Fathers

I originally posted this in 2013, but thought it could use a re-post.

Fathers

I started writing this on Father’s Day and was, as can happen, distracted by actual life events.  Visits from family and then traveling can do that.  I nearly forgot about this post until I noticed it idling there, the red “draft” sitting beside it in my post queue.  It was important to me to get this piece of writing out there, so here it is… late, but no less important to me.

Originally, like most people, I started out with a Dad.  One.  He was full of life, fun loving, sporty, loved his coffee, loved to laugh and laughed a lot, went gray early, had false teeth, played the pedal steel guitar better than I’ve heard anyone else play it, had a major sweet tooth, was legally blind, and smiled with his eyes… Warm and full of love.  My Dad was a dork, which I inherited.  Totally goofy with a dork’s sense of humor.  I’m honored to carry that on.  I’m also so happy to have his sense of joy.  It’s the best gift he passed on to me.  That and his sense of play… and awe.

When I was a tad older, and not much mind you, Mom married Bill and brought another dad into my life.  For 33 years he was the man of our house.  Bill had a sly sense of humor, often a mischievous twinkle in his eye, a love of science and the PBS shows Nova and In Search Of, could fix nearly anything, was the best BS’er I’ve ever seen, adored his tractor, loved a good pancake breakfast, and loved my Mom.  Bill taught me to love learning, whether he knew it or not.  He had a keen and curious mind.  Always reading National Geographic, Scientific American, and the like, he was interested in how things worked. And even though he wasn’t much of a traveler he wanted to know about the world.  He was a guy who didn’t have a large formal education, but he was a very educated and very intelligent man.  Bill, or Billbsy, as Kev and I called him when we were younger, was a guy of deep feelings and strong opinions.  I didn’t often agree with his politics, but that was OK too.  Bill had the ability to talk to anyone and did.  I was always amazed at how he just struck up a conversation with the people he was around, whoever they were.  He taught me to fly fish, to love small Mom and Pop motels and car trips, and passed on to me a great appreciation for the mysteries of the larger world.  I am oh so grateful for those gifts and for the gift of seeing my Mom love and be loved so well.

A few years after Bill passed Mom met and married Don.  I recently, after Don’s passing, wrote a blog post about him so I won’t go into all the things about Don that impressed and amazed me, but I will say that after just having attended his celebration of life I was so awed by the number of people he affected in such a positive way.  He was an amazing father and grandfather.  He lived an amazing life and I was so honored to have had him in mine for a time.

I gained yet another dad when I married Karen and met her dad, Don.  From the beginning, even though Karen’s parents tend toward the very conservative, they accepted me, and our relationship.  I knew I was in when Don, one day, put his arm around me, called me kid, gave me a little squeeze, and smiled at me.  That small gesture meant more to me than I can express.  He has been strong, and wise, and has shown me love from the start.  I  also, see an earlier blog, had the honor of being chosen by him as the forker during a new in our relationship Thanksgiving dinner.  I won’t explain here, but needless to say, I was thrilled to get the job.  Don is steadfast, opinionated, warm, curious, and can, even still, move fast when he’s headed somewhere with a purpose.  He has a fantastic laugh and does it with a great twinkle in his eye.  He gets joy from small things, which has been a great lesson for me because when it comes down to it it’s the small things that matter.  He’s quiet, reads voraciously, loves his family and extended family with a passion, and is a solid rock of support and strength.  I appreciate his presence in my life every day.  And like I told him this Father’s Day, privately with a little kiss on his cheek, he is the only dad I have left and I love him so.

Lastly, when talking about Dad’s, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about my Grandpa, my Mom’s dad.  Grandpa, who I also wrote about in a couple of previous posts, was the epitome of a fantastic father and grandfather.  I learned so much from him… how to play cribbage and backgammon, how to tie my shoes, what a good person should be.  He had a love for life, an adoration of family, and a playfulness and sense of joy that was so strong it still flows through our family.  I was with some of the family this last weekend and I could see him in all of us.  Those were some amazing genes he passed on.  He is the father of my Mom and so through her, he also gave me so many gifts.  I was blessed to have him in my life for so long and am so lucky to be a part of him.

