Contemplation Plus Fatherhood

My friend said something to me years ago that I can’t remember. He says things I like to remember but the way he phrased his words slips me. What I haven’t forgotten is what I’ve done with what he said.

In my mind, what I’ve done is try to pull together the strands of fatherhood and contemplation. I do remember leaving that conversation thinking, “How can I be a contemplative father?”

I think back to his words, said to me on the street in our neighborhood and just outside our mechanic’s office, when I hear people say of their own child-rearing, “The years run by.” Or something like, “Don’t blink. You’ll look up and they’ll be leaving home.”

When people say this, I think of contemplative parenting. I think of my conversation with my friend. In my mental world, contemplative parenting brings together being a parent and being in the moment. Contemplation means being where you are. It means being centered and keeping your weight over that center. It means to be present.

Pulling together contemplation and parenting, it’s impossible to miss moments. Your practice is to be in those moments. You certainly don’t remember them all. Your brain does things with memories that you and I can’t understand. There are things that you lose or let go of. You forget. You will forget but that doesn’t mean you will have missed the moments.

You will have lived them. You will have participated in them. In that sense, those moments as a father (for me) will always be there (in the present), have been there (in the past), and left me available for being there (in the future). If my orientation is to be in the moment, I miss nothing. To be sure, it is exhausting, this orientation.

It’s easier to obsess about a future. It’s easier to fume over yesterdays. It is hard to be right where I am. May God continue to help me.

When You’re Stressed

Stress has a way of uncovering your faults, stripping you of your character costumes, and revealing who is left.

When taken into your body (and by that I mean all of you), stress is received as a signal to your system(s) to fly, flight, or freeze.

Another way of screening stress is by calling it your way of coming down to your basic self, your raw self, and who you are.

You’re surely more than any one decision, but you are definitely who you are when you’re raw. Angry, pissed, disappointed. How you interpret stress, how you take that stressful event in and live from it, will look differently from the next person. But you are in that response.

Take a look at your stresses. Take a look at your responses. Notice who you were in them. Notice who you still are.

Is that the person you want to be when the next stress comes? Is who you are consistent with who you thought you were?

Accept who you see. Love that person. And decide if you want to change.

Clinical Skill

A friend called me and I answered the phone, “What did I do?” She laughed and then asked me what my goals were for the year.

Having thought little about the calendar year, it took a minute. I live on a few calendars. My school calendar, my oldest son’s school’s calendar, my work calendar, and in an implicit way, the liturgical calendar.

Each project in my world has a calendar. In some ways, I’m modifying goals regularly based upon what happens in each mini-world.

So we joked a few minutes while I got myself together to answer her question. She and a few folks had listened to each other’s goals the day prior and she wanted to hear mine. She wanted to do me the favor of hearing my goals. Emmanuel Lartey, a pastoral theologian, wrote in In Living Color, that “Listening is a core skill in any form of caring.”

We traded goals and that was it. The thing is, when trading goals and expectations and hopes, I was–and she was–giving each other permission to participate. Trading was a step. Her asking me in a few months some version of “how are you doing with this one?” is another step.

It was a gift to me, having her ask the question, probe gently, and listen. I actually said to her, “This is what I do. I show up and ask people a question in order to hear them. How are you taking my role?”

I learned in that conversation that more people do what I do. More people are capable of coming alongside another person in order to listen, to care. I also learned that friends can take different roles playfully and that we can all do more or less than what we’ve done in the past.

That’s actually one of the learnings behind my goals, learning that I’m not, merely, what I have been and what I have done. My friends…always strengthening my and their clinical skill.

That Comment at Dinner about Manhood

The other day at dinner, we were all at the table, and you said something about “Trump.” I corrected you, told you to insert a “Mr.” and you did. Then, you went on with your story.

Since then, I’ve had a couple moments reflecting upon that parental intervention. I’ve questioned my response like I often do with you. Was it right? Where was I coming from? Was my approach authentic to the best parts of my upbringing, the parts that I want to pass on to you and to your brother?

And I’m thinking over the goods and bads of that insertion. That Mr. comes with problems. I didn’t go into the problems then, though they were on the borders of my thinking. I’m your father and a part of my role is to regularly be as close to my best thoughts as I can be because you and your brother come up with all kinds of things I want to affirm, correct, question, laugh at, or otherwise capture. It takes energy to be present. It takes energy to be a good father. I want to be both with you and number two. So the Mister.

