I will always be your dad…

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I have watched over you since before you were born, reading to you over the phone when you were still in your mother’s belly, watching you with your mother in the hospital and for every year afterwards.  I volunteered to take over raising you not because I wanted to take something from your mother, but because I honestly thought I could help provide a safe and stable environment for you, and because I wanted the chance to be a dad.

You were unexpected.  You were unplanned.  But you were not and have never been, unloved.

And while I cannot rescue you from the choices you have made to this point, I still love you.  And I am still your dad.  That’s why this hurts so very much.  I know we have not always had the easiest of times communicating with each other.  I don’t like expressing or talking about the feelings I struggle with, your step-mother and both my ex-wives can attest to that.  It was even harder to share with you, watching you struggle without knowing for sure what all was going on.  I still remember the first time I really really knew how bad things were for you when I got a call from the counselor at school.  She told me to ask you about something you had written in her office that day.

So when you came home, I asked, and you showed me a piece of paper that said “Sometimes I wish I was dead.”  You were 10.

And in that instant my heart broke… and has remained that way for years.

I am not your friend.  I am not a “yes” man.  I am not going to give you everything you want and let you do everything you think you want to do.  I am your dad.  That means that it is my job to teach you, to care for you and to raise you to the best of my ability.  I made mistakes, like all parents.  I was not perfect, but I did and have and will always love you.

I wrestled with you to help let the emotions out when they were just too much.  I dried your tears in so many of my shirts, I don’t think I have a one left that hasn’t had tears or snot on it.  We read together, listened to old radio shows together…  I thought I was doing okay.  And maybe I did…

But somewhere along the way things went sideways.

Whatever the cause, illegal drugs replaced the ones the doctor proscribed to help your mood.  Lying became the norm and you stole.  Not just from me, but from family, friends and stores.  Nothing like being surrounded by store staff demanding you to empty your pockets.  We yelled, we cried.  We fought, but I tried to never let go.  Even in the end when I sent you out of the house to your mother’s, I never let you go completely.  But to keep the rest of us, including your baby sister safe, I had to make the hard choice.  That has bothered me every day these last couple years, especially as I am still seeing patterns of behavior that concern me.

It is like nothing we did, or fought for, or spent time trying to talk about or fix matters.  And I cannot tell you how much that hurts.  If you would believe them you can ask my friends how many hours, days, weeks, I spent agonizing over the questions of if I was doing right as a parent, how to help show you how much I loved you, how to raise you right.  I cried more nights than I can remember, worried about the future.  Seeing it happen now is like a nightmare I can’t wake up from.  Not because it’s inescapable.  You can still pull out of it.  You can still fly.

But I can’t fix it anymore.  It’s up to you.  And for any parent, that’s a terrifying thing to face.

I love you D.

I know it probably doesn’t feel like it, especially right now, with everything that has happened lately.  But I do.  Sometimes love means protecting people from themselves.  And it’s not fun…for anybody. I still hope you can pull yourself up out of the hole you are in.  But I won’t help you dig further down.  I am your dad…and that’s why this hurts so much.

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A letter to my son

Hey D –

It’s your dad.  I know I know, it’s a lame opening but this isn’t exactly easy so a little humor can sometimes go a long way.  Even in the worst of our fights we could usually find our way to laugh about something and sometimes it’s easier to get this stuff down here than it is face-to-face or over the phone.

It’s been awhile since we talked, since we really talked.  Before you left it seemed like all we did was either just talk superficially about stuff, ignore each other or get mad.  I just wanted to tell you something so I could make sure you know it.  We didn’t exactly part in the best of circumstances and it’s not like either of us are all that good at expressing our feelings to each other so…

I still love you.  And I always will.

Yeah, I’m still mad at you.  Doing the drugs, stealing not only from me and your mom but others, the hurt and fear and pain your actions caused…yeah, these feelings still haven’t gone away entirely.  Trust building is a lot of work and takes a lot of time, particularly when it’s been as badly abused as mine was by you.  And I know the question you want to ask and we both know what the answer is.  Maybe in the future, after you have demonstrated that things have changed, finally and truly.  Until then, I will be happy to meet you anywhere else you would like to meet.  Because I still hope for good things for you.  I pray each day that you will have the strength and wisdom to make good choices and find the path in life that you were meant to walk.  A path that offers you joy, hope, faith, peace and fulfillment.

