Searchlights

searchlights

Night fell hours ago.  As dusk settled over the barren desert landscape, I switched on the headlights.  The hum of the engine seems to drum in rhythm with the broken white lines that define the two sides of this strip of desolate highway.  Darkness envelopes the world leaving only that which is directly before me to consider.  The interior lighting of the console wraps me in a soft amber glow.  The high beams offer about one hundred yards of insight into my future; my immediate future to be specific.  I drive on in what I believe to be relative safety; confident in the precept that, though I cannot see my destination I will, in ever forward moving hundred yard increments, ultimately reach it.

In truth, though night fell years ago, decades ago, a lifetime ago, metaphorically speaking.  The droning of the engine is comforting here in the desert, a white noise lullaby.  One of my favorite memories from childhood, prior to the wise institution of seatbelt laws, was be to curled up on the bench back seat of my parents’ station wagon on the way home from some night time gathering.  There in the darkness, I’d find comfort in the purr of the Dodge Polara engine and the gentle pitch and sway the given roadway afforded.  The gatherings themselves were sometimes fun, sometimes awkward, these were my parents’ friends, who often happened to have children around my age.  Regardless of how the evening went, whether I enjoyed it or simply endured it; I always looked forward to the comfort of the slow strobe of street lights reflecting off the vinyl upholstery. I would bury my face in the seam between the seat and backrest, welcoming the warm decent into dream state.

The white lines whip past me, ticking my journey off in nanoseconds.  I see little more than these in my given hundred yards of illumination.  An occasional signage alerts me to a coming lonely intersection, or town if one could call a desert gas station and closed motel a town, but that is about all I know of my next few minutes.  So it has been with the daylight of my life as well.  Many of us take life day by day, week by week or month by month.  I count myself among that number.  I drive through life using the throw of metaphorical headlights to see just far enough down the road to keep my foot on the accelerator.  This approach has gotten me here, now, halfway across the southern border Joshua Tree National Park eastbound on U.S. Interstate 10 in the dead of night; speeding I might add, 95 in a 70mph zone.  

What if instead of headlights I had searchlights?  Of course, mounting searchlights to the roof of my car and plowing through the night might be perceived as incredibly inconsiderate by oncoming drivers, and likely more illegal than my 95 in a 70.  But I think as I fly by another desolate rest stop, what would my life be like if I used searchlights to illuminate the future?  How would my understanding of this present moment change?  Hundreds of miles of possibilities, opportunities and choices would suddenly be illuminated in the space that was once a desert of impenetrable darkness.  Some have done so, or we wouldn’t have electric lights at all.  

Willow

Willow

 

As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted a weeping willow tree, growing dreamily on some mythical property that I would call my own.  My own at least for my fleeting time here on earth, then to be left to the next generation of inhabitants who would call that very willow tree their own.  Trees have largely become part of the background these days. In our modern, screen intensive society they are nearly invisible.  These heroes of Arbor Day are now little more than things one passes on their way from this place to that.  Willow trees however still hold the power to beckon, at least to me. Their presence suggests that whimsy is indeed an ancient art to be witnessed and perhaps revered.  Not to say that all fall under the Willow’s spell.  No, I’m sure not all, but I do.  The waking dream of a willow tree’s branches swaying in the wind calls forth the notion of magic to me.  And in this, I know, from overheard conversations that I am not alone.  

Have you ever had a dream that you were certain was real?  So sure that when you awoke, you rose quickly to confirm that what you imagined during sleep was in fact reality?  I have many times.  Few of such dreams have involved trees, fewer still have involved the willow.  That said, I have had more than a few waking moments when a willow tree transported me to the threshold of a dreamlike state.  What is it about the weeping, drifting nature of this particular arborescent giant that inspires fantasy?  Having finally planted one in the front yard, I am amazed on a regular basis by the seemingly supernatural power of the breed. 

Waking in a stupor after a night of poor sleep or poor decisions I can instantly find myself revitalized by the mere sight of the flowing branches of the tree we at my house have named Willo after my youngest who came by that nickname through some random twist of wordplay with friends.  His older brother and I planted it as a gift to him one day while he was away with his companions.  Upon returning, he saw the sapling and beamed with knowing.  

