Recently, I began training to become a gibbering idiot. The first step has been smiling at everyone I encounter. To smile continuously and without hope of compensation is a heartbreaking task. The reason for taking on a smile, or at least a gassy sort of smirk, is that humanity has grown sour and dark. Smiling at strangers is my sincere way of saying “May your issues be resolved quickly and your urge to harm me minimal.” The task of taking on a bright and cheerful countenance for friends and strangers alike has been difficult. As my dad once reminded me “Boy, we ain’t very huggy people.” In that regard, we certainly aren’t a smiling bunch. I am choosing to break that mold, as moldy as it is.
People don’t like students of the gibbering idiot way, those knights of an older republic in which calm and serene dignity won battles. Making eye contact with strangers is dangerous in itself, so to smile and allow them to go on their way with respect is tantamount to starting a fight. In other words, smile at strangers because it blows their minds. The secret behind the smile is that light in my eyes. The weird light that does not mark me as an idiot at all, but as someone who is crunching numbers and figuring out how best to make your life better. If that makes me an idiot, good. The idea of equal opportunity grinning isn’t easy to enact. Often when I’m cut off, or crowded by people, the urge is to catch up with them and ask if their life was improved by being a turd on legs. To smile and move on with a kind word is hard to pull off with dignity and aplomb. It probably makes me look like a moron, but I know that If I keep smiling people may examine turdhood as a lifestyle choice and renounce it. Maybe. 🙂
I’ve had writer’s block for several days. When this happens I return to the basics, things that make sense to me. Lots of “science food” is consumed during these literary droughts. Science food is the kind of culinary delight that consumers can’t screw up during preparation, because it’s too perfectly designed. I ate quite a bit of Cool-Whip, which really is a perfectly engineered edible product. The marriage of hydrogenated oil, corn syrup and flavoring agents. Frankly, I’d smoke the stuff (and I probably could, it’s so well designed). Cool Whip even stays whipped at room temperature for a disturbingly long time.
Over the years I’ve made sickening amounts of real whipped cream out of nothing more than cream, a bit of sugar and some vanilla. Every once in a while, I’ll throw in a packet of Dr. Oetker’s stabilizer in if the whipped cream has to hold up for a lengthy period of time. There is something to be said for Cool Whip, though, even if you are firm believer in truth, justice and real whipped cream. In no way does Cool Whip resemble the original model. It’s the Christina Hendricks of dessert products. Sorry, but I was sick last weekend and ended up watching old episodes of Mad Men. Real whipped cream has curves and peaks and a hint of sweetness. Cool Whip is sexy in an exaggerated way. The stuff just hits you over the head. After eating Cool Whip I can walk into a room and have people ask “Good grief, have you been into the whipped topping, man?” Yeah, it’s because I don’t drink much, although several times I did work out something called Booze Whip. There was a great combination: fermented grain beverages and hydrogenated vegetable oil. It just ain’t a party ’till somebody gets a bowl of Cool Whip tipsy. Makes you forget all about writer’s block.
A few months back I wrote a blog post offering some reasons for not getting naked, climbing into a fire truck and running over strangers (Naked, posted 2/25/12). Any time you can include a naked individual driving a stolen fire truck, Angelina Jolie and the end times in one tidy little blog, it’s a fun day. This week, most of the major papers and Time magazine picked up on a story from Miami involving a naked individual gnawing the face off of another equally unclothed person near a freeway on-ramp. The man, who could not be swayed from his cannibalistic ritual until fatally shot, was said to be under the influence of Bath Salts. This is a horrible, despicable story and the victim is barely alive as of this writing, but I did want to comment on the whole idea of calling whatever form of LSD/household cleaners the assailant was taking “Bath Salts.” Is there any reason for calling a powerful hallucinogenic agent “Bath Salts”?
When I think of bath salts, I’m reminded of some miserable housewife (of a bygone era. Miserability is really unfashionable these days) throwing up her hands and begging Calgon to take her away. Bath Salts seemed like a nice, quaint product. Of course, as kids we were told not to ingest any bathing products. “Don’t drinkMr. Bubble! For Heavens sake, child! You’ll hear colors!” Why even take a chance on imbibing a substance named after a tub time relaxant? What’s with the zombie apocalypse craze, anyway? Why are people getting naked and biting strangers? Is it because of TV shows like The Walking Dead? If Mad Men gets too popular, are people going to put on wool knit suits and hit secretaries with umbrellas? Are we going to become a nation in which Once Upon ATime is so popular that people dress as Pinocchio and lie to each other for fun? Oh, joy! Siri? Remind me to dress as Pinocchio on Saturday night!
