what can I bring

January 7, 2016

oh, my Daughters.
hugs…love…listening…
I am not proud
I know I have no discipline
and when I try it on you = its weak at best
sporadic, erratic; I bark and back off quickly
having accomplished nothing.
what am I teaching…
only what you are watching.
no fooling myself,
I know its only my consistent behaviors.
my inadvertent quirks and starts and lurches
that bring any lessons.
you see me survive,
love your mother well
and the rest is vague.
you know me in my limitations
and lingering sadness; vulnerability.
you know me
and I can’t know what that means
or how it is shaping you…
terrible and terrifying
I don’t even know where to begin.
I was a man of prayer and imagination once.
I wish you knew me before the grinding.
now I’m just tired…
a man of reluctance,
a man who needs a shave
who needs convincing;
and you can usually do it…
because you have soft cheeks that gather when you smile,
interests of your own,
secret ways that know me
to wiggle into all the cracks.
you have learned,
whatever I have brought;
positive/negative.
I hold on to hope that somehow
to you
it will always mean safety.

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i will try

November 17, 2014

if i were to come home
wrap you in a cozy blanket
lay you on the couch in warm light
brush your hair and rub your feet
with quiet companionable equanimity
that would be awesome

if i were to come home
grab a cheapassbeer from the fridge
collapse on the couch amidst the chaos
feel the ache in my head and feet
try to accept the noise and my deep tension
that would be obvious

if i were to come home
wrap you in a hug as soon as the kids let me
sit on the couch with them and read books
look forward to when we can relax our minds and rest our feet
together release as much of it all as we can
that will be enough

paradox and palindrome

July 30, 2014

my firstborn’s initials are HRB
and because we call the middle kid by her initials –
EZB (Easy Bee)
i thought i would use fair practice for initials (FPFI)
and so i started calling her Herb
and then Herbert – she hates this.

HeRB has a strange artistic integrity,
an intensity that commands/inspires respect
though she can have trouble granting it.
she is older than she needs to be
and yet liable to break her self down
to near emotional infancy in a moment.
she can be generous to a point that makes me nervous;
and i want to tell her that she can’t give so much
but she doesn’t hesitate or regret,
she anticipates. (positive and negative)
she does not make it easy to romanticize parenting.
she does desire to please
but is not so eager to do so
that she will allow it to interfere
with whatever story her mind has her living in.
she loves with all her heart
she is passionate, earnest and fragile
she is her own and
has a hundred worlds spinning all around her at once
awaiting her pleasure and continued creation.
she dances in my deepest heart
captures, captivates, fascinates, infuriates
she is definitely not just a little kid anymore;
i delight in her friendship.
i think we will always be friends,
i have joy in that.

she is so much more than I could ever say
so far beyond my powers of articulation or reason
she is exasperating
she is beautiful
she is 7
she is my daughter
i am glad.

“stop biting the walls.”
“don’t eat the paint.”
“there is no nutritional benefit to consuming dry mortar.”
(or wet mortar or the kinds that explode – any kind of mortar!)
do all parents really have to say these things?
i know theres the typical: don’t eat dirt,
or: don’t drink from the dog’s dish, toilet, etc.
and even “don’t eat paint” is probably pretty normal
but “why are you gnawing on the corner of the house?”?
i know that they are not going hungry,
and these were 3 separate occasions.
there are teeth marks in places that i don’t understand.

you know…
everybody is always so concerned, so sensitive, so insecure
about parenting. (i understand – its horrible)
and we’re all just desperately trying to figure it out
as we stumble around in the dark (often quite literally)
from one child to the next – hoping no one gets hurt.
thus we participate in parenting polemics
and partake of popular parenting publications.
and now a fad in some parenting advice literature is to say
that the current popular advice in parenting advice literature
is just a fad.
apparently the paradox of parenting produces
the perpetually rotating plethora of popular parenting advice.
its a pain to process.
so the truth is, the answer to all of these hard questions
is quite simple:
… i don’t know.
i mean it. i have no idea.
i am not qualified to be a parent
i have absolutely no answers
i have no clue how to do this
I DON’T KNOW!!!

