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?

Fathers in Varied Stages (2 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 Jordan McQueen

Photo Thanks to Jordan McQueen

Here is a list of suggestions for fathers (and the people who love them), particularly those between the ages of 30 and 39:

  1. Investigate your weaknesses. Name them for what they are: areas where you’re not strong. Model the gesture of naming your frailties even while your children think you’re invincible. Be honest with yourself that you aren’t what you thought, hoped, or believed. Then you can turn to your strengths.
  2. Set growth goals as a father. You can grow while your children grow. You may as well plan for it. You may as well mark your own growth. What kind of person do you want to be because you’re a father? Get at it.
  3. Work and play. In this phase it makes sense to turn your energy and focus to work, but there’s more to life than work. Take care of your family and go to work in order to do so. And try to play. Keep at the balance and the tension or the dance.
  4. Listen to your child’s mother. Hear her as best you can, even if that doesn’t mean agreement. She’ll teach you and you’ll be different because of her. While you may be many other things to your child, let your child see, identify, and remember you as a listener to her/his mother.
  5. Relate to your own father. Whether alive or dead, you can relate to your father. Develop that relationship. Nurture it so that you can notice things about him which you didn’t before. Befriend the memories that are helpful. Re-imagine those that aren’t.
  6. Think ahead as much as you can. Decide what kind of child you want to raise, what kind of qualities you want her/him to have, and how you want people to talk about her/him when they do.
  7. Consider the big questions for yourself and your family. Every family has values, implicit or explicit. Find yours. Notice what you “go to bat for” and what you’d suffer for as a person or family. Ask, “Who do I want us to be?” and “Who would make us change our schedules?” and “What is fatherhood worth to me?”

What would you add?

Fathers in Varied Stages (1 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 trace good notes on things I read that are worth keeping.

I draw in these next posts thoughts together from recent readings of James Fowler and James Loder especially and from the good wisdom of people I’m watching in these various stages of parental development.

Photo Thanks to Ryan McGuire

Photo Thanks to Ryan McGuire

Here is a list of suggestions for fathers (and the people who love them), particularly those between the ages of 20 and 29:

  1. Go home everyday. There’s something wonderful about having your family take for granted that you’ll be home. It’s a discipline, may even be new to you, but it sets the course of what you’ll expect for yourself and what others expect from you. It starts from there.
  2. Take every responsibility you can. There’s nothing like being a custodial parent. I think doing everything related to my son’s care–being able to do everything–gave me opportunity to always have a credible opinion about my son’s care. I know what I’ve experienced with him because I’ve worked for this kid for free.
  3. Participate in the daily ritual. I’ve noticed over the last couple years that my energy toward the evening has waned. I do a good chunk of things in the mornings and by evening, I’m tired. But that daily work of parenting involves all those hours. It’s the mundane way I show that I love the boy.
  4. Read to your children. This is another way that we teach. Another way we model. At this point, Bryce is reading words with us, which makes reading better. But he’s learned to appreciate learning and imagining and taking time through reading.
  5. Tell them when you’re wrong. You’ll get good at pointing out their mistakes. Be as good, as willing, to admit your own wrongs. “I was wrong…” will open your child up to integrity and strength on display.
  6. Reconcile with the un-parented parts of yourself. My spiritual director said to me years ago that we can parent ourselves as we parent our children. That comment has stayed with me for five years because it’s true. Parenting isn’t quick. So don’t expect to parent the un-parented parts of yourself or your child in a night. It’s a long-term commitment.
  7. Give yourself to things you love. Not just the stuff you have to do, but the stuff you want to do. This will impact your feelings when you focus on your children. It’ll enable you to have joy outside of the parent/child relationship. It’ll add to your life. Your kid will love you for having one.

What would you add?

“Exchanges Between Fathers and Sons”

Thanks to Patrik Gothe

Thanks to Patrik Gothe

I read John Wideman’s Fatheralong, and here’s a great quote:

The stories must be told. Ideas of manhood, true and transforming, grow out of private, personal exchanges between fathers and sons. Yet for generations of black men in America this privacy, this privilege has been systematically breached in a most shameful and public way. Not only breached, but brutally usurped, mediated by murder, mayhem, misinformation. Generation after generation of black men, deprived of the voices of their fathers, are for all intents and purposes born semi-orphans. Mama’s baby, Daddy’s maybe. Fathers in exile, in hiding, on the run, anonymous, undetermined, dead. The lost fathers cannot claim their sons, speak to them about growing up, until the fathers claim their own manhood. Speak first to themselves, then unambiguously to their sons. Arrayed against the possibility of conversation between fathers and sons is the country they inhabit, everywhere proclaiming the inadequacy of black fathers, their lack of manhood in almost every sense the term’s understood here in America. The power to speak, father to son, is mediated or withheld; white men, and the reality they subscribe to, stand in the way. Whites own the country, run the country, and in this world where possessions count more than people, where law values property more than person, the material reality speaks plainly to anyone who’s paying attention, especially black boys who own nothing, whose fathers, relegated to the margins, are empty-handed ghosts.

