A Note to my Sons On How Men Get it Wrong

To my sons.

There’s a lot I can help you with. Even more, I suspect that I’ll try to help you with. Perhaps even long past when you cease needing it. At those times I suspect you’ll be frustrated. You’ll wish to be left to do things on your own. You’ll wish it too early and I’ll let go too late. That’s what a good dad does. While I can’t give you everything you’ll ever need I will do my best to give you a good dad. In that attempt it occurs to me that there are some things I should share with you when they occur to me. This is one of those times.

img_3575You are little boys right now and I can’t tell you how delightful that is. For us and for you. Your problems are plentiful but mostly easily solved. Life has only just started and without a baseline for context the fact that your brother wants to play with your Halloween costume is enough to  bring you to tears. We hug you and kiss you and assure you that those tears are not necessary. We might be wrong. We’re wrong a lot. Anyway, I went a long time without crying. I cried so much when I was little, just about the ages you guys are now, that I was removed from Kindergarten. I wasn’t ready and as a result I cried everyday until all the grown ups agreed with what I knew. I wasn’t ready.

I believe that men have often so confused the concepts of weak and strong that it’s a reasonable conclusion to come to when you are young that true weakness is strength and true strength is weak. It’s a real mindf*ck for young men. We are taught that crying is weak. We are told that needing others is a sign of weakness. We are told to ignore pain. To quiet our emotions. To not emote, to be stoic. Truth is I don’t know if I was ever told these things but I knew them. The message got through that manhood, that true masculinity was immune to pain, stoic and self-reliant.

This is total bullshit. It took me way too long to understand that.

To the contrary. In many cases those very same attributes, at least for me, were indicative of my own fear. I think I went a good decade without crying. I trained myself to be stoic, literally berating myself and commanding myself to be disciplined and to shut up when I would drive to parties or family gatherings. Seriously. I’d say it out loud. ‘Just shut the fuck up. Why do you have to make a comment about everything. Shut. Up.’ And when I’d do it, when I’d stay aloof and removed and not needing of so much attention, I’d be proud of myself. And I wasted yet another chance I had to tell people how much they meant to me, how much I needed them, to show them how much they meant to me because I was trying to be something I thought I was supposed to be. Strong. Stoic. Self reliant. I wasn’t any of those things. I was weak. I was afraid to be myself. I was a million miles from being able to ask for what I needed. I was a man.

img_3520Well, it turns out that strength is exactly where I thought it wasn’t. I’m 42 years old now and I’m as prone to tears as I was at just about your age. I’m as needing of the love and support of my family as you are now, just in a different way. And I’m oodles happier for being comfortable with the truth which is that it is so much better to be able to ask for help than it is to be staunchly resistant to it.

I asked for a little help, in an office, from a professional. I figured out, with her help, that I needed to poke some holes in the bubbles I’d surrounded myself with and I did that, after years and years of avoiding it, by having a long overdue reality testing (revealing) conversation with your amazing Nana, my mom. I confirmed that it was okay to need someone by falling fully in love and revealing my full self to your mother when we met, almost immediately upon meeting, actually. Finally, I was a changed man who understood what it meant to be strong when I held you the first time and shed tears I didn’t know I had.

Don’t be afraid of feelings. They are to be embraced and explored. The reality is you can ignore them forever but if you do you’ll miss out on all that life had to offer.

I Am Dad

I’m feeling kinda done with writing about parenthood. It was a massive transformation and now I’m transformed.

img_3451Parenthood is a sequence of workaday realities that once awed and floored me in a way that when not paralyzing, was heartbreakingly beautiful and expansive. Well, its still those things, really, I just can’t throw as much emotional energy behind it all anymore. I am still transported on a daily basis to a place of awe and wonder, but it’s often fleeting. It has to be. Any moment of daydreaming and self reflection is necessarily interrupted by the mundanity of daily life with a 5 and freshly minted 4 year old.

