Monday, August 18, 2014

SAHD Chronicles # 4: "on Faults and Patience"

In an earlier post I mentioned how my son seems to have my body type and my wife's personality while my daughter has my wife's body type and my personality. I went on to say how in these things I have come to see how in my son I have come to appreciate my wife, and in my daughter I have come to understand other things.

I willfully and woefully acknowledge both that there is a danger of over-projecting too much of my wife or myself on either child, and furthermore that much of this is my effort to find orientation in an ever utterly other landscape called "Life".

My daughter has come to amaze me recently with a certain self-starting, stepping-out, unhesitating pursuit of things she wants to do. She self initiates projects of an others-centered nature. This amazes me, cause me pure admiration of her, and a desire to not interfere with (and equal desires to protect and safeguard and nurture) this quality in her.

I wonder if that could have ever come from me, or if I ever had any such quality. I know that sounds utterly self-effacing. I don't have such self-abasement in my heart though when I look upon that quality and admire it in her. I wager if I did the brokenness of the world and in my life, coupled with my sinful response to it, have not crippled or stunted that quality in me.

And that, this nexus of needing to be dependent upon God, being strong enough to be weak and have to trust in Him, might be where even God in His infinite grace is restoring me, returning the years the locus have devoured. How so, well, like with my daughter I am as a child constrained to have to engage in the season and particulars of my own life -- "coming unto Him as a little child," as it were.

But I digress quite far afield. Back to that seeing qualities of myself in my child tack. These days I am seeing weaknesses in my children, thus spotlighting or magnifying or reflecting them (those weaknesses) clearly for me to see in myself. In my son I see the whineyness and slowness to mature, and a tendency to want to dwell in lovey-feeling interaction rather than seeking what he can do to help, or seeking what I want. In my daughter I notice a lack of independence, or a co-dependence, which needs exercising somewhat into... well, into something else.

However, here is a rub, if not the rub to these particular insights: in my wife I am seeing how, through patience and acceptance of where she is at in her process (as well as seeing the unique process God has her in, dealing with deeper issues along with other issues the resolution of which is yet to come), I am seeing the Father-heart of God to me, and that heart specifically in regards to working on those issues in me which I am observing in my children). That last put simpler, of those faults in myself,  those having been pointed out to me by observing them in my children, I am seeing God's attitude of patience and even hope in their correction as I patiently die to myself and allow my wife to be at where she is at, and to be dealt with as God is so doing with her.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

SAHD Chronicles #3: "fatherlands"

When my eldest daughter was still in utero I was overcome with waves of nostalgia, and an immediate desire to have things from my past. It persisted even into the birth of my second born two and a half years later. Suffice it to say this rather odd impetus has played itself out in different ways, and with different dynamics over the years. As an aside I attribute much of the inception of my blossoming love of History to the upwelling of emotions first encountered in those somewhat emotionally prehensile reminiscences.

I think this being overcome by nostalgia is actually very common, at least among many of my generation -- the Gen X'ers. Quite a number of my friends have expressed similar urges. Childhood in the late 70's and early 80's, at least in retrospect, seemed not just simpler but more simply good. 

Who doesn't want that for their children, a simply good context full of simple goodness? 

Recently my family attended a party hosted by one of my wife's co-workers. As it turns out this co-worker had just recently purchased the childhood home of one of my childhood friends, in my childhood neighborhood and just right around the corner from my childhood home. Of course, on the way home, I drove around the corner to show my children the house I grew up in, and tell the stories of its features: the acre-sized lot I used to have mow as a tween and high schooler, the retaining wall I helped to build as a young man because the rain sent a deluge of mud onto our back door stoop, the trees I would climb to get onto the roof in order to watch the Texas thunderstorms roll in from miles out. 

Driving home from their I took roads the driving of which was done on an almost reflex-like nature. Rather startlingly the area's decades of growth had not changed the course but had changed all of its appearance and sense. The driving of those roads -- which was a comfortable, rote process -- was somewhat jarringly contrasted by the unfamiliar surroundings such that it felt like reclining into something alien, like I shouldn't be as comfortable or natural moving through it as I felt.

As I sit writing about that Sunday afternoon now after the four day vacation which followed it, I am struck by a certain completion to it all, a certain fullness of a dawning awareness that is encapsulated in a quote I heard (it's origins and actual phrasing forgotten) : blessed is the man for whom no land is home but who waits for a coming fatherland, whose native land is a coming kingdom yet known. I think the truth of that notion flies in the face of a certain angst and ennui incipient to the old chestnut that one can never go home again, but there is more to be had of the story before reclining into the comfortable and familiar spot of reflective pontification. 