This whimsical, and now with the passing years majestic tree makes me want to sway along to the wind directed cadence of the natural world that persists in spite of my human agenda.  It makes me eager to shake off any negative feelings and fuse with the larger world, with the universe even, to the beat of the ancient rhythm that rules this place.  The pulse that has guided the world since long before our coming and will conduct it long after our time to rest has passed.  

It’s just a tree, in a yard, in a neighborhood, in a city, in a country, on a planet that has spun for millennia around a sun that has burned for a near infinity of lifetimes.  Still, to me, it is somehow something much, much more.

The Sleeping Ninja

King Size Bed copy

Vintage random thought.

“There’s a kid in my bed,” I thought to myself.  Out of context, that phrase could raise a red flag or two, no?  The kid in my bed, however, was my youngest who had asked me several hours earlier, “Daddy, can I sleep in your bed?”  To which I replied “No.”  

Hmm, perhaps he is a budding somnambulist, or maybe he’s just confident enough in his ninja abilities to believe that he could enter my room, and then my bed without being detected.  Either way there he was sound asleep, peaceful, wonderful.  

Acceptance is not always synonymous with surrender, or in this case defeat.  Acceptance, in my opinion, is one of the pillars of ‘Minimal Damage Parenting.’  Minimal Damage Parenting I believe is the best we raisers of offspring can hope to achieve.  It’s a foregone conclusion that when it comes to parental duties, we will at some point fuck up royally leaving emotional scars at various depths which will ensure the lucrative futures of those in the fields of psychology or psychiatry for generations to come.  So I accepted the fact that I had a sleeping boy inhabiting the easternmost part of my king sized bed, rolled over, smiling about the amazing good fortune of playing father to two truly lovely young men, snuggled my face into my pillow and clocked out.

“Dude…you peed the bed!”  

As the words left my lips, I put a last moment spin on my inflection in an effort to remove any note of anger or shaming.  

“Sorry, Daddy.”  

“It’s okay buddy, but please let’s strip the bed and throw everything in the washing machine.”  This was not the first time my son had had an ‘accident’…in fact, he was a chronic “sleep pisser.”  Some parents get bent about this kinda shit, but I’ve decided that, other than doing more laundry than the average bear family, it’s no big deal.  I’m quite confident that it’s not his idea of a good time and that he will eventually grow out of it.  

Acceptance, not of bad behavior, sloth, disrespect, cruelty, etc., but of things which ‘just happen’ and will eventually stop happening can only be positive.  I believe this is what healthy parenting is all about.  Shame is a toxin.  As an adult, we may choose to partake in the use of toxins for the purpose of overcoming our inadequate coping abilities, the quelling or social anxiety, or whatever.  Children, however, don’t have the same “recreational” luxury.  However, they are vulnerable to psychological toxins and are unlikely to choose exposure to them of their own free will.  Were you ever shamed by your caregivers?  If so, pretty awesome right?  

Shame is a prime mover in our society.  It’s an under lurker that bears no face on the surface but wears a monster’s mask under the bed.  If you feel that you bear no shame you are either lying, unusually lucky or a psychopath.  

DEFINITION

Shame:  /SHām/ Noun:

A painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.

So says the dictionary.  Interesting interpretation.  I find it curious that this definition of shame put all onus on the one bearing shame and none on any outside influence that may be assigning it.  Is all shame real, or is some shame framed for us by those who simply want us to feel bad about circumstances that displease them?  Have you ever had a bad day?  Have you ever taken that bad day out on someone who had nothing to do with it?  I have…ugh!  Just writing it here makes my stomach turn.  Yes, I’ve been that entitled asshole.  And I’ve seen them, at gas stations, in restaurants, in the workplace, and of course, at Walmart.

So back to parenting for a sec.  Kids are easy prey.  They are vulnerable.  They are trusting.  They don’t know how to discern the difference between reasonable accountability, and unreasonable judgment.  How many apologies for shaming do we get before we’ve cried wolf one too many times?  If we are able to ask forgiveness at all?  I ask this not in an accusing tone.  Rather in the spirit of circumspection.  I didn’t have the misfortune of pissing the bed, but holy shit do I have my share of issues.  My sons don’t deserve my shame.  They don’t deserve any shame at all.  Did I mention that shame, in my opinion, is a toxin?  

