Tag Archives: Dad

Two Illustrations from Nature…

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It is the weekend my Dad died nine years ago. It is the week a dear friend died one year ago. A coworker just had a miscarriage. A close friend is going through a divorce.

Illustration number one: This week I was at a work retreat up the coast. There was pine, dry grass, and dirt that acts like chalk on your shoes. The sunrise was obscured by a heavy fog being blown over the hill. As I climbed the hill I stepped into a copse of pine. I turned my head into the breeze to catch the wind in my ears and I caught another sound. It was so loud I looked around for what could cause this “pat pat pat”. Droplets had formed on the tip of every needle of every pine. I thought of the fog, how like grief, heavy, pervasive, and obscuring the view at three feet. And I thought of the trees, every day reaching out and into; by will and persistence making tangible something good and life-giving, watering themselves.

Illustration number two: Today we drove down the coast. We stopped just south of Linda Mar at a battery held aloft still by a truculent chunk of granite. High above the water and rocks, the walkway around seemed to drop out of sight with a certainty that made me hold my three-year-old’s hand tighter. Surely it would mean death to ever step past that edge. And yet, as we walked closer, we were surprised to find slopes, not gentle, but like many things in life, surprisingly survivable.

 

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An Old Story Again…

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This post was originally written in March of last year. So, I guess I’ve been blogging for over a year! I was sharing this with someone today and thought I would post it again. It will always be one of my favorite stories about my Dad.

 

The Day My Dad Began Painting

If anyone asked me when I was younger what my father did, I knew to say, “He works for a billboard company.”

I knew he left for work every day in a tie. I knew his title was “manager”. I found out he had a secretary, which validated his importance as nothing else had so far. And I knew he brought home reams of letterhead for me to write on, which corporate theft I appreciated greatly.

One day I went to work with him.

I was little; my memories, therefore, are tinged more with impressions than details. We got to his office through that of his secretary. It was a close little room, made closer still by the filing cabinets against the walls. The flyaway papers that lined the room in stacks and racks were white, like everything else under the fluorescent glare, and gave the general sensation that the room was peeling, a symptom of a slow, weary degeneration. I remember my father’s tie and his brown hair the only color floating in the room.

And then there was a subtle lift in mood. He took hold of a small door in the wall behind his desk and gave me a sort of anticipatory smile. I approached with much the same motivations as Alice at the looking-glass and followed him through.

We stepped out of the bright and into the soothing dim of an industrial warehouse. It had the cool feeling of old concrete and held a popping bombardment of color. Behold, what magic! It was as if some merry giant had plucked up every billboard in the county and hidden them away here in his cave. And an army of little men on mechanical lifts had been left to work on them with their brushes. How startling to realize that the signs I saw every day were not photographs at all, but paintings.

Billboards are huge enough, but even more so to a little girl looking up from the ground. These men painting silver cars and womens’ slick lips eating yogurt seemed like so many commercial Michelangelos suspended in front of their individual Sistine Chapels. It was awesome to me. And my Dad knew all of them. And they all knew my Dad.

This was to be the day I learned that artists were ordinary people and that genius had names like Mark and Jerry. They were balding, overweight, wearing splattered sweats, and jonesing for cigarettes. Yet they were painting that great thing, from only a tiny photograph.

My Dad then took me to the paint mixing room, which was equally industrial and unromantic. Quarts of oil paint in hues like jewels being mixed to stern exactness were then slopped into whichever old tin cans or plastic tubs were available.

Dad could talk in detail about the process of mixing paints. Driving around town he could point out who had done which boards by the way the eye highlights were done. What I did understand of his job was enough for me to doubt his need to be so well acquainted with these artists. I just thought he liked it there. Who wouldn’t, in the cavern, outside the white box?

Now, let me say, I never saw my Dad draw. I never saw him sketch. He didn’t have an unusual attraction to museums or galleries. In my mind his identity was firm and unchanging.

But one day, years later, he came home with an air of victory. Under one arm he carried a plastic wrapped canvas and under the other he carried a small cardboard box. The box was filled with some of those old tin cans and plastic tubs half filled and crusted over with dried paint.

