Who Is Your Mom?

I wasn’t expecting any emotional catharsis taking the boys to school and Ken and Linda’s house this morning. I was just thinking it would be the usual Monday drop off, and then I would go home and go to sleep, hopefully getting enough rest so the first night shift of the week would not set the tone for the rest of them.

But because life is weird like that, it isn’t what happened.

I don’t remember how the conversation between my youngest (he’s 4) and myself started. It probably doesn’t matter much with kids, because it’s usually video games and cars and things of that nature. As we drove down 24th Street toward Ken and Linda’s house, John asked me the question, “Who is your mom?”

I told him she’d died many years ago. And that her name was Lila Wilkins, and she had blue eyes and liked country music.

“What did she die from, Dad?”

“She had a bad sickness called cancer. She died on February 27, 1987. I was 18 years old.”

“Oh. Grandpa’s Uncle Dee died, too.”

I knew Dee had passed a week or so ago, and he’d probably heard Ken talking about it.

“He’s in Heaven. I wish I could see him.”

“You will one day, buddy. But hopefully not for a long time.”

“I wish I could see God.”

“You’ll see him, too. That’s what heaven’s like. You get to see the people you love again, that went before. And you get to see God and be with him.”

“He wears a white robe,” he told me. “Mimi says.”

“That’s right,” I told him. “And a gold sash, because he’s also a king.”

We pulled into Circle K because I needed some gas, and he dropped this truth bomb on me.

“Uncle Dee is home now,” he told me, in his matter-of-fact little 4 year old voice. “So is your mom.”

“That’s right,” I said, and had to try really hard not to lose it right then.

“What did she die from?”

“Cancer, buddy.”

“She bumped into a cactus?”

I didn’t think it was possible, but I started laughing and crying at the same time. If you think crying makes people ugly, you should have seen that. I had to have looked like a madman. I’d calmed myself down a little by the time I got to Ken and Linda’s, but then I had the brilliant idea to tell them the story and it started all over again. Oh well, they probably already thought I was a goof.

Kids, man. I found out a little later from my older son that apparently, there’s these cactus things in Minecraft that kill you if you bump into them. It’s a dangerous world out there, I guess.

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Thoughts From The Park

I’m sitting here at the park and watching the boys play. They’re playing together for once, and they aren’t fighting. It’s been a pretty good day so far.

I’m thinking that they’re growing up so fast, it’s like a soft rope, slipping through my fingers. I wonder what kind of example I’ve been as a man? As a father? What kind of example will I continue to be?

I think of the example of my own father, who was close to the age I was when I got married and started my family. It wasn’t necessarily bad, I just think that people of his generation were different than they are now. And then he died when I was still young, just 16.

I think I learned more about manhood from my brothers-in-law than I did from my father. Mainly because I spent so much more time with them. Especially my sister Lee Ann’s husband, Phil.

I don’t think I ever thanked him, or my sisters, for being there for me when I was young. They saved my life in so many ways. They taught me how to treat women, and how to be emotionally available. Phil gave me most of my sense of humor. He also taught me how to relate to people in a way that puts them at ease, using the aforementioned sense of humor, mostly. And he taught me how to be a husband.

I’m hoping to give that to my boys. To show them how women should be treated. To be good and godly men, and husbands.

I think I do that by loving their mother, and letting them see. If that embarrasses them sometimes, I can live with that.

They also need to see me love God, and show them what he can do in a life–the changes that can bring. I learned that part from several Godly men and fathers who came into my life every now and then, always right when I needed them.

James Hogan.

Tim Wakefield.

Matt Botkin.

Merrill Roach.

Ray Traynor.

Ken Whitson.

John Whitson.

Zeb Ohland.

Paul Mondragon.

They made me realize how important it is to set an example.

It isn’t easy, and I probably should not expect it to be. Nothing good is.

So I will continue to love their mother, who is truly my better half, and the love of my life.

I will let God be my father, and example. I will love Him through the hard, and the ugly.

I will let him love me.

Brennan Manning said something once, to the effect that when our time comes, Jesus will ask us one question: did you believe that I loved you?

That may be the most important thing I can teach my kids.

God loves them. And when they believe that in their hearts, their lives will change forever.

Mine did.

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Crooked Face Dad

I hate that at my advanced and decrepit age, I both need and crave reassurance of things, but lately I’ve certainly felt that way. More so than in a long time.

The Bell’s Palsy has really sort of made things difficult. The left side of my face is stone paralyzed, including my eye, which I have to tape shut much of the time. The resulting dryness has made it more susceptible to injury, which has already happened once and was incredibly painful.