Gone is the exhaustion fueled deluge of emotional frailty and excruciatingly earnest expressions of fawning and perspectiveless love. It is not as sad as it sounds. These feelings are still there, behind all the work. Gone however is the constant feeling of being overmatched by the task at hand. It’s been replaced by a security you only have when you have a steady hand and a clear eyed confidence that you are up to the task.

img_3402Sure, we could feed them better food, we could replace TV shows and movies with family activities, we could certainly stand to reduce screen time and increase story time. We could even take better care of ourselves come to think of it. We could sleep more. We could drink more water and less wine (okay, I’m the wine drinker). We could be more physical and less sedentary. We could stand to spend less time on our screens and could be more patient and less prone to yelling. Where was I going with this… ?

Whatever. All of it is to say we got this. We get a ton wrong, but we’re doing it. Not everything is a trauma and drama. We’ve left the bubble where reflection and exploration were how we retained a sense of self as we changed to who we needed to become.

Being a parent, a dad, is now a fully ingrained part of me. It’s who I am and I’m no longer struggling to fit into this new uniform. Its on and worn in at this point. My mistakes are not as often the learning and growing experiences they once were. Now they are just human. Just what it’s like being this guy.

img_3373What hasn’t changed is the love. The fascination. The endless desire to be connected to these people. My tiny tribe. Karen and I have rediscovered each other and it’s never been better. We’ve never been closer or more in love. The kids are still orbiting us, tied to our motions and our decisions and our schedule but they are drifting. They have interests beyond us and it’s amazing to us what is so natural to anyone else. It amazes us simply because we have all of the wonder and awe of the first time they opened there eyes stored in our hearts and to see them venture and wander, well, it can make you swallow hard and hold back a tear now and again. Just as fast the moment passes and we are swept up into the day to day grind of running a house, a car service, a grocery and a restaurant (specializing in nuggeted nutrition of dubious value), a recreation department, an education system, social services organization, a health and safety inspection unit, a counseling service and cleaning service (which is a failing venture if ever there was one) and to a degree we never could have before, we love doing it. It’s our life’s work. For now the emphasis is on work but down the road, and not too far, it’ll be understood much more so as our life.


Picture Day 

Today is picture day. You are wearing a new blue button down shirt and we packed a more durable, comfortable shirt in your bag for you to wear at after school. I have my suspicions as to whether you’ll change, though. You are so proud of yourself today and you know you are handsome. It doesn’t occur to you to be bashful, to quell your pride. You smiled this morning and you were excited. Today is picture day.

Picture day is a day for us too. It’s a day to get a snapshot of you in Kindergarten. A chance for us to attempt earnestly to do the impossible. To capture you as you are now, to freeze you in this moment. We do it so we can share this moment with the wide world of people that love you. To capture and disseminate your joyful boyishness so that even a tiny bit can be transported across space and your Grandma and Koba and Nana and Papa can hold this part of you from hundreds of miles away. So they can put you on the fridge and look at you whenever they wish. So they can show their friends and your relatives, ones you don’t even know yet, how well you are doing. So they can feel pride. Not only in you, but in us.

We also take these pictures so that we, your mommy and daddy, can travel through time to right now. It’s important. We dress you in your finest and we do your hair especially carefully. I think you may have even had your first encounter with hairspray this morning. We do it as it is our wont. We want you to look your finest and be happy. So we can find this picture a few years from now when you are perhaps a bit self conscious and less open to us combing your hair. When you try to comply and smile, but when that smile is put on, something to think about and not so much your default facial expression. We will come back in time to this picture and the others like it to remember who you are inside, at least the part of who you are that we first met. We’ll always see that part, even after you’re convinced it’s not there anymore. We’ll know it’s just dormant. You will never look like you do now and that’s important to memorialize, but you will feel this way again, but it will be tempered by life and what it teaches you.

Innocence is highly overrated. But it is also a real and wonderful part of being five and while you are a more mature boy everyday and while we love that you can be quiet and contemplative from time to time, there is something we will miss about this time you are rapidly graduating from where you are earnest and honest with us and yourself by default. You haven’t gotten too caught up in fitting in. Too caught up in trying on identities you conjure. Instead you look at the camera proud because you are handsome, funny, smart and loved and you know it. And so do we.