(A very recycled Spatula post from December of 2010)
New Haven, Connecticut– Over the past few months, scenes of young people rioting over rising university tuition
costs and austerity measures have become a familiar sight in Europe. What is less widely recognized is the bubbling undercurrent of discontent among college students in the United States. American undergraduates, however, are not
disgruntled over the high cost of their education or the sluggish economic conditions in their home country. What is troubling U.S. students is the growing cost prohibitive nature of getting a fruitcake fix. The dessert, generally found on growing wild on forest floors, is one of the few legal and safe ways of loosening up for students, but the price of a buzz has been steadily rising. At several universities, including Yale, students have taken to the streets to demand a return to the cheap easy fruitcake high of yesteryear. What started as a rumor at California schools during the 1960′s has
now become a revered tradition on campuses all over the United States. A 15 year aged fruitcake can be eaten and is said to produce feelings of peace, fulfillment and the desire to simply eat more fruitcake. The problems for students seeking a fruitcake high started earlier this year when mail order houses specializing in the harvesting and aging of fruitcake sharply increased prices due to renewed demand and scarcity of wild fruitcake. Compounding the problem has been a reduction in the number of specially trained fruitcake sniffing pigs who go into the forest seeking the dessert with
their snouts. Students, unable to afford the delicacy any longer, are banding together around the country and causing mass disturbances in order to send a message to companies like Harry and David, who own a monopoly on fruitcake. In one protest that turned violent, University of Florida students threw their pants en masse into a bonfire as a show of solidarity against the fruitcake cabal. Meanwhile, Georgetown University students mobbed President Obama’s motorcade, lobbing coffee cake at the car as the first couple looked on in terror. Fruitcake got it’s therapeutic
and medicinal reputation after American soldiers during the 1940′s leaked information that they’d participated at the injections of hundreds of detainees with the dessert after World War II. Area 52 in New Mexico, in fact, is suspected as a large-scale fruitcake experimentation area for the Army, and rumored to have the highest re-enlistment rate of any duty station in the armed forces.
This morning I was still functioning in selfish mode. There was work to consider, but also thoughts of races to be run next summer and what charities to run them for. The blah, blah, blah of self. Two hours into the day my wife texted me, mentioning that our daughter was home sick today. Normally, I don’t answer texts and emails at work. Most days, it’s proper to let my thigh keep buzzing and let the mystery be. Today, I got the message. From the phone attached to my thigh all the way through my thick, selfish skull. I came home and sat with my ten-year old this morning. Learning to do for others is a lifelong process and today was one of those days in life.
What I’ve figured out along the road of parenthood is that kids are pretty simple. Not simple-minded. Oh, not by a long shot. My daughter keeps losing her allowance, because she talks juust like me. Nope, single minded is a better term for my child. Kids need simplicity, though. I used to over- complicate days spent with my daughter. The old me would have had us making snow cookies, or going to some restaurant across town. She was sick today, though and appreciated simplicity. We watched Brady Bunch and Full House reruns and played Wii games. When she was hungry, we ate. I felt guilty at first. A seemingly normal Thursday turned into one making fun of early 70’s skirt lengths (ala Brady) and Uncle Jessie’s Hair (that would be Full House), along with watching the snowflakes swirl by the windows. My daughter loves school and has missed enough for a lifetime due to illness, so she didn’t want to be home either. We ended up bonding over a seemingly “nothing” day.
My wife once asked if I’d ever want to be a house husband. This conversation took place at the beginning of the rah-rah 2000’s, but even then I realized that homebound would never be my thing. Still, every once in a while a father (and a daughter, for that matter) need to step back and recover from the world of…the world. Not complicated, definitely not rocket surgery. Just life as it happens.
I went back to work today after nasty bout with food poisoning. The details are too detailed, but I can say that I will try to eat healthier, more nutritious meals. The illness stemmed from “dining” at a sandwich shop whose owners pride themselves on the speed with which they produce subs, but not so much on what really goes into the product. All my life, I’ve reveled in owning a cast iron stomach, but the Porkinator did me in (and judging by it’s name…duh). Vegetables, are no better. Unwashed havens of death, veggies are. You’d be better off eating from the men’s room floors at the Cleveland Greyhound depot than you would trying to live the healthy, balanced dietary life. In fact, I have, but there isn’t any reason to kiss and tell. Where is the Jolly Green Giant when you need him? We need more imaginary Madison Avenue advertising creations to benevolently watch over humanity and protect us from food borne danger.
Yesterday was Earth Day, and I didn’t have much time to think about careers in the nutritional super hero field (what, with all the puking and crying “Lord, kill me now”). Today, however is a blessed new day for the world, and I feel no shame in filling out an application to be the Jolly Green Giant. I have some of the qualifications down. Sewing a ginormous leafy loin covering skirt should be no problem. I got straight B’s in Home Economics. My complexion is seriously green, which is possibly a lingering effect of the Porkinator. The 85-foot tall height requirement is a kind of tough to break through. How does one become 85 feet tall? I’ll have to ask the folks at the Green Giant vegetable company. How many bags of frozen peas does a person have to eat to get that tall? Never mind the kind of genetic mutation loaded into the peas to induce such spectacular growth. Where in the blazes does an 85-foot behemoth of advertising genius sleep? Standing up? Oh, and what about all of that natural, jolly green fertilizer? God forbid old boy ever gets food poisoning. Every time the folks hear “Ho, Ho, Ho” they’d better run. On second thought, maybe I’ll just be careful about the food I put into my body and leave the work of Jolly Green Giant-ing to the advertising mutants. Ho Ho Ho.