Can’t drive, so I haven’t been able to work. All of that is bad, and a real pain in the butt. The house is decorated for Christmas and I haven’t felt like enjoying it. The worst part for me has been the inability to kiss my wife and kids.

So I have been getting really good at feeling sorry for myself.

Then a couple things happened yesterday. My younger son and I were sitting around and he said “will you play with me?”

I was about to say I didn’t feel well, and then I thought of a movie line from somewhere (of course). You’ve only got one life to live. You can make it chicken salad, or chicken shit.

Yesterday I made chicken salad. We played cars, and scooters, and ate peanut butter sandwiches. We got mom a Christmas present (I made all right turns going to the store), and when we were done, my little guy kissed me smack on my twisted lips and said “I yuv you crooked face, dad.”

Jen came home and did the same thing. I guess sometimes a kiss is a kiss. It’s the heart behind it, not the lips in front of it.

It’s going to be a good day.

Another Lesson From John

I didn’t realize I had a problem with vanity until the last week. Why would I? I’ve always sort of thought of myself as Joe Average. You know, the guy you will pass on the street or in the store and forget about a few seconds later. I was OK with that. The thing most people would remember about me is my height.

This past Sunday morning, I woke up and something was wrong. I had a pretty bad headache, and my face felt weird. It wasn’t exactly numb, but I couldn’t move my mouth like I wanted to. I took some Ibuprofen for the headache, and off we went to church–Jenny and I had a Sunday school lesson–we’re teaching about the Nativity, introducing one “character” each week. As the lesson progressed, I listened to the kids singing Christmas songs and I couldn’t stop touching my face. Now, my left eye felt kind of burny and gritty. I pulled my eyelid closed and that helped a little.

We went home after church and by the time we finished lunch, I couldn’t blink my left eye at all, and the left side of my face felt completely numb. My left eye and cheek drooped on my face, and when I spoke it was like I had a mouthful of mashed potatoes if I went on for too long (probably a good thing for my wife, as I am a bit of a chatterbox).

At first, I thought I’d had or was having a stroke. Except I didn’t have any of the other symptoms people talk about with strokes. We started doing research online and it seemed it may be something called Bell’s Palsy, which was supposedly a temporary facial paralysis of either (and occasionally, both) sides of the face.

My doctor was able to confirm the diagnosis, and prescribed medication to hopefully speed the recovery process, which can be anywhere from a couple weeks to several months. In the meantime, I have to wear an eyepatch because my left eye won’t close. When I speak, my lips sometimes twist up, like I’m blowing a kiss off to the right.

In short, I’m not at my most handsome. I’m seeing the Dr today and hopefully getting cleared to go back to work next week, and I’m kind of nervous about it. I look funny, I talk funny. I take a ton of pills. Not looking forward to being in the fishbowl an office or test can be. Nevertheless, I have to work.

So this morning, I was sitting on the couch with my four year old, and he asked me, “Are you OK, dad?”

I told him dad was a little sick still, and didn’t feel very good.

“How are you sick, dad? Does that eye patch make you sick?”

“No, daddy’s eye just gets dried out, and he has to keep a bandage on it.”

“Well, I love you with an eye patch, dad.”

“I love you, too, bud. What if Dad only had one eye, or no eyes?”

“I would still love you with no eyes. But you would be weird.”

Couldn’t help but laugh.

“You always weird, anyway, dad.”

I laughed again, and had to agree with him. I usually am pretty weird.

So hopefully, I will get cleared to go back to work. Weird, eyepatch, and all. Let’s do it.

Father’s Day in Yakima

For about ten years, now, I’ve been getting this pain in my neck every once in a while. I imagine it’s some kind of pinched nerve, or something of that nature, but since it’s only occasionally, I never sought any kind of treatment for it. I call it my “tourette’s neck,” because it sometimes makes me jerk my head to the side when it happens. It happened during our wedding ceremony and it was all I could do not to jerk and twitch. I didn’t, thank goodness.

It hasn’t happened in a while, which is good.

Last August, I had my right rotator cuff surgically repaired, and it has never been the same since, not really. I have my range of motion back, but it still hurts pretty good most mornings, like maybe Dr Peare forgot to put something back in.

