Thursday, July 6, 2017

Fireworks like Bunnies

Recently I have sought to make the point that, despite my own issues with my father's dying or death, my father-heart for my children remained ever present and ever intentional. Indeed, the relevancy of the undaunted caliber of my father-heart underscored the value of my children in my eyes. I love them, and my heart is for them. I could indeed continue that tack into emotional winds, as the experience of being a fatherless son is very much an ever-present contrast to all I experience of life. I will not do so, however, except to draw the point: my electing to no longer discuss my state as a fatherless son is for the sake of turning to focus ever increasingly in my thoughts on my children, even in spite of any outlying and contrasting emotional contexts. And that point is made simply because I am ever plumbing new depths of appreciation for my children, and that crowds out to the point of irrelevancy all matters for which Hope (in the purest biblical sense) does not disappoint.

We of the household have been looking (with varying and relative degrees of apprehension and expectation) to the birth of new baby bunnies. Those bunnies happened to have been born round about midday on Fourth of July.

 


 Leading up to this celebratory event my daughter had run the gamut of possible worries, from it being a potential false pregnancy to it being a litter of stillborns to our utterly and completely misidentifying the signs. Being fairly certain either birth or impregnating were imminent I suggested the idea of separating the male from the female, and aided my daughter in the "creative" use of a large dog kennel (a once-gift from the beloved San Antonio aunt) turned upside down in which to house that male. We made efforts, even, to purchase yet another water bottle late one night from the store, despite my reservations that the kids were getting to bed later than desired.

With my daughter vacillating between worrying and merely trying to stay abreast of the situation, I figured it was good to help her with searching more thoroughly for information on rabbit behavior to deduce the meaning of the signs which we clearly were seeing. It is not that she hadn't tried, at my urging, to so search, but she didn't have near the luck I knew I would, knowing better how to more generally phrase a specific question. Sure enough it turned out the signs we were seeing were a mixture of behaviors, but still very clear indicators of one hormonally-supercharged, preggers bunny. Pulling fur, for instance, out of herself with which to line the nest is a sure sign of pregnancy hormones, but pulling the fur out of the other hutch-mates is not. Let that be a life lesson: "things" are never simply reducible down to one singular thing.

Well, the Fourth of July found us doing or regular neighborhood festivities put on by the MUD, and
when we got home my anxiously expectant bunny-momma trotted outside to visit the hutch and check on the momma bunny. The mother bunny had given birth to five babies, four of whom were alive. My daughter asked, like a proud godmother, if we would like to come see the bunnies, and it was with great intentionality I went with her.

You see, the bunnies were always meant to be her project, to learn the effort and expense of keeping an animal. There are other lessons therein, but explicating them here is unnecessary. All that the bunnies were meant to be for my daughter they were meant to be for her to assume the effort in. But honestly, I love my daughter, and I am not going to ask her to do anything that I find good for her and then abandon her to the project. Nor am I going to fail to humble myself and rejoice in her successes or matters of rejoicing. Indeed, it is tantamount, as it was that midday with the newborn bunnies, to rejoice with my daughter, and "look in on" the matter(s) in appreciation and joy.

To put a finer edge in that sentiment: when it came to appreciating along with my daughter the moment of her joys and fruits of her labors (in this case the fruits of her enthused caretaking of the bunnies), aye the appreciation of the very substance of her life activities of late, well, it was both my honor and my very serious (war-like serious) intent. Not even the heaviness of my father's death then a month long weight on my soul was enough to buffet me from my love and bent towards my daughter in her project.

That condescending humility for being with us in the projects to which He has called us is very much a picture of the father-heart of God. He doesn't call us to a project and abandon us to it, but very actively and intentionally desires to be a part of it with us, even as we assume its leadership and responsibility.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Bunnies, and Father's Day

Saturday of Father's Day weekend I buried my father. He had died the Thursday before.

