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 It’s been replaced by a security you only have when you have a steady hand and a clear eyed confidence that you are up to the task.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.

 

Unburdened

I’ve always been hypersensitive. Which isn’t something I’ve always been comfortable acknowledging.

When I was growing up it was a real issue for me. It’s still a thing that can be hard for me. But as I get older, especially after having kids, it’s practically unavoidable. When I was young everything I felt was turned into the only emotions testosterone could amplify. Rage, Joy, Jealousy, Sadness or Frustration.

Having feelings, being filled with emotion was terrible. The loss of control was awful. It felt vulnerable. It felt dangerous and I chose instead to express my feelings, at least the joy, jealousy and sadness ones through stoic denial of them. Which conveniently turned them all to rage and frustration. The two emotions I felt comfortable showing the world. Somehow those two feelings felt invulnerable.

But sadness was there at times. Sadness is still hard. It tends to come out as rage, but I can at least recognize it now. Jealousy is mostly gone. Sometimes I might feel a touch of envy but it’s mostly for made up stuff like money. Sometimes I read something brilliant and wish I’d thought of it, but I don’t know if that’s jealousy.

The world instills in boys the misconception that painful  feelings are the opposite of strength. They aren’t. The fact that I couldn’t kill them completely, those vulnerable, painful feelings is because they were important. They were protecting a part of me that couldn’t be fully removed. No matter how hard I might have tried. The part of me that is ultimately my greatest strength.

The only feelings that can own me are those I hide. The ones I keep to myself. The ones that I’m afraid of people seeing. 

I would never have believed that I’d ever have been comfortable sharing so much of my concerns and so many of my worries with the world. So many of my shortcomings, failings and feelings. I was invested in them staying hidden. I’d made them shameful by keeping them hidden. I’d made such simple and beautiful things as feelings and need and frailties and worries my undoing by being so afraid of them that I loaded them into my bones and my body and my bags and anything I could carry and then dragged them with me wherever I went. When they inevitably became too heavy and I’d become weary I’d crumble, drop it all in private, curse my weakness and then add that weakness to the pile that I’d once again pick up, pack on and carry around. It was untenable.

I don’t imagine that I would have carried this burden forever. I imagine that some event would eventually have shown me the light and taught me that I needed to unburden myself. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been an event. Perhaps it would have been the slow learning of a lifetime of pain that would have taught me my lessons and prodded me and encouraged me to finally let it go by putting it down, laying it out and sharing my load with anyone who’d care to see and take stock of it with me. I imagine I’d have gotten there some way or other had I not gotten there as I did. But thankfully I didn’t have to wait for either of these things.

What let me know it was okay to be my entire person in front of the entire world was becoming a father. I have two sons who will grow up in a world that is prone to teaching it’s young men that ‘manhood’ means being more powerful than feelings of frailty and weakness. It’s an unfortunate tradition and residual instinct of a time less enlightened than one I hope we get to some day soon. But until we do I need to be the proof that having feelings and being sensitive to them, all of them, rage and compassion and needing and passion and frustration and sadness and guilt and all of them, is a strength. It’s in fact how you grow strong. Having feelings, expressing them, then putting them down is the only way to move on. It’s my duty and my pleasure to show them this, to be the proof of this valuable nugget of earned wisdom.

More so than that even, it’s my pleasure to show them gratitude for teaching me this lesson. For making my life so much more harmonious with the life that has been coursing through me that I could never fully come to grips with and feel comfortable in before meeting them and learning how to be brave and strong because of the love I have for them.

Thank you guys. You opened life to me. You made me strong enough to live it fully and honestly. You’ve made all of it, the joy and pain, pure bliss.

