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.

01 February, 2010

Moose Head

Madge just shook her head and waddled over to the three lever tap with Bill Watson’s empty glass. She made her way like someone who had worn out long before her body had; but when her body finally did wear our, it was still a bitter disappointment. She’d say time and again to anybody who’d listen that she never intended to be a bar owner. The Moose Head was her husband’s deal; he’d wanted to open a place even before he retired from the mill; and after the fiasco with the pension fund, since he’d have to go back to work anyway he figured he might as well work for his damn self. Madge had been okay with it primarily because he only wanted her help with the books and she rarely had to work the bar. It also got him out of the house and out of her hair, and gave her time to spend with the grandchildren and work on her sewing. It also helped that their son, Harold Jr, was sending them money once a month from Minneapolis; he was successful and he wasn’t married (though Madge still didn’t understand why), so he didn’t care to help out. Madge had never told her husband about the money, of course; and he never asked since she was in charge of the family finances.

“Poor bastard,” Bill Watson repeated like he was talking aloud to himself. “That’s just what he is.”

Madge filled his glass from one of the two working taps and waddled back across the length of the bar to where Bill was sitting. Most days Bill was her one and only customer. That was especially true in the winter, when the farmers had no reason to come into town and it was too cold for anybody else to linger longer than they had to; sometimes it got busy on Thursday or Friday afternoons – which meant that maybe a handful of people showed up instead of just Bill – but the bar had long been a place where old men (who were all friends of her Harry’s) could safely sit and talk the way bullshitting way old men talk without having to worry about the interruption of their wives or the impatience of the younger generations. The younger and noisier crowd went up the street to Mitch Bausendorfer’s place. She was tired and knew she would only be more tired by the time she closed the bar for the night; in fact, she hadn’t felt right all day. Normally, she would have had somebody cover for her; but there was no one who could. She’d had to let go of Thom, who tended bar for her husband. She also had to let go of one of the cooks; the only one left was that underage girl Kimmy – who had the night off – that Madge kept on account of her condition. The girl was pregnant, unmarried, and not even out of high school. The father, naturally, was nowhere to be found. And after Kimmy couldn’t work anymore, Madge figured on closing the kitchen.

“He knew what he was getting into with her,” Madge sighed and set the glass down in front of Bill; she was self-conscious of her hand shaking and spilling a few drops on the worn wood counter top. She wiped her hand on a bar towel and continued. “That woman wasn’t nothin’ but trouble from the word go.”

“Yeah, sure was,” Bill nodded. “But wasn’t YOU the one hired her?”

“HARRY hired her,” she corrected him. “Right before he couldn’t run things no more.”

“Ah, yeah,” Bill agreed and took a penitent sip of his beer. He’d been Harry’s oldest friend and best customer; once upon a time Madge even thought of marrying Bill. But that was years and years ago, when she was younger and Bill wasn’t such the crusty old drunk. Besides, she’d stood as Maid of Honor for Hilda, his wife and her childhood friend. They’d all grownup together, the four of them, in Havensham. That was a lot of years. Sometimes she thought it was too many, considering what she had to show for them. “But YOU fired her ass, didn’ ya?”

“I never wanted to own no bar,” Madge announced. “But I ain’t about to let some whore turn Harry’s place into a brothel.”

“Oh, don’t I know it.” Bill smiled like he was remembering something with great fondness. “But what’s wrong with a pretty girl trying to make a living?”

“Hah. That’s just like you Bill. Dirty old goat; you get a sniff of somethin’ young and you lose what little brains the good lord gave you. What if I told Hilda what you said?”

Bill snorted and chuckled. “She’d appreciate the break. She don’t like me hangin’ ‘round the house anyway. You know,” he paused to take another drink. “I wish somebody’d TOLD me retirement was so damned DULL.”

“Poor, poor you,” Madge spat. She didn’t try to cover her bitter tone.

”So,” Bill changed the subject, “you gonna close the place or what?”

She shrugged and didn’t answer. Her son had been telling her when he called earlier in the day that she needed to either close the place or sell the place. Her daughter Coletta, though, wanted her to keep it open and wait for business to pick up. But Madge knew that business wasn’t going to pick up; all the younger men who drank all the beer and all the liquor wanted to be where all the young pretty girls were. And all the young pretty girls were up the street at Mitch Bausendorfer’s, because he didn’t care what anybody did as long as there wasn’t a big mess to clean up and as long as nobody called the cops. Every day that she got up to open the bar, Madge thought about closing it down; but Harry’s bar gave her someplace to go and something to do and it also gave her something to bitch about.

“Have you seen Ricky lately?” Madge asked.

Bill shook his head and frowned. “Nah. He don’t go out much. Well he CAN’T really, unless somebody drives him. And since Lizzy, he hasn’t really had anybody.”

“He can hire somebody,” Madge said. “His insurance’ll cover a home health aid. It’s good insurance. He got it through the mill.”