Being a parent is many things.  Hopefully first and foremost being a parent is perpetrating the act of helping your children find a path to grow into the best possible versions of themselves.  Shame has no part in that journey.  If you disagree, well, as they say, shame on you.

The Crushing

The Crush rev2

Sometimes things feel so spot on, so figured out.  Other times things feel so fucked!  Honesty is both beautiful and ugly, so here we go.  Glass half full, glass half empty, glass whatever until shit hits the fan.  You’ve had a bad day right?  You’ve had some good ones too?  I’ve had both and can unequivocally offer my opinion of the difference between them; I don’t dig the darkness.  It’s easy for me to be up when I’m fortunate enough to awaken on the right side of the bed, if something truly wonderful has happened in my life, or if I have an audience to entertain.  It’s also easy for me to find the shadows when the hall is empty, or the vicissitudes of fate choose a game of random misery.

Spirit, soul, perspective, blow with the wind when no one is looking.  We’ve all likely found darkness shrouding our path at some point.  We’ve also probably been fortunate enough to know lightness.  I experience both in a relatively favorable measure, but today it is the darkness that accompanies me as I make my way.  Odd that a life I feel to be so fortunate should seem so dismal at this moment.  History tells me it will pass.  And thank god!  A funny expression emanating my lips “Thank god,” as I do not currently ascribe to conventional western religious doctrine.  Still, I feel it, the meaning of “Thank god,” balls to bones because I have faith.  Faith not in books, nor figureheads, but in “It!”  The “It” that binds us all together in this life.

How are your dark days?  Mine are daunting.  Sometimes I feel fearful in my solitude.  Afraid that I will fail those I love.  Worried that I will fail me!  Ha, shouldn’t I have included myself in the numbers of the former?  How will I fail?  By not showing up, not delivering the promise of optimism and perseverance to which I have committed?

Depression is the antichrist to hopeful endeavor, and some days when I feel it’s weight bearing down on me I find no solace, no sense of possibility for escape.  For context, I do not suffer from the type of debilitating depression that some struggle with.  Fortune smiles on my brain chemistry in that regard.  I am talking about run of the mill, “get over yourself” feelings of depression.  The emotional state one simply has to face, and vanquish.

It is to a great extent the way in our culture to have ears only for, “Fine” or “Great thanks,” in response to the question, “How are you?”  Who has time for the real answer right?  To avoid pariah status, when I find my soul cloaked in crushing darkness I lie, “Doing well, thanks.  You?”  Perhaps being born in the United States where the concept of “Rugged Individualism” is a historical cornerstone, this automatic response is coded into my DNA.  Though from what I’ve read, Rugged Individualism is a walk in the park relative to the DNA encoding that the English have saddled themselves with!  Interestingly, my genealogy leads in no small way to that tight-lipped isle of rain-soaked woe.  Not super surprising that an occasional down day should find me.

Today I listened to a Tim Ferris Show podcast featuring the renowned psychologist Jack Kornfield.  Jack’s career began in the jungles of Thailand where in his twenties while serving with the peace corp he decided to become a Buddhist monk.  As he explained, it was a painful but enlightening (pun intended) journey that lead him to new perspectives on self, self-hatred, and self-love, compassion, and empathy.  I bring this up because his words struck me hard.  Hard as in repeated blows of a mighty love hammer.  Multiple times while listening I spontaneously began to weep.  Something in his message hit trigger points over and over again.  This experience crescendoed during his closing comments which left me clutching my heart, crying full voice on the futon in the family room.  Futon?  What am I, a college student?  Whatever!

Jack’s wisdom and his message of loving-kindness (insert “snowflake quip here) touched me deeply.  It afforded me a window through which I saw metaphorical rays of sunlight.  The darkness that had enveloped me for the last few days seemed to cower and then diminish.  Tim’s conversation with Jack somehow pierced the black veil of my personal manifestation of Rugged Individualism.  It reminded me that we are not, or do not have to choose to remain alone in our struggles.  Jack’s words reasserted the possibility of choosing to breach the norm of, “I’m fine.”  The chance to reach for connection, and more importantly offer connection, with compassion to those we find wrapped in the solitary binds of darkness.

If you struggle alone with your demons, you can share that burden.  You have options.  Check out Jack’s thoughts on the subject via the link provided below.  Write a comment.  Please share your story.  Together we are strong enough to shed light on the darkness.  Together we can create brilliance!

