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.

Park Swings

I heard Nina Li Coomes, a poet from Japan and Chicago, and her poem–which I got to by her essay in my inbox through the On Being newsletter–made me think of you. It made me think of your brother, too, but the thought of you came first.

Her poem was written to her unborn daughter and for a moment the title of the poem, spoken at a Chicago slam which Nina won, felt implausible to me, felt foreign to me because of my deep experience with you boys, felt distant to me because your mother used to say all the time how she thought I’d soften if I ever had a daughter and how she wanted to see that softening.

Presumably I’ve spent a lot of time hardening. Well, I should be honest that it’s not a presumption. I have hardened. I could insert the things I’ve said in a dozen ways before to explain that calcifying of my heart, that drying of my spirit, and provide departure points that begin with you, extend with your brother, and deepen in the country of loss that I live in while being a father whose own father exists in memories, in pictures, in videos, in the mouths of loved ones, in the twinkle of my mother’s eyes.

But I have softened and I thought of that softening today. I thought of it last night as I melted over the pain joy blanketing me in the quietness of a wonderful day to be a father. I softened all over again as I thought about why going to McDonald’s is so hard for me, why white and brown vans send my heart into its own swirls, why passing by parks and playing in parks with you and your brother the way we did yesterday is a trip full of complicated pleasures. These softenings remind me of the days when I held my father’s steep, chiseled hands, when he took me and my brother to eat, to play, to run, to be free. Thinking of them let me think of the hardening.

Nina’s words brought back my scholar and peer’s words while we were swinging on the swings, your brother commanding me to push and him watching you and you doing the same, smiling just the way you did when you were your brother’s age when we played in our park across from the Obama home, and me pushing you both by using the back stretch that ends of a sanchin kata that you haven’t learned yet, one you’ll do better than me. I was being a good dad and it was a way to spend the day with you and with my good dad on his birthday.

Nina’s poem had a line. You know lines because you possess many of them, keep your own like a poet awaiting his debut, inching up to the stage at Busboys, breathing lines at Louder, testing phrases at the Hyde Park Blvd bus stop, whispering them while you review a kata just before a promotion. Her line made me think of your line, which made me remember a moment that you discussed with me and your mother late one evening, after bedtime came and went.

You were distressed and that distress etched something in me that made me want to shield you. We talked it through. You and your mother had talked it through before. I heard some of it and stayed out of it. I waited until I was brought in so that you could do your thing with mommy. Then, we three discussed it. And we kept at it. I hardened in the moment because I’m used to hardening. I’m not bad at hardening. I would soften later. We would keep speaking over themes like the one you raised that night. We would edge toward the swing, lift ourselves in it, and eventually press ourselves into the blue.

Second grade would be a long grade for you (and me), longer than the others so far. It would be the grade where I heard difficulties emerge for you that were never difficulties before. It would be the grade that would show me the poverty and richness of my fathering skills. It would be the grade when me and your mother worked through how to become even better at something we do well.

It would be the grade that would deepen my longing for my own father, when I would write for him and offer my words to the sky for him to read the way I pushed my sons on swings during the holiday when their father felt free with them and, surrounded by friends over poorly coordinated leisure that worked out fine, despite his little fears that felt less strong.

You and your brother will keep swinging. The smiles in your faces tell me that. I’ll be one of the ones behind you, pushing, pausing, pressing you to extend yourselves, kick your legs, and dig into the movements of freedom. And we’ll all be engaging in that extending and kicking and digging. We’ll all be freer for it. One swing at a time. One smile at a time.

You and your brother can fight about who will write the poem. I have my thoughts about who will win.

My Blog: Name-Calling

My son and I were talking about someone calling him a name. We’ve discussed this a few different times. This happens to children. Of course, it happens to adults, too.

I told Bryce that name-calling is a compliment and that the boy, saying what he said, was trying to get his attention. He was trying to keep his attention.

I suggested a strategy to which Bryce said, “I like your thinking.” I like your thinking. Six-years-old and he likes my thinking!

Aside from the strategy, Bryce followed the suggestion and the boy immediately switched, became his friend, and made me look like I knew what I was doing with my son!

The point of this post is that name-calling is a compliment. Bullying is not. Bullying is different. Find your words to distinguish them. And help somebody else do the same.

Remembering School

Waking up to see your mother buttoning your white shirt.

Making your breakfast and talking to you about your first day.

Listening with you to the “Good Day” song.

Tying my tie that looks like yours, being your twin.

