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.

Mortality at the doctor’s office

Mortality is a funny thing.  Awareness of it comes in brief flashes, at random times throughout our lives.  It can often come at what may at first seem like such an inopportune time, but is more likely to be right when needed.  One such moment happened for me the other day when I had a preliminary sleep test done.  Turns out I am having an event about every 4 minutes while I sleep where my O2 levels drop and my average oxygen amount is on the low-end of what doctors want.  So it’s off for more tests to see about an official diagnosis this week.

Now, I have to follow this up by saying that I dislike doctors, I hate hospitals and clinics, and am just generally unhappy with the medical profession.  This is nothing personal against the number of heroic and wonderful people who willingly give care to millions of people each and every day.  And when I am in to see them I try to be the best behaved patient they meet for that day.  But in part because of having spent many…MANY days and nights dealing with chronic health issues for years and years, I am increasingly leery as I get older, of going in to see a doctor for anything.

But back to this test…

As I was reading up online (actual reputable places like WebMD, etc), I began to realize just how easy it would be for me to not wake up sometime and why my doctor was so insistent that I get this test done.  I called him back to set up the follow-up so here we are.  But it made me wonder about my life, will I be here for when Boo gets married, for when D gets hitched?  How many more years do I have and more importantly, what am I doing with them?  When Boo asks for my attention, did I really give it to her?  Did I play and focus on creating memories and stories that will last long past the time I’m gone?  When D calls or texts, have I done enough to show D how I feel and how proud I AM of the good things D has done in life?

It also made me think about my father, who also has breathing problems (he’s got a CPAP, although it’s not helping as much as we’d like) and the fact that he turns 72 in just a few months.  I honestly am not sure what to do without him in my life and I don’t even like thinking about it.  My mother is 68, so it’s not like either one of them is a spring chicken anymore.  But there is something terrifying I think when you think about losing your parents.  Even more so than when considering losing your grandparents, which I have done years ago.  It’s that lack of a buffer between you and the end.  That creeping sense of the grains of sand leeching through the hour-glass.  Am I ready to deal with the world without their guidance and sure hand helping me?  Have I told them everything I want them to know?  What about the questions I still haven’t found the answers to (most notably, at what point do you finally figure out this whole “growing-up” thing?)?

This is not to say that I am suddenly in a panic, desperately trying to flee from whatever happens.  I’m not.  My faith helps me feel secure in what comes after, and I am trying to improve the quality of the time AS WELL AS the quantity of time I spend with people, but it’s just been weighing on me more lately, as I reconsider my words, my actions and the priorities of my time.  I want everyone I come in contact with to feel the love of the creator, to understand that they are precious and that this gift we call life is fragile and fleeting…but also that it is vibrant and strong.

I needed this.  My father used to tell a story when he was preaching (yeah, he was a minister too), about a mule that would do anything you asked…but first you had to hit it with a 2×4 to get its attention.  It was a metaphor he used to talk about our relationship to God, the world and each other.  And Lord knows I have spent plenty of days wandering around without purpose or focus or otherwise knowing what I was doing and not appreciating what was around me.  I have had many 2×4 moments in my life.  This was another one.

I hope the time I am given is being well-spent.

I hope you know that whether we have been friends for years, are casual acquaintances or strangers new met, that I look forward to knowing more about you and hope nothing but the best for you.

I hope the Creator blesses you to be a blessing upon creation, in whatever form or fashion that takes.

I hope you know that you are loved.

Loving the little (and not-so-little) ones…

I am having a hard time with the whole growing up thing.  Not for me you understand, I am pretty sure most people who know me gave up on that a long time ago.  But for my children Boo and D, both for entirely different reasons.

It is perhaps a bit easier to explain in Boo’s case than D’s.  For Boo, for the first time, I am getting to experience fully the joy of being a full-time parent from birth onward.  I have been there for her first steps, her first words, teething, midnight feedings and the like.  But now, suddenly out of nowhere it feels like, I have a 2-yr old toddler who is convinced that she is ready now to take on the world.  And as much as I love watching her brain grown and her personality develop (although I am panicking a little bit at how to successfully raise a strong-headed girl), I miss the quiet times with her curled up on my chest, carrying her around everywhere and watching her grow.  If I could I think I would go through this with her 10 times and probably still find new things to marvel over.  And no, I don’t really want 10 more kids… I’m fine with the ones I’ve got thank you very much.

Boo_driving

As for D, the challenge comes in many more complex flavors.  D turns 18 this year and has successfully completed the HiSet test (which is the state replacement of the old GED for people who drop out of school).  D scored high enough on most categories that D is considered college ready and I really don’t feel old enough to have a college student yet.  Then there have been my recent conversations with D lately.  They are beginning to show glimmers of the adult that I had always hoped D would be, but that had gotten lost in the drugs and other poor choices D had been making.  It gives me hope that D will eventually come to terms with whomever D decides to be and that D can grow out of the past mistakes.  I just hope that when that time comes that both of us are in a place where I don’t miss the chance to reconnect with the person blooming now and that the consequences we have had to put in place to protect all of us don’t stay between us forever.