In some ways, we’ve already discussed portions of the problematic insertion. In some ways, explaining myself at the time would have gotten us off the important point you were making and pulled us away from the more pressing matter of what you wanted to say. But this is why I blog, to post up little indications of increasingly critical and vulnerable discourse so that you and your brother will have trails of thinking where I’ve said my piece, made my peace.

There are issues with my suggestion about the current person sitting in the Oval, the broad white structure made by a lot of beautiful black hands and recently inhabited by a beautiful black family, the family there when we traveled to DC as a family so we could trek through the Museum while our president was Barack Obama.

First, everyone is worthy of being treated like a person. In my quick move to tell you how to put a handle on a last name, I was foundationally trying to say that you should treat “Trump” the way you’d treat anyone who was an adult and that isn’t by saying there name.

Second, this is an admittedly cultural application. You know people, some of them are your friends, who call people by names without handles, but that’s not the family you are being raised in, is it? Black people have conventionally raised each other to be honorable and that honor is expressed by an enduring respect for elders. That respect is easily translatable to others who aren’t old but who are older than you.

Third, you cannot restrict yourself to the limited experiences of people who use language irresponsibly. For better and worse, I am your father. You and your brother have inherited the godparental influence of Auntie Pat who on too many long rides corrected me and Uncle Mark and who wouldn’t let us get away with poor speech. I am passing that on. Of course, she has told you some of these stories herself. Both me and your dear mother are communicators in our own ways. There are certain phrases you must use, certain ones I’d strongly encourage you not to use.

Fourth, adults are adults. When you become an adult–and I plan to tell you precisely when that occurs!–those who are older are elders. As I said, adults and elders generally must be treated as, among other things, containers of deep wisdom. This comes out of your African heritage. It isn’t constricted only to blackness but it is certainly in your blackness. Your lineage includes honor for the elders.

I was coming out of these points of view. However, and now we turn toward the paradoxical and toward the ways I’m encouraging you to second-guess me and toward ways I’ve second-guessed myself on this comment at the table, some people are not worth your Mr. Some people–and I’d include this person in the Oval–are not worth your respect.

There are males who are only men by virtue of their maleness, who do everything to diminish your view of them because of how they conduct themselves in the world, and those males are not worthy of your respect. They may well be worth your acknowledgement of them as human beings, but they are unworthy of your respect. The men in your life, me among them, are aiming to teach you in how to discern which qualities make a man respectable. For now–and at the table–I was intervening, showing you this current example of a man who is unworthy.

You know because of how you are being raised by your dear mother, by me, and by our extended family (the plural collective that I’m collapsing in the singular term) that your respect is hard-won. Your respect is an indication of what it took for you to develop an idea of personhood broadly and manhood in (this) particular.

You have seen and loved and been by and loved by good men. For quick instance, your uncles are good men. All of them. For another instance, I am a good man. We are teaching you to respect yourself and how that respect is immediately and intricately related to respect for others. Since it’s hard-won, you ought not give away easily.

Giving your honor to a person means that you are extending to him or her some part of you that they ought to be able to accept, take in, and appreciate. People ought to be able to receive you, receive the pearls that come from you to use a biblical allusion. The man is the Oval, the current president of the country, is not one of those people. Again, this is complicated so I need to tell you more about why I’m offering a well-situated exception to the rule.

The current president, as you have told me, has been unkind to many people. This was a part of your heartbreak when he was elected. You remember how excited you and your peers were to vote in school, how surprised and perplexed you were when the man who said “those bad things about Mexicans and women” won. He has called for the harm of individuals and families. He has repeatedly told lies. He has admitted to participating in sexual assaults against women. He has deceived. He has consistently misapplied sacred texts, a devious consequence when a person is not a part of a sacred community. He has made decisions based upon people he knows and not taken the wide grace of counsel beyond his own comforts. He has encouraged violence and engendered, insofar as is possible for his talent, a national culture of division. He has been a successful businessmen in the United States of America without any real historically visible integration of spirituality which says more of the same. These may be true about other political misters but it has been documented by others in this president’s case and it has been experienced by you in your own life.

The current president will not always be the president. We will have others. So govern yourself accordingly. You can respect his personhood without extending to him what he would not extend to you. You can respect his personhood without accepting the type of masculinity that he models.

I wish I could tell you to use me as a guide. In some ways, you necessarily use me as a guide and measure of manhood. That is a delightful, bruising, high burden for me. But I’m imperfect as I often tell you. What I’m happy to do is point to the very contours from which you will judge me and judge others. Use these mentionings to hold me to the accountability of your best notions of respect. And use them to judge others too. They’re good enough for that, these cultivated ramblings.