Monday, June 17, 2013

Being a Dad

     “Kid’s are great,” Cliffy said to me. He was the program director at the radio station I worked at. I was still reeling from the news that Prajna was pregnant and we had been married only a month. I didn’t know how I wanted to feel about having kids so soon. I thought it might be nice to have some time to just be a couple for awhile. But as I spread the news about our little bundle of news, all I got was congratulations. No-one would sympathize with me? Hey, I was still a kid. I just turned 26. I wasn’t ready for kids.
     But I just kept getting happy remarks. Cliffy told me don’t bounce a naked baby on your belly ‘cause you might get crapped on. But kids were great, even if they do spoil your new blue shirt.
     Did I want a kid? I guess I was going to have one whether I wanted it or not. I did get people telling me scary stories, usually involving noise, tears, or other things that come out of babies. How many diapers a day? I heard the words “…what you have to look forward to…” plenty of times. Yeah, we were going to have a baby. We wanted a family, so I accepted it. We were having a baby. This is how it would be.
     But it wasn’t. I don’t know when or how it finally dawned on me like a sunrise after a long cold night. But this is what I didn’t get for the longest time. It wasn’t about having a baby, getting a kid. It was this: I was now a dad.
     My wife getting pregnant was not about getting a kid added to my family. It was about me transforming more into the man God intended me to be. I was a dad. I am a dad.
     Being a dad means changing diapers. You will get gross stuff on you. Not to fret, it’s not as toxic as a lot of things people put into their bodies nowadays.
     Being a dad means being a target of the rage of a child. I once heard a little girl, enraged at her parents in church, whisper: “I don’t love you!” She was mostly a sweet girl who obviously was raised with lots of love to be able to hurl such a statement. Kids say what they feel at the moment, not what they might feel later.
     Being a dad means it’s no longer about you. It’s about the family with you as a part of it. And the sacrifices that are worth it? They feel the best in the end.
     Being a dad means being a role model. Whether I like it or not, my children are watching and learning, growing and imitating. I see the dry wit in more than one of my children flourishing. I also see negative character traits they’ve picked up from me.
     I am constantly trying to strengthen my relationship with God. As I do this more, I am becoming more encouraged at the underlying theme I can’t escape from in God’s Words. God loves his children. If that is modeled to me, I can do two things.
First, I can love my children the same way God loves me. It’s a love that I will never lose. I can distance myself from God (and I have) to the point where I don’t feel that love anymore. But it was always there. There was and is nothing I could do to make God stop loving me, I want my children to feel the same thing from me.
Second, I can model that love to them. I can’t control what the world will someday do to shape the lives of my children. But I want to model in them the love that they will have for their children someday. This, I do want them to learn from me.
I’ve been a dad for 20 years now and I’m still learning. There is joy in discovery as well as some anguish and pain. I have 5 living children and one gone home to be with The Lord. I won’t say waiting for me in heaven. She had her earthly fill of waiting in hospitals and is probably keeping busy.
Of my 5 children here with me, I am astounded and proud of them all. The talent, integrity, and love I see tells me that God must have a hand in the outcome as well as me. 20 years ago I was a nervous wreck about having a baby. And now I’m sure I was put on this earth to be a dad.
1 month-old Jamie spits up on me and Naomi can't believe Prajna wants a picture of it

Monday, June 10, 2013

Walking and Passing

Pomp and Circumstance music plays in the background.
     Greetings graduates. I see the sea of those little hats with the dangling  liripoops out there looking for all the world like you all walked here balancing books on your heads. Your eyes look excited, frightened, unsure, I don’t blame anyone for looking that way. There’s a world out there that eats naiveté for breakfast.
     I don’t pretend to know what they are teaching in schools these days. But I know what it’s like to be your age, and regardless of changing culture and technology, you are at the edge of childhood advancing forward to adulthood. You may or may not have a good idea what to do with your lives. You may or may not know how to go about it. But how many of you can honestly say that you don’t want to do something significant? You might be thinking: “What difference can I make in the world?”
     And the world might look so daunting that you would rather be back in kindergarten eating glue. It’s alright. The world is scary. You can be frightened. But here’s what you can’t do. You can’t go back. No matter how many bottles of glue you eat, you’ll never be six again.
     But here is the encouraging news. You can make a difference. It doesn’t have to mean going out into the world and discovering a marvelous cure for all known diseases or writing the Great American Novel. I want to tell you today that you can make a difference in the world just by being who you truly are.
     21 years ago when I had a friend in the hospital with a broken leg, life was scary for her. The trauma of the car accident, the pain of a broken femur and the misery of a hospital stay all weighed down on my friend. But we had another friend down the hall. She was another patient at the time recovering from abdominal surgery. We didn’t get generic “get well soon” messages or any one-upmanship for pain stories. What we got were cheerful words and smiles.
And in that two week hospital stay, one of the greatest moments was when our friend joyfully announced to us that she had finally passed gas, a significant objective following abdominal surgery. We were overjoyed with her.
My dear graduates, be yourselves and bring joy to the world with things as little as a breath of wind. You don’t need to try hard at all to be yourself. It’s how you were made. You may think that the world is like a cavernous hospital corridor, dark and wide and frightening. So do what my friend did and plod down that hall as best as you can in order to work out what needs to be passed. And when the little victories come, look for them, they will, share that joy with others.
Graduates as you rise to take your diploma, I encourage each of you to smile at the person handing it to you. Let that smile say you’ve passed something and are ready to move on.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Who's a Writer?