As I look back at this list of fathers, my list of dads, I am amazed at the quality of the men here.  They were nothing like each other, and yet the most important thing about them, their ability to love well, is shared by all of them.  Most people get one dad and I have been fortunate enough to have four.  They have been, and are all, each one, a blessing to me and my life.  Men, who might be reading this, and I know a few uncles, brothers, brothers in law, a son in law, friends, and cousins who might, you should know you are valued.  You, as fathers, are priceless.  You bring so much love, joy, strength, and happiness to the children in your life.  You might not know this, or be aware all the time, but you are so loved.  What you do, what you provide, is invaluable, and I, for one, am so thankful and grateful to you.  Watching you dads be dads is an amazing thing.  It’s a joyous thing.  So thank you fathers, mine and the dads I get to watch every day being fathers to their daughters and sons.  Thank you, and happy Father’s Day.

Eight Years

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Photo by TJ Parker

Eight years ago today a doctor walked into my hospital room and told me I had leukemia.

Since then I’ve periodically asked a question of myself.  Not, as you might expect, why me, or even just why.  There is no why.  It was random, not predictable, and as far as we know not preventable.  It just was.  So the question isn’t why, but who.  Who was I then, am I the same person now, what did I learn from the experience?

I’ve written here about my philosophy of life a bit… which is basically kindness is key, our love for the people we love and who love us is all that really matters, find joy in the every day, and don’t lose hope about the things that matter to you.  But as this day rolls around every year I find myself doing a bit of an assessment.

I believe in forgiveness, in kindness, joy, hope, and love.  But, I’m not always the best at those things.  And on this day I find myself trying to remind myself who I am.  I find myself trying to forgive myself for the ways I know I’ve hurt people, which doesn’t let me off the hook for those slights, but it does let me employ one of my strongly held beliefs which is that each of us is doing the best we know how at the moment.  Sometimes our efforts aren’t that great, and we don’t handle things well, but at the moment we are only doing what we can with what we have.   It still means we have to try and do better, be better.  We owe our people that.  But, we also can’t continually beat ourselves up for the things we’ve done.  This is where apologizing comes in.  Sincere apology.  We admit what we’ve done, we feel it in our bones, the ways we’ve hurt someone, and then we say we’re sorry for it.  The apology is freeing for both people.  So I ask, have I apologized enough and meant it.  Have I forgiven others, have I forgiven myself?

Kindness.  Have I been kind?  To my people, to strangers, to myself.  Am I moving through the world as a kind person?  Do I say thank you, look people in the eyes, empathize, treat people with respect, watch out for their feelings, simply honor people as the beautiful human beings they are?  Am I kind to myself?  I hope so, I hope I do all of these things, but I know the answer is, I don’t always.  So I need to be more kind.  We can always be kinder.  I think there’s always another level of kindness to strive for.  I think the key for me is to be aware, to be present with people.  If I am, I’m kinder.

Joy.  It’s easy to get discouraged in life.  About our place in it, circumstances we find ourselves in, the state of the world.  The enemy of joy is fear.  So the key is to not be fearful.  But, that’s a tough one.  Having gone through this whole life-threatening experience I find myself afraid of the random and unknown.  Afraid of what could happen, suddenly, without warning.  This fear has no face or name or even bearing on what’s actually happening in my life at the time.  It just comes with large amounts of anxiety.  And when it comes it eats my joy whole.  Like a kipper snack.  So I find myself searching for ways to lessen the fear and find the joy.  I’m innately a silly, joyful person.  I’m a dork.  I can find joy in the smallest things when I’m not afraid.   So I’ve spent some time working on and continue to work on trying to be present in the small moments of life, which I feel is where joy lives.  In smiles and sunsets and dogs and wind in the trees and whispered secrets from grandchildren and laughs over nothing at all.  I try to remind myself to be present.  Nothing is promised to us, which certainly includes time, so we have to live now.  Be alive now.  Be joyous now.  This is a tough one, but I’m trying.  The wind chimes are going strong right now on the front porch, and the sound is magical, and there is joy in that.