I remember watching my Dad sit down in the garage and prop the canvas up on a box, the plastic wrap thrown to the ground. I remember him cutting through the crust of dried paint to get at the wet underneath.

He painted a tree against a blue sky. I remember being surprised that he knew how to do this. He was absorbed. He was dissatisfied with his attempt. He was glorious. He got impatient at how long it was taking to fill the canvas and took a narrow paint scraper and began scraping black like an obsidian cliff below his tree. He used the paint recklessly.

No one cuts black paint over a canvas like that on a whim. One cuts black paint over a canvas like that to memorialize a fight. There was something there all these years, underneath, like his crusted tubs. He just had to decide to dig, to cut through and get at that malleable inside.

I was in junior high when he started to paint. I hold that up as a reminder to myself that there is time; that it’s never too late to knife through resistance. He worked through the remnant cans of used paint until the industry switched to digital printing. Then he started to buy it, but he never stopped using it recklessly. His canvases got bigger and bigger so I think he would’ve loved the chance to paint on one of those huge billboards. He sketched on slips of paper and while watching TV. He was prolific. He was a painter.

It was so much of who he was. How could anyone have missed it?

What’s in a Name…

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On the Saturday night of the weekend I was in New York I walked back to the hotel through Harlem by myself with the baby. The subway platform was crowded.  Rats were running along the tracks.  I observed some interactions that made me weary.  And then, I got on the train.

A dad and his son sat next to us. Baby promptly grabbed at the kid and we began to talk.  The boy was ten and wanted to be a chemist.

“A chemist?” I asked.

“He wants to solve the worlds’ ills,” his Dad told me.

“Well, how are your lab skills?” I asked.

The boy looked as if he really wished he could tell me. He looked like he might have gone out on a limb and told me that his lab skills were great if he even knew what lab skills were.

“Well, there are so many kinds of chemistry,” I said, “You’re best served keeping your options open so that you’re able to go down the path you want to follow when you find it.”

Dad looked at his son to see if he had absorbed that bit of advice.

The son continued to tell me how he was working hard to get good grades, the goals his Dad and he had set together, how strict his Dad was. And the way the boy talked, he was bragging.  He was proud of the contingencies that had been placed on his privileges and television hours.  Our stop came up.

“What’s your name?” I asked the boy.

“Craig,” he said.

“Well, good luck, Craig,” I said.

“And what’s your name?” I asked the Dad.

“Craig,” he smiled.

I smiled back.

“It was nice to meet you. You’re doing a great job, Craig,” I said.

The baby and I waved goodbye to the two Craigs through the window. And I wondered about it after that, the magic of bequeathing your name.  The willingness and care it takes to let someone else wear your name, how invested it makes you.

There was a sermon this summer on the name of God. The pastor talked about “Yhwh”.  He talked about the different ways to pronounce it, the implications of God revealing his name to us.  He said that lately Bible scholars have been drawing the connection between the sounds and spelling of the word “Yhwh” and the sounds and spelling in ancient Hebrew that represent the sound of human breath, nearly identical.

This is the depth of the Father’s commitment to us. And it is no small thing, that he would trust his name to our mouths with every breath.

And I think about young Craig from Harlem who will forever introduce himself with a name that was his Father’s first.

And I relax into the thought that before I was able to accomplish anything and long after I wear out my usefulness on this Earth my living breath will continue to proclaim the Father’s name.

Yhwh.

Happy Birthday, Daddy…

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Yesterday was my Dad’s birthday. I forgot all about it until my sister messaged me.  “He would’ve been sixty-five … and he would’ve been so grumpy about it.”  He hated getting older.

There was a short-lived period of time where I called him Pops. He nipped it in the bud immediately.

I always forget my Dad’s birthday.

Once, when I was in college I came home to find a message on my machine.

“Hello, Barbara, this is your father. I just wanted to call and thank you for the wonderful birthday card you gave me.  It’s so thoughtful and I love how you wrote that I was the best father ever, oh … wait … how embarrassing, this card is from your brother.  I guess I didn’t get one from you.  I’m sorry.  I guess I need to call my new favorite child.”

And then the message cut off amid snickering.