The full feeling of watching you enter a room with children you’ve never met.

Seeing your mother reach for you after we’d left the classroom.

The rumble and bustle of students in the school, dressed for learning.

Parents greeting, introducing, and drinking juice.

The sound of your cough echoing in my memory from the morning.

Taking your mother to work and joking about how you’re growing.

Candidacy and Fatherhood (2 of 2)

Photo Thanks to Leeroy

Photo Thanks to Leeroy

I messaged Dawn after the initial interview. Then we talked. She was feeling fine and was headed to a planned prenatal appointment. I breathed as if for the first time.

We spoke about the interview but I couldn’t put more language out of my mouth. I had talked for more than hour and didn’t have the energy to rehearse much about it. An hour later she texted that she was having contractions. She was calling the midwife she had seen earlier. I was waiting for the report to come back at that time, waiting to hear if I passed.

After I passed and told her, we strategized and, for my part, to quell my fears. Then I got in the car to return home. I called her an hour later and couldn’t get her. I called back and she said she was going to the hospital which was 2 blocks away from her job. I was still fine, I was speeding by then in Wisconsin where they love out of state plates. Still, the hospital is there for that reason.

I had already told my coworkers that I might need them to intercept her and wheel her down the street. I had already asked Uncle David to be on notice in case I needed him. I actually introduced Dawn to hospital security for this very reason. I was going to have some notice, though, in my original vision. Dawn decided to pass by all that; she walked alone. Both of us, in two different places, getting ready for what was next.

I called her later and she was in the middle of a contraction and couldn’t speak. I drove faster, feeling an opening of possibility that I couldn’t be with her for the labor. She texted from triage. I was still too far. I called her mother and asked her to get to the hospital. Traffic stopped just outside of O’Hare. Literally stopped. Still, I end up beating my mother-in-law there.

That morning I had gone around, deliberating and then exhibiting how I am when the unplanned happens. That was a feature of my committee appearance. I talked about how nothing in pastoral practice is truly known ahead of time. I remember thinking about a practice of faith. True pastoral ministry is usually unpredictable. That truth was actually happening that morning and it was happening as Dawn walked to the hospital and while I sped to meet her.

I arrived at 4:50PM. I smelled of sweat from the whole day of meeting and waiting and driving and hoping. As soon as I walked in, Dawn says, she felt an intense contraction. She said that our baby knew it was safe to come. I looked at the clock and got to her side as she called to me.

She was laboring and had been. The posture felt familiar but it was different than with Bryce. It was bright outside this time, daytime. With Bryce I was there from the early signs and throughout. Labor started at night. I remember everything going very slowly. This time things moved swiftly, intensely.

Dawn held my hand, and I remember thinking that breaking all those laws to get back was redeemed in that moment. Especially if I would make it out of there with my hand bones intact. Our second son, Brooks, came at 5:37PM, and as you can imagine we were thrilled. It was the predominant feeling in the room.

I wasn’t thinking about the day when he came. Of course, being a part of a quick laboring process doesn’t afford you the space to reflect. That’s why I’m writing this now. Holding those two “moments” of preparing for and getting through candidacy, on the one hand, and returning to Dawn and being a part of the welcoming committee for our son, on the other.

They sit near each other as mirrors in a way. Two events full of potential and promise. Two events full of fear and hope. Two events with people who are involved to bring someone new forward. Two events that are, in different ways, destabilizing, constructive, constitutive, and reforming.

Candidacy and fatherhood are words that belong together. Of course, they speak to each other’s tentativeness and humility. They return to the other the truths of vulnerability and preparation and work and tirelessness and tiredness. They sit intently together, those words, like two brothers enjoying each other’s company.

Candidacy and Fatherhood (1 of 2)

Photo Thanks to Benjamin Child

Photo Thanks to Benjamin Child

The morning of April 1st I woke up at 3:30. It was one of those moments like years ago when, as a seminarian and pastor, I got out of bed at 2:30 and knew I wouldn’t return to sleep.

So, like back then, I got up and got ready for the day. Before I actually went to the church. It was a payroll week and I started going through the file and reviewing some other accounting material.

This time, I had planned to wake by 4:30 because of the drive to a Wisconsin meeting. I was scheduled for a 9am committee appearance to discuss my application to become an ACPE Supervisory Candidate.

A second step in the supervisory education process–the first being readiness–candidacy is the designation that students have after exhibiting in written materials and during an in-person consultation that you 1) are a clinically competent spiritual caregiver and 2) that you are increasingly ready to take on the potential of supervisory practice.

