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.

Inviting doesn’t mean you have to like it

I don’t understand it when perfectly good-hearted people say things like “Well we couldn’t invite this drunk homeless man in to our church on Sunday because we don’t know what he’s capable of.”  Really?

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that there are valid safety concerns and it certainly wouldn’t be one of those things where you let the person wander around un-escorted.  But why wouldn’t you invite the person in, let them get warm, offer them coffee or something warm to drink?

I guess for me it comes from having spent the last decade or so working in (and for some years, pastoring) a congregation that welcomed in people exactly like that to our Sunday morning services…still do.  It’s disruptive, it wasn’t what we planned on doing.  It hasn’t always been easy or comfortable.  We’ve had to call the police sometimes, but we keep doing it.  Because it’s Christ’s mission, it’s our mission.  To reach out to those most desperately in need of hope and reconciliation to the community.

When our congregation started, we spent time in groups determining what our mission, focus and name would be.  We thought we knew what we were doing and our name came from the neighborhood we lived in – Open Arms.  But living out the mission contained within that name has proven to be anything but comfortable or easy.

Living Open Arms, being a representative of the body of Christ means welcoming in those you would just as soon leave outside your doors.  It means welcoming the felon, the drunk, the homeless and more.  It means welcoming those who have never been to church before, who disrupt the service (either knowingly or unknowingly).  It means dealing with crisis, with people who have mental illness challenges.  It means not getting to sit in a pew, listening to the service for sometimes months on end as you visit and mentor and just sit with people for whom Christ is known more as a curse-word than a friend.   It means being around people who smell, who make you uncomfortable, that drive you nuts.  It’s draining and it hurts…and it asks a lot of you.

But if we are true to our calling, Christ didn’t call us to follow him to make it easy.  He didn’t say that come to church on Sunday, accept me and then you’re off the hook for doing anything else.  He lived an example that says we HAVE to do more than this.  We MUST do more than this.

Christ’s mission was to a world in need.  A world hungering for positive news of hope, renewal, a re-connecting.  That hasn’t changed.  We are still called to reach out, with Open Arms, to those who most need our love and support.  LGBT, bikers, homeless, addicts, abusers and abused, people in poverty, felons… people for whom whatever reason, society says are “less than,” these are our brothers and sisters.  These too are God’s sheep.

Dare to reach out.  Dare to invite in.  Dare to be vulnerable to Divine Grace and then let the Spirit breathe.

Faith in difficult times…

I have seen a lot of posts since Friday about the attacks in Paris. Some I agree with some I very much do not agree with. But as I have expressed myself, through memes and comments, I have found myself having people question why I do feel or believe what I do, especially as it relates to the ISIS terrorists (not just Muslims in general). So this is sort of an explanation of my beliefs, not a competition or critique of anyone else’s beliefs. I have many friends and family members who disagree with me and that is okay. I love them anyway and in some ways, because of their beliefs. I don’t judge them for it and I certainly do not claim my way is the only truth or true way to believe. I am not so arrogant as to think I have it all right. This is simply the best I can do as I understand it. So, to return to my thoughts….

I understand that for many people the attacks highlight and underscore concerns they already have about Islamic faith and people from the Middle-East. I understand that the attacks are scary in that they remind us how familiar, formerly safe places can become deadly and dangerous experiences with little or no warning. I understand that those who carried out those attacks will most likely not stop until either those who disagree with them are either converted or dead or they themselves are dead. I understand that for many people there is a righteous indignation that calls for vengeance and justice in the same breath.

But I cannot get on board with such understanding. And even though I understand it, I do not agree with it.

As a friend of mine put it, I was welcome to put my family in harms way but they weren’t [going to]. I am not actively advocating for throwing my family and children onto a battlefield in Syria. But what about those who don’t have that luxury? I am not saying we cannot screen those who come to this country as refugees, but to deny them entry entirely because somewhere, somehow, there might be a danger to us lurking in their midst? I believe in a faith that is judged especially on how we treat our enemies, the stranger, and the refugee. My faith would be poor indeed if I only prayed for the victims of Paris and not also the families of the aggressors.

It is easy in some ways to forget exactly how radical Jesus’ message was at the time he was giving it to his listeners. For his fellow Jews, his call to the promise of God being for Romans and Greeks and others was as radical and troubling as me saying we should accept all the refugees from Syria that want to come. His lack of concern with overthrowing the Roman overlords in Israel was in some ways as crazy as the idea that we don’t need to respond militarily to ISIS in Syria. The way people felt about “the other” whether it was fellow Jews who collaborated with the Romans, the Romans themselves, the Samaritans and more, are no different than how many people, including a number of public and prominent self-proclaimed Christians, are talking about the immigrant, Muslims and others.