Hope. It’s tough to be hopeful when all you see is the stuff that’s not working out.  But as I’m taking a look this year I find myself reminding myself that life is perception.  We see what we want.  Which brings me to one of my favorite quotes of all time.  It comes from the movie, The Abyss, “We all see what we want to see. Coffey looks and he sees Russians. He sees hate and fear. You have to look with better eyes than that.”  At the time the film was made the cold war was still in full swing, so the Russians were the bad guys.  But the point isn’t that part of the quote.  The point is the essence of it which to me means we see what we want to see, which is frequently driven by our personal fears, and we have to look with better eyes.  So, I can either see the world from a place of love and forgiveness and hope, or I can see fear, I can see enemies.  I try to come from a place of seeing people as friendly, as human, as trying.  Again, I don’t always succeed in this, but when I do, hope springs and the world looks different somehow.  Brighter, fuller, rich in color and possibility.  It is hopeful.

Love.  I believe in connection and responsibility to and for that connection.  Life is about love.  Who we love, who loves us.  It’s about how we love.  Do we say it?  Do we show it?  Do we let the people we love feel the love we have for them?  For me, this brings gratitude into my life and makes me want to share that gratitude.  To say how grateful I feel for the people and love in my life doesn’t even cover it.  I am sometimes overwhelmed by the waves of it.  Struck profoundly silent by the weight of all the love I know I have in my life.  But, it’s sometimes too easy to see what we don’t have in life, what we think we’re missing.  And in the muck of that, we sometimes forget to take stock of what we have, or even to recognize that it’s there.  Who we have and what that means to us.  Love is all around us.  It’s all around me.  So, as I go through this day I let that wave of gratitude for enormous and profound love wash over me.  Hold me up.  It did when I was sick.  It’s what got me through.  Even though I was semi-isolated when I was sick, I felt the love pouring into me.  Lifting me up.  Holding me.  I felt it.  And luckily, I feel it still.  If I sit with it for a few moments I cry.  Out of a gratitude so overwhelming it crushes me in all the right ways.  That’s where I want to live, where I try to live.  Even when things are tough, the love is there.  I have it, and I try to give it back.  We’re responsible for giving it back.  For loving, and loving well.

Eight years.  If I think of all the beautiful and strange and magical and messy things that have happened in my life in the last eight years I’m amazed and so moved by it all.  It has definitely not all been easy, and there have definitely been sad and heart-breaking times, but there have also been so many moments of joy and laughter and love.  And I guess maybe that’s the point of taking stock.  Which is to say, it’s a messy thing, life.  But it’s in the middle of all that mess we find love and hope, kindness, and joy.  And I remind myself, isn’t that an amazing and beautiful thing?

Eight years.  Eight years on top of the nearly 45 years before those.

Wow.  What a ride it’s been so far.

 

 

 

 

Gratitude and Grace

 

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Photo by TJ Parker

I had a great conversation the other night about gratitude and grace and the things that are important in life.  It was lovely, and a good reminder.

 

It’s very tough to not be overwhelmed by the things in life that don’t go as planned, the things in the world that are heartbreaking.  It’s easy to forget ourselves, forget the good and the light and the hope.  But this time of year, it’s all about those things.

There’s meaning in the little things, it’s really where the good stuff lives.  A smile, a sunset, a snuggle from one of the dogs, the laughter of a grandchild, light through the trees, a good meal, warm socks, a good hug, small kindnesses, small generosities, the bluest blue in the sky, music playing, walks in the crisp air, a good meal with friends, love, love in any form it comes to you.

I have no big message of thanks, this year, but will offer this.  It isn’t about the big things, the mighty changes, and large leaps.  Those things are rare.  What it’s about, and should be, are the small things.  Those little moments of grace and gratitude.  They are the meat of life, the soul of it.

And in that vein, we’re going to take the dogs out for a walk on this crisp Illinois fall day.  The sky is the most lovely blue.

We Need to Remember

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Photo by TJ Parker

“If we are to survive the most divisive presidency in generations, it’s up to us to climb down our family trees and better understand how we got here. It’s up to us to ask fellow countrymen “where are you from?” with a lot less fear and a lot more wonder.” – Bill Weir, States of Change

 

We need to understand what drives us, our opinions, our ways of being and thinking in the world.  Why do we denigrate people with views different from our own?  Where is the wonder? Where is the respect?  Where is the humanity?