After a successful appearance, candidates are able to provide supervision of students, under supervision of your training supervisor, but without that supervisor being in the room.

It had been planned for a while. I had submitted my materials to my presenter, the person who would introduce me formally to the committee through a written report, and to the committee itself. Each gets a different set of materials about a month before the committee appearance.

We had known that my appointment was a week prior to the due date that we expected our second son to be born. All along I told him that he could come at any point after 5pm on Friday. “Preferably Sunday,” I told him, “but after time after 5pm Friday is fine.”

That morning I got up, checked on Dawn as the plan called for, and she gave me the “I’m not in labor” sign. I left the house at 4:15, drove to Wisconsin, and watched the sun rise shortly after crossing the state line. I spoke to my supervisor as I drove up to the site a touch more than an hour before my meeting.

We talked about the presenter’s report. He spoke to my anxieties and clarified ways to think about one of the five main questions the presenter suggested as conversation starters. The plan was for me to sleep for a spell before things started.

Photo Thanks to Sam Solomon

Photo Thanks to Sam Solomon

The interview lasted for one hour and fifteen minutes. By custom, the committee started with the basic wrangling over the facts in the report, got my corrections, and began to discuss my materials. Then they asked me where I wanted to go with things. That’s a rough summary. Each was its own series of exchanges.

For the entire time, I was working, going back and forth, following five people’s logical questions about my practice of pastoral care, my self-understanding, my ways of grieving, my pastoral identity, and my ways of relating to God. It was thrilling and unsettling and opening and revitalizing. It was an open invitation to explore what I’d do with students in clinical pastoral education.

With my training supervisor silent behind me, I disclosed things about myself and my history. I laughed with them. I felt tears in my eyes. I thought about my relationship with God and how it’s changed. I went around and around as people added questions to previous questions. I clarified and felt stuck and re-worked and paused. We listened to each other, but mostly those folks worked me over in order to gauge my competence as a pastor.

It was a presentation of myself in a room of pastoral educators, and it felt like a room full of being heard, understood, and accepted. I wasn’t defensive but free. I remember liking that feeling and wanting to pass it on to the other arenas in my life. I remember thinking that being in this process so far has given me the desire to be free.

The purpose of the committee was to exhibit pastoral competency. I did that. I thanked them. I was grateful and tired. I hadn’t slept those minutes beforehand because I saw people and talked.

I passed. They brought me back after almost an hour of discussion where they prepared their official findings. They read the committee action report to me, answered questions as I raised them, and congratulated me. They also consulted with my supervisor for forty-five minutes without me being in the room. That process is in place for anyone meeting candidacy committee. Four of my colleagues went through the same process that day. We all passed.

 

The Activity of Making Sense

Photo Thanks to Glen Noble

Photo Thanks to Glen Noble

I am reading slowly The Evolving Self, a book by Robert Kegan, about the coming together of psychoanalytic theory and cognitive developmentalism. It’s heady and I’m being patient with myself, especially since the reading is deepening me and my theoretical basis for the more practical, and perhaps more intuitive, work I do.

Egan took a moment to reflect on his daughter’s development and his response thereto. I read this father’s recollection of when she was sounding out words and thought of recent experience with our firstborn, Bryce.

“Being in another person’s presence while she so honestly labors in an astonishingly intimate activity—the activity of making sense—is somehow very touching” (p. 16).

It is true in my experience as well. I was reading over words with Bryce the other week. And Dawn gave me a compliment about how I was with him, which is proof that human beings can grow!

Dawn is the better, more patient, nurturing teacher with Bryce. I’m the guy who cooks dinner while they do homework. It’s a more fitting use of our skills and temperament. Dawn with him, coaxing and instructing and illuminating, and me pulling pans and throwing together a nourishing meal. We get it done in our way.

On that particular night, I was reading with him before bed, and Dawn was feeding the new boy. I was to read two pages and then Bryce was to read a page. Little did I know that a page could take so long. I’ve since been carefully told by a teacher how to change this up, and I’ll post about that later.

Now, this boy knows his sounds, thanks to the good work we did with Riggs cards and good teaching last year at his preschool. He’s been “reading” and learning and growing all year in kindergarten. But to be honest, we’ve slipped a little.