The Truth About Cats and Dogs

Char Show 1Char Show 3Char Show 4Char Show 2

 

Charlie insisted that Grandma, Koba (Grandpa), Daddy and Mommy all sit at attention at the picnic table. We were seated so we were facing him as he prowled the stage that was the landing at the top of the steps leading to the beautiful red Rockwellian shed that he thought of as Buddy the Cat’s house. He welcomed us to the show and proceeded to command our attention by acting out a story about how he lost his doggie. About how that doggie ran away and grew up to be a kitty cat, and how charlie found him by calling his name around both corners of the little house/shed/set. He informed us that his name was ‘Tree Pikwalk’ and that we all had to call for him if he were to be found. And low and behold, after we all gave it a shout, good old Tree Pikwalk, the dog that grew up to be a cat, returned home. We were then instructed by Charlie to clap for his story. When we did it was as if he were at Carnegie Hall and he’d just won the admiration of an initially doubting audience.

We were then instructed to stop. He was now the MC and he welcomed everyone to the show. Clap your hands everybody. Introducing, DADDY! He waved me up and left the stage for me to put on a ‘show’. I of course proceeded to do what the director instructed and told a story. Knowing his preferences I made it a story of childhood pets. In this case I told the origin story of our family pet, Mama Kitty, who was a housemate for almost all of my youth and how her passing at 18, an incredibly long life for a cat, lead to the occasionally odd moment when people came to our house and saw an etched stone slate that simply said, ‘Mama, 1980-1998’. It was a success and with all the generosity of a true fan my presenter and host started the applause and made sure that everyone joined him. It was grand.

I’m envious of his confidence and his constant creativity and in awe of his energy. Thanks to him and his little brother, Teddy, I’m able to somewhat approximate their joie de vivre, The two of them can knock me out  physically, but the result of their presence in my life has left me with a verve and joy that I never knew before they arrived.

These attributes, confidence, creativity, energy and joy will be informed by an increasing knowledge and understanding of the feelings and needs of others around them as well as the painful realization that people will sometimes be mean even though they aren’t necessarily mean people. Hell, at some point even they will be mean and not understand why. These are all things to be expected and are key points in one’s journey to aware, conscious and thoughtful adulthood. To be able to feel confident enough to consciously put on a ‘show’ and present enough to attend to the shows of others you love because we are all human and need love and attention. To be unafraid to be wholly and truly yourself despite your fears that it will cause others to judge you. To not be afraid to be judged by those people because you are the things you are and it is okay to be them. To be so entirely comfortable in your own skin that you are able to connect with the world around you and the souls you are fortunate enough to be near in a way that shares with them your fragility and essence. These are the things I see in my son’s that I hope will survive, somehow, the onslaught that is heading their way as they head out into the world without any armor. These attributes that will hold the key to happiness when they emerge on the other side of the chasm separating childhood from adulthood. We are in the bubble now and I treasure my time here, knowing already that it is fleeting.

I just hope that I remember, when it looks its ugliest and I’m compelled to react to the behaviors I know are not reflective of the boys they were, that they are neither predictive of the men they will be. That in order for them to get through the upheaval of adolescence and early adulthood they have to travel roads that are inevitably and imperatively roads I can’t go down with them. I hope I remember that they will carry with them, despite any and all indications to the contrary, their sweet nature, their fragile and vulnerable skin and their need for love and attention. I hope they are able to hear me as I call for them while they are lost, like Tree Pikwalk who grew up to be a cat. I hope I hope I hope.

I hope beyond hope that my little dogs grow up, turn into cats and can put on a show for me of a kind I now put on for my parents, relishing in their approval and attention and no longer bashful about how important and meaningful it all is to me.

We Weren’t Ready Either

There is the light of day and the haze of interrupted sleep. These are two distinct worlds and insofar as we are able to, we keep them separate. Fights that happen in ‘the haze’ should never see the light of day. They are to be dutifully ignored, in perpetuity if possible. If an event were to occur in ‘the haze’ at a later point that closely resembled the initial argument in both substance and tone, then, and only then, can the altercation be referenced. Once past, even if the altercation has escalated, it should fall back into the category of things which must not be named. These are the rules and they are organic and they are good. These incidences are like dreams in that they should only rarely be shared outside of a therapists office and should be done so with great trepidation.