     I knew a guy who said he was a writer. He was just a little younger than I was and very cheerful and even enthusiastic about writing. This was 14 years ago during the last stage show I ever did. Life was turbulent at the time. We were in the last months of our lives before Naomi was diagnosed with cancer. I still thought of myself as a writer then, but I don’t think I was writing anything.
     So this kid I knew had a great attitude about his writing. He was confident and hopeful of publication. I felt proud of him and thought it was an honor to know someone who would publish someday. I am trying to remember if I was jealous at all. I don’t think I was.
     Then one evening he brought some of his work to show me. I read it over. There’s a scene in the movie Finding Nemo when Marlon the Clownfish reluctantly begins to tell a joke to an excited audience of sharks. Almost right away, it’s obvious the joke is not going to be funny and Marlon isn’t funny either. And the grins on the sharks just melt away. I didn’t see Finding Nemo for a few more years, but as I started to read this kid’s writing, I felt like those sharks.
Like Marlon the fish, this kid was not funny. The writing was not fiction, but a confused narrative that must have been funny to him. I don’t remember what it was about. The only honest feedback I gave him was that babies actually loved puréed sweet-potato. I tried to be encouraging otherwise. And he took my advice with his trademark cheerfulness. Perhaps in the 14 years he has improved. I hope so. Maybe what I admired the most was his optimism.
And here is the very honest truth: 14 years ago I wasn’t so good either. I had good ideas back then, but little talent for putting them into a decent story. But between then and now, I have read a lot of materials and books about writing, I listen to author interviews and most of all, I aim to write every day. (I usually write 3-4 times a week though.) I can look at my work from many years ago and cringe. I think that means I’m better now.
But the question still haunts me. “What if I’m just fooling myself? What if I’m really no good?” Please, if you’re reading this, don’t answer. I think that some of my blog posts absolutely shine. Some others are best swept out the door with the cobwebs and dust. But am I like that kid just fooling myself?
The reason I’m thinking about this now is that I have been trying to steadily write for about 2 years or so now. Some weeks all I’ve done is blog. While last November I wrote 77 thousand words in 30 days. That is one of my proudest accomplishments. I felt like a real writer, not when I won National Novel Writing Month, but when I would sit down to write. I knew what I was doing. I knew where the story was going and I was having a ball at it. That was what it took to make me feel like a writer.
At this very moment, it’s ten after two on a Sunday afternoon and I’m in Starbucks with a coffee at my left and an iPod on my right. The words are flowing out of me, for the most part (had to think of the verb for how the words came out). And right now, I feel like a real writer.
But I’ve taken on a new project, one I’ve fretted over, but promised myself. I started my memoir last week. I have blogged about this before. If I ever really wanted to publish, this would be it. Everything else I write is fun. It would be cool to publish, but unrealistic. Lots of good writers don’t publish. But I have one story, just one, that I want to make the effort to go all the way. That means multiple drafts, editing, perhaps finding an agent, and writing query letters. It is big league stuff.
So far, I’ve written on a few mornings. And it’s not easy. The words come out, but they don’t feel good. This isn’t fiction anymore with cloaked strangers on desert roads, spaceships whirling around a distant star or rivers turning to fire underneath a castle. This is real stuff that happened to me. Does anyone really want to hear this?
I have an opening for the story that I wrote. It was a true incident where I walked away from the cash register only to be yelled at by the cashier for leaving one year-old Jamie behind. I went and fetched Jamie and didn’t bother to explain to the indignant onlookers that of course I felt like I was missing someone, my daughter had just died a week ago. I walked around all day with the feeling that something was missing. I just was trying to ignore it when I left Jamie behind.
It’s an intriguing story and it’s completely true. I think that written well, it’s a perfect opening. The real question is can I keep it up? And can I keep writing this? It’s not real fun so far. There’s no smoke-swept battlefield with wolves and marauders. There’s only me narrating the story of my life, the time before Naomi, during, and after.  
A writer’s best friend is a crumby first draft. I can feel liberated by knowing that this doesn’t have to be perfect the first time around. But there is still anxiety here. I have taken the first steps on a perilous writing venture. I don’t know if I’m good enough to complete it. One of my favorite authors said in an interview “Write the story for yourself and let the people who need to find it, find it.” That, in addition to the crumby first draft should have me writing freely. But it’s too different. But it’s early. I’m barely out of the starting gate. I hope I can find my voice for this, which will be the tailwind. We’ll see.