Photo Thanks to Taylor Leopold

Photo Thanks to Taylor Leopold

We’ve let him be taken into the world of books he’s preferred to read rather than those slim volumes with encircled number 2 or 3 on the right hand corner. We’ve read to him. And he’s been at the work of reading, but he’s really been cheating when we haven’t supervised his reading. He’s looked at comic pictures, which, of course, is a good thing. But he hasn’t been reading.

And he forgets. A lot. He will forget a word that I rehearsed multiple times, and he’ll forget it in three minutes. Now, I have a degree in psychology. I have coursework, dusty it may be in learning and memory and other cognitive psychology courses. But those courses were not my strong areas. I did well if you count the As and honors I always got in psychology, but those As were different than the ones in the clinical/applied courses. So, when I meet with my son’s unique developmental milestones, it frustrates me.

It makes me question my competence. It reveals my anger at him and myself and it shows where my values are: in getting things quickly and in getting things done quickly. This is something he does too, at his six-year-old speed. And of course, when he rushes through something, I catch him and call him out. Even though he’s doing what I do. Even though at his age, he’s doing what I often model: going through the motions. My motions are tutored by what learning I have, and his is too. I just have more in my box than he does. We’re doing the same thing. I’m his model. It’s sobering.

So, seeing him read is an entirely destabilizing endeavor. It’s constructive. It’s good. But it’s disorienting. He’s where he “should be” if we look at him through the gauges people we don’t know have made for him. He’s on course if we take counsel in the collective wisdom of curriculum writers who tell parents what their kids ought to know when. I’m not worried about Bryce in that respect.

But I am worried about how this kid has a way of continually teaching me about me. He’s a teacher to me who exposes my hidden and implicit biases for movement and productivity and fast-gained knowledge and quick wit. Even if those things complicate the simplicity of being at one’s own, real, natural, splendid, unrushed pace.

That is the activity that makes sense. Slowing down makes you. Pacing yourself has a way of making the sense I need. It prevents me from having sense made for me. It’s the activity I need of in my life.

Estimates of Your Leadership

Skitter PhotoLast month I had the opportunity to visit my mentor and father-friend, Dr. Johnathan Alvarado, on the occasion of his 50th birthday. His wife, Dr. Toni Alvarado, invited a collection of colleagues, parishioners, friends, and extended family to a party. I stayed for the full weekend as we celebrated him. I had the chance to represent those who JEA have mentored over the years—in my case, nearly 25 years.

The weekend and the writing of my reflection ahead of it gave me an opportunity to bring to mind all the things which he’s been to me, to my marriage, and to my family. His (and their) exemplary ethic in the practice of wise, enduring, faithful, intellectually responsive, and Spirit-led ministry mark me in my attempts to do similarly. I’m part of the fruit of his life. I’m part of the estimate of his leadership.

Bishop Alvarado shares me with other people who’ve mentored me. He and they are regular parts of my growth. As I described his impact upon me, I couldn’t help but visit my own ministry, teaching, and service to the world. I couldn’t help but question my own family life when I heard his daughter (their youngest) speaking so lovingly about her dad.

Bishop Alvarado esteems others well, and to participate in a public affirmation of his life was splendid. To review–even in my own life–how his life mattered and how his effort provided a currency for our own development as a person was of double benefit. It underlined my sincere appreciation that he is alive.

Listening to earned tributes has that impact on a person. You hear and you want to emulate what you hear. I want the estimates of my leadership to sound and look and feel like those did in December. I want to be the husband, father, leader, pastor, educator, caregiver, and writer who loves well and is loved well. I want to see the estimates of my leadership as I lead and to count them worthy.

Panama Jackson’s Letter to a Friend

Photo Thanks to Blake Verdoorn

Photo Thanks to Blake Verdoorn

Dear Homie,

If my math is correct, you’re set to become a father next month. Congratulations. There are few times in the life of a person more exciting (and nerve-racking) than the birth of your first child! As your friend and brother, I couldn’t be happier for you and the wife on this life-changing event. (it’s good to know how to use insurance terms, since in your case, the baby will be born during most open seasons—good timing!). I look forward to watching your daughter grow into the young woman she’ll become with the wisdom and guidance of her great parents.

And since I’ve been around that mountain a few times, I figured the least I could do was tell you a bit of what life is going to be like in the near term.

Basically, you’re going to miss a lot of it because of sleep deprivation. I mean, you’ll be there, but you won’t be there sometimes. Once, when #YoungPanamontana was an infant, I literally had a dream that I rolled over on her on the couch and woke up terrified that I’d killed my child, only to realize that she was upstairs asleep with her mother. Do you understand what I’m saying? I was so tired that I dreamed I was asleep, except I committed murder in my sleep WITH MY SLEEP. Which gets to where I’m going with this.