Over the past week or so here in Yakima, both things have been bothering me, on and off. My shoulder, especially. I know Jenny has been having a hard time of it as well, and I’ve been missing her and the boys something terrible. Last week, I went to a church Jorge told me about, and it was amazing. It’s called Changing Pointe, and if you’re ever in Yakima, that would be the place I’d send you. Last week it was about “Surviving the Pressure,” and it was right on point (I need to get Jenny to listen to it). At the end of the service, Pastor Eli did an altar call, and probably 30 or so people came up. Never seen such a response to an altar call. He prayed for everyone, and found a way to lay hands on each and every person for just a few seconds while he did it.

So another week went by, and every day I missed Jen a little bit more. I had lots of time to think, and what I mainly thought about is how I have to do better for my kids. I’ve got the providing part down, and God has really blessed my wife and I financially over the past year. The part I struggle with is leading my family–in giving them an example of what it looks like to really love God, and give everything to him. I mean everything in the sense of myself, by the way.

Today, father’s day, the sermon was the second in the Surviving the Pressure series, with an understandable segue toward what this day means to fathers and children. There was a slide presentation for Pastor Eli some folks made, and while it played a man on the praise team sang a song the Pastor had written, and it was really beautiful. I was a wreck before the sermon even started. Plus, my shoulder was burning, and I kept jerking my head around like one of those Roxbury guys on SNL.

Two quotes from his talk stuck in my mind (regarding fatherhood. He talked about witnessing his own father praying for his family–earnestly praying for them–in the small hours of the evening one time, and how he thinks about that when he wonders what do about being a parent), the first being this:

Fathers, what do your children see you doing as an outlet for pressure?

Crap. My kids see me get mad, or lash out in some way, or simply retreat and clam up.

The other was, Dads, don’t lose heart. Find a way. Lead the way.

Exactly what has been on my heart lately. In fact, it would be fair to say this was one of those times when it seemed like a pastor was talking directly to me the whole time he was in the pulpit. And the thought that occurred to me today was in the form of the Sanctus Real song “Lead Me,” which absolutely destroys me every time I listen to it.

So that was in my mind when Pastor Eli got to the end of his sermon and to the invitation part. I don’t remember much of what he said at that point, exactly, but it was something about dads and pressure. And leading. And finding a way. I thought about going up there, and then decided against it. Then I figured there would be thirty people again, and I could be relatively anonymous.

The urge to go was almost overwhelming, so up there I went, and you can probably guess what happened. It was just me. So there I was in front of the stage, and the music started swelling loudly. He placed his hands on my head and began to pray–I couldn’t hear a word he said, but it didn’t really matter. He placed both of his hands on my neck for a few seconds, and then on my shoulders. Had my stress and tension been that obvious?

I couldn’t hear his words, but I could feel them. My shoulder loosened up, and my neck stopped twitching. I stood there for a few more seconds, and then he shook my hand and that was it.

I went out to my rental car and listened to the voicemails my kids had left while I was in church. Started crying like a schoolgirl again, and then I sent a video message to my wife for them to listen to (it took me two tries before I could do it without tearing up).

So if I take nothing away from this trip except some extra per diem and a couple of paychecks, in the end I did realize what the most important thing was:

Finding a way. Leading the way.

How can I expect my kids to behave in a way I don’t behave myself?

How can I be an example to them if I do not follow the example Christ set before me?

I have some work to do.

Here’s Changing Pointe’s Vimeo link if you have some time:

http://vimeo.com/changingpointe

Funny how sometimes things just fall into place.

Bionic Dad

Father’s day is coming up once again, and I am understandably thinking about my own father. Every time you turn on the TV, there are Father’s Day commercials. People post them online, and tell you to grab Kleenex before you watch. Inevitably, I will watch, and often end up a little (or a lot) on the misty side. The commercials all show dads doing dad things, and what usually tears me up is that I don’t remember a lot of that with my own dad. This is not to say that it did not happen, only that I don’t remember it.

My father was from a different generation than a lot of my friends parents were, and he was much older. He was 39 when I was born, but he looked and acted much older. The irony there is that he was younger than I was when my little guy was born. Anyway, it seems to me that the generation he came out of was not so…nurturing and…”touchy-feely” as a lot of men–a lot of dads–later became. I don’t remember a single instance of him talking about his feelings, or anyone else’s. It wasn’t his fault–it was just how things were.

So most of the memories I have of feeling nurtured or loved on concern my older sisters. I suppose that is often the role of women in the lives of boys. It certainly was in mine. Consequently, I wanted to spend as much time as I could with my sisters. It made sense to me then, but I have no idea how it made my dad feel that I didn’t want to be around the house much. I never had the opportunity to ask him. Not when I was old enough to understand that my behavior toward him might have been hurtful in some way. He died in 1984, when I was 16. He died before I learned to drive. He didn’t see me graduate. He didn’t usher me off to college (nobody, did, actually. I didn’t start until I was in my 20’s, and I didn’t graduate until this year).