As a Christian, I believe with all my heart that I am called to be a bridge to bring together the “others” of the world. I am not naïve enough to assume this would be without cost. Early Christians understood that their ministry might call for their martyrdom. In places where Christianity is the dominant religion we no longer have to worry about such concerns, and in some ways I think, forget about what Christ says about there being a cost to following Him. I realize this could mean my family is at risk, could be put in harms way. But we are everyday anyway. Look at Charleston, look at the school shootings, drunk drivers, robberies. It is not a matter of whether we are safe or not, it’s a matter of how much risk are we willing to tolerate. And if my faith in God’s promise is of any consequence, I have to believe that no matter what happens to me in this life, if I love my neighbor as myself and love my God with all my heart, might, mind and strength then it will all be well. If not for me, than perhaps for those who come after, either my children or your children. I am not willing to give up the future because change in the present is too dangerous or costly. I am not promised that life will be easy or that things will always go the way I think they should.

In my own lifetime I have seen the Berlin Wall come down, peace in North Ireland and more. Places and situations that people thought would never heal were not corrected by war or violence, but through peace and perseverance in faith that things could be better. It involved cost, loss and time. These are things I think we sometimes forget in a society in which so much is at our fingertips. Am I willing to let the possibility of harm come to my family if it means standing up for what I believe in? Yes. Do I want it to happen? No. I’m not dumb.

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But I have faith. I don’t need to believe in the scriptures as literal history to believe in God’s promise. I don’t need archaeological evidence to “prove” that things happened in the Bible to see how Christ’s love can make a difference in someone’s life.  I can be just me and still influence those I am around and those I come into contact with thanks to the Holy Spirit and the power of Christ’s love.  I am called to be a peacemaker, not a warrior. And if that involves my death or the death of my loved ones, I can hold true to the lessons of Job and give thanks to the Lord even in the midst of loss and turmoil.

That is why I say the things I do and why I believe the way I do. No, it’s not easy and no it’s not naïve. So please don’t think I am. It’s scary and challenging and pulls me into places I don’t want to go. But as Christ reminded us in the Garden of Gestheme, “Not my will, but thine oh Lord be done.” Sometimes we just need to believe.

Racism in MY state?

So I know, I haven’t been on here for a while.  I tend to go through spurts, so for the readers that hang in there through my dry-spells I appreciate your support.  It may get even more sketchy here in a few months as N and Boo and D and I are expecting to add another member to the family next Summer.

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But today I want to relate something else, relating to the controversy at Mizzou.  Having grown up in the area, I am not at all surprised by the concerns the minority students raised about racism.  Not being minority myself I get to experience a level of comfort granted to me simply by being a white male.  But I remember vividly as a teenager listening to two other white young men talking in the bathroom at school about going to beat up “that uppity nigger” after class.  I remember too that there was a right side and wrong side “of the tracks” to live on based on your race, without anyone having to say it.  And this was in the late 90’s.  Not all that long ago really.

I remember too, when D was about 7 or 8, we were in line at a Wal-Mart near down-town KC.  It happens to be the Wal-Mart on that side of town, that is most frequented by minorities and is staffed mostly by minorities.  The cashier was taking forever to get through the line, chatting with all the customers and I was in a hurry to leave so I switched lanes without really thinking anything about it.  D, with the honesty that comes from children, piped up and asked me if we had switched lanes because the cashier was black.

Now…  I have grown up with friends of color.  I am fairly sure that I am not racist in what I do or say, nor is my family.  That being said, I was shocked by D’s statement and observation.  The cashier taking forever was in fact an older black lady who enjoyed visiting with each of her customers.  And had I not been in a rush to leave I probably would have stayed in line.  But the new cashier, who was moving through her line at a fast pace was white.  Growing up attending urban schools with minority students (way more than I ever had in my classes growing up), D still sensed/knew there was something unequal about our skin tones even though I had tried to make sure he grew up with a respect for all persons.  It was one of many times over the years I have had to re-evaluate what I thought I knew about race and privilege and the state of our country today.

So, back to Mizzou and the present day.

I was talking with a friend about the controversy surrounding the campus when they mentioned something that struck me.  The friend mentioned that they thought it was “ironic” that the black student doing the hunger strike that kicked off the protests had called the (mostly) white administration privileged when he himself comes from a family who apparently makes millions.  The friend couldn’t understand how this student could claim to be un-privileged simply because they were rich.  We engaged in a friendly, and I hope insightful, discussion where one of the points I made was that the whole point of privilege is how we look/think about it.