“Huh. Ain’t as good as it used to be.” Bill drained his glass and held it up, signaling that he wanted another. “She still shouldn’ta done him thataway.” He shook his head and grimaced. “Cruel. It was just cruel.”

Madge picked up the glass and started towards the tap. “Everybody knew she was after his disability check,” she said. “Even Ricky knew that.”

“He said he loved her.”

“Good lord! Love. Maybe so. but that don’t mean she loved him. And that don’t give him the excuse to take leave of his senses.”


“Still nothin’. He should of knowed better. He knew what kind a girl she was. Hell. Before she sunk her claws into Ricky, she’d a laid down and spread her legs for anything with button fly.”

But still…”

“Still NOTHIN’.” Madge filled the glass and kept an eye on it as she made her way back to make sure she didn’t spill too much. “And even after she moved in with Ricky, she was still whorin’ around with those boys down at Bausendofer’s.” She snorted. “That ain’t no kind of woman to move into your house.”

“You know what I heard,” Bill leaned in like he was telling a secret when Madge arrived with his mostly full glass of beer. “I heard he got him one of them … pumps ... you know?”

“Good lord. All the good that done him.” Madge scoffed. “He wasn’t gonna feel nothing anyway.”

“But still…”

Madge shook her head and didn’t answer. Men, she thought. Don’t know nothin’.”

Bill drank two more beers before he left. Madge carefully washed the glass he’d been using and put it away. There were no other dishes to wash. She wiped off the counter top and went around to the other side of the bar to make sure all the stools were straight. She cast her eyes around the empty bar room and sighed. The cloth on the pool table was still torn from New Year’s Eve when Mary Taylor’s husband (The durn fool, Madge thought) drank too much Evan Williams and decided to dance on it. Of course Mary had apologized the next day and promised that her husband would repay the damages; but he’d been laid off from the chicken plant for a year and hadn’t found steady work since. The juke box was lit, but still broken. The walls were covered with hunting trophies: deer heads, a fox, some raccoons, and the above the bar, the big moose head that had given Harry the idea for the name. Sometimes all the dead eyes staring down at her gave her the heebie jeebies. Moose Head. She’d always hated that name; but it was useless to argue with Harry. He’d gone off on one of his hunting trips and when he came back he announced to Madge that he was going to sink their money – what little they’d had – into a bar. “It’ll be great,” he’d told her. “Things are going to be fine. You’ll see.”

Things were fine too, she supposed. Until Harry came down with the cancer. She watched him die for a year; towards the end, he wasn’t even awake and the doctors had to tell her when it was time to pull the plug and let him go. Sometimes when she was alone in the bar, Madge allowed herself to feel the things she didn’t normally let show; like anger. Some days and nearly every night she was so mad at Harry she could barely see straight. Mad because he’d opened his stupid bar with what little money they’d had left. Mad at him for dying first. The anger well up in her and caused to shake uncontrollably; she shook so much she had to sit down until it passed. A few times she allowed herself a shot of peppermint schnapps – just to settle herself down. But when the anger subsided, all she wanted to do was cry and cry and not stop until there were no more tears and no more emptiness and no more her to sit around and worry about whether she should have the hardwood floors of The Moose Head stripped and revarnished.

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this, Harry. Not at all.” Madge looked at her watch. It was only 8:30. She was supposed to keep the bar open until midnight; but she wanted to go home. Well, not so much go home as much as she was tired of sitting in the bar. She told herself she’d sweep the floors in the morning and maybe look for a realtor. Or maybe she’d let Harry Jr. handle it.

She locked the cash register even though there wasn’t enough money in it to worry about. As Madge waddled out from behind the bar, she pulled on her coat. It had been Harry’s old field coat, but the cancer shrunk him so that towards the end it fit him more like a large tent. Walking past the bar, she noticed the small brass plate where Bill had been sitting. The plate read “In Memory of Skip ’07.”Skip Saunderson had been one her son’s friends; he had died in Iraq. When news of the death hit Havensham, her husband decided to put the plaque there, hoping that might convince their son to come home and help them with the bar. It didn’t, of course. Young Harry liked his life in Minneapolis and he could mourn Skip just as well from there. Madge thought of Skip’s mother, Carol Ann; she’d been devastated by the death of her only son. For a moment, Madge allowed herself to feel lucky; she had only buried an old man, not her son. After Skip’s funeral, Carol Ann sold the house and moved in with her daughter, who lived in Florida. Madge thought about closing the bar, selling the house, and moving to Minneapolis. She didn’t want to live with Harry Jr. permanently; only until she found her own place. No grown man would ever find a wife if he lived with his mother; and she sure thought it was past time for him to get married and have a family. But things worked different in the city, she supposed.

Madge braced herself for the cold and switched off the lights on her way out the door. Then she walked out into the February night. Before she turned to walk to over to her car, she looked up the street at all the life going on at Mitch Bausendorfer’s bar. The rest of Main Street was quiet and the laughter and music emanating from the bar echoed through the streets. “Good night, Harry,” Madge said. Then she waddled to her car, not bothering to lock the door behind her.