I was reading the transcript from CNN’s Bill Weir’s program called, States of Change, Homecoming.  His show, one I haven’t watched all the way through to fully disclose, is an exploration of his roots.  They are interesting to be sure, but that’s not what grabbed me. What grabbed me was the thought that we have opinions, some virulent, strong, unchanged despite our best efforts to be open.  Why is that?  Where do they come from?  Shouldn’t we be interested in that?

It’s easy to pronounce our opinions, to put down other opinions, to think we know best and act as if we do by spouting and re-posting article after article or meme after meme putting other’s opinions, lives, views, down.  Way down. That’s low if you think about it. Our opinions are made.  Made from our experiences and our feelings about those experiences.  We forget this.  We forget to put that big old magnifying glass we so easily point at others back at ourselves.  We are, none of us, without flaws.  Our views, even though we might passionately hold them, are not rule of law, are not even always a greater truth.  They are just our truth, our views.  We forget that.

What I’m saying is, we should be looking at our own views, at ourselves, to really examine why we feel as we do, and then, shockingly, be open to others who might feel differently.  They’ve had different experiences, different influences, leading to different views.  It doesn’t make them, or ourselves, idiots. Just makes us humans with different opinions.  I can believe something to be true that you do not believe it true, and vice versa, you can believe something I don’t believe, that’s OK.  Different opinions lead to varying solutions.  Varying solutions solve our problems.

I was also watching coverage of the Harvey rescue efforts.  Two rescued sisters were interviewed.  During that interview, they said they thought it was beautiful that in these divisive times, when people are standing firmly on either side of an invisible line, both racially and politically, that all is forgotten and the community comes together, no color lines, no political lines, to help.  It is beautiful.  What’s sad is that we need some disaster to remind us that we’re all human, that we should and do love each other.  No qualifiers.

I don’t know what all this means.  I feel I need to shout out into the void occasionally to say, remember… remember to love.  Remember to be kind.  Remember we’re, most of us, just doing the best we can to live our lives.  Remember we’re different, we’ve had different experiences.  Remember that’s OK.  Forget fear.  Remember to have wonder. Remember to be fair.  Remember to be gracious.  Remember to be gentle with the feelings of others.  Remember.  If we can, if we do, everything changes.  Love prevails, even in small moments, or big ones, like what’s happening in Houston.

We need to remember.

Time to Look in the Mirror

 

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Photo by TJ Parker

We see what we want to see.  That’s part of the problem.

I was perusing Facebook, which I must say prompts many posts on this blog, and I saw a theme.  Negativity.  Plain and simple.

There were posts about “those” people.  Of one sort of another.  You know them, the idiots, the ridiculous, the terrible, the stupid, the crazy, the deluded, the poor things… them.   They seem to be everywhere, “these” people.  They must be.  Everyone is talking about them.

Then it hit me.

We are a beautiful lot, humanity.  A tapestry like no other.  Preferences, likes and dislikes, and ways of being in the world that differ from each other.  We are sad or happy, diet coke or Pepsi, Chevy or Ford, Republican or Democrat,  dressing on the side or on the salad, rural or city,  cream or taking it black, gay or straight, married or single, serious or silly, tomAto or tomato, and on and on and on.  We love our families the best way we know how, we want the best for our kids or grandkids, we want to earn a decent living, take vacations, laugh a lot, and we want the right to live peacefully, with joy.  Each and every one of us.

But it’s not that simple.  Because what I noticed today, as I was perusing, was that people see what they want to see.  They notice what they want to notice.  I bet they don’t even know they’re doing it.  We seize on information, posts, articles, videos, that speak to us.  Things that in some way support our world view.  There’s probably a theme to how we post, what we post, etc., only we don’t even know it.

We need to pay attention.  To ourselves.  Instead of looking out at what that idiot said or didn’t say, which by the way, in and of itself, that language on its own, is wrong.  I would hope no one would put me in a class of “those idiots”, just because I happen to align myself with a certain ideology.  But they do.  Friends have posted many things about liberals being idiots or crazy or wrong or disturbed or… it goes on.  I’m shocked by it, every time.  Just as I’m sure some of my more conservative friends feel shocked or hurt when a liberal friend of theirs posts something about those idiotic conservatives.  Let’s be honest… none of us are idiotic.  We just don’t agree with each other.  That doesn’t make me an idiot, it just makes a person with a different opinion.

