Sometimes, particularly while on long flights or during periods of prolonged separation from my wife and kids, I experience certain quick moments of intense emotion. Like flashes, during these minutes it seems like I’m experiencing all the guilt and shame of all the wrong I’ve ever done all at once. From childhood to yesterday, I seem to feel bad about it all. An un-willed gust of self-flagellation in penitence for everything “I’m sorry” can’t cover.
This fleeting sadness and guilt is always accompanied by the strong desire to hide away and take shelter. In those moments when the total weight of my life’s sin feels stacked upon my head like a column I want nothing more than to be with my family, away from everything and everybody. To take my wife and my kids and go and shelter in the amazing sense of safety and peace I feel when we’re together as a unit. When faced with these moments, nothing could be more soothing or restorative.
I occasionally think this is how I’ve learned to cope with feelings I otherwise have trained myself to overlook. Like pulling Band Aid off all at once or something.
My father is dying.
He has a type of blood cancer and the doctors don’t think he’ll live much longer. We’ve known for a while but I don’t write anymore so I’ve not written about it. The disease is playing out pretty much as expected.
Last year I helped move my parents from Oregon to our old house, while we bought a new one only a few miles away. We found out about the cancer just after they’d settled-in. I honestly think this was God’s plan. Early on I used to think about how nice it would be for us to have my folks close, but in the end I think it was we who are meant to be there for them.
Mostly dad is just very tired. Happily, we’re able to spend plenty of time together. We barbecued in a park just a few weeks ago. Since our time together is fairly normal, it’s easy to think that things aren’t really all that different. I don’t think I’m deluded, but it is easy. I’ve committed myself to sharing as much time together as we can and we’re doing that, but often I think I’m still unprepared.
Back to those moments of distilled repent I opened with, perhaps my pointed way of dealing with heaps of unrealized consequence. I have this sense that I’m beginning to process the eventual loss of my father in the same way. In certain moments lately I find myself in pointed crushes of loss and sadness. Fleeting, but raw and strong. I feel suddenly awash in some fondness of memory, some wish for more time that’s not even yet expired.
And I cry. Which I don’t do. I did today, on the plane, watching Life of Pi when Richard Parker walked unceremoniously into the jungle. I did a few weeks ago sitting at home on the couch. Then Sharaun was next to me and she did her best to comfort me. I thought I could see just a bit of surprise on her face, her realization, I think, that however OK I act about things this will hurt. She did, though, comfort me.
I know she’ll be there. So will Keaton in her perfect way and Cohen in his perfect own. My brother and his wife, my mom, all of us. The family balm. Come whatever, I gain strength from them and take great comfort in knowing they are a life raft in rough seas.
Until later then.
Shhh! Don't tell anyone, but I made a conscious effort to dial-down my work investment this week. I really did. I was sort of sick a couple days so that forced slowdown helped, but I also tried to do less. You can see, from the writing, that it worked. I feel better (not bad at all) about it. Let's go.
I don't know if it's the lovely Spring weather or what, but lately Keaton's had a renewed interest in riding her bike. I talk more about the whole training wheels saga later; right now we've just been getting out of doors almost nightly and riding small suburban circuits. While we ride together, I can help but to do a bit of dad showing-off... dredging up muscle memories made in my youth and popping and riding wheelies (on my mountain bike, no less), riding with no hands, "fishtailing," "endo'ing," and bunny hopping. (I think) she finds it all terribly impressive, and a dad's gotta keep up his Superman veneer, you see.
Monday evening Sharaun was at the gym and Keaton, Cohen, and I had all gone on a long walk around the neighborhood. Keaton chose to ride her bike and after we got back home she joined up with a group of neighbor girls who were also out riding bikes in the cul-de-sac across from our house. For a while, while the sun was still well enough above the horizon, I stretched out on the grass in the front yard and played with Cohen there while she rode. Then, as dusk came and the sun was no longer there to warm us, Cohen and I took our leave of the lawn and headed inside. I hollered at Keaton that she could stay out and ride with the girls. She stayed out there and cycled around in circles until after the streetlights came on and all her friends had to go home too. It was after eight o'clock before I stepped outside to call her back.
Later, I learned that she was absolutely thrilled to be given this tiny freedom. I considered it quickly at the time, only just briefly, for it really isn't a situation she often finds herself in. She's only just five, and the times where she's "alone" are usually playdates with friends or in childcare at the gym or church. She hasn't really yet experienced the empowering rush that I can remember as a kid when you felt that the world (as big as it was to you at the time in your radius of four of five suburban blocks) was yours to explore and discover. But for Keaton that night she was out hanging with the big girls. Riding bikes with no parents, laughing and playing and having a grand old five year old time. Nevermind that I could hear her the whole time through the front screen door, or that I could see her by craning my neck from my seat on the couch - to her she was unchaperoned.