(From Fatheralong, 64-65)

A Man’s Very Systems

“In essence, the brains of new fathers had become hardwired to respond when they hear their babies’ cries.”

…Parenting instincts are often assumed to be innate, or disproportionately under the dominion of the mother, but the truth is neither parent is born with the neural structure for the role — their brains evolve for the function. And the brain isn’t shape-shifting in isolation. Researchers have a term for when neurological changes alter behaviour while the new behaviour simultaneously alters the brain — it’s called “bi-directional,” and makes sense. As our environment changes us, we change our environment.

…“Once you’re a dad, you can be a lousy dad, walk out on your children, fail to deliver for them, but from that point on, you’re a father,” he continues. “For social, psychological and even biological issues, from the moment of birth onwards, just like for the mother, the father can’t go back again — a man’s very systems have changed.”

If you’re interested, read the full piece here.

An Old Friend

I visited an old friend this past week. I’ve known her since 1984. We spent lots of time together when I lived in Urbana, Illinois. We visited together at least once each week until she moved away in 2002. She moved to a small town near Schenectady, New York and changed her name. I knew her as the Elite Diner. Now she’s the Chuck Wagon.

I had to go about 900 miles to see her. According to the map, she was just a few miles off the road on my trip to Maine, so it seemed a good detour. Turns out it was a great detour.

I scoured the roadside as I drove down the Western Turnpike (Hwy. 20) hoping to see her at every turn. Then, suddenly, there she was. Just as I’d remembered her. Silver with red trim, the rounded corners, windows across the front. The Elite Diner.

She lived on the corner of Elm and Vine in Urbana the 18 years I had known her. She and her cramped parking lot took up the corner, so she looked bigger than she does now.

I parked and climbed a few unfamiliar steps, then entered surroundings that were familiar and comforting. She has not changed much on the inside. Same green and pink tiles on the floor with the same cracks in the tiles. The same silver, pink, and green on walls and ceiling, same booths, though reupholstered.

I sat on the same stool at the counter I had occupies hundreds of times, sometimes by myself, sometimes with one of my children on a stool next to me. The green Formica on the counter was the same. The seam in the Formica had been rubbed smooth and white from thousands of plates of food and mugs of coffee sliding over it.

I had spent hundreds of hours of writing, thinking, planning, or just gathering my early-morning thoughts. I’d had meetings with colleagues and bosses there. I’d commiserated with Bob the welder, who also had an infant son at the time. We’d compare hours of sleep or lack thereof from the night before.

But mostly, this became the place I shared with my kids. This was where we connected over coffee and hot chocolate, sometimes a sweet roll, sometimes a Number 9 (an unhealthy but totally satisfying plate of biscuits covered with hash browns and gravy). My children, now 32 and 25, never hesitated if I woke them before dawn, two full hours before their school started, as long as the question was, “Want to go to the Diner?”

I can’t tell you much about what we did while sitting there. We talked, or not.  Sometimes the talk was about school or homework. We listened to the music overhead and I sometimes I talked about (or made up stuff about) the oldies playing and what was going on with me when the song was new. And we watched and evaluated the cook as he labored over the fried eggs, pancakes, bacon, and other breakfast items being prepared. “Don’t pat the pancakes.” That’s one of my cardinal rules of breakfast cooking, if you care about tasteful, fluffy pancakes, that is. It’s also a pretty good metaphor for lots of things in life. That was something we always watched for.

I was sitting on this very stool the morning my daughter and I had a falling out that ended our trips to the Diner for a few years. It was a sad but necessary morning for each of us. As a friend of mine said to me, “Parenting is about teaching your children to deal with disappointment.” That was one of those morning when we each learned lessons we didn’t want, but needed.

To finish, John Powell’s post, click here.

When You Recall

When your child lives, he carries with him all his earlier selves, so that you cannot separate your individual memories of him from your view of him now, at this moment.  When you recall a particular event in your and your child’s shared past–a day at the beach, a Christmas morning, a sad, weary night of flight from the child’s shouting father, a sweet, pathetic supper prepared by the child for your birthday–when you recall these events singly, you cannot see the child as a camera would have photographed him then.  You see him simultaneously all the way from infancy to adolescence to adulthood and on, as if he has been moving through your life too rapidly for any camera to catch, and the image is blurred, grayed out, a swatch of your own past pasted across the foreground of a studio photographer’s carefully arranged backdrop.