Thus ends a narrative which is both not-mine, and was Me -- that part of me who was that man's estranged son. In some ways, the sub-narrative of his month-long decline, and his 3 year-long bout of stage 4 cancer, has merely been an irrelevant narrative, against which the narrative(s) of my fathering of my children have (in contrast) stood out. This is to say, despite his dying, my father-heart for my children has remained and cohered, unfettered and undimmed, ever increasingly trenchant, shining beyond the pale of looming loss. 

Now, oddly, in my conscious thoughts this ended narrative seems overshadowing, in a sort of irrelevant relevance, as oxymoronic and self-contradictory as that may seem. On another level, I know that that narrative element of me as a fatherless son -- which, honestly and arguably, has been the case for most of my life -- is nowhere nor in any manner defining of anything about me and who I am, about my being. This is definitely a new emotional dynamic, and one the light thereof (or shadow thereof perhaps) in which my own fathering of my children is to be seen.

Let's just say it thus: before burying (leaving to bury) my father on Saturday it was important to me to help my daughter feed her rabbits. We had been out of pelleted food for a few days, the news on Thursday of my father's death and the immediate trip up to gather round my stepmother having thrown off all plans and opportunities to visit the grocery store. My daughter's efforts to solve her own problem by pulling the long native Texas grasses in our yard were laudable, but I knew we had stores of vegetables in our lauder which could be used. Broccoli. Carrots. I elected the cost to the family was something effectively negligible, being willing to make it up in later moments once home from the day trip, with its 4 hours driving and several hours of ... soul-draining activity.

Tending the rabbits is something I had given my daughter to do, something she had chosen and embraced. But it was also something which, especially in that moment, I wanted to enable her to do, in a way which "broke open the bounds" -- that is, expensive organic food "meant" for the family (and which in her mind was not allowed for so common a purpose). More so, her project, because it was her's and involved her, was important to me, and I could make that happen.

Tending the rabbits, feeding them organic broccoli, is a little thing, but it was my desire to do so for my daughter which was important, in light on what was emotionally in my face. What I am really wanting to be driving at, however, and which I have only intimated, was that it was a choice for the family, on behalf of the family, to support her in my daughter's project; a choice for the family to esteem her projects needs valuable enough to contribute to. Because she is valuable to the family it is valuable for the family to esteem her worthy and worthy to partner with. I made that assessment in that way, with those feelings for her, almost in spite of what was staring me emotionally in the face (that is, burying my own father).

There is in this a picture of the father-heart of God for us all, and may the Spirit of God and you suss that out together.

With my son, well, he is ever the empathy-filled little 7 1/2 year old man, and he would come sit on my lap during the funeral and whisper into my ear, "I am sad, dad, for you, because your dad died." You know, it was vitally important to me to receive that heart from him, and more so to honor it and acknowledge the profound attribute of it in him. Vitally important, but the best I really managed to do was embrace him, and thank him, and tell him in paltry ways how proud of him I was for doing so.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Summer Has Started

We have had 12 days of Summer Break now, with this past Saturday being my and my wife's 11th wedding anniversary. I awake each morning wondering, has my father died in his sleep or is today the day. This is not a morose speculation on my part. It is merely that circumstance which is something of an emotional setting, or (actually) more a backdrop of an emotional setting. It is by no means a defining element, except perhaps by virtue of its irrelevancy in defining how I perceive my role and my calling as a father. Said differently, it is important only because it can't be seen as important: I will be a father to my children, I will father them, despite my morning questions.

When in school my daughter would come home telling me of her successes in the regular soccer game played during recess. It are these experiences which inclines m daughter to consider playing soccer as a recreational activity. So, we went and bought her a soccer ball, and make a regular activity of kicking it around now that Summer affords us so much time.

Along with such activity I have also acquired a pool pass to the community pool system for our family. There are a total of four different pools in the system, all connected with the community center through which we have played recreational volleyball. I didn't get the pool passes just for the children's sakes. I got the passes for the family's sake. It was not about exorbitant blessing of individuals but about that which builds the family unit together.

