Author Archives: joejmedler

About joejmedler

Joe Medler lives in New Jersey with his wife, who is universally understood to be far too good for him, and his two young sons, who are far too smart for him. His work has been featured on MamaLode, The Original Bunker Punks and Sammiches and Psych Meds. You can find more of his work at https://developingdad.com/ and follow him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/developingdad

Upon Learning that Murder is Legal in Minnesota

  
Tho only farther from I and thee

I see a sparrow who speaks to me

Says this is mine for sight to see

Merely ask and it shall be
I never knew the Revereand speaking

Soaring and seeing that distant peeking

Around and over from those he preached to

The dream he knew only to speak to

A dream that fueled a fire burning

A dream that told of future learning

Inevitable, beseeching the men and women

Who knew not what he sought to teach them

That the dream was real, attained and waiting

He knew it and knew his time was wasting

So spread that dream he would and wallow

He knew the dream was gutted and hollowed

Space in dreamland was ever encroaching 

On dreams of others who never bespoke it

Who never acknowledged the obvious problem

That the dream had gardens and fences and watchmen

A dream that I’ll never know as fully

As he who saw it from high on the mountain

Who marvelled and wondered and wanted and spoke it

Suspect and craven he thought were the keepers

Of dreams that were lived out in lifetimes and lineage

Stretching in pigment cross narrow allotments

Guarded by gates that needed mending

So higher they built so the hordes from the mountain

Could never scale fully nor enter to eden

As gates were not ever the literal solution

Instead tip the world toward the dreamland 

Sew and water the mindset of me

The me that I cannot fully see

The one that knows that tonin and pigment

Are accidents of nature but minds are malignant

And seeds grow in fertile and vile gardens

That sort out those over the side of the mountain

That work and claim no favor but that which

Is acting in others to give me a blind switch 

That hides the injustice behind halfhearted effort

To see that the dream is left without effort

Of those who live it in pastures and suburbs

Deluding and ducking knowledge we don’t like

To claim all the credit and blame those we blocked out

Finding My Center

What is passing for ‘what I know’ today is that it’s pretty easy for small, practically imperceptible doubts that reside in the far reaches of my memory and dark corners of my conscience, upon finding one another, to amplify their small voices to such a degree that they can drown out all that confidence and self assuredness I’ve been gathering over the years. Doubt gathers in the dark and waits. It plans and attacks under the cover of propulsion, hidden by my aloof optimism and neverending schedule. But it can pounce.

There’s nothing in particular to note. Nothing I’ll signify here, and what my specific doubts are misses the point. Which for me is that more than anything I’m so grateful to my kids because they center me like nothing else. Like I guess my parents did when I was 5. In a way that is so massive and consequential in my life it’s a very good thing that they don’t have any clue that they carry this weight for me. They carry in them the ability for me to continue, never folding and never quitting. They are inspiration and reward. They are the end all and be all for me in a way no other people on earth could ever be. When they go to therapy to deal with the issues I’ll surely give them it will be something I hope they will be  able to take into consideration, how direly important they were and are and will always be to me. 

Really, I get a ton wrong. I yell like an angry, over the line drill seargent and immediately return to calm and measured. It’s effective and terrifying and surely I’m doing it wrong. Like the thousand other things I’m doing wrong. But they forgive and love me and let me stay here, in the middle of their universe. They give me everything by simply orbiting me. I won’t always be the sun and when it fades it will be my watching them venture off orbit that will center and sooth me. I don’t think I deserve it frankly, but it will happen that way and I’m forever greateful for it. 

I don’t know that I’ll be writing about them so much going forward. They are after all growing up  and the last thing I’d want is to hurt them in some inadvertent way. I’m not saying it won’t happen, but I’m likely to continue to shift the focus more to me and the forever becoming part of fatherhood that keeps me growing and moving forward. Still, I’ll be watching them and loving them every stop of the way. Worry is just starting to creep in. That’s a lie. Anyone who’s read my work knows I’m a worrier. But the fears of things that are unknown are becoming more serious. Why shouldn’t they be more serious. After all, the older they get the more tools they have. I will continue to write about my love for them. 

Amongst my greatest fears, and this likely says far more about me than it could possibly say about them, is that they will grow up and wonder if I loved them. If I thought of each one of them as individuals and was enamored and enthralled with them in the way that I should be. So I’ll tell them, in awkward and uncomfortable moments. I’ll relish the squirming of their tightly wound teen psyche’s recoiling from the embarrassing dad laying the ‘I love you’s’ on thick and frequently. At drop offs and pick ups and in front of friends. I’ll put it here so they’ll know I thought it before they ever knew it was a thing they’d wonder. But I’ll refrain from sharing them too much with the world. It is called Developing Dad, after all. It’s clearly a place where I should be sharing too much of me with the world. 