From Russell Banks’ story, “The Child Screams And Looks Back At You”

Interview with Dina Nayeri, Author of A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea

A Teaspoon of Earth and SeaWhat did it take from you to create A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea, and what are a couple things the creative process gave you?  In addition to an engaging book.  The process of writing this book gave me an entirely new perspective on my life and my purpose. I became a writer while creating this novel. I had other published projects before, but this was the first time I threw myself into a work completely, immersing myself in research, in my characters, and in the imagined world I wanted my readers to inhabit.  In some ways I lost myself in the process, spending days just listening to Iranian music, reading books on the region, watching videos.  I certainly let my personal life falter, and there were days when I barely did anything but work and drink espressos.  So this novel took a lot from me.  But it also made me who I am as a writer.  In addition, the process taught me to value rigor and brevity and detachment in my writing. It taught me to dig for the most important details and to present them concretely and imaginatively. These skills will always be valuable to me.

You describe yourself as an exile.  How has your exilic condition impacted your writing?  Mostly in the themes that capture my attention. I often write about home, about displacement, and fear. These are familiar topics for me because of my experiences as an exile. They are like obsessions. I can’t get away from them.

To quote Saba’s reflection, “This story is about fathers and daughters.”  As much as the novel is a large story between sisters and their mother, isn’t it as much about a father and daughter?  I think it’s even more about a father and daughter, because theirs is the only relationship that isn’t already dead. With the other members of her family, Saba has only memories and her imagination. She can turn those over in her mind, but she can’t have anything new.  With her father, she has a flesh and blood person who loves her and wants to be allowed into her world.

Part of my experience reading was in learning Saba’s opinions about the differences between American and Iranian men.  How might American fathers be different from Iranian fathers?  I think fathers are fathers. To love and protect your children are universal instincts. The cultural differences seem minor compared to that.

Talk about how Saba’s life became an echo of her twin sister’s.  Where did that come from in your writing process?  How did you connect with both Saba’s experience and Mahtab’s?  I consider their stories representations of the two ways that my own life might have gone.  I was raised in America and so the Mahtab stories mirror my own. But the Saba stories are the Iranian experiences I might have had, if I had stayed behind.  To parallel them seemed like a natural exercise, and something I took great pleasure in.

Where would Saba call “home”?  Cheshmeh, Iran

Dina NayeriThe novel returned to themes of desire, hunger, memory, and love.  Did you learn particular things about such themes in writing or revising?  Did you develop a love or appreciation, for instance, of your own family history?  Absolutely. The research alone gave me a great appreciation for the richness of my own history and roots.  But, obviously, I also used many of my own emotions and experiences in writing Saba and Mahtab’s stories. In doing so, I deepened my understanding of the themes you mention.

What are you reading these days?  “The Woman Destroyed” by Simone De Beauvoir.

How can readers connect with you and support your work?  You can like my Facebook fan page:  http://www.facebook.com/dinanayeri

And you can visit my website: http://www.dinanayeri.com

Being a Fan

I am a sports fan.  My dad taught me the love of both playing and watching sports as a child.  I remember doing the Heisman pose with Desmond Howard as an 8-year-old.  I remember watching Bo Jackson hit a home run at Kauffman Stadium.  When I saw signs for Howard Johnson, I thought the Mets third baseman was also an owner of roadside establishments.  I will never forget the disappointment I felt in 1995, 1997, and 2007 when the Indians fell short.  I will always have a special place in my heart for the melodic tones of Pat Hughes and Ron Santo as the soundtrack of my afternoons as an intern in a comfortable Ohio town and as a new software developer in a brand new city.  Their voices welcomed me to the town I now call home.

I am a man.  I wanted a son to share in this joy of sports. That desire died the minute Charlotte became real to me, and my wildest dreams of a few years ago now pale in comparison to my reality.  The experiences we share will be just as amazing as the experiences I would share with a son.  When I take a good look at what sports are and what they have become to me, I realize that they are just another tool.  When used properly they can strengthen and enhance good character traits. When used improperly they can cause irreparable damage.

I am a father.  I cannot wait to pass on my love of sports to my daughter in a way that will inform who she is.  There are things that I learned from sports that she will have to learn at some point.