We’ll know it when you are away at college and going on adventures to find yourself. When you are busy developing and defining your purpose.  We will look at this picture and the others, the ones from every step on the way and we will be recognizing ours. We will see all that went in to getting you to picture day and take pride in us, all of us, for doing what we did together. We will still be doing it, but it will look a lot different than it does now, all of us smooshed together, experiencing it as one and interpreting it individually. There might be times when these interpretations are deceptive and we struggle to stay positive. You may need to distance yourself and we may reactively hold tighter. You’ll surely have to push us away someday, just like we will surely have to nudge you along from time to time. It will all be from love, but it might not always feel that way. When it doesn’t these pictures will help.

They’ll help you too. You’ll look back and remember vividly some things. I remember my mother wetting the comb and working with my cowlick. Trying over and over to supress my hairs natural desires in an attempt to look my best. Licking her thumb and cleaning the smudges from my cheek. I remember the brown bags we used for lunches that my father would sit at the table at night and decorate. I’ll remember the joyful pink elephant sitting under the lone palm tree on the tiny island on a lunch bag that I used repeatedly that I loved so much that he made for me. It’s another framed talisman from a time gone by that I cling to, though after my many adult moves I can’t say I know exactly where it is. I’ll find it someday, probably too late, and when I do I’ll cry tears of love and joy.

Hopefully when you look back, from a great distance and see your picture you’ll see love. The love and time and unabashed joy we took in giving you what we had. In doing our best to make sure you were taken care of, that you knew you were loved. Because when we look at them, when we travel through time and space to see the you you are now it will be with joy. It will be with love. It will be with longing for the time we had with you and the many journey’s you are surely going to take.

I Hate School

img_3083I hate school.

I hope you won’t but I fear you will.

Let me be clear. I don’t fear you will fail at school. You are INSANELY smart and I suspect you will soar at school. My fear is that school will fail you. Will turn your attention from satisfying and stirring curiosity to simple and attainable achievement. That a fire you carry will dim in order that the oxygen it would have taken to be stoked from a flame to an inferno will be otherwise deployed to satisfy the wishes of others. It’s hard to stay away from that. You’ll spend lots of energy pursuing that which you may be unsure of to pursue the expectations you are handed. A little of that is okay, good even. But only enough to learn that you aren’t here alone and you are accountable to others. Beyond that my only wish is that you find that which excites you and you pursue it without fear, embracing the failures that come from trying new things. Staying true to yourself will make most failures tolerable and some downright necessary. Just remember that failures are not end points. They are merely spots on the journey.

School made me horribly self critical. I don’t know why but it did. As you prepare to head out for your first day you are so much more prepared than I was. Still I find myself regressing. I sat with your mother last night and it all came out. I’m horrified and angry that you are heading to school. I had a miserable first few years at school and as a result I learned how to be liked regardless of whether or not I was remaining true to myself. I lacked confidence and swam in conformity. As much as I could. My heart and mind were free, but under wraps. All that time and energy spent hiding me made me wonder if I was worth anything.

img_3078If anyone ever laughs at you or says something critical about who you are ignore them. Seriously. Hold on to your kind heart, smart head, unique tastes and your loving and weird family.  If you do you’ll see these clowns for who they are. Okay, there was a tad more anger in this sentiment than intended. Truth is most of them are scared and excited and wanting to hide in a corner unnoticed while also wishing to have all the attention possible. Growing up is confusing sometimes. The only power anyone has over your opinion of yourself is the power you grant them. Don’t give it. Hold firm. You are weird and wonderful and unique and perfectly flawed and loved. Find the people that are engaged in the things you want to be doing, regardless of what anyone else thinks about them, and sit with them. If it takes weeks or months or years, I don’t care. Stay where you want to be, don’t go where you’re ‘supposed’ to be.

I love you so much and for one of the few times since meeting you I’m shaken. It caught me off guard. I’ve been spouting the ‘I hate school’ gospel for over 35 years now. But I didn’t realize how much I feared it until I was seeing it through your eyes. Seeing it from a perspective of a protective dad. Seeing it as someone who is certain that school worked in reverse, at least for me. It killed enthusiasm, stoked self-consciousness, raised fear and followed through on it. I know this won’t happen to you, so why am I now thinking thoughts I haven’t thought since I was your age. Feeling scared that kids might make fun of your stuff. Hoping to god you aren’t picked on. Feeling a visceral concern that you have the wrong hair or wrong shirt or wrong glue sticks and you’ll react like I did.

