm alright. "Yes, yes, I'm fine. I just want to sit in the yard and drink and watch the years go by." Folks think that's a weird answer, I doubt you will.

I see your son is doing well and your attitude remains positive. Congrats on the temporary work, sometimes shrugging and saying "what the fuck" isn't the worst plan.

Peace to you, I'm still looking for mine, but, it's a great journey.

With best regards,


It's that damned arrow, that's where the stories are... and, I'm glad I finally figured out what that note was for.


I wrote the above in an email to my friend Brian Sorrell.  Ya'll know I don't usually use real names here, especially for the ancillary characters, except when I do.  Brian is a writer and a teacher and philosopher, he is a repairer of bikes and a changer of diapers - or nappies as he might say.  He is a weaver of intricate tales and an unraveler of simple ones.  He's smart and witty and fresh and, first and foremost for me, he is my friend.  He has a beautiful and compelling web presence on his blog, Write On.  Go there someday when you have some time and give it to him, his words are worthy of it, I promise.


Why am I sharing this private note with you all?  Well, not to say I am beginning a late-life career as a singer/songwriter, although part of me wishes for that.  And not to say I'm quitting this gig, although for a while that seemed to be the course I wanted.  Also, I'm not sharing all this to say I'm going to become a major presence in the writing community, dazzling you with premier posts - topical clever and important pieces bound for virality, although it'd be nice to have more than forty people stop by my little corner here any given day.


You know, when I first heard that voice say 'no', I was, honestly, I little scared, a little ashamed and a lot sad.  I thought it was another "ending" and I am very weary of endings.  But, the important lesson that they teach alludes me - they are always false.  When something ends it has time to rest, get stronger and tell you what can be learned.  I can't seem to remember that.

What seem like endings are often just rest stops, a pause to refresh and reflect, and... prepare for the journey - not a new journey, but the same one that trails behind you and winds and wanders ahead of you.

Alright then.  I'm back, I guess, for now.  I've a pile of obscure notes - not unlike the on that started all this today - full of ideas and stories.  I've pictures in the camera, baseball tales to tell.  I've words of advice for you and you and, always, always... me.

I'll try to get back on schedule and post on Fridays, and perhaps more often.  I'll get "other-one-me" to start things up again on the FB page and I'll rustle up some "... from the backseat..." offerings.   I fear you've forgotten my little porch here, forgotten the times you've been before, forgotten the conversations and hopes and dreams past.  Well, I'll tell ya what, come back at the end of the week.  My voice feels strong again, the heaviness that I perceived as an ending is lifting, and I see sunsets for what they are, a precursor to sunrises, the foreshadows of dawn.

From Marci's "... ... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ... "

"Lightening can be both pretty and dangerous ... like Minnie Mouse."

I've always found Minnie a little creepy...

Thanks for coming around again, remember the porch door is always unlocked, come by anytime, poke around, you might find something you left, or thought was over.

I've written on endings before in "Bottle Buddies and Roses or There's Always Another Door" and "Two Images, Two Hours (or Three Images, Five Hours)" and "I'm Afraid I'll Forget" and, finally, "The Elements of a Post."

As always, peace.  See ya real soon, alright?