Tim Ferriss Show: Jack Kornfield episode:

 

 

 

The​ Patience Cat

The Patience Cat

The patience cat came to stay on an unusually warm Saturday in late July. She was accompanied by two siblings who clearly regarded her as the least significant of their clan. The serial cat rescuers we acquired these new family members from defined her as the runt of the litter. Funny word for living things, “litter!” Kittens come into the world in one, cats relieve themselves in it, and humans prone to indiscretion cast it from the windows of speeding cars along the highways of America as a malevolent gift to society at large. Anyway, the three kittens, two silver tabby girls and one-half tabby, half polished polar bear boy crawled tentatively over the edge of their cardboard limo to explore the new world. “Ugh, linoleum,” thought the patience cat at first touch, what have we gotten ourselves into?

Interestingly that was also one of my first thoughts when I bought the place. That said, Linoleum is an amazing substance, tackiness notwithstanding. No offense meant to lovers of the flooring option. It (linoleum) is an amazingly forgiving, and down-the-road money-saving choice. For instance, when the 1970’s fridge that came with this fossilized house offers up a couple of quarts of “where the hell did that water come from” around its base, or one of the cats yacks their morning kibble and half the lawn on it, its cool. Linoleum saves the day via its impermeable countenance. A few rags or paper towels solve the problem, and no one has to lose sleep over absorbency.  Excellent! The fact that someone actually gets paid to create the god-awful designs featured on most plastic flooring products must rank high among god’s jokes, but I digress?

As human children grow up their personalities being to emerge, or if their ways of being have been made clear early on, they magnify. The Patience Cat was no exception. Being a firstborn myself, by many years actually, (only child until I was six), I can’t imagine what it must be like to be the weakest among seven born within twenty minutes. In the litter arena, I imagine getting food, let alone parental nurturing has a gladiatorial survival essence about it. So yes, she was slight of build, to put it mildly.  In fact, she looked like a bobblehead. That said, unlike many of her kind, she survived. In her little cat way, she found footing in a loving home and made a place for herself, possibly due to the three, well-distanced food bowl placement strategy employed at our place.

So it was that the Patience Cat became a teenager. The intersection of safety with dependable continuity from day to day allows one to spread their wings. The Patience Cat found this to be true for her. The unruliness and demands of a teenager manifested in her every action. The quirks this girl displays make for regular conversation fodder around the house. Which for context I must say is a house inhabited by three men two teenagers and yours truly.

This kitty girl, with all her issues, is a gift to us. For one thing she is a lovely little soul. On top of that, her style of interaction provides a constant reminder that patience is a choice. Patience was in short supply in the halls where I dwelled during my early years. So it is I imagine in most households featuring young, busy parents and challenging offspring.  Though I was first born, and therefore not classified as a runt by traditional definition, I was not remotely familiar with golden child status, nor accustomed to patience as a guiding hand during my assent to adulthood, (an assent which I’m not sure I’ve completed). The apple, as they say, does not fall far from the tree, unless a benevolent tornado has been involved in logistical reassignment proceedings. As a result, the expression “patience is a virtue” comes to mind in no small way on a daily basis for me. The Patience Cat then has become something of a guide, a guardian angel if you will, to remind me of my choice to be accepting of others. In particular, she has reminded me to make space for those who, by no fault, or choosing of their own, do shit that makes me want to go volcanic!

Do you remember that kid in school who tried way too hard to get attention? Everybody shunned that poor desperate bastard or bastardette right? That’s the Patience Cat! Working at the laptop, perched on the couch with a cocktail, I’ll be intensely focused on a project. Then here she comes, sliding her dripping, enthusiastic nose across my arm, ensuring a typo as she works her way toward obscuring my view of the screen. Even now as I am typing this piece, she has been nudging and nuzzling my arm with that running nose to the damp tune of a multitude of “red underlined” typos. Ugh! But wait, she just wants connection. That’s not a crime. So I have to take a breath and chill, in lieu of my automatic response which would be to escort her from the couch physically, possibly to a neighboring county. Yes, I can be an insensitive ass. The boys, who have had similar experiences, find her to be equally intrusive and disruptive. We discuss it, regularly. Good for her though, we ultimately decide, grudgingly. She goes for what she wants. Plenty of humans never find the courage to quest for the fulfillment of their needs. Again, the Patience Cat is a guide, a role model even.