D auto-repairing

I sometimes wonder if I’m a good parent.  I think most any parent worth their salt does at least once every now and then.  But sometimes, I wish there was a way to know ahead of time, you know like a test.  Something empirical and scientific.  But then you have the results…  what happens if you get an “F”?

Part of me wonders about all this I think because I have had several acquaintances (friends of friends) lose their teenage children to suicide. And if I go back to look, the reason I started this blog in the first place was because my fifth grader handed me a note after school one day that said “Sometimes I think about killing myself.”  I have been most blessed in that D decided to NOT take that final fatal step.

Another part of me wonders about all this because of what happened to that little Syrian boy who drowned while trying to cross to Europe with his family.  What would I NOT do to help my little girl?  I am so very very grateful that my life has never been so desperate for safety, shelter and peace that I have had to make the decision to flee to somewhere else and face the many challenges that come with that, nor that I have ever had to pay the price these parents did…

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……

When will we learn that our anger, our intransigence, our pride are what are killing these precious ones?  As surely as any bullets fired from a gun.  Shame on us for acting otherwise.  Shame on us for not doing more.

As I start raising Boo, restarting the process as it were, and keep trying to build a positive relationship with my oldest, I look back on my previous mistakes and hope that I can learn from them.  I hope both my children grow into the promising young people I see when I look at them.  I hope they know how much they are still loved, even when they drive me nuts.

I hope the little boy’s family find their peace.  I hope he knew how much he was loved.

Because at the end of the day, I want my children to help create a world where pictures like the one above never happen again.  Where ALL people are welcomed as part of our common human family.  Where we can ALL find peace.  And where ALL people can come together in a moment of tragedy to say join in one voice and say, “No more!”

A letter to my son’s friends…

One of the hardest parts of being a parent is not just the hard choices you have to make when dealing with your children, but the consequences of those choices on the people in your child’s life.

As I have stated before, my oldest child D, got into some trouble last year and in a bid to seek an alternative to either seeing D on the street or in prison, we sent D to live with his bio-mother and stepdad out of state.  It was understood before D went that he was going to be facing boot-camp-esque discipline as stepdad was former Army.  This would be tougher and stricter than anything I had been able to accomplish on my own or was even honestly really comfortable with.  But the choices D had made did not leave us with a lot of other places to turn.

This week D put out a request on social media to talk to some friends, no family.  That typically means that whatever the issue is, it’s being viewed as being “caused by” family.  After D’s call went out, I received several private contacts from his friends sharing with me what was apparently going on in D’s life.  D also shared with his grandfather, who has often been a good point of contact for D to hear from.  According to what D was stating, the punishments for doing “stupid stuff or making [him – i.e. stepdad] repeat himself” were more physical than D was used to.  And he didn’t like it and was thinking of running away.

Now…  was there a part of me that wanted to fly down to his mother’s place, bundle up my child and rescue him back to our place?  Absolutely.

Are we doing that?  Absolutely not….and here’s why.

While I understand the frustrations and concerns of D’s friends, there are several fundamental problems with the situation.

1.)  D lies…and exaggerates, a LOT.  He also knows, having grown up around kids in the system via my work in social services, what the hot-button key words and situations are that will get him attention.

2.) D does not like to not have control.  He is very willing to manipulate to get the outcome he wants which usually includes getting someone to get him a “get out of jail free” card.  He does not have control at the moment and does not want to toe the line to get it back.

3.) D admitted that the reason for the punishments is because he does “stupid stuff.”  Without trying minimize what may be happening, the easy answer is – don’t do stupid stuff.

4.)  If we did go down and rescue him, what would that teach him?  That he can always count on getting pulled out of any difficult spots he finds himself in?  I would rather he learn how to deal with it here than on the street.  Getting punched in the arm for mouthing off may not be fun, but it beats getting shot.

5.)  Why would I bring D back here just to have to put him out on the streets again?  He won’t participate in transitional living programs and because of his past thefts and drug use is not allowed to stay with us or the rest of the family for now.  As bad as things may be, he has a roof over his head and he’s getting three square meals a day.

I don’t like it.  The idea of anyone other than myself laying hands on my child for whatever reason is abhorrent.  And I absolutely do not believe that you can beat a child into obedience.  But at 17 and a half, D has got to learn that being rude, disrespectful and not following the rules have serious consequences.  Much more serious ones than just being grounded or having your i-phone taken away.  Life can be harsh and while I hope for and am working towards a better way, we also have to be realistic about the world we currently find ourselves in.  I don’t want to see D behind bars… or dead on the streets, although both may happen.  But if that’s the case they will be HIS choices.  Not mine… and not anybody else’s.