As a white guy, I can afford to think of privilege in terms of money because I don’t have to worry about being pulled over for being black, or worry about being followed in the store because I’m black, or being denied a job because of my race.  For me privilege can be a fairly straightforward thing.  But minorities don’t have that luxury.  For them, insofar as a white guy with no sociology training can assume so for that I’m sorry, privilege is much more multi-layered.  It involves equal opportunities that I simply don’t have to worry about and equal access to things that I just get through no action on my part.

However, this leads to another point and I think, the most relevant one.  When we talk about race and privilege it becomes easy for us to talk past each other.  In speaking with my friend, I realized that what they were talking about when it came to privilege in no way really resembled what the student was talking about.  It made me wonder how often that happens in our conversations to each other.

I don’t know what the answer is and I don’t know how soon things will get better.  But I believe that what the students at Mizzou did was necessary and I know we have to keep trying, to talk, to raise awareness… if we stop talking about race the way some people want, then like an open wound, it will just scab over without really healing.  We have to get past and through the muck and mess and hurt that has built up over generations and we can only do that by continuing to talk to and with each other.  Sometimes in conversations, sometimes in protests.

Just remember to be patient with each other and that in the end, things CAN improve.  For all of us.

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.

Reflections on the odd…

I don’t know why I am such an oddball.

It may simply be a factor of my perception, but I look through my friends’ social media accounts, we visit in person, I watch tv and listen to the radio and people chatting in stores and I wonder, truly and often, “What on earth are they thinking?”  I am not saying this to come across as superior or condescending, while acknowledging that can certainly be how it is perceived.  It is more a matter of truly not understanding how people can hold some of the beliefs that they do.  I think that is one of the reasons I so enjoy honest, respectful debates with people who disagree with me.  I WANT to learn more about what makes them tick.  I WANT to try and understand why they think, feel and see the world the way they do.

One of the things that Bernie Sanders, currently running for president of the US, recently said to a respectful, if not exactly thrilled, arena of conservatives was that “It’s easy to go out and talk to people who agree with you, it is harder, but not less important, for us to try and communicate with those who do not agree with us on every issue.”  And I truly believe in this.  The ideals of community that my denomination feels that we are called to create are not communities of conformity.  They are communities that recognize the worth of all persons.  Communities that welcome everyone in.  Not just the ones who look, act and think like the majority.

It is helpful I suppose to explain that in my upbringing I think there were several factors that gave me a somewhat unique perspective of the world that do not allow me to easily integrate with my peers.  First off, I was raised in a denomination that if people had heard of it at all either thought it was a cult or part of a totally different church altogether.  We were emerging from a period in our history where we thought that as a church, we had the “one TRUTH” that all other churches were lacking.  It was a tumultuous time in our denomination’s history, full of excitement, hurt and change.  It also meant that I didn’t have a lot of friends to talk to about religion, in a place and time where religion WAS family (post-script, it is family again now after years of wandering).  Most of my neighbors were Catholic, Baptist and the occasional Lutheran or Methodist.  I was one of less than 5 Community of Christ kids in almost every town I grew up in.

I was also raised in a multi-faith extended family.  On my mother’s side, my aunt and cousins were Jewish, both by blood and by religion.  My Christmas for years consisted of playing Dreidel and lighting the Menorah candles, while one of my cousins told the story and then going in the other room to read the Christmas story from the scriptures and singing Christmas carols.  As an adult I find more and more that I miss that piece of my childhood.  Sharing in the different faiths that made up my family.  I also have cousins and other family who are Pagan and Agnostic.  But down deep we know that being family is what still connects us.  In many ways this is how I understand being a part of the family of God.

Both of my parents were ministers, as were all four of my grandparents.  I was also raised in a household of educators.  My father was an elementary teacher and principal for 35 years and my mother was a high-school and college instructor.  Knowledge and reason helped to provide the foundation for how we understood the world, how we found strength in our faith and what our part in taking care of the world was.

On the flip side I was also a theatre major and spent years finding a second home in the welcoming embrace of those gypsies, geeks, freaks and oddballs who made up the various theatre groups I was a part of over the years.  They are in many ways still some of my closest and best friends and family.  It was weird being an active and believing Christian surrounded by people whose view of faith tended to be extremely divergent from my own.  But it was also very humbling to be part of such a community of people whose own struggles had made them keen to accept anyone who wanted to truly join the community they had created.  While I may have attended church, they lived it, although I know a number of them who would shudder to think of it in those terms.  🙂

Additionally, I started working in social work at a very young age.  At 14 I began volunteering my summers at a Christian camp for children who had been victims of abuse.  The abuse could range from physical, mental, emotional, sexual to sometimes all of the above.  For a time, we would be paired one-on-one with these children as the camp provided a place of sanctuary for them.  Many of the children had been taken from their homes and placed with other relatives or in the foster program and over the years that I participated in the camps (about five years all told), I heard and saw many horrific examples of people’s inhumanity to the most vulnerable among us including in the lives of my nephews and sister.