As she was coming in she said to me, "You can do that again Dad; let me ride by myself. I wasn't scared or sad at all; it was fun." It's fascinating to try and plumb the psychological implications of what your kids say and do. Maybe this little self-affirming comment was her way of admitting that, in fact, she may have been a little scared or sad to begin with - but that those notions soon passed and she was thrilled to realize that there is a world off the apron strings. I figure one thing I can do is try and give her an idea of just how big and wonderful that world is, maybe grow in her some passion to explore it and test it. Then again, I have no idea what I'm doing here.
OK, the other thing I wanted to capture about that evening bike ride. I mentioned I could hear the girls in the circle through the front door, and I couldn't resist the temptation to stand there and eavesdrop a bit. I'm glad I did, because I got to overhear my daughter bragging to her friends. "Hey do you guys know that my dad can lift the whole front wheel of his bike and ride around? He can also ride with no hands and jump his whole bike off the ground!" Hearing this made my heart swell, I tell you. Of course the other girls were quick to represent their dads in response, I heard lots of "My dad does X," and "Yeah and mine can do Y!" If you're not a dad of a little girl, I don't think you can even approximate what emotions this evokes in a man. It's primal, tickling something in us which dates back to primitive times; and it is so satisfying it's hard to describe. (Pat just wait.)
Just wait until she's fourteen or fifteen and reality comes crashing in as she realizes I'm not but a human after all, and a flawed one like the rest of us at that. Owell, until then I'll enjoy the view from this pedestal.
Mid-week we flew to Oregon, the whole family.
I had to be here for an all-day meeting Friday (today, as you read this), and had planned on spending a full day Thursday in the office pressing flesh and networking (it's a verb). But, none of that (including Friday's all-day manager-moot) happened, or is going to happen (this writing about the future knowing it'll be the present is hard). See, Portland got some snow. A dusting, really; a winter's pittance. It melted, in fact, completely away by a few hours before noon. While it stuck, however, it made for a beautiful morning. I love the way snow lines up on the limbs of trees, thin little piles. Keaton woke up and looked out the large picture windows at the front of my folks' place in wonder. We made plans to make a snowman if it kept coming down, if it stuck around long enough.
But it didn't. By noon it was sunny and the snow had melted off the roofs and was dripping off the eaves and down the downspouts. By noon it was a perfect day for walk outside or a pickup game.
But there was snow. It did snow. And Portland doesn't do snow. The powers that be at the sawmill, the same ones who flew me up here to spend two days meeting and greeting and talking, called off the whole deal. "Don't come into work," they said. "Stay at home where it's safe and don't get on the death-trap skating-rink roads," they said. So I did. I mean, why wouldn't I? Every trip to Oregon is double-your-pleasure for me anyway - half work and half weekending with the folks (the benefit of your folks living near the local sawmill). Now this one becomes no work and all weekending. Not a bead deal. I'll still have to work, but not a bad deal at all.
But really; people flew here from halfway around the world for this meeting to instead stay inside and cower at the melt-as-they-fall flakes.
Today was fine, finer-than-fine, in fact, right up until about half-past five.
I was sitting at my desk at work, contemplating leaving. Thinking about what Sharaun might be making for dinner (I am one who is blessed with a home-cooked meal nearly every night); wondering what thing Keaton would be proud of and want to show me the moment I walked in the door (she's fiercely creative and is in that phase where she learns something incredible to her every single day); anxious to see Cohen (who sprouted his first tooth overnight and thus had something to show me which rivaled sister). My exit strategy involved a quick trip to the restroom after packing away the laptop (always have to lug that thing home... my lifeline to work), swinging back by the desk to grab my things and don my hat, and heading out into the cold darkening evening.
Anyway I did all that. Then when I got in the car I remembered it had nagged me on the way in about being low on fuel. Bummer, almost six already and I wanted to to get home. I wish Sharaun would keep the thing filled instead of asking me to take it on the day rivals the bones in Ezekiel's valley. But it's not her fault, I could've filled it on the way in in the morning but I was too lazy. I just have this thing about unscheduled stuff and I was really in the mood to get home. The gas thing wasn't the problem. It was the e-mail that dink!'d into my phone at the stoplight in front of the UPS store. I know, I shouldn't be reading e-mail on my phone in the car. Certainly now when I'm operating the car, even stopped dead at a light while and old Russian couple crosses in front of me. But I do. I read mail when I'm stopped.
That mail bummed me out though, man.