Though she can be trying on multiple levels, she is family. The name Patience Cat, which I might add, is her most flattering nickname to date, arose from her curious behavior at the threshold of our patio door. It was late December, the temperature hovering at 7º. She wanted to go outside, sort of. She meowed at the door; I opened it wide offering unobstructed passage. She backed up, timid, uncertain. Confused, I closed the door. She again meowed and approached the door. Once more I pulled the door open allowing the winter chill to wither the already wilting kitchen. Again she backed up and declined the offer. This time I Thought, “well what the fuck cat?” Then it dawned on me; she has an issue with crossing the threshold. Perhaps she’d been hit in the ass by that door at some point on her proverbial “way out.” Not on my watch, but we have had cat sitters while on vacation. Hmmm? I mustered a patience flame from deep within. Standing there freezing my ass off, while hundreds of dollars of central heat poured into the leafless, frigid backyard I waited.

I spoke gently to her, assuring her that she could exit safely, and would be let back in should she change her mind. She looked at me as if to say, “I don’t speak English, you silly fuck!” I stood still, recognizing at that moment the opportunity to undo a lifetime of patience-less perspective. Slowly she moved, one tiny, cautious step at a time across that insanely hideous greenish plaid-ish linoleum toward the doorway. Minutes passed, hours, days, lifetimes. Suddenly she rushed the door. As she approached the threshold, she leaped several feet in the air kicking her hide quarters to the side like a freestyle motocross rider and flew out into the winter night.

Stunned, I watched her dash across the frozen grass, then realizing my shiver along with the icicles forming on my eyelashes, closed the door. Click went the latch. There in that dark, cold, horribly neglected 1950’s kitchen I stood stone still. Moments passed. A smile slowly crossed my lips; then laughter burst from me. The Patience Cat, the smallest and least likely to survive had delivered a late Christmas present. Patience grew where once there was none. It is a choice that can manifest, a gift, a survivable option for one to whom it had formerly been no more than a myth. Who knew?

 

PostScript:

If you’re still stuck on the 7º bit, fear not.  I did a lap or two around the house turning off lights and saying good nights, returned to the kitchen, and called the little girl in.

Diving Bell

Diving Bell 01

Sunlight flickers on the surface above.

The mottled steel capsule drops steadily, reaching for the abyss.

Daylight begins its waning surrender.

The sound of breath rises, gradually replacing the din left to the world above.

These waters are unfamiliar.

Ambient whispers of an invisible pressure accompany the steady descent.

Darkness blooms in sinister elegance around the bell.

The depths trespass, gifting an unrelenting solitude.

Falling slowly into the void.

Finally, blackness reigns supreme.

It is time.

The gravity drawn plunge slows to a halt.

Stillness prevails.

The opening in the floor of the bell reveals an endless universe…of nothingness.

The need for this venture seemed so urgent at the outset; born in more familiar, purgatory-like surroundings.

The life support apparatus engages with a hiss.

I lower slowly from the security of the diving bell perch into the icy depths.

In search of the birthplace of my soul.

 

Epitaph

Head stone Color V2

“Here lies a salty bastard.”

“Here lies a saint.”

“Here lies a damn liar!”  Fitting!

How would you like to be remembered?  What would you like those who have a say in the matter to inscribe of your tombstone?  Not to say that you’re plans aren’t to be cremated and strewn about the globe, headstone free, but please, go with me on this slightly morbid journey if you will.

This world is rich with people who naturally behave in a thoughtful, loving way toward others. This same world is also replete with people who if called out might have a hard time justifying some or much of their behavior to a jury.  Sadly, I fall in with the latter category.  I’m no Joseph Stalin, but I have my bad days.

I’ve often thought about a scenario wherein our lives are constantly recorded on video and available for public review and judgment.  Oh, how our behavior might change if every action was up for scrutiny, evaluation, and infinite replay?  I started pondering this circumstance long before the advent of social media mind you.  The difference being that we wouldn’t have the option of posting only content featuring our “best selves.”