We had such an altercation last night. In complying with the rules I shall not speak to the details of the disagreement other than to say that in expressing my dissenting opinion I can see now that I presented as a lunatic. The vast majority of the overnight happenings are tended to by one parent so the other can sleep, but in this case the concern of the sleeper overwhelmed their exhaustion and a suggestion needed to be made. At the risk of disclosing too much, as I know a certain woman related to me by marriage who may wish to continue to observe the ‘gag order’ in regard to referencing said altercation, I’ll state that in this case I was the night tender and she was the concerned and restless parent. Which I say only so I can tell you that when she interrupted me to suggest that we wake our son and give him a nebulizer treatment in order to allow him to stop coughing and to rest easier I went ballistic. This was not in my plans. I had already fed the baby and taken the toddler to the potty. It was past 2AM and I had decided that I’d wait out the cough. With a beer. And a book. A nebulizer treatment does NOT fit into this equation. Yep. I’m a bit of a jackass. My frustration bordered on the maniacal. Which is to say that it was on the wrong side of said border and had a full head of steam heading to the heartland of lunacy.

A mere hour later my wife lay soundly asleep and had been so for upwards of 45 minutes. I still could not unclench my jaw. The ability to navigate these wide emotional swings and return to a normal enough place to fall asleep, even with the assistance of accrued exhaustion is unbelievable to me. I’ve grown to understand that this is an innate difference. For her part she can’t for the life of her understand why I don’t go right to sleep the second I’m allowed to. But the fact of the matter is I literally can’t. I’m using ‘literally’ literally. If I were to attempt to transition between emotions at the rate at which she can and does I’d be in a hospital bed, likely catatonic, before lunch. Women reading this may read an exaggeration to express emphasis in this statement. It’s absolutely true. I’d break. Seriously.

I’m a LUNATIC when it comes to control of the overnight environment when it’s ‘my turn’. Just irrational in the extreme. And the reality of this is that this isn’t going to change. Can’t really. Which brings me to my point. Perfect is inherently and inevitably imperfect.

When we were fretting about whether or not to have kids the conversations were focused on our shortcomings, both personally and collectively. The financial issues and the emotional issues. The idea of a change so profound seemed impossible to navigate while retaining that which made us work together. But the truth is that the change was simultaneously of a scale that was so large as to have been incomprehensible prior to it occurring and of a nature so profound that it brought with it capacities and endurance that were heretofore unknown to either of us and which allowed us to grow in a way that has made all of the prior conversation irrelevant.

In some way every butterfly parent that has been through the transformation knows something caterpillar couples couldn’t at the time. Prior to our having been transformed their assurances and warnings were meaningless, even if many of them turned out to be more true than we could ever have imagined. So now that I’m emerging fully transformed I would like to amend the standard language of the butterflies thusly…

Rather than the somewhat dismissive statement that butterflies repeat ad nauseum to caterpillars that goes ‘If you wait til your ready to have kids, you’ll never have kids’, I think I would have been more disposed to seeing some hopefulness in a message that goes like this…

Let me cut to the chase, you’re not perfect. I’m not, you’re not, no one is. So stop thinking that merely being human and imperfect is enough of a reason to not have kids if you want them. And if you’re fearing that you’re not ready, you’re ready. That level of concern will in fact put you a step ahead. And besides all your shortcomings, you’re amazingly intricate, complex and talented people who will find a capacity for love you never knew before and it’s beautiful and destructive all at once. And the things that drive you crazy about your partner now will do so even more later. But the variations between your abilities will make you cover all the bases you need to so the kids can rise up because of your exceptional ability and in spite of your inevitable flaws. And don’t worry, your kids will reveal their own flaws, and many of them will mirror yours and that’s okay, cause you know what? They’re human too and they’re NOT perfect, which is something you must keep in mind, as your heart will never believe it. Perfect people do not exist, they are lying to you, and sometimes to themselves, and they should be looked at with empathy as they are in for terrible difficulties. In fact if this unicorn of perfection exists in some cul-de-sac in some suburb know that they are the ones truly missing out on the vast array of life as they are not fully experiencing what it means to be alive. Don’t fret that you are falling short of something so bland as perfect, rather delight in your struggles and move forward knowing that the sooner you accept your human nature the sooner you can get to seeing the beauty in life. Struggle onward and seek to see clearly and withhold criticism as long as you can. The more you can accept of imperfections the richer your experience will be. Oh yeah, and don’t be dick to your wife when she asks you to do something you should do. Its not nice.