Our life was not easy.  If you think about it now, your mother was 4 months pregnant with you when she was the age you are now.  I was only a couple of years older.  Can you imagine being parents right now?  It was scary and overwhelming.  But we wanted you.  We wanted to do the best we knew how for you.  Did we make mistakes?  Absolutely.  There are so many times that I wish I could take back things I said or did.  All I can do though is move forward and hope that in time you can and will forgive me and take the good from the bad that life handed us.

D1

I see flashes of the man I hoped you will become in some of the posts and pictures on FB.  It’s buried under a bit of teenager but then I suppose my dad felt pretty much the same about me.  Nobody I know enjoyed their teenage years, we just survived them.

D2

Please remember, even when we disagree or get mad, I will love you and you will always be my son

Love,

Dad

Superman vs Man of Steel

I realize I’m a little late to the bandwagon on this one, but as anyone with a toddler knows seeing a movie in the actual theatre is an almost-unheard-of luxury.  So I had to wait until the newest Superman: Man of Steel film came to our friendly neighborhood library before I could hopefully, finally get the awful vision of Superman Returns out of my head.  Turns out, Superman Returns wasn’t as bad as I thought.

Don’t get me wrong, Man of Steel (henceforth reduced to MoS because I’m lazy) does a lot of things right.  It shows us a more compelling General Zod and gives us a lot more time to investigate the backstory of the most famous alien ever.  It shows more of the childhood of what it might be like to be the most powerful being on earth and yet still having to deal with normal teenage issues.  The fight scenes are awesome and everything that you want in a super-powered film.

Man of Steel

Except…

[And this is your SPOILER alert…if you have not yet seen the movie and don’t want to know how it ends, STOP reading here]

[I mean it… STOP reading if you don’t know how it ends…]

The new movie lost something profound in its attempt to make a more realistic and conflicted superhero.  I don’t know if it was the studio or the screen-writer or what, but they forgot why it is that Superman is great.  And it’s that he will always find a way to do the right thing.

And killing General Zod was not the right thing to do…even to save the lives of those innocents.

I am struck by how, over a week after seeing the movie, it still troubles me about watching this part of the film.  Here is the “greatest” superhero of them all, the granddaddy if you will of all modern superhero comics.  And he kills someone right in front of us.  It hit like being betrayed by your best friend.

As a fan of comics, Sci-Fi, Fantasy and the like, I am not adverse to so-called “heroes” killing people.  There are many interesting stories that deal with this sort of conflict – Watchmen, Punisher, etc.  The issue I have is that this is not Superman’s conflict.  The one thing that both Superman and Batman agreed upon was a “no-kill” policy.  Sure, they’d rough them up, sometimes even paralyze or severely injure the villain.  But never kill.  It was a line that separated the good guys from the bad guys.  A line that even in the much darker and grittier Dark Knight series of films (and much better movie in my opinion), they did not cross – although they discussed it.

As a father I am saddened about what it says about our culture that even our heroes have to resort to lethal violence to solve problems.  I LOVE Superman.  Always have and probably always will.  I shared the movies I grew up with starring Christopher Reeve, with D and probably will with Boo too.  They show a Superman who is goofy and struggles at times to understand humanity.  But they also show a Superman who is honest and believes in the best of people, even when they don’t deserve it.  And who never kills.  That’s a hero I could tell my children to look up to.  Not because violence isn’t necessary.  I understand and even agree in limited ways that sometimes it’s the only way to solve problems.  But because I feel like we should be called to be better than that and to try to create a world where violence doesn’t have to exist.  That to me is a future worth working towards.

Superman

The article that prompted this particular rant is here “Superman in the movies” if you want to read it.  It’s well worth it and the author makes several good points.  That Superman’s story is and always has been, more about us than the alien.  Which perhaps is why MoS feels so wrong.  I want my story…and D’s and Boo’s stories… to end in a better place.

Love me some daddy time

And now we’re on Day 4 of N’s trip to Colorado with me at home with Boo and the Troll and Riley.  Still not sure who got the better end of that deal between the delay leaving, dust storms, missed exits, etc vs toxic diapers, cranky baby and the neediest dog I have ever owned.  On the bright side things seem to be going well for all concerned.  Only 5 more days to go.

So to back up, it’s been a while since I posted.  In my defense it has been a little crazy like I said before.  After our vacation we got back just in time to start helping plan our annual congregational 4th of July party.  One of the joys of being a bi-vocational pastor (even a co-pastor) is that weekends don’t really mean time off from work, you just switch hats.  Anyway, we managed to get that off without a hitch but when it came time for the city fireworks show we all discovered, Boo included, that Boo does not like fireworks exploding…anywhere.  Whether she can hear them or not.  Neither does the dog for that matter.