And then I stopped for gas and the gas cost like $70. That much for gas seems dumb. And then as the garage door pulled open before me I saw Sharaun had parked on the "wrong" side of the garage, meaning I'd have to swap the cars around (it's a long story). When I walked into the house I decided I was too tired and my late arrival would compress the evening enough that I'd not be going to the gym again. Dinner wasn't in the oven yet. Cohen was crying. The coffee table was a mess.
In other words, that one stupid e-mail tainted my whole outlook. Turning normal non-things into the annoying and cumbersome.
Thank God for Keaton's smile and Cohen's outstretched arms and Sharaun's welcome-home hug. E-mail can suck an egg for all I care.
Happy New Year's Eve, friends and family (and enemies and the indifferent and still-not-sure).
Last night went and had a couple cigars with the brother-in-law. Some strip-mall smokes and spirits hole, but really nice. I told Doug, as we were sitting there, that in a past life I must have been a smoker or frequented places where smoke hung regular in the air - as I'm oddly at-home comfortable in those types of places today. Even though I leave with my clothes smelling like they were washed in some foul smoke-bath (I guess they were), my skin feels like paper and my sinuses tighten so much my head feels heavier for it - I enjoy the smoking experience.
Pipes, cigars, even the occasional cigarette... all have a draw. Like I say, maybe in some previous life this was comfortable to me. Or, maybe, Piaget was onto something and the stage of my youth which was marked by time spent with the smokestacks who were my maternal grandparents is imprinted alongside "safe, comfortable, and easy" in my mind.
Anyway we hung out and smoked and drank dark beer (Sam Smith's Oatmeal Stout, something I fist had as a bottle offered in trade for a campfired hot dog by a dirty hippie at a Grateful Dead festival). We talked about grown up things to justify our grey hair and sore feet: real estate investments, insurance, the march of technology, our jobs and families. In the end I found myself again wishing that were we closer to family. A hollow hope and really not much more for now, since I wouldn't leave our current situation anyway; I'm risk-averse and happy and comfortable. But for a lark it's fun to sit and think what I might do if we up and hauled buggy across the country. Maybe I could start a whole new career. Maybe not.
Good day with family today. We drove an hour or so away to spend the morning exploring huge man-made indoor winter.
The effort and energy required to produce a thing of such frivolity is a wonder. It was all of 9° in that place; they gave each person a full-body parka like the kind the guys working the freezer cases at Costco wear. They kept it that way with a mazework of overhead ducting, each two feet round and heavily insulated, each blowing massive volumes of frigid air.
Turning a huge convention center auditorium into a walk-in freezer is something to marvel at. Humans must become awful bored to dream up such exotic ways to entertain themselves. Here in the tropical south we tromped around in real snow and poor Cohen came home with bright red chapped cheeks and chin. Nice way to make a little money for someone, I suppose.
The rest of the week is spoken for and yet we have much still we'd like to do. The usual running around and meeting with friends will come after Christmas and the wind-down of Sunday and then the wind-up-again of Disney on Monday. I'd also like to get a good amount of do-nothing time in while we're here: hanging with the family, watching the kids play with their presents, drinking beer with the father-in-law - those kinds of things. I can make it happen.
10pm at night and I just finished my last meeting. Hey, it's better than before daylight savings time ended and the same meeting was from 10pm-11pm.
Sharaun is out shopping. Some last-minute preparation for her mom's group tomorrow morning. This means that once again it's up to the music to keep me company. Presently I'm listening to a 1967 record by the Incredible String Band. Like I said yesterday, I've been on a somewhat erratic, dusty corners of the collection, thing this week. Cohen is, blessedly, asleep - as is Keaton but that's not what I want to write about.
He had a rough night tonight; his sleeping pattern seems to be shifting to later and he's developed a strong sense of object permanence lately which sees him arch his back and screech when Sharaun's not around. I can manage him through the trauma, soothing him and letting him focus on my face instead (I'm being serious, get that kid in a staring contest and he'll pass out while seemingly boring holes into your soul through your eyes). Sharaun did me a favor and hung out long enough to settle him so he wouldn't be hollering during my phone call (thus the late-night shopping).
Today at work I was reviewing my staff's "vacation calendar," a thing where we visually map out who'll be gone when so we can easily see where we might need some extra coverage or have a problem with thin staffing. Looking at it, I realized how very few working days I have between now and when we leave for Florida. This realization came with both glee and stress, as I'm really ready to be there and hang out with family but I also have a load of things to get done before I can do so with a clear conscience. I just looked at those blocked out days and marveled at where the year went.
Just a few more weeks and it'll be over. All of 2010. The year of our second kid; of making right with God; of loss and stability and comfort; of too many blessings.