Recently, though, I have been actively trying to remember things, and looking at a lot of pictures, and little snippets of Dad have been coming to me. Rising up in my memory like little slips of paper with things written on them.

Dad sitting in the kitchen with a BB gun, waiting to shoot a mouse.

Dad driving through Jack in the Box to get me pancakes before we went out on his sailboat.

Dad making me rubber band guns in the garage.

Dad taking me and one of my friends to see the first Jaws movie.

Dad finding me when I got lost at the swap meet once.

Dad taking a washer or dryer in his arms and wrestling it out of the back of his pickup.

Dad seeing a swear word on a rock at the bay and draping a towel over it so my mom wouldn’t have to see it.

Dad teaching me how to pull the guts out of fish.

He didn’t often–possibly ever, that I can remember–tell me he loved me, but he sure showed me an awful lot.

I remember listening to him getting ready for work and drinking coffee and talking with my mom. I would go out to the kitchen and say goodbye. We would do that whole “see you later, alligator” thing, and I loved it.

So there was a lot of good there, I just needed to go looking for it. There’s much more than the things I shared above, but I’m keeping them just for me.

I wonder what I would say to him given the opportunity?

I think I would certainly tell him that I loved him. Part of me would have wanted him to be different, but an even bigger part would have wanted me to be different. I suppose I was just being a typical adolescent and teenager, but that doesn’t excuse anything. Of course, had I known he only had a few short years left, I would have perhaps tried to do things differently. I didn’t know, and consequently I wasn’t the person I would have wanted to be.

I can’t live in the past, though when days come around like Father’s Day and Mother’s day I think to regret a few things.

What I do know is that I don’t want my own kids to wonder about me later on in their own lives, so that means I need to be a better and more significant part of their lives now. My generation is touchy-feely, and I need to get off my ass and touch and feel (in a non-creeperish sort of way, of course).

So as you might have guessed, I’m feeling pretty sentimental right now. I haven’t seen my kids or my wife in almost two weeks, and it is weighing on me something terrible. I hope the conviction I’m feeling now does not leave me, but stays burning in my heart.

I want very badly to be a good dad.

To that end, I know that some things need to happen. I need to depend more deeply on God, and not on myself and my own understanding. I need to turn to God, and trust him more (I don’t think we can ever do that enough). I need to stop thinking so much about what was lost and think about what is–thanks to His provenient Grace–yet to come. I need to think about God’s promise, given in Joel 2:25 to “repay the years the locusts have eaten.”

Absolutely no credit to myself, but I feel like things are looking up in that regard. Over the past week, all of my siblings, finally, are in touch. Yes, it is via social networking, but that is a very big something for us, and I feel that more good is to come.

There are only a few weeks left in this program, and then I will be home. And I can begin to do things like seek his truth for my life in scripture–along with my kids. They need to see that is important to me, and I need to show them.

I can’t turn back any clocks, and I don’t think I would want to if I could. What I can do is my best to be different.

Better, stronger, faster (ok, no, I’m not bionic, but I’ve always wanted to be. I liked that noise it would make when he did bionic stuff on the show–sort of a ch-ch-ch-ch kind of thing).

So there I go again. Out of place humor.

bionic

Don’t Miss Your Life

We took a very brief day trip to San Diego today with the kids, and it was great. We didn’t do much at all, really. We just decided to go this morning, and we got ready and off we went. We saw my sisters for about an hour and did a couple other things, and it was really nice. Then we came home. Normally, my first thought, or my first instinct would have been to whip out my phone at every photo opportunity and take pictures–mostly for blog fodder later on.

I didn’t do that today. My phone stayed in my pocket, and I didn’t take a single picture. Instead, I just visited, and ate lunch, and talked to my family. We played video games and skee ball at the Viejas Outlet Center, and we watched the water show while Jenny did a little shopping–or retail therapy–whatever you want to call it. It was fun just to hang out with my guys.

I hadn’t thought about writing anything about the day until just now, when I thought about how nice it was just to be with the family–to play games with the kids instead of taking pictures of them doing it.

It occurred to me those moments can’t be replaced. If you miss them, they are gone.

I think I want to start doing things differently. Maybe save blogging for reflection rather than documentation.

I don’t want to miss anything–I’ve missed enough already.