This is your journey and I have to check out of it. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but this part of me, I have to protect you from it. Maybe when you are older we can talk about it. When we are two adults. Not now.

You really are going to do amazing things. You’re going to LOVE school! YOU are going to make friends today that will be your friends for the next 13 years and probably for the rest of your life.

YOUR LIFE. I’m sorry if I forget that at times.

I Don’t Want to Let Go

imageTeddy still babbles. He’ll sit with the Lego Duplo’s and play by himself and there is a stream of playful and emotive gibberish. He has started to use words and and pretend and play make believe with his creations and the figurines, but if I listen in the right way, if I’m able to listen loosely I can still hear the patter of the 2 year old he was.

Being a parent is a lot. Early on we weren’t up to the task. Seriously. We are excellent, loving parents. Any kid, and I mean any kid at all would be lucky to have us. But the truth is that as excellent as we are as parents, we just aren’t very good at it. We don’t revert naturally to routine. We don’t always provide excellent examples and we are just terrible at doing so many of the things that we are ‘supposed’ to do.

Our house is a mess and while it’s better than it was, it’s never gonna be an ordered and soothing environment. I like to think that has to do with our artistic bent, that our clutter and struggle to eliminate is an element of us that is strongly informed by our connectedness and the meaning we see all around us. Meaning that I turn into stories.

imageWe don’t sleep train. We shouldn’t have to at this point, frankly. Our kids are well past the age when that should not be a thing that needs doing. I’m afraid that if our kids are ever to get themselves to bed, it’s gonna happen on it’s own. For now we each take one and we snuggle and struggle and ultimately find them asleep sometime within a couple hours of getting them up the stairs and into their rooms. In my case, with the three year old it is sometimes in the chair after losing the fight of getting him to calm down in his bed. Other times it is both of us on the floor looking up at the green stars on the ceiling that emanate from Winnie’s honey pot when you press the bee. Sometimes we find the moon, other times we find the one constellation, an outline of Mickey Mouse’s head. Yep, Disney even invades their sleep. Still other times it’s on the ‘big boy bed’ the five year old will be moved to once I am able to solve this endlessly flummoxing Rubik’s Cube of a task that I am told should never have been allowed to get to this point. In my moments of confidence, a wonderful if fleeting thing when it comes to my life as a dad, I like to think that whatever we’re losing by not giving them normalized sleep routines is more than made up for by the love and feeling of security we’re giving them by never leaving.

imageWe are inconsistent practitioners of reward systems, a crime doubly indictable as I’ve been designing and implementing such programs for much of my 20+ year career. We don’t practice anything approaching appropriate self-care. The clothes are piled up, usually separated into piles that require sniff tests to determine whether they are clean or dirty. We take them into our bed and let them stay the night. Every time. We are wonderful parents to have as we never fail to give love. But we are just not very good at the component skills.

I’m not complaining. Well, not much. Now that our lives are this way I can honestly say there’s very little I would change. Perhaps I’d employ more consistent rewards or maybe I’d have a few more date nights. I’d certainly have a neater pile of clutter, that’s for sure. Okay, there’s a lot I’d change.

But I won’t, because at this point, this is who we are. We are fumbling through this thing together, imperfect as hell. I’m not saying we refuse to grow or we won’t change. We’re changing all the time, growing all the time. We’re just doing it together. At this point that means we’re messy, tired, together and happy.

imageI don’t know how much longer I’m going to be able to hear through the coherent play and listen to the babbling that is working it’s way fully out of my son’s mouth. Truth is I might already have heard the last of it. That’s the thing. Nothing we do is going to stop them from growing up. Nothing I do will keep us from watching life slip ever past. The older they get and the older we get the more clear it becomes that none of it is forever. None of it lasts like I’d like it to.

It kills me to think that I’m ever going to step out, I’m ever going to be finished. With loving and watching and helping and messing up with my kids. That I’m ever going to walk away from my wife who I’ll never see again or that she’ll have to walk away from me. I don’t want any of this to change because for the first time since I was too young to understand the implications of it, I don’t want to ever die.