But I also saw the incredible strength and resilience of these children as some came back years later to be counselors themselves and the power of love and acceptance in making a difference in these children’s lives.  Sitting on top of a 7-year-old boy and wrestling a stolen kitchen knife away from him, to keep him from stabbing one of the girls at 11pm is one of the most heartbreaking memories I have.  But seeing a child, so badly abused that he will never walk or talk normal again, raise his voice to share in front of the group his hopes and fears for the future, of having a family and wishing to somehow be normal…seeing the love of these kids as they gather around him to show him how much he is loved and accepted as he is, is one of the most cherished memories I have.

I worked in Domestic Violence shelters and Runaway programs for teens for years before finally hitting burnout.  The stress, frustrations and hurts that Social Service workers, Police and other emergency personnel experience is real and hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t gone through it.  But it cost me my first two marriages, lots of sleepless nights, struggles with alcohol and depression.  There is a reason that people in these professions are so hurt.  It’s not because we don’t care, but because we care so much and we see so much misery around us.  We share a common desire to help our fellow human beings and often get frustrated when we can’t “fix” the problems we see.

I have been held-up at gun point.  I have lost people close to me to violence.  I understand, at least on some level, what it is like to have your life threatened.  I don’t ever want to face those circumstances again, but I also know that should that happen I will do everything I can to save those I care about EXCEPT take another life.  In my understanding and belief I cannot do it, nor can I condone it, not even to “save” those I love the most.

This partly comes from my journey as I ran away from church, tried other religions and none and finally found my way back to my roots.  If I truly believe that God shelters and protects me, than it is not my place to save my life through violence.  Martin Luther King and Ghandi had a lot of influence on this as well and will probably be covered more in future posts.

I love to read, to learn and to experience new things.  I want to be challenged on my beliefs, so that I may reexamine them and ensure that they still fit my understanding of the world.  I want to share in the faiths of my friends, but more importantly I want to share in the LIVES of my friends.  Building relationships is so much more a part of what I feel called to do than building church buildings.

I have a dirty sense of humor sometimes.  I have learned to live with the desires of my previous addictions to alcohol, smoking and porn, without giving in to them.   I yell, I scream at people I love sometimes.  I’m not great with money.  I lie.

But I also work on being a better person each day.  One who can look upon each person I meet as an opportunity to build a better world.  To leave this place a little bit better than I found it.  I don’t do this by telling them that I know what it means to be a “sinner” and then shaming or demeaning them into believing like me.  I do it by telling them my own struggles, by empathizing with their questions and accepting their conclusions, giving them space to grown into the person they are meant to be.  I ask forgiveness for the mistakes I make, I strive to make peace with people I have hurt or angered.  I try to understand.

I don’t know why this is such a hard thing for other people to understand.  I only know it sometimes feels like there are only a handful of us out there trying to live this way, but we do it because for us the world could be such a beautiful place if we can get even another one or two to see it through our eyes.

I may be the oddball… but what if I wasn’t?

Foundations

For me these two documents – 1.) http://www.exponentialimprovement.com/cms/uploads/Einstein%20on%20Why%20Socialism.pdf
and
2.) http://www.cofchrist.org/common/cms/resources/Documents/Sharing-in-Community-of-Christ-3rd-edition.pdf

best lay out the foundations for why I believe what I do… about family, faith, community, politics and the world.

The first lays out an influential essay by Albert Einstein on why he supported (little-s) socialism versus the capitalism that currently drives our society.  It includes some additional thoughtful commentary and links afterwards that I think is well worth the read although the entire thing can be a little thick.

The second is a publication by my denomination, Community of Christ, and lays out the foundations of our faith.  We are a non-creedal church so belief in these ideas is not required for membership, but this is the official church policy and largely mirrors my own understanding and belief.

I share these out of a desire to help explain why I say and do the things I do, not necessarily out of a desire to change or convert you to my way of thinking.  I do this because, as Bernie Sanders said recently to a crown of students at Liberty University, “It’s easy to go out and talk to people who agree with you, it is harder, but not less important, for us to try and communicate with those who do not agree with us on every issue.”

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…

syrian-migrant-boy-turkey

……

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