We’ve all seen the gal showing off what she’s got on Instagram.  Bless her by the way. We’ve seen the cat-poster post posters and have also had to endure the politics-troll assholes.  They all have their platform for self-expression and/or self-aggrandizement, which is fine I suppose.  However, not one of them, or more accurately, not one of us, have to expose any truth deemed unflattering because we, of course, are our own censors.  This arrangement is great for the “self-image,” but is it good for the “self?”  Accountability, thanks to the one-way mirror of social media, seems to be on the ropes in these modern times.  For most of us, the whole truth isn’t usually “runway ready” so we omit the bits that don’t flatter us.  Me too, guilty!  The first seven drafts of this post were a shit show.  I was not about to unveil that incomprehensible crap to the world!  Frankly, the jury is still out about this version but my self-imposed deadline wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.

The words used for an epitaph, if true and heartfelt, bear witness to the whole, uncensored life-print left by the dearly departed.  What is our legacy?  How do we touch the world?  Now, answer that question again discounting any “touch” involving social media.  Interesting, no?

I’m not fond of the idea of being caught in the act of being me twenty-four-seven.  Do I want the world watching me while I lose my temper, ghost some woman I’ve met on tinder, or expel the results of a stomach bug in my not so recently cleaned bathroom?  Not at fucking all!  Do I think we should submit to the control of a “watcher regime” that exposes our every act to society for judgment?  In no way, shape or form.  Do I believe the world would be a better place if we all imagined ourselves being observed, and therefore felt compelled to take just a tiny moment to consider the outcome of our behavior before we let loose?  Hell yeah I do!

Our every earthly action leads logically to our last, after which we are but a memory.  Some believe in a judgment day.  Some believe it is their job to judge others.  Perhaps if we focus appropriate, (read: “a lot of”) attention on accessing and adjusting our own actions before they are unleashed, we could spare both the almighty and the armchair critics a load of work.

Though I wouldn’t complain about, “Here lies a salty bastard” as an epitaph, in fact, I would get a good posthumous kick out of it.  I would hope that those words might be followed by something to the effect of, “who did his best to love well, to make the world a tiny bit less hateful and who will be missed.”  How would you like your epitaph to read?

 

Apologies

Im sorry

Apologies. I’m guessing I haven’t offered enough of them in my lifetime.  Neither I’m sure, have I received some that might have been deserved, but that bit is beyond my control.  “Deserve’s got nothing to do with,”  or so I’ve heard Clint Eastwood say, and so I’ll leave that be for now.  Apologizing is the most potent acts of healing in the human relational inventory.  A heartfelt apology can repair seemingly permanent damage.  The act can even spark the rebuilding of ostensibly terminal relationships.  Apologizing is a two-way wonder drug.  So why is it that when it’s needed most this seemingly simple choice can appear so utterly unavailable to us?

Hello Ego!  The pride-o-meter sits pinned at eleven.  “Sorry?” I spit.  “Ha, I’m not sorry, I’m fucking pissed!”  Sound familiar?  “It’s they, not I who should be asking for forgiveness.”  Here I am once again, facing a barricade I’ve built obstructing the pathway to reconciliation and so created the need for the other person’s permission to move forward.  Waiting for an apology is just that, waiting.  Waiting in lieu of acting, of taking the chance, of creating an opportunity for resolution.  

Pride is a fickle mistress.  It can afford us the intense bravado needed to inflate our personal myth of invincibility, which in a fight or flight situation can be useful.  However, when the peak intensity of such an engagement subsides, we are left with the stance we took based on pride, not on love.  “Love,” where did that come from?  Hmmm, from the idea that if we truly want peace, we have to choose it.  Peace is my favorite, but clearly not a universal choice for ‘state of being.’  Have you ever apologized to someone only to find that the words had no effect on them?  Come to understand that your act of contrition bore no fruit in your effort to create healing?  Me too!  Some people thrive on conflict, and that is either a nature, nurture or both thing, over which we have no power other than a heartfelt, “ugh!”

Sometimes offering an apology is not a practical option.  In such downward spiraling relationships, we may find the right answer to be ‘cut and run.’  Sometimes we have to let things go.  The real challenge lies in determining, and owning the difference between circumstances beyond our control, i.e., dealing with an ‘unreasonable’ person, and situations in which we have been party to the wrongs that might well be righted by a diminishment of our own ego posturing.  Difficult yes, but not insurmountable.  It is painful to think about lost friendships or loves that might have been saved by an apology.  Could they still be?