She needs to learn that success is fleeting and instances of joy need to be savored.  She needs to learn that heroes exist, but they are humans just like her.  She needs to learn that to love one thing means you inherently dislike another thing.  She needs to learn that it matters if you win or lose but once you’ve won or lost, it doesn’t matter as much. And most importantly, she needs to learn how to be empathetically joyful: how to truly be joyful for the success of another when all she wants to do is wallow in self-pity and doubt.  She will learn these things with sports, as I did, or without sports, as her mother did.  The vehicle for learning will be as nuanced as her personality.

I am a Charlotte fan and she’s a fan of me. That is all that matters.
Me And the Bug

Happy

When you ask me if I’m happy, in that light and fun voice of yours, even though it’s 6am or at a time so close to it that it feels like 6am, it lifts me and makes me feel happy, makes me remember happy, makes me reach for happiness in my heart—right after I tell you that I will be happy after I really wake up; you smile like I should be as awake as you, as if I, like you, slept for the last ten hours and not the last four or five.  And I wake up a little more because of the joy in your tone and for a little while, I convince myself that sleep will find me at the end of this day even though it’s been elusive for the last several.

The boy asleep

I Didn’t Realize He Was Leaving

On Wednesday evening, December 26, I was sitting next to Dawn and in front of Bryce in the B concourse of Midway airport.  We had successfully pressed through the security checkpoint, rearranged our clothes and shoes, and walked to our gate to wait for an hour before boarding a plane.  Bryce was eyeing some passenger’s ice cream, whispering to me about wanting some.  I told him to wait, to let me get settled.  I told him I had just sat down.  I told him to stop looking at the woman’s ice cream like that because he was scaring me and probably scaring her.

We were heading to Charlotte, North Carolina ultimately to complete our annual time with Grammie Joseph.  It would be a week where we would see the Gant museum, walk through the botanical gardens in Belmont, eat at Captain Steve’s, talk a lot, catch up, do nothing.  My aunt, Lynnie, called me while we were waiting to board.  I have a rule when certain people call my phone: I always answer.  I do not observe this rule for most people.  I’m a pastor so I cannot.  I meet with people and they say things to me, and when they say these things, it makes a lot of sense for me to stop the rest of the world as those people present their worlds to me.  So I’m “present” with them as they talk.  I ignore the phone.  I don’t hear rings in those moments.  But I make exceptions.  When my aunt calls, because my father has been in the nursing home in her city, I take her call, even if I need to ask if I can call right back.

As she always does, she asked me how I was.  There was static in the line.  Perhaps it wasn’t static.  Do cell towers allow for static?  It was choppy.  Whatever the interference, I couldn’t quite hear her clearly.  Some voice was droning about a passenger whose flight was leaving or some gate change.  There was Bryce switching to his mother and asking her for ice cream.  He’s been doing that more and more: shifting to her when I don’t answer the way he thinks I should.

Aunt Lynnie asked if I had gotten her message.  I pulled my phone from my ear and looked at it as if to ask it if it had rung without my hearing it.  Perhaps it sang while we were in the cab with the preacher cab driver who I talked theology with on the way to the airport.  “No,” I told her, “I didn’t.”  Then I thought—as she let out a long “Well,”—perhaps she called the house.  I heard her “Welling” and I had a flash of some indication of what was to come.  It was something spiritual, like and unlike the Welling in the black church, when people sometimes rock while they hear the preacher.  They say “Well” as they listen, and something about the “Well” makes what they hear stick.  My aunt’s well was different; she was stalling just for a moment, and auntie, in my experience, didn’t stall.  She breathed and she said it, quickly and clearly, without interference from cell towers or airport clutter.  My dad had passed an hour or so before that moment.

They were just arriving to the nursing home; the snow had prevented them from getting there sooner.  I knew Little Rock didn’t get snow.  I imagined my three Little Rock aunts, wrapped in coats, looking as lovely as always, dressed in care and concern and love and something familiar.  They were there, three of my father’s sisters, a group of faithful friends to him, and he was dead.  I asked her to repeat herself.  Actually, I said, “What?” I had heard her, but something in me got very cliche in that moment.  Or something in me needed to hear again.  Dawn heard me and she knew.  She had been down a path like this one when her father was snatched over six months after his stroke two years ago.  I felt Dawn turn to me.  I saw her take Bryce by the hand.  I was really surprised at that simple sentence from my aunt.  I wanted to turn to Dawn; I wanted to turn away.

I had just seen him.  This was my first thought: I had just seen him.  One week ago at the hospital in Searcy.  He hugged me twice.  I held him, walked with him.  I showed him pictures, something, I realize now, I did often on my trips to see him.  My second thought was: I just talked to him.  It was on Christmas Eve, two days before.  His voice was bright, brighter than usual even.  he talked to Bryce, asked about Dawn.  I thought he was getting better.  I didn’t realize he was leaving.