Showing posts with label Fathers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fathers. Show all posts

26 December, 2018

On meditating with your demons

Learn to meditate with the monsters.
Sit down and sup with the demons.
But don't let them feed you.  - from Field Notes: 26 December 2018


Zhong Kui, the Demon Queller
One of the things you hear in the rooms is that holidays create resentments, which end up leading alcoholics back to the bottle. My family is pretty supportive and not as dysfunctional as other family situations I've heard about in the rooms and on the streets. But there are times when life jams up and somewhere between the anxiety of trying to be a good guy, a decent husband, and an empathetic listener, it's only with the grace of God, a loving wife, and a good sponsor that I managed to stay sober.

Coming home from my latest trip west, on another failed trip to find the real Los Angeles in the glitter that is LA, I threw myself into the list of Things That Needed Doing. It fell sometime while I was traveling eastbound through Missouri that the wife and I were going to host Christmas dinner with my family. Now, this isn't exactly a stressful thing, in and of itself. My immediate family is smaller than some and none of them are particularly taxing. But it falls at a time when there is a lot going on.

Specifically, my father-in-law is dying. 

This spreads out in several different ways. Everything is being done to keep him comfortable and right now, he's doing as well as can be expected with Stage 4 Large Cell Carcinoma. In other words, lung cancer -- the kind not brought on by smoking, but as a side effect of the anti-rejection drugs he takes so his body doesn't reject the kidney transplant he received 6 years ago. My mother-in-law is approaching the whole thing with as much stoicism as she can, which is in her nature, and my wife is trying to follow suit, though stoicism is not in her nature at all. 

For me, Christmas is mostly about keeping things moving -- 10,000 wheels all in motion going in different directions -- through the season. I'm trying not to focus on my own issues wrapped up in all this, or the feelings it brings up about my own father's death and my general anxieties about people I love dying. 

Yes, I know it's natural for people to die. I can intellectualize that all I want, but that doesn't change how I feel about any of it at the moment.

But I am learning how to sup with my demons. There really isn't any choice. And one of the people teaching me how to do is, oddly enough, my father-in-law. I don't want to dismiss his experience -- an experience I know nothing about, really -- but I do think of all the people I have seen in the process of dying, he is probably the strongest person I've seen. He doesn't always bear up well. He gets tired and cranky and I think he's probably as tired of being fussed over as he is of the cancer. But he doesn't just give up, either. He's resigned, I supposed as much as anyone can be. But there's a resilience to it all, too. He's waiting. He's tired, but he's waiting. He carries it all because that's where he is right now.

 I was asked as recently as today if the holidays made me want to drink. I can honestly say they don't. I don't miss drinking as much as I miss not feeling. But I know what happens when I try to manage my feelings with artificial means. So I pick them up, my little demons, my little monsters.  The ones that used to hound me minute by minute of the day. That's where I am right now. I pick them up, and take them with me and hope we all learn, them and me, how to get through this world that seems so much more appealing in the absence of feeling.




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25 May, 2018

Memorial Day: For all the Fallen Fathers (and Mothers), Real and Imagined

On leave in Florida. 
I am 45 years old and I'm still coming to terms with the impact my father's death had on my life.
Just when I think I've caught all the ripples and echoes created by the absence of gravity Dad instilled in my life, I end up finding just one more thing. One more ripple. One more echo. And it never stops.
The impact of his death on my life when I was 17 has been and is incalculable. It set into motion virtually all the circumstances that my life now is built upon, from my own fatherhood that has long defined the geography of my life to my writing which has long been the compass I've used to make my way through map I draw with every step I take and every line I write, to the deep anger that drove me towards self-destruction,  the weight of guilt and obligation that tore me away from self-destruction, and the imparted wisdom that eventually drew me back to the greatest love I could ever imagine. 
My father was a complicated man, though I don't think he wanted to be one. Then again, it's possible that men placed on pedestals always look complicated. Through the years of learning more about myself, I've been able to humanize him a little more... especially as I am now the age he was when I was small and  I was in and out of the hospital -- the age he was when he became my hero and the archetype by which I still (whether I mean to or not) judge all would-be heroes, real or imagined.
It also happens that my father was a veteran of two wars (Korea and Vietnam)  that America has
consistently overlooked. I would say that he part of the ignored generation of American Veterans -- but the truth is that our government has historically ignored those who risk life and limb in defense of the ideas embodied in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Our government breaks bodies and spirits, but it does not buy what it breaks. And while my father was fortunate enough to come back physically intact and mentally steeled, it's impossible for me to say exactly what the impact of his military service was -- which started when he was 17 and continued until he was almost 40.
It's impossible for me to understand the impact it had on him because I have never served and because he died before he felt like he could share those stories with me. 
I feel the absence of those stories almost as acutely as I feel his.
It's also impossible for me to understand the loss felt by sons and daughters whose fathers -- and whose mothers --did not come home alive or in one piece. And although I've long held the opinion that war is a travesty perpetrated by cowards too far removed from the devastation to feel its impacts, as time goes on I find that I see it even in starker terms. War is a sin, and a tragedy with an impact so devastating that it's easier to make more war than it is to examine the impacts.

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26 September, 2014

Fall Along the Dirty, Sacred River: After High Water Mark

After a long a quixotic summer, I find myself feeling more than a little drained, more than a bit tense, and more than a tad exhilarated.

I am I

I'm back in the classroom after a summer of not travelling like I'd planned. The good (and bad) news is that all the same old windmills that I've spent the better part of a decade tilting at are still there, hiding in the harrowed halls of higher ed. I hope they feel well rested. They are going to need it.