I want to live forever and never say goodbye. Never grow old. Never die. I want to live this life I have for a million lifetimes. Not some version of it, not some other life, but this one. Mine. With the same pains and the same joys. Now everyday that goes by where I don’t hear my boy babble, like the ones that came before he uttered a sound and relied on us for his every aspect of existence, every tiny change that moves some aspect of their lives to the past is a process. One of letting go. That is how we think of it.

I often think that parenthood is the first time it’s highlighted for you that so much of life is the process of constantly letting go. It is, but it also isn’t. It gives me some agency, some power, some sense that this is my choice. To let go. To slowly choose to hand away life one tiny handful at a time, knowing that at the end the last thing I’ll let go of will be life itself. It’s inevitable. It’ll be all I have left to hand over.

imageThat’s not how it is though, is it? I don’t want to let any of it pass. I want to live equally in the moments where I was three, sitting on my momma’s lap playing with her long hair that flowed out of her ’70’s style bandana, staring at the wooden cross hanging from a leather strap around her neck. I want to spend eternity smiling at the brown lunch bag my father drew pictures on just for me. I want to fall in love for the first time at 12 years old and play act what I thought it meant to lose it all. I want to feel lean and limber and strong and beautiful as I dance with a basketball unafraid of anyone who might wish to stop me. I want to be brash and cocky and altogether terrified on my first day of college and I want the world to open up to me at camp as I found what it was I’d do the rest of my life. I want to meet my wife, sit on those bar stools forever. Falling in love and diving into the unknown. I want to have my kids, meet them for the first time, and I want to watch them grow and marvel at the spectacle. I want all of this to be held. Why would I ever let go of this?

The answer is obvious. We ‘let go’ because we have no choice. Because we can’t choose to hold on. That being said, I want to get as much of this as I can. I want to watch my boy play on the floor with not a care in the world but what the little elephant on the back of his train that he built from Lego’s and imagination is going to do next. Forever.



Losing My Cool

‘If Charlie starts telling you anything about a coin, there was some confusion, he told us what some other kids did and then they started making him feel guilty… Just, Charlie was a good boy. He did the right thing. Just in case he brings it up, just know that Charlie was good.’

While I was happy to hear that in the judgment of his amazingly wonderful Pre-K teacher my boy used good judgement, I’m thinking that we might be heading toward some murky waters.

imagePlayground justice is as powerful as any other form during childhood and having the teachers get your back, though definitely preferred by me, might not bode well moving forward. No one uses the term tattle-tale anymore, do they? Whatever. Truth is I want my kid to be the Narc, I just don’t want him to be known as the Narc. While it shows good decision making to my thinking, it also is a decidedly uncool position to be cast in. Perhaps uncool is a good thing. Probably not.

Your sense of who you are starts by what you see. Did for me. When I was little I learned what cool was by seeing it. It was easy to spot. It was the kid on the playground with all the other boys around him. The one who understood sports. The one that could talk about the Bills on a Monday and strike me out with a wicked curve in kickball. Yes. Kickball striker outer right here. These boys had it all. They could throw a punch and entertain the crowd by telling them about the witches that lived in the old, stone, windowless building in the corner of the playground. The one you’d come to realize was there merely as a shed for maintenance equipment years later, but one you would still keep your distance from now as you’d never seen anyone open the padlocked door to grab a rake or mow the lawn.

I don’t know what it feels like to be that cool kid in grade school. I know what it was like to see them. I know what it was like to study them. I know what it was like to be jealous of them

IMG_0144I was a baby. No two ways about it. I cried my way out of kindergarten and was  a mama’s boy through and through in those early days. The pendulum would swing as widely in the other direction as it could shortly, to the point where i was a full on tool dreading my mom coming to my games come 7th grade. I now thank god I had a mother who would have been hurt by me making those feelings known and ignoring me and coming anyway. But by 12 I’d figured out that having a mom wasn’t cool.

I had a lot of these stupid thoughts about cool and for the most part it worked. After my early days as a playground target who told on everyone because I thought it’s what everyone was supposed to do, I learned. Don’t say anything. Ever. To anyone. Now I was young and possessing an energy that couldn’t stick to such a plan around kids, but I could do it at home. I’d never tell on anyone anymore, wasn’t my business. Besides, didn’t always work out when people find out you told. Leads to some penalties on the playground. Punishments that would last until I left for public schools in the fifth grade where I got a fresh start and was, POPULAR. It was amazing. I wasn’t going to mess it up!