I wonder sometimes whether the dark visions that are making their way into my brain are a result of my aging. Am I’m simply going down the path I’ve so long been highlighting in my mind of old men who have become blind to the light, unable to train their focus away from the subtle dying of the light in order to see the abundance of good so clearly evident in the world. Am i simply a stereotype, a grumpy old man who sees a world growing ever more harsh and unforgiving. A world that doesn’t properly value love, empathy, responsibility or decency. A world devolving. It’s a world that’s easy to see these days, be it because I’m aging and falling in the trap I’ve so long focused on avoiding or because of a world that isn’t living up to the promises I thought it had made. Regardless, when I see my kids, when I’m with them or thinking of them I’m instantly back. Purpose returns. Love returns. Undeniable, unavoidable empathy and faith. It’s all in them. And to think, they think I’m the one they need. They couldn’t have it more wrong. 

Taken for Granted

More than anything in the world I’m grateful that we will have pizza this week. And vegetables. Fresh and frozen, canned. Whatever. I’m grateful that we know with near certainty that we won’t spend a minute thinking about whether or not we can eat.

I don’t always appreciate how safe I am. I lie in the dark and wonder if I left a lock unturned. I wonder if that was someone downstairs. I think about what is nearby that i could use to club a potential burglar or worse. Then I wait and wait and I forget about it and I go back to distracting myself with pictures of family and tales of struggle and memes that make me laugh. I watch highlights and listen to comedians interview each other on podcasts that I hear on my phone which can access, essentially, all human knowledge. I do all of it knowing I am not likely to have war greet me at the door. My children are not likely to learn the worst of life until they are ‘ready’ and then they will do so through books and movies and lessons and not life. I know the further out I project the less sure I can be of these things, but I’m confident.

I see pictures of children who are being greeted by a world that is roiling with chaos and violence the likes of which I can’t even truly imagine without a sheen of Hollywood staging and two dimensional falsehoods that are stored in my brain as images of war. Then a picture will turn up in the news of a child, a toddler, old enough to process but not enough to understand, if there is such an age, why the men are killing everyone, why these bombs are coming for them and I fall to pieces. I question everything. I wonder why I’m not doing more.

I didn’t know the gut punch of these pictures, these images until I had my boys. Until I had the identity of a parent. I could Identify tragedy, yes, but I feel it so very viscerally now. I see the confusion and fear and courage and bravery on the faces of children enduring war and I shutter at what they know. No 4 or 5 year old should know what these children know. I fall to pieces.

I don’t appreciate how good I have it and I never will. But at times it becomes starkly real when I see the world I’m protected from. The world I continue to place safely out of view. One I care about, want to change but am determined to not see. I don’t think this makes me a bad person, relatively speaking. Relatively speaking I’m fine. But I’m also selfishly and honestly and determinedly invested in keeping my boys out of those pictures. Out of harms way. Safe in this place where even the greatest tragedies, thus far are little more than inconveniences and mild disappointments when seen in the grand scheme of things.

I wish I was better than I am. I wish you were. I wish anyone who could would walk into hell and walk these children and their families out. I’d be so incredibly happy to help them, from here.

The Boys on the Trampoline

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I can’t begin to express how much I love this picture. I love that the tips of the pine are a lighter green, early spring and new. I love the underbrush, rich, lush and untamed. I love the slide you so long ago conquered now used solely as a ladder to a bigger kids toy. I love the soccer ball alone under the slide. Mostly I love the two of you, sitting with your backs to the house, both looking out and talking without us there.

I know that you’re saying things of no immediate import. Maybe Teddy is asking a question of you, Charlie, something he’s curious about. Maybe Charlie is imagining your boundryless stories that you offer in real time, words barely outpacing your synapses as you get yourself excited by the places your brain can take you, Teddy. Maybe you’re just taking a breather. 

Part of what I feel when I see this is a certain loneliness. It’s mine. It’s the kind many men feel as far as I can tell. Many people I should say. It’s a little scary to me because I’m seeing the seeds of future states these days in ways where I can’t help but project onto you my experience. The truth is I look at this and the first feeling is hope. Hope that you both will know how much you are loved. Hope that you will love each other. Hope that you will endure whatever is out there that we can’t see, that you will have to figure out. Hope that you’ll have empathy for each other and for yourselves. 