There are probably countless people who have told you to get all of your sleep now. And though you can’t, it’s one of those things that scientists should be working on: a sleep bank. Right now you can go to sleep at, say, midnight, and wake up at 8 a.m. after a night of uninterrupted sleep—assuming the wife allows you to sleep all night, since I’m sure she’s super uncomfortable right now.

But let’s say she does. Yeah, that’s going out the window the DAY young Homie-ette is born. See, babies, they have to eat every two hours for the first few days (weeks) of their lives. You don’t have to do the math to realize that means that at least 12 times a day—maybe less if she’s doing 2.5 hours—your child will be awake seeking sustenance and attention. Many of those hours come at times when you’d normally be asleep.

I don’t know what you all are going to do regarding breast-feeding (if your wife decides to breast-feed, it saves a FORTUNE on formula; if not, price matching and Amazon.com are your friends). But if she is going to, she’ll be up all night after short naps, only to arise to continue giving life to this person you two created.

Trust me on this one, fam: Wake up, too. Just be awake. Stare at the ceiling fan. Cut your toenails. Hold her boob. Do something so that she knows she isn’t up by herself. There’s a good chance she’ll be scowling at you even if you are helping, but it gets better. And if you’re asleep, there’s a great chance that she’s going to wake you up. I promise.

Read the rest of the letter here at the Root.

Fathers in Varied Stages (5 of 5)

I’m thinking over materials I’ve been reading, namely stuff about human development, faith development, and theological perspective. I’m bouncing around suggestions, mostly for myself since I’m trying to keep good notes on things I read that are worth keeping.

Photo Thanks to Pixababy

Photo Thanks to Pixababy

Here is a list of suggestions for fathers (and the people who love them), particularly those above 70 years:

  1. Call your children, biological or not. Even if they’re busy, put a call in. Make sure they know the sound of your (aging) voice. It’ll connect you with you and you with them. In other words, find a way to connect with them. Resist the temptation to “wait for them to call me” or to believe they’re too busy for you to call. Be a parent to them now. They need you so don’t talk yourself out of that truth.
  2. Tell your story in every possible way. We suffer when we’re robbed of our individual and corporate stories. And we’re blessed immeasurably when we tell them. People need to know you and your story. Write it. Record it. Podcast it. Whatever. You need to tell as much as others need to hear it.
  3. Make a friend for each decade behind you. I swiped this from someone, probably Dan Radakovich. I think he told me that he has a friend for each decade. He told me that we need to connect with people as friends who are younger. And we can make 7 new friends in a year. Of course, Dan makes that many friends in a week.
  4. Start a project for which you’ll never see the result. There’s something to be said for starting projects when you’re old. It reminds us all that old folks are able folks. Beyond that, it’s an effort in making a contribution in faith that that contribution will end well. In doing so, you honor that life continues beyond you. So give yourself wholly to a cause, at this stage in your life, because you aren’t so stuck on the ending. The process will nurture your spirit.
  5. Mentor one or two fathers. You need to keep in touch with parenting. You need to give, even if you’ve broken ties with your kids or if they’ve died or if you’re far away from family. Go to a church or an organization and find a father who’s open to learning. Find a newly married husband who’s mentioned wanting to learn. Teach.
  6. Stay faithful to your best values. Name what matters to you, and stay with those things. In a way, everything else fades as you age. What remains is what will remain. Those stubborn qualities are what has brought us “thus far on the way.” Those are our best values. They’re usually things like love and justice and hope. When all else fades, when sickness comes and memory goes, those things stay.
  7. Be intentional about spiritual growth. I am a pastor and chaplain, so this suggestion is no surprise. But not everybody believes what I do. Whatever your beliefs, take them as seriously as possible. In doing that, in taking your beliefs seriously, you’ll exemplify fidelity. Believe with all that you have, and in this stage, you have a lot. That’s an essentially spiritual undertaking. Stay with it.

What would you add?

Fathers in Varied Stages (4 of 5)

I’m thinking over materials I’ve been reading, namely stuff about human development, faith development, and theological perspective. I’m bouncing around suggestions, mostly for myself since I’m trying to keep good notes on things I read that are worth keeping.