That led to the period of my life where I could maintain my cool by watchfulness. By never betraying vulnerability and by living up to what it meant to be cool, as defined by my peers. I’m trying hard to speak to it without being pejorative because I see now that it was a  part of getting down the path for me and having that popularity made me VERY lucky.

Anyone that tells you having a level of popularity in high school is bad is probably actually talking about the part you have to do next, when  you have to transition out of that life. That part can be hard. Finding coolness within you and of you, coolness that emanates from within, that might be looked at as decidedly uncool when seen by others. Getting to that, leveling up and determining your own cool, that’s the good stuff, but man, after years of depending on bankable external validation, it’s tough.

In my case it lead to some dark dark times. Times that lasted plenty of years. Times that found me reorienting my view of the world, who was important in it and where I could fit and who exactly I was when I stripped away the tyranny of coolness as defined by others. A thing I didn’t fully do, couldn’t have, until I had kids. My cool now looks like the furthest thing from cool and I’ve never been more sure of it, confident in it. My cool is in me and what isn’t in me doesn’t matter.

2013-02-05 10.40.55My kids gave me that final piece. They were the final step to self-actualizing my cool. A college professor once captivated me with his description of ‘locus of control.’ It was a time in my life when I was thinking a lot about who I was and who I would be. A thing you may have noticed is something I still enjoy working on. In any case, when it comes to cool I’d come a long way from those playground days when I had little clue as to where or what it meant to be cool. So I looked for it. It was easy to find, it was over there. Go be that. And I did and I was eventually successful. But that becomes hollow, because I’m a human, full of life and thoughts and ideas and my own particular set of traits and eventually that had to come out. I hated myself for this at first. I did. I tried everything to suppress and it worked. And I stayed a version of cool that I had grown to hate. On some level that time was important to as it forced me to acknowledge that I knew what my cool was even if I was determined to deny it.

Then I found others. Others who wanted to be more specifically like the me I wanted to be but wasn’t able to be due to restrictions I’d placed on myself in service to others sense of cool. Well, turned out a lot of what I thought was cool, who I thought was cool, wasn’t. It was decidedly mean. I was never going to be mean. Don’t get me wrong I’ve been mean to people a ton, but those were specific relationships and I was human and messed them up. Because I was young, selfish and stupid, but no more so than most. When I found others that wanted to be helpers it was great. It brought control of cool much closer to me. It was in reach. I still worked to serve it, but it was true to me and thus a new level, a more real cool.

Then I met my lady. She looked at me like I was cool. In my basic clothes, tucked in shirts and buzzed hair, she saw right through to the part of me that was smart, funny and creative and loved me for those reasons. For the real parts of me. The parts that were still to afraid to show the world, but were happy to come out and play with her. She really did save me.

Then my kids. They made me stop all pretense. My love for them was so complete that I wanted to be the truest me I could be so I will be able to both model that behavior in hopes that they can avoid some of the pitfalls that I didn’t. That way they might not make some of the stupid decisions I made and might be able to get to who they are, owning their own cool, unshakable by the whims of those around them. Self-actualized cool.

IMG_0077I know that the journey is murky. It has to be. The fact is life has to throw things at you that don’t have right answers. It has to make you make decisions that are yours and yours alone so you can find out who you are. So you can determine what is right for you, so you can make mistakes and grow and learn from them.

But from here, from this angle, seeing them start so young to enter the murky waters of figuring it all out, it does start to give me a little tightness in my chest…

Riding the Wave

IMG_5889Put aside your beliefs of what is possible and imagine opening your eyes and seeing God. Not the back lit, arms outstretched, hovering in the air with flowing robes God. Imagine if he were just there. Maybe watching TV or sweeping or doing the dishes. A laundry folding God. There to protect you and keep you warm. Saving you from every imaginable danger. Feeding you three times daily and singing you beautiful songs until you fell asleep. A god that would put the sun away when you were tired and one that was there no matter when you cried out for her. A god that knew he was the biggest creature you’d ever seen and spent her time reassuring you that he was always there to protect you.