i never knew
even during the very brief time
that i thought i might know something
i didnt.
that was before we had children
(clichés that are true = most.)
so if i took a quiz about parenting?
i would get 100% right. A+
because “I don’t know” is the true answer.
does this mean that i am a good student of parenting?
no.
but i would be graded well
on the quiz i just made up for myself.
i would test well in test taking:
absolutely a valuable skill for getting into grad school,
and therefore very practical for all of life and for parenting.
well, as helpful as anything else – anyway.

to further illustrate my incredible expertise…
here is another quiz question:

when my children repeat things that I say
it sounds either:

A) horrible
B) obnoxious

its a humbling thing.
to realize (again) that you are an idiot
because a child who can barely speak
repeats something that you said
and it sounds dumber than the words they make up on their own
that don’t even mean anything.
for example:
i might say to my children,
“you’re a silly goose”
or
“you crazy nut!”,
thats not so bad – right?
if said with affection and fun and happiness – Hooray!
but my brain shortened and combined these two phrases
and it came out as: “goose nut”.
now, that might not be o.k.
i didnt notice it at first,
(yes i did and i thought it was funny)
coming from my own mouth: “you’re a goose nut.”
is kinda odd and maybe a little uncomfortable
(why would i ever say this you ask?
answer: C) i don’t know = parenting)

but when repeated?
…its gotta stop.
but it probably won’t
cause, though i am embarrassed to admit it,
i still think its funny.
even if vaguely offensive.

you know, now that i’ve written all that out?
it really is quite embarrassing.
in part because though i did realize it was odd
i didnt think about it sounding bad
until somone else pointed it out… “should they say that?”
i have tried to shorten the phrase further
to just use the word “goose”
you know, like saying, “you goose”, see how that works?
it’s pretty complicated.
cause i really need a harmless name to call my ludicrous children
but they insist on adding the nut
there is no way to make this sound or look better.
yep. i am a parent, i have no idea what i’m doing.

i had a quasi-celebrity i met once
tell me that he thought
humiliation was good for humility.
i think he is wrong.
but… i don’t know.

my son
stands at the screen to the front/back door
looking in at me.

this door:
it opens to nothing, well…
a parallel sidewalk from door to door on our building,
and then;
a small but dangerously steep hill
leading down to a stone retainer wall covered by a chain link fence
and an alley of garages, rows of other domiciles, back up to
a shopping center (so much pavement) and
an electrical substation which occasionally discharges an ominous boom
to echo over the valley of the condos just before our power goes out.

yet this door has a nice view – esp. of the sunset
(though a lot of civilization obscures
with the signs and wires and what not).
here lies our little domain:
our view of an urban canyon (with trees – pretty trees)
from the thin crest of a hill between the building and the slope;
enough room for adventure or relaxation,
a side-walk, a pleasant breeze,
a beer in the evening and a little guitar
as children run/ride/scoot back and forth endlessly.
in my mind this is our front door.

the door on the other side is the one we use
for coming and going.
it opens onto the patio
which opens onto a parking lot
where we park the car and only play at our peril.
i grew up once, and when i did
the patio was in the back –
so, this is the back door.
it has every appearance of a back door
i refer to it as the back door…
which confuses everyone.
cause its the door we mostly use and
my children call it the front,
and the other side (the side to the sunset) = the back.
well, which side of the house actually faces forward?
there’s no way to know!
how arbitrary is this naming? do i just yield?
at least we can all agree on which wall is the side of our home.
just one though,
cause the other side is also the side of someone else’s home
and she shares both her walls…
so what do you call that? – does she even get a side?
no one wants to take sides on this issue.
but the whole front/back thing…
maybe one should be called: the door to work
and the other: the door to play.

so, is this about perspective?
or regional language differences (patio vs porch)?
or the wonderful things our children have to teach us if we’re only enlightened enough to open our minds and blah blah blech.
nope.
this is about how:
as my son stands looking at me
with his face and hands pressed against the screen;
he is eating a pear.
and is slowly pushing the smooshed up, partially chewed pear
through the little holes of the screen with his tongue.
its gross but its fascinating.
yep, thats what this is about.

welcome home

January 29, 2014

I’m here, he said
but it isn’t here
they are there
but it isn’t there

its in the dust
in the dirt
in the ashes

the dust particles per millions of lives
mixing, striving, swirling together

the dirt paths running like veins away
from a pulsing ocean

the ashes of life tested by fire
lived for others, and settled in peace

hard and strange, warm and welcome
close enough to call it home

I sit at the computer typing…
she comes quietly, climbs up the chair
and positions herself on my shoulders.
Then just sits there for a little while
with her hands resting on the top my head.
I pretend I don’t notice her
but really I’m waiting to see what will happen next…
when she says:

its o.k. Dad…
you don’t have any hair.
its o.k. (patting me)
then it wont get in your eyes.
(pause)
Well, you do have little tiny hairs,
on your little tiny brain.

she says the last part in a kind way
like she is talking to a distraught child
a rise to her voice and drawing out the leeettle tiny.