He was a funny guy. Each of us was his favorite.  He’d whisper it into our ears in front of the others by turns.  We watched him do it and, yet, believed him every time.

It’s been seven years since I had to write his eulogy. It took me a week before my pen would write the words “he was”, each day before my pen betraying me with “he is”.

I’ve had several dreams about him since he died.  It’s always a crowded space and he’s suddenly there.  And I run up to him to tell him everything, about how he’s a grandfather now, how I miss him, a new joke I think he’d like.  But he always hushes me and just beams with that quiet proud smile, never more proud than when he was speechless.  He’s never let me tell him anything.  He just smiles at me.

Happy birthday, Dad, you don’t look a day over fifty-seven.

I’ve got a new one for you:  “Why can’t you tell a kleptomaniac a pun? Because they always take things literally.”

Women’s Lib…

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I kind of made an idiot out of myself in Bible study today. We were discussing the “wives submit” passage and I said a lot in favor.

But they didn’t know I was speaking with the passion of the converted.

They don’t know how many citations I got in elementary school for wrestling boys to the ground. Or the time I got sent to the principal’s office for pinching Ryan Progergevsky so hard he bled.

They don’t know that I organized and executed a sit-in when I was in sixth grade for equal rights for the girls. Or about how I disdained the idea of ever submitting to a man because I was never going to find one stronger than me.

And how would they know? Let’s face it, I’m pretty much a poster child right now for traditional gender roles. I’m a stay at home Mom of three kids, bringing in no income, and often, literally, barefoot in the kitchen. I’m emotional, hormonal, don’t touch the finances, and, indeed, due to the nature of his job often have no idea how much money is in the bank.

But the girl who once harbored the secret and dear ambition to be the first female player in the NFL did not become this barefoot Momma overnight.

You see, I exercised my biggest power in the most serious way when I chose my husband.

I found someone stronger than me, strong enough for me to break down on, strong enough to handle strong Barbara, and strong enough to handle weak Barbara. And he got someone strong enough to handle him, too. So, there.

I’m a scientist at heart, that is, I ask questions, experiment, and repeat. And I have tested again and again this whole “submission” thing. This is how it began:

We were about six weeks out from being married in a very fast engagement. I had long ago committed to being a virgin on my wedding night and it was looking like I may not make it. (He was hot!) I had an emergency session with a counselor who told me something radical, something that I would never hear culture say. He said, “Barbara, you gotta let him take the reins. You shouldn’t be in charge of that, he should. And if he can’t drive that cart then you don’t want to marry him. There are going to be a lot more difficult things in your marriage for which he’s going to have to take responsibility.”

So, I told James what the counselor had said and I felt the greatest weight slide off my shoulders when I followed it with, “So, now it’s up to you. You know how important it is to me to wear that white dress. And you’re in charge.” He laughed and shook his head. I barely got a kiss for the next six weeks.

And then I married him.

We have a rule in our marriage, we concede to whoever is the most adamant. Often it works well. Often one of us feels significantly more zealous. But, there have been a few instances where we end up head-to-head and toe-to-toe.

There was the time he made me turn around and apologize to our boss after I lost my temper in one of the worst ways. That job was our house and our income for months more because I apologized.

There was the time he told me not to take my dream job. And I scowled and pouted, but called and refused the job. And the day before the job was supposed to start my Dad died. I had been so glad I didn’t have to worry about work that week.

And then there was the time he looked at me and told me it was time to have kids. Within weeks we were pregnant with our son.

What is marriage if not the beautiful image of how love alone can make two discordant people one? Like God the Father and Jesus, two as one yet obedient to the Father. As the church and Jesus are co-heirs of an inheritance yet under Jesus’ head?

And what kind of weakness is it in me that wakes up first, serves every member of my family before myself, and doesn’t sit down until nine pm every night? What weakness is it in me that can trust in the face of the unknown, let myself breakdown with another human being, and be master of my fears with loving obedience?

I am not lost in these submissions. I am doubled. I am tripled. And I am better for my role as wife and mother. I am more complex. I am stronger.

So, I know I don’t look like I’m doing anything for women’s lib. But it really seems to be working great for Barbara’s lib.