Photo Thanks to Alex Holt

Photo Thanks to Alex Holt

Here is a list of suggestions for fathers (and the people who love them), particularly those between the ages of 60 and 69:

  1. Move your body. Keep exercising rather than slowing down until you stop moving altogether. The longer you sit, the harder it is to reengage. It’s true if you’re in a chair or if you’ve checked out of life after retirement. Take that intellectually, emotionally, physically. Locate the things that capture you and keep going.
  2. Consider things well. Inspect your life’s fruit. Evaluate your choices. And make changes to adjust yourself so that this next phase of your life is as consistent with your hopes as possible. How will you align yourself so that what you wanted and couldn’t have before this phase is within your reach? If there are cracks in your relationships, they’ll be on display. Consider what you see.
  3. Grieve what needs to be grieved. You are growing older. You’re not only that, but certainly at this stage, you are aging. You notice it because it’s unavoidable. Where you have lost things, begin accepting those losses, grieving them if you haven’t, and embracing a new relationship with what’s passed on. If you couldn’t have the relationship you desired, create the one you can have.
  4. Build something. Be creative. You are the result of the creative genius of a God who loves you, and some of that creative ability from God is in you. Tap it and explore all the things you can make. What do you have in you that is a hidden gift that needs to be offered? How can you turn what’s in you now into a contribution worth giving? Locate it, build with it.
  5. Give. Related to the above, rather than waiting, be purposeful about giving. Experiment with giving to your significant others while you can see what they’ll do. Share with people, not because you don’t want things but because you’re generous. In a sense, be generous. It’ll make you more joyful. Spend time in the rooms and buildings that are reflective of your values. Give your time and wit.
  6. Revisit major decisions. Have conversations with relatives about your wishes for yourself; complete advance directives around your medical care; and make sure your life policies are updated and current. These are expressions and gestures of care for the people who you’ll eventually leave. It’s not morbid to do these; it’s loving. It’s an extension of your selflessness and care to think through such things.
  7. Worship. Connect with God in some way. People have many ways to do that, but find one that represents the inner voice in you. No one chooses that for you. That inner voice–in my words–is God speaking to God’s self within you, and you can grow increasingly comfortable with that God. Acknowledge God’s love for you at this time, in this stage, of your life.

What would you add?

Fathers in Varied Stages (3 of 5)

I’m thinking over materials I’ve been reading, namely stuff about human development, faith development, and theological perspective. I’m bouncing around suggestions, mostly for myself since I’m trying to keep good notes on things I read that are worth keeping.

Photo Thanks to Olu Eletu

Photo Thanks to Olu Eletu

Here is a list of suggestions for fathers (and the people who love them), particularly those between the ages of 40 and 59:

  1. Consider reasons to stay. I have a friend whose propensity is to leave. I once said this friend what I mean here. We need to find reasons to stay. As life changes in us, being a great father needs to remain a high priority.
  2. See a spiritual director. Spiritual directors aren’t counselors. They’re spiritual friends who listen to what’s happening in you. They don’t consider themselves problem solvers and may be uncomfortable with the label “guide”. They hear you, and as a man you need someone in your life whose role is to hear you well.
  3. Take your health seriously. If you need to modify your diet, do so. Make and keep an annual appointment with a physician. Do it because you want to be around as long as possible and be as strong as possible.
  4. Concentrate on touching. Men need three times more intimate touch than women. And we don’t get it or give it. Our bodies don’t sense that physical communion because we focus on other things. Change the focus. Concentrate on good touch for your children, good touch for your spouse. Let your children touch your face, smash your ears, feel the wrinkles on your forehead.
  5. Speed up or slow down. If you’ve stretched out adolescence, speed up and get beyond that childish time, but if you’re super driven, you may need to take counsel in Sabbath. Don’t go into cardiac arrest because of a goal you’re driven to meet. Instead, meet a different goal: being around for the length of it.
  6. Renegotiate relationships. Your friendships need attention because you’re likely feeling stress from parents who are sick and dying, children who need more, and your own personal decline, how ever slowly you notice it. You will probably sense some notion of the divine under the surface of your busyness. Create quality relationships that enrich your mental, emotional, and spiritual life.
  7. Say “thank you” and “I love you” more often. Gratitude is a gift to those who have it and give it away and to those who receive it. And so are the rest of our emotions. As we age, we need to express all our feelings because that expression makes us more human. It, in other words, keeps us human. It also teaches our children how to be appreciative of all their gifts and how to acknowledge their feelings.

What would you add?