4th of July
4th of July

As a result, instead of a fun-filled night of hot-dogs, fireworks and fun with the family we ended up running around like chickens with our heads cut off taking the baby and the dog back home before curling up on the sofa to a nice episode (or three) of Cat in the Hat Knows That on Netflix.  Ah….  The joys of parenthood.

The next week passed by in a bit of a blur as we readied ourselves for N’s trek to Colorado.  It’s not the first time I have taken care of Boo by myself while N is out of town, nor is it even the first time I have been a single parent.  But it’s been a loooooong time since I had to watch a toddler 24/7 without a break except for work and I had forgotten how exciting and how exhausting it can be.

It's more fun to eat with your hands.
It’s more fun to eat with your hands.

Since N left, we have gone to the city water park, survived church, built and played in our new water table, helped daddy do laundry and cook dinner and thus far at least…not burned the house down or gotten injured.  In my book, that’s a win.  I’ve even managed to get the child to eat some meat which, honestly, how does anybody get picky eaters to munch on stuff they don’t like (i.e. MEAT….I can’t believe I’m raising a vegetarian)

Dancing in the park

I did manage to avoid one major daddy snafu the other day fortunately…mostly thanks to the grace of auto-correct.  I know I know… grace isn’t usually the first word that comes to mind when we discuss auto-correct but in messing up my text to N about how we were all doing I managed to avoid unintentionally insulting her by telling her Boo wasn’t missing her.  As I have heard from a number of mothers since, it’s a good thing the text didn’t go or I might not still be breathing…or married.  Fortunately N has a pretty good sense of humor so when I tell her this story…well…  if more than 8 weeks go by and you don’t hear from me, I’m not saying anything HAS happened, but….

Like I’ve said before, we’re together until I die or she kills me, and now that’s true for both N and me and Boo and me.

Cuddle time with daddy
Cuddle time with daddy

Sleeping on the Edge

Every parent has moments where they find themselves in weird positions, doing odd things, trying (and often failing) to keep the baby/toddler asleep.  Mine tend to be of the precarious perch variety.  When my oldest, D, was a toddler we had one of those molded plastic beds in the shape of a race car.  It was only about 8 inches from the floor to the mattress and the frame itself was only about 6-8” wide.  I spent  a number of hours stretched out, balanced on that little strip of plastic, as I calmed D’s nightmares or brushed D’s hair to help D get back to sleep.  There may even have been a time or two when my ex-wife came in and found me asleep and D sitting up watching me with a big ol’ grin on D’s face.

As a child I always wanted my own father to be the one to come and comfort me when I was sick or scared.  I loved my mother, but my father was the bedrock, my security blanket if you will.  I have often wondered why we prefer one parent over the other when it comes to comforting us, even as adults.  There are still things that I find it easier to talk to my father about today than I do my mom.  I have tried to be that for both my kids, but D and I have often struggled to reach back to those moments of when D was young and would come to me for comfort.

Boo on the other hand, prefers me at night.  I assume it’s because I’m such a big soft cuddly bear type she sort of assumes I’m a walking/talking stuffed animal that goes by the name “Daddy.”  I could be wrong though.  Last night…or this morning depending on how you keep track of these things, Boo woke up and needed comfort.  So for the second time this week she and I went down to the sofa, put on some soft music, kept the lights turned down low and cuddled up to what I hoped would be a much needed couple more hours of sleep.  Alas, sleep was about as much on Boo’s mind as reading Stephen Hawking is on most dog brains.  So Daddy got jumped on, crawled over, kicked and punched as Boo tried to get comfortable, and finally, after what seemed like an eternity but was actually only an hour or two, she pushed me to the edge of the sofa (I like to keep myself between the kids and the floor) and then promptly fell asleep.  I spent the next thirty minutes or so, perched on about 4” of sofa left to me by my tiny tyrant, who nonetheless wanted me close enough to cuddle with and rest her head upon.

And it made me think… dangerous I know, thinking…

We spend so much of our lives pushing, stretching, trying to make room for ourselves to grow, while at the same time keeping those we love close to us.  Sometimes we’re smothered and pushed down and under by those who’ve come too close.  Other times we lose them as they fall over the edge.  But if we’re lucky, and we’re willing to work at it, we can keep the balance, sitting on the edge, where there is enough room for both – ourselves and the other.  And maybe that is a broader lesson to apply to more than just sleeping on the edge.

Initial Camp Thoughts

“I’m sorry Dad for throwing everything back in your face and being such a jerk.”