I personal think there is something encouraging said to, some encouragement built into my daughter and my son by seeking the family's good -- the family of which they inextricably are a part. If nothing else my daughter will feel she is a part of something, and her identity will have the dynamic of being part of something which is the family. She will feel, hopefully, that is she is brought into decisions for the family, brought into work and into blessing which is sought for something great, a part of which she very much is. My choice for the family, in that sense, is also a choice for her. It is creative, and she is brought into that: creative of something she very much is a part of.

Cue this blog's refrain: I do very much feel this seeking to build up the family unit is a picture of the father heart of God for all of us. He is concerned with our individual interests but seeks that blessing of the greater body -- a blessing necessarily profitable to the individuals absolutely. Necessarily blessing the individual through choosing to bless the whole, the unit doesn't preclude either engaging in the individual interests, as taking the time to kick around the ball -- it just doesn't take the precedence.

Making a jarring left turn here in the flow, my son wanted to go get the mail yesterday -- mail which was being kept in bulk at the post office (kept because we had not been collecting it for some time). He was looking expectantly to some hoped-for and unsolicited package to have arrived, and who doesn't like such things? Getting the mail hadn't been a priority for me, simply because, well, it's just not a relevant thing to me these days. But it was relevant to my son. His older sister is entering a new phase of life where, soon, she will undergo physiological and cognitive changes and start to develop a social identity, whereas he is more fully coming into that place where his older sister has been: needing to see me making him a priority.

As I have frequently said, if I were to be writing this blog about him it would likely be more of a blogging of my failures. My son is so very much more than I feel I properly maintain awareness of in my actions towards him, and resultantly, so very much more than I adequately bless. In that dearth I can say I see a picture of the father-heart of God, if only a picture in contrast: God's blessings come to us in full awareness of our persons and our value, awareness ever present in the fore of His mind. Knowing my deficit here I have taken pains to sow into my son his building up; or, said differently, I speak into him identity and true statements about him himself when I can. If nothing else this willingness to recognize the different emotional places occupied by my children at the same time (and the willingness to act relative each in their respective places) is a picture of the father-heart of God for us all.



Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Making The Lunches

My daughter frequently asks me if she may perform some chore around the house, like doing dishes or cleaning a bathroom. Not only is my daughter being very proactive, not only is she seeking responsibility, not only is she respecting place and asking permission, but she is doing so out of who she is. As a ten year old this is rather admirable, and suggests to me (along with frequently proven other facets of character, so proven over many repeated instances) she might reasonably be relied upon for babysitting her younger brother.

I said she could be relied upon, but I intentionally have chosen for her not to perform such a task. See, it is not just a matter of trustworthiness, and definitely more than her being too young to be left unattended. I have more faith in her character (not to "get into stuff") than I do in some much older children that I know, older children of babysitting age and whom are frequently left unattended.

No, for me the salient issue is that I want for her to have the fuller experience of being her age, unencumbered by the weight of responsibilities that naturally go along with the tasks she has rather demonstrably proven capable. I know she is capable, like I said: she has, with my supervision, fixed dinners for the family, and assisted in my efforts to fix dinners; she has been "put in charge" (again, in my presence) of younger children; allowed to operate laundry and dishwasher machines. Thus she has been allowed the experience, but only and intentionally under the auspices of my responsibility. Yeah, some fine nuance there.

I allowed her those experiences because I wanted for her to have a sense of doing, a sense of ability, a sense of experience. All of that (and more) I wanted for her as the child she is, with all the freedom (and release from responsibility) that she, as a child, should have. Her experiences of those things should be equipping, ever and only, at this age. I don't want a weight upon her shoulders she shouldn't have to bear: the weight of being depended upon, the responsibility of being depended upon.

Last night my daughter asked me for permission to make her and her brother's lunches for the school day. This morning I decided to grant this request. My daughter is quickly coming to that age when it is more equipping of her sense of self to actually allow her the responsibility that comes with being depended upon for something. I already know she can, and already trust she will do an admirable job. But this is paving the way for her increased role within the family unit, and folds her into the functioning of the hole (the whole which is the family). And I definitely and definitively want for that expansion of her person, and blessing to her sense of self.

