I will always be your dad…

20160327_1829471

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.

“Another shooting?…oh well.”

I recommend starting with the link below, then read the rest of my post…

http://m.motherjones.com/politics/2014/04/columbine-15-years-later

While I don’t necessarily agree with everything this blogger is saying, it begs the following question in my mind.  Does our response have to be “Oh well?”  One of the more powerful sentences to my mind, in this piece is about half-way down, where the author states:

Both responses, “never again” and “don’t bother trying,” offer statements about the USA. The former says “America is the greatest country on Earth. We went to the moon. Surely, we can stop kids from getting shot to death at school! If the Brits can do it, so can we. ” The latter says, “No, we can’t. We’re America. The greatest country on Earth and the cost of the liberty that makes us so is that our kids may get shot to death at school.”

Does it have to be an either or picture?  I can’t help but feeling like that’s not the answer.  Certainly in my denomination we do not view it as an either or.  There are plenty of people I know, good law abiding citizens who own guns and are responsible people.  They have them because they enjoy hunting, because they feel the need to have one for home defense, because they enjoy collecting them and more.  The reasons are about as varied as the people themselves.  I am not inclined to take those guns away from them.  Nor am I inclined to punish all of them for something someone else does.  That’s not the America I know or grew up in.

But neither am I content to just sit back and say that the price of liberty is the occasional mass shooting of civilians by our own people.  The problem it seems like is that for some people any regulation is too much.  People must be free to own and/or have whatever guns they want and anything else is a government conspiracy.  I put the blame for this kind of hysteria squarely at the feet of the NRA.  Far from being a force for good and responsible gun ownership in this country (at least at the political level, I’m not talking about your local chapter or whatever), they have become a collection of reflexively anti-gun control nuts who themselves are as much a jack-booted thug as they ever accused the government of being.  By their refusal to even let the debate happen we seem to be sliding more and more to the “don’t bother trying” side of the ledger, at least in my mind.  I am okay if the NRA doesn’t like a legislative proposal, but give me logic, statistics and reasons behind it and let me see it for myself.  Don’t try to use fear-mongering and hysteria to control the debate.

The same goes for the Brady Anti-Gun organization.  Understand that there are plenty of people for whom guns are a part of their life.  They are responsible people who don’t consider their demands to be unreasonable.  We have to listen and give credence to their concerns as much as to our own.

I don’t know what the answer to this issue is.  I know listening to each other, and to the survivors of those who have lost, MUST be a part of the solution.  But I don’t know, if the price required of our liberty truly is accepting that every so often we will have another mass shooting of innocents… is that really and truly a liberty worth having?

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

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.

“…and the truth shall set you free.”

This bit of scripture has been a source of inspiration for me through the years. Along with this bit from Romans, “All things work to good for them that love God.” [emphasis added]  With these thoughts in mind I am struck by several things that have happened to or shared by public individuals lately.  I am probably going to break these up into separate posts for space sake.

First, the obvious one who has been grabbing (whether fairly or not) much of the spotlight lately, Caitlyn Jenner.  She was part of my extended family for a while and is the parent of several cousins of mine.  Her first wife is how we are connected.  Watching the transition of Bruce to Caitlyn has been uplifting, disappointing, inspiring, disgusting and everything in-between.  On a personal note, I am thrilled to death that she is now free to be who she always felt like she was.  But the way large sections of society and the media have responded has disappointed me, and the reaction of people I know and love, to her announcement has also troubled me.

I am trouble on two fronts by how outlets have reacted.  The first is those who say that Caitlyn is “just a man playing dress-up” or that this is somehow an attempt to get into the opposite gender’s bathroom on a free pass.  Both dehumanize and demean the struggles and challenges (often life and death) that trans people face each and every day.  As the father of a child struggling with gender identity it terrifies me, how D will be reacted to.  When I hear and see the hate and fear that come from people I would hope who would have the most reason to love my child (i.e. some of our “Christian” commentators), I worry about D getting beat up, at best, or killed, at worst, for the crime of being born into a body that doesn’t fit D’s understanding of who D is.  While our country has come a long way in regard to LGB rights, the T part of that equation still has a long way to go to reach the same level of equality and understanding.  You simply have to read the news about Caitlyn to see that.