Someone recently told me -- by way of a compliment, I think, or maybe just a statement of facts in evidence -- that I teaching is something I "was born to do." Having a sense of vocation is important for a teacher. There is virtually no other equitable pay back for the time and energy spent trying to figure out how to be a better teacher.  And, particularly in the world of part-time* teaching -- without a sense of vocation you are shark bait.

This semester is complicated by the fact that I'm scheduled to teach 7 classes. I did this to myself, fully knowing
  1. it is too much, and
  2. that I would feel overwhelmed quickly.
Not working over the summer though -- a decision I made based on the assumption that I would be on the road more -- was a drain on finances at the homestead. My usual other semi-part-time gig as tutor did not offer much in the way of hours or pay.  So, I'm working a bit more to catch up, and to try and do what I can avoid another summer like this last, long summer.

Not working and falling into the inevitable and entirely avoidable struggle that created made me realize that while I am not driven by money or by the pursuit of wealth, that I need to be more attentive to such matters. My generally cavalier attitude towards money aside, the fact is that by not contributing to the financial well-being of the homestead I was doing more than causing a back balance on the electric bill.  I was -- even without meaning to -- inflicting damage on the people around me.

This isn't to say that I will cut my hair and get a real job. Chasing money is still a fruitless and soulless pursuit. I will not play by the rules established to reward greed (READ IN: CAPITALISM) simply because it's easier. 

But I will have to push forward some delayed projects and ideas. There are different ways of walking through the world. I am lucky to be loved and love a woman who sees this and who embraces my desire to live more fully by the definitions and parameters we establish than by living within the confines set by others.

And Speaking of Walking...

Yesterday, the brakes failed in my truck and I nearly rolled into busy early morning traffic. I was lucky that no one got hurt, and that I didn't get hurt and that the truck didn't get even a scratch on it. This means that at least for a week ... until I get the master cylinder fixed ... that I'm back on public transit.

The financial drain of older vehicle issues aside, I don't mind being back on the bus. It's important to know the place you live in your feet. I've missed experiencing the world this way. It feels... oddly... more normal.

And as Amanda pointed out last night, "You've never really liked driving in the city."

You Are My Sunshine

The Kid -- AKA Stella -- and Will -- once upon a time Plus 1, but now Son-in-Law -- have taken up refuge/temporary residence here at the homestead. They are hoping to find more work opportunities here in River City. Moving from Norfolk (STILL the MOST UNFRIENDLY CITY IN THE COUNTRY) took two vehicles (one of them a small moving truck) two days, and an Enola Gay sized amount of bug and roach killer.

Trying to learn how to live together is always a challenge. Amanda and I have a certain quiet and natural rhythm. Stella and Will... well... their rhythm is more like a Saturday night mosh pit at Bogart's. Every couple has a different rhythm, and it makes for some interesting times here at the homestead. Will and I are learning how to grunt at one another appropriately. Amanda and Stella are figuring out their relationship to one another. Amanda has been absolutely amazing... and I can never say that enough.

On my part, I'm happy to have Stella around. (And Will. No really. YES, dammit.) I've always been better when Stella is around. I worry about her less when I see her more often... and though I've always tried to make sure I was a presence in her life, it wasn't until she moved here that I realized just how much of a pressure it is off my mind to have her near and just how much pressure was exerted on the other side to keep me away from her.

And while I could be -- and I have been and on some days I still feel -- angry about how I was badmouthed and my name dragged through other people's dysfunctional mud -- I also recognize that part of what has driven me to write was knowing that it was my best shot at communicating with Stella. 

When I teach, I always talk about audience issues. I tell my students that they need to know who they are talking to when they write. This may or may not be true; but I do know that every word I've written for the last 20 years has had one primary audience in mind.

And I'm glad she's home.


03 September, 2011

21 Anno Domini



Ken Parsons, 1955.
The picture I chose of my dad was taken in 1955... 18 years before I was born. Although I have pictures of him from my childhood – the way I remember him – but I like this picture of him more than any of those. This is him in his youth, in his prime. There's a cockiness in his stance that grew into something larger, into a mental and spiritual indefatigably, which lingered, even when his health and his body began to fail him. The stamp on the back of the picture indicates that the picture was taken – or, at any rate, developed – in November of that year in San Antonio, Texas. The only thing I know about my dad being in Texas was that after being in that state with two other friends – he in the Air Force, and one friend each in the Navy and the Army – my dad received a letter from the governor asking him to please never return to the state or risk being incarcerated.

At least, that's the way I remember him telling the story. And while I'm sure that there was probably some exaggeration involved – the men in my family are prone to exaggeration – I have found there's an element of truth in all forms of exaggeration.

Today is the 21st anniversary of his death. Some years it's easier for me to handle than others. This year seems a bit more difficult than I've experienced in a while. Maybe it's because lately I've been acutely aware of his absence. There are times when I still want to ask his advice, still want him to make everything better. I'd ask him what he thinks about my life. Silly, really. I think maybe the reason I care so little about the opinions of other people is because his opinion was always the one that mattered – and in its absence, there is no one who's opinion can act as a substitute.

That he is gone doesn't mean I don't still learn from him. That I can't remember the sound of his voice doesn't mean he still doesn't speak to me. It is the blessing and the curse of children to carry their parents with them, in their bones and in their hearts. The imprint is a permanent one. I continue to learn from him because the core of what I learned continues to apply to my everyday life. He teaches me that being honest counts for more; that convictions are worth standing up for; that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity until they've proven otherwise. He also teaches me that I am not less deserving of respect than others so long as I remember these three things.

I miss you, Dad. Give'em Hell.