Cue the historic refrain of this blog: I definitely see a picture of the father-heart of God in this for us all. His timing, unlike ours, is perfect and infinitely loving, His plans even more so.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Toy-R-Us

There is a good deal of nuance here. As I mentioned in my last post, my father is dying. He went into home-hospice / end-of-life care this morning. I've been processing now for about two weeks the fact he now has two to four weeks left. I can only describe this poorly, but it is like a big, heavy rut sack has been plopped down, and I must somehow keep marching when I am not sure how to carry the thing.The rut sack's weight takes all my attention, even as I try to focus on the cadence and the journey goal as I try to outpace the treadmill beneath me, and get past the elasticity of the rubber band-like bungee cord snapping me backwards. Yeah. Something like that.

HOWEVER, again, this is only relevant as a background feature, a contextualizing counter-weight in the spinning mobile of my current emotional moments. I am pretty emotionally and intellectually foggy as a result these days, suffice it to say, and it's like an emotional head-cold. SO, when my daughter last week asked if this past Saturday we could make a point of spending a beloved aunt's birthday gift-card (long overdue for use), it went without saying we would do so. I let her roam the large box-store, and make her decisions. My son wanted a new fad thing, and I agreed. Honestly, this decision to go to the store was made because I knew it was an affirming one for them, it was right to do so, and wanted it for them before it was ever brought up, as I have done in the past so frequently.

Despite my thrust to be making decisions on the basis of what is good for the family as a whole, it was certain in my heart I wasn't going to deny this good to my daughter in singular focus on the family-as-a-whole's good. While it was the most I could come up with doing, it was also the highest priority, sought with the highest intent. That was that, no deeper message than that.

I wanted my daughter to do with her card as she wanted, taking a back seat to the perusal of items and direction in wandering. I was just along for the ride, intentionally so. I took pains not to speed us up, or to rush the decision. And despite all that was going on in my emotional landscape, all else was tabled because i felt and wanted that she, my daughter, be allowed this autonomy and discretion. It wasn't my money, but hers; not my time, but hers. She was worthy of my serving her through the act of getting her there, even.

I think this is very much a picture of the father-heart of God, the desire to serve for the sake the other's sake, the active and intentional taking of a backseat for the child to have a sense of autonomy (as opposed to a distant and disinterested watchmaker).It is not an effortless distancing but an active and participatory following, for the sake of building up, a leading by being led (allowing myself to be led). I think the intentionality is a measure of that father-heart, attesting to a higher level of involvement, especially given the intentional effort to be present (as opposed to a lugged around piece of parental driftwood).



Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Going to the Ranch

This weekend we had to take a trip out of town, a trip which took us to the town and county where at my maternal family has a roughly 500 acre ranch on a significant Texas river. The significant part denotes something to those from Texas: it is an actual flowing river that can actually be (and is) dammed along its route. Suffice it to say this makes going "to the ranch" quite enjoyable for the family. Some might call it a farm -- it had been both. We can hike, hunt, fish in the river, shoot, and generally get away from things.

It would be helpful for you as a new (first time) reader, if you are so, to read my "Good Friday" post now, then come back. In that post I discuss my estranged father, and the relational dynamic and its history.

Read it yet? Suffice it to say, my father is a stranger whom I know, but for whom there is a profound sense of respectful alterity. Maybe that's one decently  detached, descriptive, clinical way to put it. Another way is to say my estranged father is a stranger whom I know, and I can not fathom his experience. A stranger whom I know, and who has less than a month now to live. My estranged father is dying.

This post is not about that at all, but what this post is about can not really be understood, I don't feel, without knowing that contextualizing fact that my estranged father is dying, and I was going to visit him. That whole sub-narrative is relevant for the emotional subtext of my actions: it is this sub-narrative's relevancy in itself, because of the narrative concurrence with the story I am telling here,  which brings my story's point home a little bit more. Kinda like the unknown detail which characters never know, and which the audience only finds out in the epilogue, except in this case the epilogue for me came first (but not as prologue).