My son spent the weekend at a Jr. High Church retreat at our local campground. I was nervous, as was he.  He’d never gone on a trip like this and considering that most recently he still thought God hated him, wasn’t sure if this was a good idea or not.  But I wanted to offer him every opportunity to get to know God’s love and the love of the community of believers that has been such a strength for me over the years.  He was a little mad at me when I dropped him off because I made him leave his Nintendo DS at home.  I swear if he could replace his hands with electronic games he would.  But he made it through the weekend…and came home with a different attitude.  And an apology.

“I’m sorry Dad for throwing everything back in your face…”

He talked with me about how he had “broken the bottle in half,” the bottle he used to stuff and keep everything in including all his negative feelings.  He told me he was able to share some of what had been on his mind and he was somewhat mystified why so many of the girls at camp had cried when he spoke…and he wasn’t sure how he felt about all the hugs he’d gotten from them either.  But he made new friends and had a good experience as the camp gave him a group hug and prayed over him.  I’m pretty sure this feeling will not last forever, but I DO hope that the changes begun this weekend stick.

Several of my friends and I were talking the other day before church and out of a number of topics covered one was, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  And while I have my own views on this which I will elucidate on later, it just seemed very timely a subject.  God does not promise that life will be easy, we need only look at Jesus’ life for that.  Nor does God promise us a life free of challenges.  What God DOES promise is to be with us and to love us, unconditionally and always.

Big promises.

Scary promises.

Joyful promises.

There IS joy in life…in every instance of life.  Joy does NOT equal happiness. And so this morning…drinking tea after getting my son to school, and before work begins… I find myself joyful, and thankful.

“God, I too am sorry for throwing everything back in your face.  And I’m also sorry for being such a jerk.”

Snowy Lenten thoughts…

So it’s late and I should totally be getting ready for bed and work tomorrow.  That’s the thing about weekends, you can’t wait for them to come but once here they disappear with a flash.  I’ve often wondered the older I get if that feeling would ever go away, much like children think the days last FOR-EEEEEEEEEEVER while we see the months just flyin’ by.  But I think not.  Weekends are like that I suppose.  Take this one for instance.  Friday night after work I went home, spent some time with my son finishing up our Yu-gi-oh card game we’d started the other night, fixed dinner and then I got together with some friends and role-played till about 1:30 in the morning or so.  Saturday I spent the day cleaning up my house and that evening I had about 12 people over for a game night, full of fun, food and board games which lasted till about 1am again, then a friend and I stayed up till about 3 watching a movie.  Sunday brought church, potluck (love our food!), then home to catch up on laundry and other cleaning up from Saturday, then roller-skating for about 90 minutes then home once more to get the kiddo ready for bed and then I settled in to watch a movie.  (Have I mentioned I really really like watching movies?)  And then this…

Where does my time go?

My son wanted to have someone over this week to come visit and as I started looking through my calender of this week it started looking something a bit like this –

Mon – Work, cook/clean, free rest of evening

Tues – Work, cook, roller-skating

Wed – Work, cook, Bible Study

Thurs – Work, cook, help at church with setting up rummage sale for sending our kids to summer church camp

Fri – Work, pick up drive-through, Game night with my friends

Sat – …..getting ready for my second IVLD day, but nothing else yet…

And I thought how amazing it was that I was the one so busy, not him.  Normally it’s the parents shuttling their children around, but this time it’s me.  But during this season of Lent we are supposed to spend the time in prayer and meditation.  Asking for forgiveness of our sins and spending time repenting.  This is a time of preparation, of getting ready to celebrate the miracle that was Easter.  But it has to start in the wilderness…away from all our business and the responsibilities of our lives.  One thing I found out this year as I was looking up some scriptures for church today was that the whole celebration of Lent arose from the scriptures in the Gospels of Jesus’ time in the wilderness before he began his ministry.  It was a time of preparation for him as well.  If Jesus needed such a time before he could go out and minister to the world around him, what does that tell us today about how important taking time away is?

And yet, can we do it voluntarily?  I celebrate my Involuntary Liberation Day the first Saturday of every March.  It’s to commemorate the day my ex-wife left me and I was liberated from the shadows of the man I was.  It’s not a celebration of my marriage ending, nor is it a celebration of the fact that she’s gone.  That’s the involuntary part.  I didn’t want it to end.  But WHEN it (my marriage) ended I was presented with the opportunity to be liberated from the mistakes of my past and the painful habits of a lifetime in a way I never would have dreamed of before.  So I celebrate the vista before me.  I have spent much of the past two years wandering in this wilderness.  Some of it has been my wanderings, other times I have allowed myself to be led.  Sometimes I have even managed to hear the voice prompting me in the direction I should be going.  It’s all been a part of my desert journey.  Moses led the Israelites in the desert for 40 years…not because they didn’t know the way, but because the generation that sinned against God had to pass from the earth before they could enter the promised land.  Those who had never known the spirit-crushing weight of slavery would be able to live and flourish in the new land God promised.  My spirit has been wandering because the parts of my life that have sinned against God must pass away before I can enter into a new covenant with Him.

