Faking Fatherhood

I became a father at twenty-three. To say that I was clueless would be an huge understatement. Not only did I not know what I was doing, I didn’t think I needed to know anything. Within five years we had two more kids. My knowledge of fatherhood had not increased. I pretended to comprehend the magnitude and seriousness of fatherhood with it’s wisdom and overwhelming responsibility for nurturing and molding young minds and bodies. But I was just faking it.

Don’t get me wrong. I was knee-deep in diapers and feedings and bath time rituals and nighttime prayers and all the rest. I was a hands-on dad. I wiped up puke and dealt with tantrums, and frantic searches for lost pacifiers. But didn’t know any of the “important stuff”. How could I be a father when I could barely take care of myself? When I tucked those babies in at night I prayed for wisdom. I prayed for patience. I prayed that I wouldn’t screw things up too badly. But I was just faking it.

Then came the school years with sports and science projects and Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts and all the rest. The kids had homework that I couldn’t possibly do. They played sports that I couldn’t have played as a no-talent, last-to-be-picked-for-a-team kid. I went on Boy Scout camping trips that I hated. And I just kept faking it.

Years flew by and the kids grew up and became adults. Off to the Air Force. Off to college. Down the aisle. I sighed (and cried) but I put on a brave face and big smile and faked it. They weren’t ready for what was coming their way because I hadn’t done my job. I hadn’t prepared them for adulthood. And I just kept faking it.

family

Faking it big time!

Now I have grandkids and I’m still faking it – the wisdom part; the knowledge part; the Fatherhood expertise part; I still fake all that. But the love; the love is real. And LOVE is amazing because it makes up for all my other shortcomings. Love lets me fake all the rest. And so I began faking it the day that baby boy was placed in my arms. Because love is all that really ever mattered.

And being a father is the greatest gift I was ever given. Turns out that you don’t have to be worthy, or brilliant or patient or knowledgeable, just loving…

Peace,

Denis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Apple (or whatever it was)

apple.jpgIf you ask most folks about the story of Adam and Eve, a likely image that they’ll recall is the apple. Eve offered Adam the apple after the serpent convinced her to eat it. It’s hard to blame the first couple for the whole apple ordeal because they had no one else to ask and the Internet hadn’t been invented so they couldn’t “Google” the serpent’s claim to see if it was accurate. I kind of get it. Who hasn’t received some lousy advice and made a few bad choices along the way?

Anyway, the thing is. It may not have been an apple at all. The Bible just says forbidden fruit. It doesn’t mention an apple by name. The poor apple is blamed for the whole Original Sin/Driven out of Paradise mess. Heck it could’ve been a pear. And I don’t even like pears but I still think of the apple as the culprit. Strange how images or ideas get stuck in our consciousness. It could have been a banana or a pomegranate or something we don’t even have a name for now.

This whole thing makes me think about how often I have been the apple. How many times have I been the misidentified fruit? You know, the guy that gets the blame (or shame) for something that he really didn’t do. Or worse, how often have I assigned blame to an innocent person? Assuming that because of circumstances or associations or appearances someone “who could be an apple” is guilty of something.

When my kids were teenagers I used to say, “If you look like a duck, and quack like a duck, and hang out with ducks, people will assume you too are a duck.” The intent was to have them choose friends wisely and avoid troublemakers. I realize now that I was only reinforcing negative stereotypes and sending mixed messages as I constantly implored them to also “think for yourselves” and “stop following the pack”. My parental failures are epic…

The point is: I need to seek the truth. I need to stop calling out the “apples” in my life. After all the “apples” might not even be the offenders. I need to make my decisions based on love and faith and honesty, not on fear and rumor and prejudice. Not everything is black and white. My world is many shades of gray (and thankfully lots of color, too). While on this journey of life I will make some mistakes and break some hearts and do some irreparable damage. I hope that God will forgive me when I have judged too harshly; when I have failed to see the good in others; when half-truths have clouded my ability to reason. I pray that those I have offended will understand my ignorance and excuse it even if they cannot forgive me.

Peace,

Denis

“It is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, or else you will die.’”

 

 

Love is the Answer (so what’s the question?)

Christmas 03My son Blake tells me that he’s pretty sure we are all one consciousness.  The universe experiencing itself; a pulse experienced through different hardware.  He believes that unconditional love is the answer but what is the question?

He and I sometimes have these existential kinds of conversations.  What is the meaning of life? Is there a God?  Or is it all some elaborate myth?  Were we “created” or do we exist because of some cosmic happenstance?  Do we need God?  Does God need us?

It makes me think.  And wonder.  And pray.  And sometimes I wonder as I pray.

People behave badly.  We murder.  We rape.  We abuse children.  We discriminate based on religion, race, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.  We arm ourselves.  We build walls.  We exploit the most vulnerable amongst us.