I took my family out to the ranch, with the intent of their having a day. It was my goal, before I would do anything else, to see to it that they were well established and "set up" at the ranch. Given it is an old ranch house with quite a number of peculiarities only I after a 40 year lifetime of visiting could account for, it was really important I get them settled. Important to me, necessary for them.

Despite all else I had in store for me personally that day, seeing to it that I provided quality family time (dog included) -- and in the process of which that I established my family in the house, as part of the rare treat of being at the ranch we were getting -- was most important. It was the one thing I was doing, in a sense, and everything else (with my estranged father) was tangential to that family (sub)narrative. Nuanced differently, the narrative of my family is the one narrative I am not only telling here, but the only one I am concerned with, and establishing them in the particular chosen experience of a day at ranch was my father-heart above all else (even above my own personal issues). That it was being done despite my personal issues underscores that heart I am trying to say.

"Anywhoo", as the modern-day bard sings, we got to the ranch, I unloaded the car, readied the house and rooms they would use, until I was satisfied they need only entertain themselves, and left for my personal errand. I made a point to return from said errand with enough daylight to ensure we would get to set Mom up for shooting practice, and set the kids up for river activities.

Now, being at the ranch is a rare occurrence for us, and if left to my druthers there were quite a number of things I would have wiled away my time doing, had I been alone. What was important to me to do, however, was that I engage the children in what was fun for them. Again, I aim with my words to underscore the importance of the time together, as oriented around what the family needed.

So we, the kids and I while Mom shot, set off "frogging" -- frog catching. Simply, it was just being with my kids, being present, in what the family was needing (in terms of family time). When Mom was done shooting she came by, and I did my level best to set up the fishing poles having forgotten the bait. My daughter, I think, would have preferred only to fish, but eventually she too participated in the frogging. It was simple, precious time, and it is what the family needed.

In a profound way this strikes me as the very father-heart of God for us, this heart to establish His children, His family, His people in bonding time together, over and around those simple activities which (in themselves) have the significance of being something all the members easily enjoy together. The emphasis of God's father-heart being the orienting the goal of bonding family time around what is important or necessary for the family.



Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Easter Weekend, 2017

Easter Weekend for the kids began last Thursday (right before Good Friday), with them having a three day weekend. As evidenced from the last post I spoke at our church's Good Friday service, we had a restful Saturday, and Easter Sunday after church we spent the afternoon with some family friends whom the children and us parents just adore.

Since on Good Friday the kids and I were watching some neighbor kids for a friend (who didn't have childcare for the day), and we had the service that evening, we didn't get to do much in way of quality family time. I decided I would take the kids with me to the store that day, since I had to go to purchase a few essentials, not the least of which (granted) was candy to fill the plastic eggs we would be hiding for them for the yearly egg hunt. Among these items for which I went to the store I made doubly sure to get the traditional egg coloring kits which Mom wanted, and some frozen pizzas for our weekly "Family Movie Night" -- which, fortune would have it, Mom was actually able to attend, her nighttime schedule falling just right (this rotation) for her to be there.

Suffice it to say the day and the evening was geared around the activities we would be doing as a family, with each of us set to tasks to that end. Surely I wanted for them to have the fun they wanted in Easter Egg hunting, but my real priority in the store and with the activities of Saturday were those activities which were to be enjoyed as a family unit, and which were more yearly traditional (beyond just sugary indulgent). The point of the traditions and the activities all was shared communal experience as a family, which is a blessing to each individual member of the family, as well as strengthening of the family as a whole.

Very easily I see the father-heart of God in this attitude, the father-heart for His church. That we are, as the Apostle Paul prayed (out of the father-heart of God for us), to have the power together with all the saints to know the height, the depth, the breadth, the width of His love. The point, in my heart, with my kids, was not the tradition itself for the tradition's sake, but the tradition for the sake of the blessing and strengthening of the family. Each family member cherishes the events, is blessed in through and by them, blessed as part of a greater family, but it was for the family which the actions were undertaken. That is very  much a picture of the father-heart of God.