The second was laid out by John Stewart on the “Daily Show” the other night.  It was how the media, switching to reviewing Jenner as a man formerly, to now as a woman, began to objectify her based on looks, her make-up, clothes and other superfluous stuff that women (whether trans or not) have to face every day.  The challenge of looking “just-right”, wearing the right matching outfit, being skinny enough, etc.  As the father of a toddler girl, I wonder how successful I will be in raising Boo to love herself and to help provide her with the tools she will need to overcome the world’s messages of negativity?  How well will her mother and I teach her the truth of the words that as “God’s child” she is of worth and is loved?

This truth, that all people are of worth in the eyes of our Creator, is a cornerstone of my faith’s understanding of God.  This truth, when lived out in the lives of people like Caitlyn (who IS brave to be coming forward and showing people what the journey is like…don’t believe me, read the comments on some of the news stories about her and tell me it doesn’t turn your stomach) or D or countless others I know and in the lives of women struggling with self-image problems, depression and more, can be a live-changing and a life-saving truth.  Knowing that love is freely offered and freely given can be a profoundly liberating experience.  But it must overcome the messages of hate and fear so prevalent in our world today.  That is where the second scripture speaks to me.  Caitlyn’s journey is liberating many fellow trans individuals who struggle in the shadows and because of her love for God (don’t believe me? read this – http://jcobia.tumblr.com/post/120611530946/i-went-to-church-with-bruce-jenner-and-heres-what) I believe that this struggle will positively impact the lives of many LGBT youth who continue to struggle every day with suicidal thoughts, depression, bullying and more.

May the voice of truth within each one of us speak the love of our Creator for all of creation and may our voices be raised to overcome the voices of darkness, to shine a light into the darkest of lives.

Climb Every Mountain

Boo loves to climb.  We are pretty sure by this point (at less than 2 years of age) that she will be our little gymnast.  She is utterly fearless when it comes to jumping, heights, going upside down, climbing and tumbling.  One of her favorite games is for me to pick her up by the legs and swing her upside down from side to side.  We had N record me doing this once and then decided that I could never post it for others to see because people would think I was abusing the poor thing, even though Boo can clearly be heard saying “again, again” over and over and sticking her legs back up into the air to be grabbed by daddy.  I swear, some days I think she just views me as an ambulatory jungle gym with funny facial fuzz.

She loves to dance as well so often times N and Boo will sing and dance around the house while daddy is off cleaning or working in the yard.  Occasionally I will join in too, but to be honest it’s more of N’s thing than mine and as picky as Boo is about who gets to do what with her, I figure that can be a good mommy/daughter bonding moment.  Boo and I have fun with her wood train set, in the bath and wrestling so I think it’s a pretty even trade.

Yesterday we showed her the actual jungle gym she was getting for the first time.  Boo and her dream

We are buying it used from my in-laws neighbor.  While I enjoy buying new stuff as much as the next guy, the simple math of the fact is that in many cases I can’t afford new and this deal was just too good to pass up.  I will say, transporting it could be a little fun since we have to disassemble it first, but with my father & father-in-law’s help, it should be doable.

The entire time she and I were running around and looking at the play-set, she was climbing up the ladder on her own, trying to figure out the rock wall and going up and down the slide at toddler lightning speed.

I got this Exploring our house Boo swinging Boo and the rock wall[

I sometimes wonder what must be going through her head as she faces these obstacles to her desires while at the same time wondering where my own such determination has gone.  All too often when I stop to sit and think about the cost (either financial, personal, emotional) I am less and less inclined to push forward towards my dreams.  Is this just a reality of growing up?  Is this what we call responsible?  I am not sure, but as I watch her push and struggle and overcome, I find myself hoping that she does not follow in my footsteps in this regard.  I want her to always push her boundaries, I want her to reach outward, to grow and challenge herself and those around her, to achieve something greater than exists in this present moment.  I want to help raise a young woman who sees the heights in front of her and thinks to herself…”I got this.”  Or, because I’m a musical theatre major, a woman who just starts humming Climb Every Mountain from the Sound of Music:

Climb every mountain,

Search high and low,
Follow every byway,
Every path you know.

Climb every mountain,
Ford every stream,
Follow every rainbow,
‘Till you find your dream.

dream that will need
All the love you can give,
Every day of your life
For as long as you live.

Climb every mountain,
Ford every stream,
Follow every rainbow,
Till you find your dream

A dream that will need
All the love you can give,
Every day of your life,
For as long as you live.

Climb every mountain,
Ford every stream,
Follow every rainbow,
Till you find your dream.

Read more: The Sound Of Music – Climb Every Mountain Lyrics | MetroLyrics