That Sunday of the co-worker's party we were preparing to take the children to the beach for the first time in their lives. We had wanted to save the experience for when they would be old enough both to enjoy and remember the trip. 

It perhaps the most salient point to note that, having traveled to this beach numerous times growing up and knowing my children so well I was ecstatic. I was coming to a place I knew, and was getting to show them the things which I knew they would delight in, things in which I too delighted and would enjoy experiencing again. I was entirely familiar not only with what to expect of the experience but also with what would be enjoyable. I felt like some existential tour guide of experience. Each squeal of excitement and each cackle of sheer joy, innocent and full, blessed and filled me in itself while also confirming my full expectation of their delight. 

More Importantly they had asked to be brought to the beach, and I was able to give them what they asked, what I knew from my experience was good. I knew I had wanted for my children what they had wanted, what I knew they would enjoy. They had wanted what I had wanted for them. I had enjoyed their enjoying it, and they had enjoyed what I, decades earlier, had enjoyed. I had wanted it for them even where they could not know or grasp how much they would enjoy.

I wonder if this is not in some very true and profound (albeit limited and finite) way the same experience of delight and expectation The Lord God has for us in some of the experiences into which He leads us. The difference of course being His is a fuller understanding, and not every experience in its moment (when it's experiencing in this mortal life is lived and understood both and only linearly and in the context of its moment) is so enjoyable. We, I, so often wrestle with the effort to trust Him when I abstract the experiencing, forgetting His expectation of the goodness (and enjoyment of that goodness) being wrought in that moment yet known perhaps only in the future. And lest it go unsaid or forgotten, even with the suffering in the moment He is well acquainted.

At any rate, it goes without saying His joy and expectation of our coming into His kingdom must surely be like this.

But I digress. The beach and surf and then the state aquarium were enjoyed and, at the end of the time, we made our way home. There is always a sense of alterity in even familiar places and familiar experiences had in non-native lands, such goes without saying. And as the long drive brought us closer and closer to the familiar ecological region and native environs I was struck by the fact that I maintained a sense of alterity to my home city, refraining from reclining fully and satisfied into the familiar streets and sights as if I knew them in knowing their image and their habit in my life. Further so, I found my heart even eschewed as alien the realities of the bent humanity I knew moved beneath the image in my mind of the city, like with the pity looked upon agonized bodies presumed beautiful as they writhe in tortured movements beneath the camouflaging folds of familiar cloaks and garments. And I felt blessed, that while I had come home I was not comfortable with it, that I no longer wanted it as my "homeland", that it's familiarity was no longer sought.

As to that old chestnut about not ever being able to go home again, and to the notion of rote driving of long since familiar seeming roads, well, I think the experience yearned for in the first notion and the jarring sense of removal in the second notion serve to underscore that comforting reality that they were never familiar in the first place, except in the fanciful escapism of an immaturity which didn't yet seek its fatherland. It is better to have found that home was never home, and as such has not been lost to us, and it's familiarity thusly is no longer a lure to an empty promise -- a promise bound to slip ever further away than even does a dream of home upon waking. Let familiarization be that habituation which is a scaffold for the confidence of knowing something well enough, but not else, not more.

And to the wave of nostalgia experienced so early in my parenthood, when contrasted to the joy of "giving them the beach," well, now I can say I know what I want to go forward in giving them, my beloved children: shared experiences of good things, the sharing of which is an experiential picture of that coming fatherland, and a promised unity -- promised because it was prayed for by Him who prayed and prays the Father's Will from within the very fatherland unto which we wait and journey.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

SaHD Chronicles #2 - "Heirlooms and Stories of Happy Work"

When asked about being a SaHD (stay at home dad) I honestly have to say it is the best job I have ever had. Truth be told, being a dad is the one thing I know have always wanted to be, even since youth. And here is where Paul Harvey would say is the rest of the story.

My children sort of show me up when it comes to that whole wanting to do work around the house thing. And you hear from parents of older children the joke that children want to be helpful until they turn that age when they really can be, but really, I that joke sort of misses the point. The heart of my children to want to do work is more important than the pragmatic value of their efforts -- that is, their heart is more important than their output or ability to produce.

My son is four, and he likes to help with loading and unloading the dishwasher; my daughter is seven and a half and does so much I often worry I ask too much of her; both fight over taking out the recycling.

Is it just a matter of empowerment to deal with their world, or just a matter of imitating dad and trying to approximate a similar efficacy and identity? I think it is more, it almost has to be.

But let me tell a story...