It’s easy these days to lose sight of what’s important. We live in an area and I daresay a time when parents are a bit too involved in the process of raising kids. It’s not a criticism, it just seems that way. There is so much being emphasized on the important things that aren’t all that important. Homework in kindergarten seems a harbinger of a severely out of whack system. I want you to learn that love and kindness and empathy are the best protection you have. I want you to know how to be loved and how to love. I don’t really care if you aren’t hitting milestones or excelling in the way you should be. I want you to learn to look inside for validation. I want you alone to determine what makes you happy. I want you to have extraordinary lives, not necesarrily over or overtly successful one’s. I want you to know how much is enough and to be grateful that you have it.

As you sit there side by side I want you to know that that is home. When you are 18 and 16 and one is going to college and one is staying I want you to feel the pain of loss but know you won’t be alone. When hearts are broken in minor and major ways I want you to sit on a bench like you are in this trampoline and just be brothers. I want you to be better at family than I am and I think you already are. 

You are our little boys and we will be here to protect you for what feels like forever to those two little boys in the trampoline. But watching you there together I can’t help but yearn for a snow globe to descend from above, covering you and us and our home and our yard and stopping it all from moving forward. 

I remember fifteen years ago like it was yesterday and time is only slipping faster from this particular vantage point. in a blink you’ll both be in your 20’s and I’ll be nearing 60. I’ll give you all the wisdom I can mine within me and I’ll keep searching and scraping for more, but when it fails, and it will one way or another, always remember that you have each other. 

None of life is guaranteed except for yesterdays. Collect as many as you can and hold them as long as you can. For me I’ll add this sight of you two figuring out life together from the comfort of your backyard and I will feel very lucky that I get to know you. 