Genesis tells us:  God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness.  But if ‘God is love’ why is there so much un-Godlike behavior happening in our world.  If God made us in his (her) image why aren’t we loving one another?  Why aren’t we lifting one another up?  Why aren’t we caring for one another?

And then I crawl out of my hole and look around.  I see every little loving thing that my wife does each day for me and countless others.  I see my friends who have often lifted me up during times of heartache and self-doubt. I  realize that I am cared for not just by friends and family but by strangers who work for peace and justice in our world.

My grandson Noah asked me recently, “Pawpaw, do you know what zeal is?”  Before I could offer a definition he exclaimed, “It’s how God loves us and how God wants us to love others!”  And I realize then that we do!  We do love one another.  We do lift each other. We do care for one another.  Not always.  Not all of us.  Not often enough.  But we do!

And perhaps that’s the question – why not always; why not all of us; why not often enough?  Unconditional love is the answer.  God was once again revealed to me through my seven year-old grandson.  God is in the love we share; in the countless times that Noah has lifted me up from my gloominess and my self-pity; all the times that we have cared for one another.  Noah full of zeal!  Blake too has loved me and lifted me with his kindness; his sincerity; his goodwill.  These two (uncle and nephew) come from very different places – physically and spiritually but God is there – loving; lifting; caring.

Evil exists.  Bad things happen.  But that’s not the end of the story.  God has given us power over evil.  We just need to share the gift of Love.  Perhaps then others will ask the question – not why not always; why not all of us; why not often enough?

Peace,

Denis

 

Transformed

Capture2Last Sunday our granddaughter Charlise was confirmed in the Catholic Church. The bishop’s message was that it was indeed a special day and certainly deserving of the pomp and circumstance on display. However he reminded those being confirmed that he wasn’t dispensing magic but instead he was conveying the sacrament that was promised them at baptism. He also reminded these young people that Confirmation wasn’t just something to achieve but that by accepting God’s gift of the Holy Spirit they had an obligation to be transformed. To be agents of positive change in our world. Pretty heady stuff for 13 & 14 year-olds.

I’m most proud of the fact that Charlise chose Confirmation on her own – it wasn’t forced on her by her parents; she wasn’t pressured by peers. She chose to receive this sacrament and make this commitment. It is her choice. A sign of her maturity.

Scripture tells us that the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

confirmationI believe that Charlise will meet the challenge to be changed; to be transformed. She will be an advocate for social justice and peace. She will love those who are at times unlovable (including yours truly); bring joy to those in sadness and sorrow; bring peace to our world in her deliberate and thoughtful manner; afford patience to those most in need of understanding; show kindness to those who are hurting; goodness in her manner and in her unselfishness; faithfulness to God and to all God’s creatures; gentleness in her strength and determination; and self-control in her lifestyle choices.

Now I have to try to live up to her example. And pray for a little transformation of my own.

Peace,

Denis

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. 1 Corinthians 12:4-6

 

 

 

 

 

Uber Confessions

I travel in business quite a bit. In my travels I use Uber, which is a ride-sharing or private taxi service. Uber drivers use their own vehicles and provide quick convenient service. Typically the cars are clean, well-maintained and the drivers are safe and courteous.

Because these individuals are not professional taxi drivers their manner is often casual and friendly. What has surprised me most is what these drivers have shared about their personal lives. And why?

Many drivers tell me where they were born and where they now live. Several have told me about their jobs (besides being an Uber driver). Most will share details about their families – married, single, divorced, children, etc. At times I feel like a guidance counselor or a therapist or a confessor.

I had one driver who expounded on his misogynistic and racist points of view, sighting books and Alt-Right websites and publications. Initially I ignored him but finally I asked him to please stop. I think he was offended that I was offended.

I had a driver tell me in detail about her physically ill mother and her emotionally ill daughter who had recently lost custody of her children. I could only manage to say “I’m sorry” and “Gosh that’s tough”. At 5:00 in the morning I hadn’t the necessary wisdom or empathy to meet her needs.

Another driver told me that he and his brother “rapped” and although he wasn’t a professional rapper and hadn’t recorded any of his songs, he was nonetheless very talented. I was spared any spontaneous performances. I took him at his word for how immensely talented he is. And I suppose I just look like someone who would really appreciate a well-rapped verse or two.

One driver, who appeared to be in his nineties complained that people don’t seem to have any respect for one another these days (which I agreed) and then he proceeded to rant for the entire trip about women drivers, Asian drivers, stupid kids on the road, those assholes on bicycles (his words-not mine), truck drivers and various and assorted other “road hogs”. When we arrived, he told me that he really enjoyed our conversation. I don’t believe I spoke a word.