But as his friends, I know the guilt and the anger that they have in their hearts towards my decision.  What they see is a peer being hurt.  Someone they care about and want to “fix.”  And that breaks my heart for them.  The knowledge that they cannot “fix” this, that this is something D has to work out.  Not having the power to do anything to make it right and frustration at those they see as having power but not using it.  Spider-man’s maxim: “With great power comes great responsibility” is as true for parenting as it is for crime-fighting.  That doesn’t make it any easier to follow… especially when it means you have to let those you love sink or swim to avoid dragging you all down.  And to allow them the room to live and grow.

So, while I know several of you are mad at me, I want to say thank you.  Thank you for being D’s friend.  Thank you for caring.  I know you are doing the best you know how and doing what you think is right.  I still love you.  This is D’s life.  We cannot control him or fix him.  We can only love him.  And you are doing that right.

Love,

D’s dad

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

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

My Sacred Space

sacred space,

n space—tangible or otherwise—that enables those who acknowledge and accept it to feelreverence and connection with the spiritual.

I had to wonder about this concept earlier this week.  A friend and co-worker of mine had sent several of us a picture of a fantastic house for sale in our city.  It was a 17 bedroom, 17 bathroom castle going at a bargain price of only $2 million.  Unfortunately we would need something like  51 people paying on the mortgage or so in order to even consider covering that sort of money.  But the address for this place was on a similarly named road to another house that actually is and was special to me.  First, a little backstory.

My father’s parents came from hard beginnings.  Grandma was abandoned by her parents and left with her grandparents when she was young.  Grandpa came from a homesteader family out west when his mother and the kids had to move back here when his father died of TB at a very early age.  Both suffered loss of parents and family and as a consequence family was always very important to them both.

They married and had three boys, the youngest of whom was my father.  When my dad was young they bought this house and my grandfather started work on it.  They bought it from the son of the original owner, who had been a doctor.  The house had a back party house, three garage/outbuildings plus the main house on about 6 acres of land most of which was forest.  The tennis court in the back eventually was taken over by the woods but the peacock pens provided feathers that I still have in my house to this day.

My grandfather worked, along with help from my uncles, father and cousins, over 50+ years on building, improving and adding onto the property.  And every year for as long as they were alive, at Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays and birthdays, our families would gather together at that house.  It passed from my grandparents to one of my uncles to one of his children, staying in the family for almost 70 years.  Memories of four generations of our family center on that house and that property.  Prayer meetings, fireworks, picnics, swim parties (after the pool was added), and more color the images of my childhood.  As a child who moved a lot growing up, it was one of a very very few places that I felt like was home, a place to connect with the land of my family in a way only farmers of old understand.

My cousin eventually got divorced and they lost the house to foreclosure.  It’s up for sale again and while I thought I had resolved myself of the idea that I would never own the place, the thought of it going up for sale to someone outside my kin brought a surprisingly strong sense of loss to me and has in general hung over me the last day or so.

It’s not that I want the place, I know it’s a bit of a financial deathtrap for anybody who’s not really well off, which is certainly not this lower-middle class family.  But the assurance that if I wanted, I could go over to visit, to walk the paths of my childhood and share the memories of climbing through the woods, the secret places in the garage attics, my first apartment…all of that is going away and it surprises me how much that still hurts.  But maybe it shouldn’t surprise me.  For me, family is spiritual, family is sacred.

Family is the filter through which I have always looked at life.  It is the foundation to my understanding of God, creation and my place in it.  It is how I describe my best friends, my church companions, they are also a part of my family.  And for me, at least on my father’s side, my best memories of family are from that house, that property and with my grandparents now long gone it is like losing that last touchstone with them even if the more grown-up part of me realizes that’s not the case.  But it was home for a time… in a very special and spiritual way, it WAS sacred space to me.  A place where I stayed while doing church mission work, a place where I would share in morning devotionals with my grandparents, where I really felt close to God looking out and walking through the woods.

My understanding and sense of the divine has grown since those days, but this was a special place to me, kept in the deep recesses of my soul.  It is time to say good-bye to the place and perhaps, write down the stories from our time there as family.  After all, my children are growing and they do not have the connection to the place that I do.  They are developing their own sense of sacred spaces.  For D it will be radically different than Boo given the 15 year difference in their ages.  But I want to help nurture and create that same sense of affection and importance for them as they look to ground their journey with the Divine (in whatever form it takes) as they grow older.  And to help them learn, through my modeling, what it means to truly let something go if you love it.

So good-bye and God-speed to whomever becomes the new owner.  Know that you have big shoes to fill, and numerous opportunities to be blessed.