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Blood on the Tracks; The Art and the Artist

It’s a very specific kind of artisitc genius. An expression that is so beautifully and specifically drawn that despite it recounting events and experiences that are not yours it still resonates. It resonates because you are human. It resonates because you have the capacity for empathy. It resonates because an artist is bravely standing before you in some stage of undress, vulnerable and eloquent.

Beautiful and broken.

The young artist has yet to live a life worthy of his already prodigious talents. He is however yearning to say something worth listening to and he is intelligent and skilled if not yet refined or experienced. As a result he highlights inequality and shines a light on the stupidity of those who rule him and makes art that resonates. If his talent is up to par it is worth hearing and worth heeding. If his talent is truly generational other artists might recognize it first. If his talent is epochal he writes of the hard rain that’s gonna fall. He inspires and enlightens his and all subsequent generations and shows the world how to think about a thing differently than it had before. He has used his considerable capacity to conceive of a new thought, disseminated it effectively and artistically and is hailed as an icon as he has entered the zeitgeist and knocked it sideways through words and music and as a result you imbue in him a certain level of intimate access to what you believe is your soul.

This is as it should be. For you this initial impact is the imperative as it allows you to shift paradigms. His spark will start a cultural inferno and alter the lives of millions whom he has taught to think.
But to him, to this prodigious and frustrated talent, unable to scratch an itch that is ever present, an itch to truly connect, he knows that this was an effective trick of sorts. Sincere at it’s time, but wholly inadequate now. He hasn’t done yet what he must. Couldn’t have, really. He hadn’t had anything personal and universal to say. Until he fell in love. Then out of love. Then nearly lost it all. And was left broken. As we all will be eventually. Brokenness is universal. Thoughts are debated and should be. He never intended his thoughts to be gospel, but a surprising number of people treated them as such. And to his surprise he spent a long time hacking away, admittedly at a startlingly high level of artistic accomplishment, but not without leaving clues that he thought it all a bit of a farce. Then he found love. True and intimate love that he thought he could sustain. Maybe he even thought it would sustain him.

But now that this love had experienced its entire life cycle, a thing he thought would last the rest of his life, he’s now broken. Not ‘broken down’ in some general way, but actually broken. Very specifically and in a way where he now needs to go to the tools he has fostered all these years to work out his feelings on the matter. He has to take his heart to the study and to the studio and write and perform ‘Blood on the Tracks.’
In my estimation it is his most personal (and at least the equal) of his most accomplished works and it could make even an early twenties, middle class white male like myself truly feel the spectrum of emotions that awaited me once time did her thing to me. Those songs introduced me to the nuances of both the human condition and the beauty in our frailty. It’s a remarkable piece of work that has never failed to move me. It can provoke every emotion a man can feel in a romantic relationship and reveals those he wishes he could. It reveals and instructs me as to my own emotional capacity for intimacy and my own limits in terms of truly connecting.

Its a piece of expressive art that is almost as old as I am and I’ve been listening to it for half my life. It’s the expression of feelings I never knew how to identify and in each phase of my life it has presented to me a deeper and more meaningful part of what it means to be human in a very detailed and specific and beautiful way.

It’s not the bombs thrown by a precocious talent, fueled by righteous anger. Rather it’s the earnest and sincere expression of a man who has, is and will struggle. A man who knows that its all worth it for the exquisite though fleeting bliss that life can give you and the swift inevitability with which it takes it away. It’s melancholic and joyous and angry and curious. Its concentrated humanity.