I have a younger friend who is going to have a baby, and I am both giving some baby furniture and loaning our high chair to this friend. The high chair is a special gift from a set of friends of my wife, some old roommates from college. These are those special sorts of friends that define a period of life and knew my wife in a real, and intimate way. So that they got together and pooled resources and had a baby shower and gave this high chair to us, well, it makes it pretty special. Not to mention it had been used by both my children.

But I had never cleaned this high chair (not really beyond the surface of the seat and top of tray), and had stored it in the garage (which was bug-bombed repeatedly after a flea-explosion of black plague like level).

Yet, somehow, as I was cleaning this thing off, getting a soapy sponge into every nook and cranny, from every angle, I found a certain happiness in doing the task which, well, was down right child-like. I mean, it was like I was seven year old child happy to do a task, and I was wanting to do it so well I was pouting myself into it, getting every possible square centimeter of it cleaned. It was fun, and it was a happy work.

In the midst of this simple task it dawned on me that I wanted this high chair to be loaned out not only to this friend but to others, to friends as close to my family as college roommates had been to my wife. I wanted my children to know, when they came to receive this high chair for use with their children, that it had been infused with the value of having been fitted into a story of many stories and lives. I wanted to pass on the chair telling my children, "oh, and it was used by so and so, and then by so and so..." and so on and so on. Admittedly part of it I was wanting this happiness I felt in cleaning it to be attached to physical chair, as if a quality no less real than its physical form or durability or color or composition.

Now this is the thing about good stories: you can tell them and let the listener draw their own conclusions.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Stay-at-Home-Dad (SaHD) Chronicles #1: Hating golf, & Having courage

Twice in about a month's worth of time I've talked with two other stay-at-home-dads. Real stay at home dads, dads who chose to stay home with the kids, and, by doing so, support their wives in their wives' careers.

I run into or hear from (through my wife about her male co-workers) that they would love to stay at home... you know, to get the chance to go golfing and all. You know, just like their own wives must be doing, I want to ask them.

I hear other dads say they can think of nothing else they would rather do least than stay at home.

(A rare few have had to stay home from work for an extended period, to take up slack for a sick spouse, and they get it, man do they get it... and then they hurry thankfully back to work once the wife is better. But i digress from the other sets of men and my point.)

What seems to underlie both attitudes is a misconception of what staying home means. Traditionally, for women, staying home and being mothers went sort of hand in hand, being foisted upon them by social expectations of gender roles. Any identification of themselves as "mothers" implicitly entailed being at home. You even now see strains of this in a lot of "mommy blogger" posts, posts involving the exasperation with or exhaustion from caring for little ones and getting the shopping done, but oh there was that moment of specialness that reminds them of their calling and makes it all worthwhile... so on and so on.

Don't mistake my tone, I am not knocking or mocking mommy bloggers. And every mommy blogger I read echos many of the same woes and headaches of the stay at home dads with whom I interact.

Again, my point is that for many men not at home there is a misconception about what being at home means.

When women were entering the workforce in the 70's and 80's it was in part about proving themselves capable. That's what the movie, "Mr. Mom" was really all about - and not about some dad who chose to stay home.

For us men, however, well, for the two dads I talked with this month and myself, staying home is not about proving ourselves capable in the domestic sphere. We've stayed home for two reasons: to support our wives in their career, and because we felt it important for our children to have someone at home with them. We didn't choose the domestic life - it came as a consequence.

On another digressing note: some folks talk about the courage we dads must have to stay home. Normally it has been women saying that to me, and women who are older and have grown children - women who entered the workplace back in the 70's and 80's. That's just an interesting observation, and I feel there is a pretty good point there, somewhere.

The misconception, back to that fumbled point, essentially, is that being at home, well, is about being at home. Being at home, for me, is about being for someone (my wife), and being with someone (my kids), maybe even (and here we get all yogi-zen master but) being as a someone; being at home is about what I have given up (and what I have received). Not to mention, being at home is about what has come to me as a consequence of being for someone and with someone... and what I endure, and what I accept, and what I go without.

It's about all of that, and, so, yeah, I guess it is about courage: courage to find satisfaction in areas men are not traditionally told they can be satisfied, courage to explore the aspects of masculinity left undefined or fuzzily recognized, courage to challenge the convictions in the attitudes and beliefs about the value of fatherhood and husbandhood.

For men, give us a pocketknife in hand and a grizzly bear with which to face off and we are satisfied our "courage" has been displayed; lets us pursue as grizzled and gnarly Jeremiah Johnson a wretched band of scoundrels  through frozen forests and we feel our "manly mettle" rings out loud and clear. But, thrust us into the nebulous environs of the kitchen table laden with contents of the craft drawer and it is not so immediate clear, the nature of our heroics.