Its o.k.
we were learning about shapes;
talking about the shape of the chips we were eating.
she was refusing to play by the rules,
she didn’t want to say “triangle” as we desired
so for the sake of defiance she kept saying “pizza shape“.
then she said:
if a toot were a shape it would be amorphous.

It’s o.k.
once when I needed to use the bathroom
during a princess ball/dance party
she declared me: the poopy-prince.

Its o.k.
she has also dubbed me: The Hippo of Sadness
for those who don’t know me I am a smallish man,
not proud or pretty, but fit.
so, I can only take this as commentary on my (umm) personality
or lack there of…
In the same conversation she named herself nobly:
The Lion of God.

not sure where to go from there.
I think I will keep calling her EZB.

and looking forward to whatever happens next (now that she’s 4).

I was invited to contribute a guest post 
for a father’s day collaboration that a Dad blog in the U.K. was doing;
specifically, concerning childbirth from a Dad’s perspective.
I enjoyed writing the piece and thank the blog author and his readers
for their generosity in allowing me to share their space.
The following is what I wrote as first published on The_Secret_Father:

as i was tucking in the Easy Bee (3yrs old – our 2nd of 3);
making absolutely certain that no rough part of the blanket
was touching her face in any way, at all, she says:
Dad, your hands are cold… and they’re warm.
my First Born (6yrs) feeling it necessary to contend this paradox
interjects with a voice muffled by her deep nest of covers:
…that doesn’t make any sense.
weellll… EZB continues in a single breath:
they’re middle… they’re medi… uhhh… meti…
meady… ummmmmmmm…  meaty…

meat. we eat meat. we eat fish. mosquitoes itch us. right Dad?

what?.

my strange and beautiful children.
where did you come from?

oh right, i remember …
(eyes glaze dreamily, hand strokes scruffy chin):

… the muscles of my wife’s lower back rippled
(i didn’t even know we had muscles like that there)
she was turning a deep red with the effort
and still the midwife was demanding: push!
i thought: NO! she’ll burst! no one can do this. STOP!
but then… i was called around to the front
and there was the top of our little one’s head
i teared up and i repeated: push.
in a moment the child rushed out into my hands
and i picked her up and put her on her mother’s chest
our daughter –
born under the water of an inflatable kiddie pool in my kitchen
……………….…where you would sit, in fact, if you came for dinner.

i was no stoic hero (in this case or the subsequent two births)
i was trying to maintain focus on my wife
trying to take care of the little logistical problems
of having a swimming pool in the kitchen
(in which a baby is about to be born)
trying to be as helpful as a man can be
(when he’s long ago completed his required contribution
to this somatic/biological process)

trying to get the back rubs and breathing and moral support just right
trying to be completely present in this horribly beautiful adventure
but also, i was trying to keep how terrified i was from showing
and adding drama where extra drama was definitely not needed –
hoping i wouldn’t freak out and run screaming from the room
with my arms flailing above my head.
inside i felt like one of those tiny excitable dogs
dancing around pointlessly with their little nails
clicking on the linoleum floor;
all nerves – no steel.
my wife? well, she was amazing, powerful…
at one point amidst the pain
she looked up at me clear-eyed and said quietly:
“this hurts more than I thought it would.”
i knew she was strong, but i was in awe.