But I digress.   This doesn’t just apply to politics.  I noticed it applies to many things… the videos people choose to post, the things they choose to put out into the world under their own names…. it’s interesting.  Are you a person who posts things that are generally positive, generally informative, upbeat, things that speak to beauty and light and love.  I’ve seen those people, and honestly, I hope I’m one of them.  Or are you someone who sees the dark and the crazy and the wrong in everything and then feels the need to put it out there?  And if so, why? So others like you can agree how bad everything is, or so that you can enlighten those of us who may be Pollyannas who try to look for the good?  I’m not being rhetorical.  I really want to know.

There are people who feel the need to fight everything, against life and what they see as wrongdoing.  I get trying to fight for what you think is right.  I get speaking your mind and your truth.  What I don’t get is a person coming across some debasing or derogatory or hurtful thing and re-posting it.  What’s the purpose of spreading that kind of negativity?  If you have strong opinions, if you feel things are wrong in the world and need fixing, find what you think are some solutions, speak to issues from the place of problem-solving, not finger-pointing.  Re-posting terrible things, some not even based on truth, just for the sake of talking bad about someone or something, is wrong.  You aren’t shining a light on them, you’re shining a terrible light on yourself.

We need to look at ourselves.  Decide if we want to be people who create solutions, who seek a more beautiful world for all of us, or are we people who debase, make fun of, and act from fear.  Who do we want to be?  How do we want to live?  What do we want to be putting out there into the world?  What do we want to be teaching our kids about how to be in the world?  Hurtful to others, or uplifting to others.  It’s up to us.

Look in a mirror.  Look at your personal news feeds.  Look at everything you’ve posted in the last year and judge for yourself.  What kind of person are you?  Are you happy with that?  If not.  Change.  Let’s lift people up.  Let’s inspire with kindness and goodness and love. Let’s try to speak from joy.  From positivity.  From a place of understanding, humility, and love.

I know there are things wrong in the world.  I know there are things that need to be changed.  One of those things is people calling other people idiots or other derogatory names.  One of those things is people being hurtful just, it seems, to be hurtful.  Let’s start being, and communicating, like intelligent humans.  After all, we are.  Sometimes I think we just forget ourselves.  Get swept up.  Let’s be better.  Let’s look with better eyes and hearts at a world that is a beautiful, wondrous place.  Let’s talk about that.

52 Thoughts: Fifth Thought

 

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Photo by TJ Parker

I’ve been thinking.

Today the sky is blue.  It’s cold, but beautiful.  The birds are at the feeders.  The squirrels are trying to get to the feeders.  The dogs are chasing the squirrels.  They picked up our garbage and recycling today as per usual.  I’m listening to music.  We’re about to head to the gym to do some circuit training, then we’ll go grocery shopping.  Tonight we’ll make dinner.  At some point this afternoon we’ll try to take the dogs for a walk after we put the girlie’s sweater on, she gets cold.  We’ll eat dinner and watch some TV or a movie, maybe one we will be picking up at the library as we do our errands today.  My honey will work.  I’ll do laundry, empty the dishwasher, clean up the media room.  We will pet the dogs and cuddle them.  We will talk and laugh and smile at each other.

I’ve been thinking.

It’s a great life.  We have a great life.  It’s nice to remember that.

52 Thoughts: Fourth Thought

 

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Photo by TJ Parker

We have to hold onto each other.

It’s simple.  We need each other.  We always have.  No one person operates in a vacuum. We should be concerned for our fellow man.  We should find reasons to love, instead of reasons to push people away from us.

We get nowhere in life by isolating ourselves.  By only listening to ourselves and those who agree with us.  By thinking we have all the answers, that we know everything.

Certainty is good, but it should always be tempered by an open mind.  We should always be open to other ideas, to new ways of thinking, and to the fact that others might not agree with us.  Certainty doesn’t make what we think better than what those who disagree think.  That’s a common error.  Just because we believe something to be true, it doesn’t make our ideas better than the ideas of someone who doesn’t believe the same thing. Arrogance is never attractive and is often destructive to relationships and to the world.  We have to learn to accept that our way is our way, it works for us, but it might not for someone else, and that’s OK.  It doesn’t make them less than.

We need to hold onto each other.  To take care of each other.   We just do.