These days I find myself apologizing rather frequently; though I’m sure I still miss some prime opportunities to take responsibility.  I say “I’m sorry” to my sons when I’ve wrapped up a solid performance of being less than the father I’d like to be.  I can see in their eyes that it lands, and moves them.  Perhaps, more importantly, it may someday help them with the task of owing their own spells of less than stellar behavior.  Hopefully, it will instill in them the notion that choosing to initiate the making of amends is not an act of weakness.  Rather, it is an act of strength, or so I believe, survivable and often enriching.

Heartfelt apologies spring from a bottomless well within us.  They are an infinitely renewable resource.  The courage to make the first move of reparations may be buried deep.  At times it may seem utterly impossible to grasp.  Even so, I believe it is always worth the reach.

 

Social Decorum And The Horse It Rode In On

Table manners bwThis random thought began as a journal note in 2014. 

Table manners.  Ah yes!  A tiny window view into the vast array of merit badge earning opportunities awaiting on the shoulder-sash of parenthood.

My youngest son is hyperactive…seriously!  I’ve been told that during his toddler years, when he was scheduled to attend mother’s day out the staff added an extra person just to handle him.  Ha, that’s my boy.  Nowadays he can often be seen orbiting the table while we enjoy family dinner, which at my choosing we share every night.  It appears he came into this world with a wicked case of the “can’t-be-stills!”  I could force him to sit…but why?  Will he turn out to be a better citizen if I make him do so?  Will he feel it’s okay to be him if I force him to “not be him?”  Will any of us digest our meal more healthfully, or feel the world has been made a better place if I declare martial law at the dinner table?  Probably not.  However, at times, while chewing my food, seated within the gyroscopic whirl of his dining room orbit I do hear distant murmurs of a disapproving throng.

“Can’t you control that kid?”

“That walking about is not proper dinner time behavior!”

“Have the decency to teach the boy some manners!”

As though having trouble staying seated while masticating will lead directly to the unraveling of the social fabric of our entire culture.

As a nod to Emily Post and her followers,  I have explained to my son that some people will expect the use of traditional, “proper” manners and that table-orbiting may not be considered acceptable in the homes of his friends.  He gets it.  He has managed to avoid becoming “that kid in the principal’s office” at school, etc.  When required, he’s capable of masterful-ish self-control.  Perhaps the best way to look at manners is in context.   Are our opinions about the matter based on childhood experience?  If so they are traditional, possibly passed down through multiple generations.  Yes, these specific rules of behavior have been taught, but are they still supremely relevant?  The doctrine of a flat Earth was too once widely taught.  Do these lessons still hold their weight in the face of scientific, or in this case cultural evolution?

With that view in mind, one has to decide the goal, and more importantly the ultimate impact of one’s parental decisions.  I find that after deconstructing most etiquette protocol and running it through the, “Does this rule truly make the world a better place” test, flexibility and acceptance usually win the day.  Because really, are we here to “control” children, or help them flourish?  I know which answer sits, or doesn’t sit (pardon the pun) best with me.  I’m not advocating mannerlessness.  I’ve taught my boys every social rule and regulation that I’ve ever learned.  They are aware of and able to adhere to social decorum protocol at will.  Afterall, knowing the rules is a perfect starting point on the road to doing the right thing, staying out of trouble, and for those of you who remember high school, avoiding embarrassment.

Long after we are gone, our children will unconsciously run their lives on the operating systems we’ve implanted in them.  Our decisions about how to handle their youthful “behavior issues” will have shaped more than those teaching “moments.”  That is why I let the kid orbit the table at dinner time.  And no, I don’t let him do laps at Thanksgiving with the extended family.  Even I have my limits.  There are times and places for rules to be followed, and at least in my universe, times and places for their bending.  Most adults unconsciously carry childhood memories of being brought to heel over issues of manners or rules.  How the lessons were “taught” matters, even decades later.  The cumulative effect of an upbringing may leave one with a deep-seated sense of self-acceptance, ambivalence or shame.  I know which perspective I’d like to see shaping the future of this world.  I bet you do too.

 

Do you have a similar experience to relate?  Please comment.  Life is bigger and better with shared experience!