If the choices to support wives, and to caretake and parent children are indeed heroic, then dare we say that we SaHD's are re-defining what it means to stay at home, and thus are re-validating the very traditional value of moms and of being at home - a value ironically chelated from the role by virtue of the social foisting of the role upon women alone? Wow, I'ld say that's a ballsy enterprise. I mean, to be clear, there are no social roles or expectations foisted upon us men when it comes to being at home, and in the lack of those expectations our choices define what it means to be at home, what being at home is essentially all about. I am okay with that... besides, I hate golf... and there is no samurai-like honor chasing around a defenseless and inanimate little ball all over the route of my wicked slice.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Letters to Write

A writerly writer friend, for whom I have a growing admiration, recently mentioned the notion of the "gift of letters" -- letter like the kind you write to others, correspondences if you will.

So taken with this notion is she that now almost all of her writing comes in the form of letter writing. Letters to friends going through loss, or through hardships; letters of encouragement or acknowledgement; letters to minister, letters to love. I can only say that, having read her poetry and other work, well blessed are those recipients of the letters she writes.

Recently I did a book study on Dr. D. Taylor's book entitled, "Tell Me A Story". The thrust of the  work was that all things are Story, that we ourselves are our own story, that we are characters in our stories and characters in the stories of others, and that life like stories can be shaped and even new stories told.

I have been writing a letter to each of my children from since before they were born. It amounts to stories of their lives and mine, to offer them more Story of who they are. I crave for them to know more about themselves, and to know how wide and deep are both my knowledge and admiration of them is, and continuously is (since it is a lifelong project of writing to them such Story).

The Christian scriptures suggests, in one sense to the believer, that they are God's Letter to the world. If one posits -- not believes, or buys into, but just posits -- that God is infinitely loving, kind, patient, and for us, His creation, then the fatherly heart of God to make of us "letters" is a profound picture. At least it is for me.

If we think about it, letters have functioned differently down through History. Paper, papyrus, velum, all were not so easily available, and any efforts made with them were thus more valuable to the recipient. (Now, not to overstate or hammer a point, but if human life is valuable, and more valuable than velum, well...)

Letters on precious parchment, done in expensive ink, were few and far in between, and the sending of them relied upon runners or trained birds, mounted riders. Letters had time taken over them, and had to convey all the news of life the recipient likely craved. The content was as poured over as was the script, and the voice and the penmanship both were as much a piece of the writer as was the content. Letters news, letters were succor, letters were connectivity and sharing of life over the gulf of time and space.

John J. Nance wrote a story entitled, "Orbit," about a man, expecting to die from asphyxiation aboard a stranded spacecraft orbiting earth, writing his memoirs as a letter to posterity and the future. Truly a letter and a story and a life and even Story itself, all across time and space.

I think, perhaps, my writerly friend is truly on to something. And in an age of hyper-uber-connectivity I think we are even more behooved to draw back into our garrets, and to sit at our desks, and to work on penmanship and to craft letters. And to do so daily, because there is something in that intentionality which crafts ourselves as the letters which we are, and expands the stories all around us, even our own.

One thing about the Nance story: unbeknownst to character the world below was watching real time the story as it was written, and many had their narratives changed as a result. And the character never knew his own story was itself changed, re-contextualized by that fact - just as surely as countless writers never knew their letters to loved ones would, today, tell us not only of our History but of our very selves.

Relevancy and Content

So, i've been dinking around with my blogger template and profile, and thought to ask anyone born before 1990 (those whom I knew on FB) what they would find interesting.

That question lead to another question from a professor friend of mine - the question as to why I would limit the polling space to so young an audience.

I realized in my response that the issue was fecund and ripe with the bastard children of spin-off discussions. Okay, I've been reading a lot of George R.R. Martin recently and he talks so much about "bastards" the concept has stained my conceptual table cloth upon which i set the serving bowls of topics.

Anyways, this was my response (please tell me what you think or what you see):

Interstingly enough, they have lived their entire lives, and especially their years of social awareness, being defined by social concerns inextricably linked to social media. Honestly, they simultaneously define relevancy (to contemporary society) while also have learned the lessons to be learned from seeking relevancy within their culture. 

We have, arguably, those of us born prior to 1990, lost touch so much so that a culture which already does not accord the aged much respect most assuredly even does not find the aged and their thoughts very relevant at all. 

More pertinent to my intent, I want to know what younger generations (for whom social media and blogging are assumed natural elements to social life) want to know about, what will attract their interest to me as a writer of a blog. I assume younger generations will be attracted to a blog as much by the (virtual)character of the writer as by the content. Perhaps this assumes that a blog is as much the virtual-character married to (and content, as much as it is pure content.