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Feeling the Love

Basketball player. That was the first dream.
More than anything I wanted to be a professional basketball player. I wanted it so badly that I played every day. All day. Not always easy for a kid from a top 5 snowiest city. Fine, I lived 20 mins from that city. Still, I spent a good many a days shoveling the playground courts across the street. braving wind and rain. Lighting up the court while running down car batteries.
I didn’t become a pro. That’s for sure. People who’ve met me as an adult might find it hard to imagine. I’m not really carrying a basketball players body these days.
I got pretty good. Real good. Good enough to make teams with guys who would make the pros. Good enough to run on the highest level court at any open gym. Not great, but pretty good.
By the time I got close enough to greats to know I wasn’t going to make it I got disappointed. Inertia kept me going. Inertia and the energy of youth and a deep love of the game. But I burned myself out. I was the kid that dribbled a mile or two to school and back, shot until my mom would make me come in as the sound of the ball on the concrete surely was keeping up the neighbors. I didn’t go pro, not even close, but I got a ton out of trying. I travelled, accomplished a good deal and even got in to college.
I was a failing student. Not a bad one, a failing one. You had to get 3 F’s to fail off the team in high school, so I’d carried two and came close with the rest. I’ve never liked school. But I’m very thankful I went to college.
I liked night classes. They tended to be populated by grown people, moms and dads going back to school or people looking to change careers, looking for a new direction. For me the appeal was that instead of 3 one hour classes a week there was 1 three hour class per week. I used to joke, ‘I can skip the whole week at once. Just think how much more efficient that is.’
In one of those classes I heard from the Executive Director of the local ARC who described what it was like to try to make a difference by helping others. It sounded great. I liked the idea of toiling for good. I liked the idea of waging a war on behalf of those that had been unfairly treated. I was in Human Services to that point because it was an easy course of study. That night would change that. I didn’t become a better student, but at least I was in the right place.
A senior girl who I knew in passing described an experience working at a summer camp. This camp was for adults, many of whom were ‘graduates’ of the Willowbrook state school. If you don’t know what that is (I didn’t) look it up.
Anyway, she described her experience, working morning to night in cabins and in pools and in music and arts and crafts classes, with adults with disabilities. Physical and developmental. Well, it sounded awesome.Truth be told, she struck me as the type of person that couldn’t do something so selfless. I was wrong, obviously. Both that she couldn’t and that it was selfless. Not at all selfless. It may be the place I’ve given the most of myself, but it’s also where Ive taken the most.
Over the eight years I worked there, starting a career in the field, I learned a thing or two about perseverance. Working with individuals who struggle day to day, but thrive through grit, determination and practiced indifference to the naysaying of others, I learned that it starts with trying. And trying starts with saying what you want.
As silly as it was to me to even think it, I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write and get paid for it. I wanted to be a writer.
Turns out its not as easy as saying you want to. Unfortunately, you have to actually try. You have to try and fail a lot. Becoming a writer has made me learn that if a writer tells you, no, you don’t want to read this stuff I wrote, you should believe them. That’s how mine was for a long time. Now you STILL may not want to read my work, but at least it’s passable.
There’s truth to people who say all you need to do to be a writer is write. It’s true. But you can pass that hurdle and still not ‘feel’ like a writer. Until you feel like a writer you’ll never describe yourself as one.
I felt like a writer after I shared my work on a fateful winter morning on Medium and shared it with my facebook friends. I literally hit share and sprinted away from my computer and out for lunch. When I returned there were 20 or so amazing notes of encouragement. So many people who read it and liked it enough to tell me. It was unbelievable.
The next amazing feeling was being paid. I sold a piece to Mamalode. It was the sweetest and most impactful $20 I will ever earn. Someone not related to me, someone who didn’t even know me, bought my words. Breaking a big market, a Scary Mommy was amazing and a few bucks more. Being selected as a spotlight blogger for a dad blogger conference, well, I had no idea how big it was until I was there. I honestly didn’t know. It was great.
This past week it’s come full circle. I’ve written a book and I feel like a writer. Not in the way I imagined I would, I’m not retiring from the day job any time soon. I self published. It was not some bidding war. In fact, if you totaled the dollars I’ve earned and the dollars I’ve spent in pursuing my dream of being a writer you’d find a fairly decent sized number under the ‘break even’ line.
Something different started happening this past week. All these people I grew up with, in one place or another, at home or at camp or somewhere those places took me, they started buying my book and posting pictures of themselves with the book or of the book posed and lighted or in their hands. And they are saying the loveliest things. They are helping me, showing off my book and helping me sell it to people who don’t know me. Not sure anyone who doesn’t know me has bought one yet and I don’t care. I’d love if they did, but it’s not the point.
Book.SelfiesThese book shots and paperback selfies, they are amazingly touching. I can’t begin to describe to you how much they all mean to me. In a very real sense they are a literal dream come true. They are kindness and generosity and love I can feel. I’m moved beyond words and grateful to no end.
I never feel like thank you is enough. I start vomiting exclamation points. I start thanking so earnestly it might sound insincere, it might even read that way to me, but it couldn’t be more honest. I’m so very thankful.
If you are on my friend list it may seem silly that 10 or 12 people are doing this, it may start to seem silly, laughable or even annoying. I don’t care. I will love these pictures every day for the rest of my life. They are the product of so many kind and charitable souls celebrating a friend who is trying. To my eyes these pictures will ALWAYS be beautiful.
Thank you.

All This

All this. The writing. The fighting. The bailing and sorting. All of it is to fend off, to hold at bay that which I can’t honestly accept. I know it. I can tell you roughly when it will happen, but I can’t honestly accept that I will die.

My unwillingness is part of my process. I acknowledge it, consider it as often as daily. But still, I can’t accept it.

Perhaps that’s okay. Maybe that’s my way of feeling it. Perhaps the coexisting knowledge and the unavailing, unable acceptance are set in contrast to highlight for me the value of this beautiful, maddening, moving and exhausting existence. It’s possible that these countervailing internal realities provide propulsion and chip away at resistance. 

I’m more tired than I used to be and strangely more motivated to leave some essential mark on the landscape of my life. It’s possible this is the result of a desire to stretch my finite to infinite. I could be trying to extend my influence beyond my horizon. Seeking such validation nakedly is often viewed as shallow but I’m okay with the idea.

Problem is I don’t know that life will allow me understanding. It seems it will find new ways to slip my grip if I’m ever able to grasp it and wrangle it for so much as a moment. The meaning I give to the experience may be all I’m afforded. Might be all any of us are. If so I’ll know this, though wishing and wanting it ever to have been more, I’ll die knowing I’d never want it any other. I’ll know mine was a fortunate life. Were I to die before typing this line I can assure you it would be the passing of a lucky man who was given his share and then some of love and experience and challenge and comfort. 

I don’t know what all this is for and I don’t know what it is that pushes me. I know however that life is short and it would be if lived in triplicate. I can’t stop thinking and won’t stop looking for meaning I know will elude me.