One female driver kept a video playing continually that monitored the front and rear doors of her home because her twelve year-old son was alone and they lived in a neighborhood prone to gang violence and frequent break-ins. Her son’s father lived nearby and had a gun which apparently she found reassuring. I just kept saying, “Wow!” and “I know what you mean” even though I had no idea what any of it meant.

desmondtutu1-2xI had a driver who was from India and we spoke about Indian food that I have eaten and loved but he laughed out loud every time I spoke and nothing I said was truly funny. Maybe it was the way I pronounced chicken tikka masala (I’ll never know). We laughed and laughed!

My latest driver shared a heart breaking account of his girlfriend (bi-polar) and their living arrangements (homeless off-and-on) and his recreational drug use (I was assured he was drug-free that day). I couldn’t help wonder how he afforded the car he was driving but I thought it prudent not to ask. I tried not to think about whether he was high while driving but I was thankful when we safely reached my destination.

It has occurred to me that these drivers are part of God’s creation. They have a need to tell their stories – we all do. Perhaps just listening is the gift I can give to them. I’m not condoning racism or drug abuse or 90 year-old crankiness but I’m not here to judge either. I should be listening for God’s voice in theirs and returning God’s love to them in my limited ability and perhaps that can be part of my story.

And it wouldn’t kill me to give them a tip once in awhile…

Peace,

Denis

See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 1 John 3:1

 

 

The Great Equalizer

Jesus poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist. When he had washed their feet and reclined at table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”  John 13:5, 12-15

In our Catholic tradition we celebrate Holy Thursday with foot-washing during the Eucharist. We are reminded by Jesus’ example that to truly serve God we must become servants to one another. Jesus challenges me. How can I be a servant when I so desperately want to be served?

Yesterday I came home after a week-long business trip to discover that our sump pump had stopped working and that our basement was wet. Very wet. So I began trying to salvage things and mop up the mess. Then of course  a trip to purchase a new sump pump. That kind of job ALWAYS requires a second or third trip to the hardware store to buy the additional parts that are needed. I struggled and cursed for what seemed like hours (actually minutes) to disconnect and re-install the new pump. Finally my son-in-law and hero came to my rescue. And peace was restored in the land.

CaptureAt Mass last night I was contemplating this servant-serving thing. My back ached and my knees were sore from my afternoon of unexpected labor. I realized being humbled in the muck of my basement clean-up and repair, I had become a servant of sorts. But even more profoundly my son-in-law Travis had served me. And I had the grace to accept my defeat and allow his much-needed support.

I believe that the Eucharist is our great equalizer. We come together as servants or those being served. We join in servitude or privilege; as peasants or nobility; as haves or have-nots; and leave as equals. We are reminded that we are ALL created in God’s image. As we attempt to serve God by serving one another, we are served the ultimate gift – Life in Christ.

Peace,

Denis

Good Sport

Two of my grandkids play organized sports – basketball, soccer, softball and baseball. There are plenty of good reasons to play: health, socialization, teamwork, discipline and commitment. In my opinion the best reason for young children to play sports is to learn good sportsmanship. Winning is fun but learning to lose with grace is a gift. Statistically most grade school students are not destined to become professional athletes, however most will have to learn to deal with disappointment, failure and loss in their lives. So being a good sport is more about being good and less about sports.

Recently my nine year-old granddaughter played in a basketball game. The coach on the opposing team screamed at the top of his lungs throughout the entire game. He was truly hostile. He berated his players, he yelled at the referees, he shouted direction and correction non-stop. He was a textbook example of poor sportsmanship. How sad for the young girls on his team – several of whom shouted back at him to “shut up!” during the game. I was dumbfounded. This is 4th grade basketball in a Catholic school! It was hard to watch.

My first reaction was to give this guy a piece of my mind and then to send an angry letter to the Athletic Director of his school or the pastor of his parish or the Archbishop. But then I decided my energies would be better directed in a more positive way.

So instead here’s my open letter to Anna’s coach:

Dear Coach,

Anna B-ballThank you for your kindness toward my granddaughter. Thank you for your time and talent with these precious girls. Thank you for helping them learn and letting them have fun. I know that Anna loves her team and loves to play. I also know that she lacks height and talent but she has heart and soul. You are teaching her valuable life lessons: teamwork & team spirit, willingness to try harder, self-confidence, and most importantly good sportsmanship. She may be the tiniest player on your team but you and I both know that she is almost always the first to take a knee when a teammate is hurt. You can teach her to play tough but you are also teaching her compassion. Thank you for your good example.

God bless you,

A Grateful Grandfather

It’s interesting to me that during that awful game, my seven year-old grandson leaned over and said to me, “The other team is winning but Anna’s team is playing a better game, because they’re being good sports.”

Out of the mouth of babes…

Peace,

Denis