the first birth was swaddled in novelty:
attending the birthing classes with all of their predictable hilarity
acquiring all the specialized terminology; the jargon of birth
learning that an umbilical cord is gigantic!
(worth going to class for that information alone – i was pretty ignorant).
entering into the culture and convictions attendant to home birth
(i felt like a spy from normal-land infiltrating a strange realm where
people very seriously consider consuming parts of their own body)

the whole time i’m thinking: well, sure, but this is just one day –
then what do we do?!
well, no one can really answer that question.
and this one day?
nothing could have prepared me for this reality of flesh and bone…
our lives are normally so sheltered, avoiding pain wherever possible
but this was raw – visceral – utterly exposed
and no matter how hard i tried or what i did
i couldn’t save her from that
– nor would she want me to –
and i was afraid.
the most dramatic culmination of our being one
and we would be so dramatically separate.
together, intimate but deep within ourselves;
our experiences so different.
i was there for support, a hand holding hers, a body to lean against
but ultimately all i could do was stand by and watch her bear it,
which she did with determination and grace
and it was hard and it was raw and it was miraculous.

and then i fell in love.
i was overjoyed with all my tiny new babies,
they were unspeakably beautiful to me
and i swear i didn’t mean to think this:
but, wow, they were also funny looking.
being born is hard work and it showed…
the first debuted like a cross between Yoda and Gollum
i just kept thinking: which of those parts came from me?
EZB (our 2nd) was a little garden gnome;
bright red and fuzzy – a little girl version of the biblical Esau.
and the boy (8 months now), poor kid,
he looked like Roger Ebert after his jaw was removed
(i thought of even worse stuff but my wife said not to write it here.)
but then their tough elastic little bodies
recover from the pressures and trauma of the birth
and they slowly unfold into all of their exquisite oddness;
the wondrous strange combination of things which they inherit from us
and are stuck with for the duration of their lives
(whether they like it or not)
and the things that are their own:
the unique otherness which they begin to foster and protect
whether we like it or not.
from the beginning until now and on till then
they are all so very beautiful.

…as i knelt beside my wife and this other brand new person
my heart was still dancing its irregular jig
and i choked out: is she breathing?
that child picked her head up off her Mama’s chest
opened her eyes wide and looked directly at me –
calm down, Dad.

laughter with a D

June 8, 2013

eyes sparkling
with a dangerous smile
you can see exactly where the inspiration
for Alice and Peter came from
but they don’t need pixie dust to fly
they don’t need a rabbit hole to fall into adventure

like forces of nature
sunlight and storm
halo and horn
simultaneously
interchangeably ever-changing
unpredictable rearranging
perfect

i name you Captivating Grace
you infuriate
i name you Gift of Light
you exasperate
my daughters
my laughter
i call you recalcitrant
i call you beautiful.
why?
because i’m the dad
and i say so.

manic exhaustion

May 30, 2013

join me at my pity party – plenty of empty chairs

sometimes i think i’m amazing (not really) because i survive.
functioning with 3-4 hours of interrupted sleep every night
but this is not something i want to be able to brag about
i have no desire to have pride about life sucking –
i also function just fine without food – big deal
maybe i am just accustomed to feeling miserable
ive built up a tolerance to the poison of suck
and then more often i think:
oh, just get over yourself
shut up.

i wear the costume of normalcy well
everyone wears that costume to some degree
and to differing degrees of success
we are all accustomed to being costumed
in our perceived normality
all building up our tolerance to our poisons
now hum a happy tune
modalities of the miserable mendacity of modern mundanity

i dont want to deprive my kids
it makes me so frustrated and it is so unfair to them
unfair to anyone who has to depend on me
for anything at all (work, home, friends, family, etc forever)
i never want to use any of this as an excuse.
the internal self-description ive come up with is
manic exhaustion
(but not in a bipolar sense
where you are up so long that your body wears down;
i think that is a real thing and leads to death.)
what i am talking about will also kill me. but slowly
grinding down to a final halt
while first continually depriving me of the ability to think clearly
to stop ruminating – stop this constant swirling running
increasingly inarticulate diarrhea of the mind

you know – i get so sick of myself in all this =
the constant striving search for the new normal
the pursuit of the mythology of hope and healing.
in the meantime healing cannot be only the pursuit of self
learning enough to say: this is how i am… so…
i and everybody else just has to deal with me – as is
i can’t accept that – i want to be better
i want to be more
and i want to feel it
i want to feel you, to help, to love, to listen
to throw your arm over my shoulders
and have the energy and strength to carry you for a while.
the infinite expanse of equanimity
to live within each other’s vulnerabilities.