I wasn’t sure I was gonna share anything about this here because as open as I’ve been on here before there are still some things I don’t like talking about…and I know some of the people who read this…of course part of it’s my own fault, I really don’t have to have this attached to my Facebook page…but this is too a part of who I am, and part of this is a public declaration of my desire to be made new in Christ’s own image and to become a better father for my son.  One of the things I am giving up for Lent is the negative images/thoughts/perceptions I have in my head of my own self-worth and of what women are like.

I struggle liking myself.  I have not had a really strong positive self-image since I was a teenager.  My experience with dating tainted, in many ways, my perception of myself and of relationships with women.  I won’t go into details, but I did not do well in the dating arena and got into situations where the decisions I made had very negative consequences for a number of people.  And for most of the past two decades I have not wanted to forgive myself for those mistakes.  Hindsight is not always 20/20 and the lens through which I viewed those times because the prism that delinieated who I was, what I was allowed to do, to say and to be.  I used the guilt, my guilt, and my shame from that time to build up walls around me and in time they twisted who I wanted to be and I became the kind of person who had to have others around me constantly telling me why I was worthwhile to feel loved.  I was a broken and needy soul who hounded others for approval and acceptance because I would not grant it myself.  I turned from those who could give it to me in healthy ways and instead indulged in a lifestyle of sex and drinking that was inherantly self-destructive, even as I sought out what I thought was love and acceptance.  The arrival of my son saved my life, in so many ways… but it did not uncomplicate it, nor did it suddenly make things all better.  Because of the circumstances of his birth and my relationship with his mother, I still struggle some days with how I view him and what my relationship with him should be/can be/will be.  But these last few years I have had several wonderful, challenging, compassionate people in my life who have challenged my old way of thinking in ways that I don’t always like, or want to talk about, or even think about in my own head.  It has hurt, it has caused me discomfort, examining BOTH the good and the bad actions I’ve done in the past and finding out where the ties are that have bound me down.  I don’t claim to know all of them yet, but I am on a path, and as I’m finding them this Lent season, I am letting go…or at least offering them to God, and trying to get out of the way when God takes them.  That has been my promise to God and my challenge.

I’ve also been struggling with reshaping my views on women.  They aren’t all crazy…well, not mean spirited crazy anyway.  😉

I have been hurt many times by women who saw me as a knight out to save them and then discard when no longer needed.  I have held my partners to unrealistic standards of what one person should be responsible for, it was not their place to heal all the hurts in my soul, nor make me into a whole person.  I need to do that myself with God’s help, and then if desired I can move slowly into a healthy relationship with someone.  But I have lots of trigger points, things that make me nervous, make me mad for no appreciable reason, that all arise from old arguements…  I have used and been used by past partners and desire a new way of thinking, living, loving.  All this is part of my penitential prayer –

God,

You who are our parent, lover, friend, and companion.  You whose love and joy know no bounds.  You who run to us with open arms.

I stand before you… broken…torn…ashamed.

I have turned from you, run from you, hide from you.  I have screamed at you, thrown myself away.  Still you chose to stay close.

I fought you until my strength gave out before the patience of your peace.

Holding me, you took me into the desert.

You walk with me, change me, mold me.  Even as the clay of my life screams out in pain and agony at the process I can feel something wonderful happening inside.

I know it’s not me that’s doing it.  But you require that we agree… that we invite you in.

I don’t remember everything that came before, weariness sometimes overtakes my mind.  But I remember the day I asked you.

I asked you to break me and make me new….and so we have gone to the desert together.

But now Lord, I stand halfway.  My scouring is completed for now… the temptations facing me are almost done.  Once again, my strength falters, once again weariness and shame press close in.

I beseech thee God, wrap me up in the joy of the life you offer.  Flood the wrinkles of my soul with your love.  May the peace of You bring balance to the stormy scene inside me.

My journey is not yet done.

I begin this Lent season with me.  With my sin.  With my repentance.  With my desire to turn closer to You.  Oh Lord, let us begin, and let it begin with me, that I may find new life in You.

Amen.