Now, imagine this god growing old before your eyes. Imagine this god making a handful of mistakes that feel like the end of the world when they happen. God doesn’t make mistakes. One day you realize that it was all a trick. God wasn’t god. She was just a person. Just like you. One that makes mistakes. Not many, but after years of being god it doesn’t take many before you lose faith. How could you have made me so foolish, thinking you were not only special but all powerful? Forget benevolent. A benevolent god wouldn’t have made me so fallible, wouldn’t have been so fallible.

I once watched a NOVA episode on fractals. On the endlessly recurring structural similarities of things. About the Tree whose limbs mimic the parent tree, whose branches mimic the limbs, whose twigs, whose leaves. It was fascinating. It pointed to waves in the ocean being made up of endlessly cresting miniature versions of waves, those made up of even smaller versions of the same. This principle is seemingly isomorphic. Perhaps social science is already settled on this and I’m following a road to an inevitable dead end, I don’t know, I don’t research. To me it looks like their is a good deal of this type of growth in the ever cresting beat of the human story, all of us repeating and taking the rough shape of those that have come before and passing it forward so often to those that come after.

2015-06-13 21.40.59I don’t think there’s any avoiding the fact that someday I will have to apologize to my kids for the mistakes I made. In the midst of all the struggle to be a good parent, of all the effort put in making the best life we know how to make for our kids the truth is that at some point I’ll be held to account for some arbitrary reason and that will build on itself until the ultimate apology might never satisfy someone who is upset that I’m not the reason the sun comes up, I’m not able to assure all the safety I promised, I will make unfair decisions and many wrong ones. I will not live forever and I will not always be there, at least not in the way I promise them I will be. The disappointment is real. I imagine there was a time when my anger left my parents in true pain. Of course it did, they loved me and I was in pain.

This is a point in time in the life cycle of the wave and it to passes.

If you are able to stay around long enough they forgive. Usually long after the time they stop holding you to account for all that they felt broken by. They come to learn that despite not being all knowing, you were incredibly good to them. You were kind and tried your best. You were human, just like they are. Sometimes, as has happened to me only after having kids, they come to marvel at the job their parents did. At the amount of love that was passed on every day in an effort to make sure that you were safe and loved and able to swim. They watched you sink, first in the pool then at the school then with a girl and then with life and all it’s responsibilities they had made invisible to you. They did it all so you could learn to swim, to navigate the lunchroom, to talk to the girl and to pay the bills.

Somewhere in the course of standing up to all those fears, slaying some monsters and climbing those mountains it occurs to you that you aren’t doing it alone. It feels that way at first, but every time you look back they are their cheering. Every time you fail they are their, dusting you off and encouraging you to keep on going. Every step of the way they are holding the back of that bike seat, even after their hand has come off and we do it ‘alone.’ We scream, ‘I did it’ and they cheer, ‘you did it!’ Your win is their win and they share it alone, in their room at night where they take their victories now, quietly so as not to wake you. You need your rest. For there will be mountains to climb in the morning.

As I sit here, atop the peak of the bell curve that is my life I now see the journey of my own parents and I have returned to a place of looking on them with wonder. I’m in awe of the life they’ve lead and feel endlessly thankful for all they did and continue to do for me. I’m more aware and not harboring any illusions about who and what they are and that makes it all the greater. They gave their lives to me and my brothers and sisters and did so graciously and with endless effort to ensure that we would be able to make it.

I look back and see the hills the boys will climb and I gird myself for the journey. It comes with all the unexpected glories and unpredictable pain you can imagine. It’s all of life they will face. I marvel at the journey in front of them, the one I’m only halfway through now. I feel endless empathy for them. I worry for them and am excited for them. I’ll jump every time I see danger coming. A few times too many I’m sure as it will take me longest to learn that they are able. It won’t be a lack of confidence, merely the memory of the boys they were when I was the giant that told them everything would be okay. The one who chased the monsters around the mountains, told them they couldn’t hurt them as long as I was here.

They might never understand. These times, these times that are happening now, they are the most important and indelible moments of my life. They are the parts I suspect will flood me in my last moment on earth. All of it occurring at a time when time is too young to have such importance to them. A time they will forget as they fill their heads with the adventures they need to take to find the life of meaning that their simple existence has provided to me.