Like many failed bloggers, I aspire to be a novelist. Some persistent voice in my mind shouts at me to write as if my life depends on it. No, I’m not actually hearing voices and the persistent encouragement may be the result of too much Sudafed (mmm…cold medicine). Every now and then one of the creative mash-ups that appear on these pages shows promise. A reader from Argentina mentioned that I’m funny (looking). During my college days, I imagined myself as a poet. One girl I gave original poetry to stopped taking my pizza order long enough to go and show my work to her manager. Sure, I’m banned from Pizza Hut in every state (except Alabama), but that just prompted me to learn to make pizza. While mowing the lawn, I thought of a list of life experiences that would be beneficial to my future career as a novelist. The neighbors were kind enough to give the mower back after it propelled itself through their roses. Qualifications:
I’ve previously worked naked (not in the film industry. I was a dish washer).
Good with titles. For instance, if the novel involved lawn care, I’d call it 5o Shades of Brown.
knowledgeable about romancelove cheeses of the world.
Formerly a dashing man of international intrigue. Well, I’ve been to Canada.
Great at putting words together in a way that simultaneously inspires rage and boredom.
I enjoy books. My favorite is the comic book version of Burn Baby Burn.
Wrote speeches for previous President George W. Bush. Needless to say, he never used them. Who can tell the difference, though?
Have flair for describing gritty, realistic life situations. Once such situation might involve a dark, stormy night on which my dog went pee in my shoe. Then again, maybe not.
I write in the same way I speak. Oh, wait. Neither of those are strong selling points. I may have to return to washing dishes.
One of the wonderful things my wife did when we got married was that she made me stop dating. Okay, I honestly wanted to stop. I love Lori more than any other person on earth. Thank God for not having to go through the sham ritual of courtship anymore, though. I was never any good at relationships. Or personal interaction. Or speaking to people without gibbering and flapping my arms. Flirting was impossible. I just never got it. Maybe it was because everything I tried to say came out in 452 word bursts. Some people have a gift for nonchalant flirtation, some only manage to catch fire from zipper friction, because they wear cheap pants. I don’t flirt. There are times when I make the vain attempt at speaking casually and end up paying for it (and having to purchase new pants when the old ones burn up).
I went for a haircut. This is always a mistake, because hair stylists often are the best at making therapeutic small talk. They know nearly everything, because they’ve heard nearly every story conceivable. Once in the chair, I began to babble about how my hair always ends up looking like that of Sopranos tough guy Pauly Walnuts. The side wings just say I should put on a jogging suit and a Members Only jacket. The patient stylist asked me lots of questions about myself and I babbled. And babbled some more. The problem, I noticed after returning home, was that one side of my head is cut differently than the other. This always happens when I try to be funny and light. The rule before each trip out of the house should be: “continue to be a jerk, Andrew.” This is not my first brush with small talk induced failure. A few years before meeting Lori, I tried to practice being fun and flirty at a blood drive. When asked to choose between an older, veteran Red Cross associate to draw my blood, or a cute girl, I went for small talk and jokes. Unfortunately, practice outweighs pretty. I have veins that show like the Mississippi River on a map, but she missed on a half-dozen attempts. Signaling for the seasoned vet and another guy my age, nurse vampire had the three of them sit on my arm in an attempt to get blood from the part of my ulna the needle was bent and wedged into. My arm should hurt as much as it did that night every time that I think about trying to be friendly. It’s good to be married to a beautiful woman who doesn’t pay attention to my dumb attempts at small talk. Hopefully, she won’t ask about my weird haircut.
Sometimes, while trolling around for free internet content, you actually find articles that are helpful. Yeah, I know. The folks at Time Magazine don’t give away much of their prized current material, but I managed to learn something while trying to get past an article about Indianapolis, Indiana being named America’s most sexually satisfied city. Of course the citizens of Indy are satisfied. They have nothing else to keep them busy. “What should we do today? Should we go get pork sandwiches? Naw. Let’s go to bed.” Now you know why Civil War re-enactors around Indianapolis just lie down on the battlefield. Anyway, I didn’t stop to give that article a lot of consideration. What got me was a series of pieces dating back to 2009 on the subject of over-parenting. The article questioned the behavior of today’s dreaded helicopter parents, of which I’m definitely one. Unless I prevail over medical science (and common sense), it is likely that my daughter is the only child I’ll ever parent. With that in mind, I watch over her normal childhood trials and tribulations with a keen, hawk-eyed sense of foreboding. I just want what’s best for my child, even if it means repeating to every future date of hers the line uttered by Mel, the father in Clueless:
Anything happens to my daughter, I got a .45 and a shovel, I doubt anybody would miss you.
Sadly, I know that one of the key’s to my daughter’s success is letting her make her own mistakes. Here are some personal mistakes I experienced in order that she never has to:
If you don’t know how to properly operate a ginormous car, don’t drive it through a religious revival where strangers just got filled with the Holy Spirit.
Don’t tell a blind date that you knew right away who they were from across a crowded room, but decided not to come over and introduce yourself, because you were hoping you were wrong.
You can live on stale Halloween candy and cheap beer for months on end, but the results generally aren’t pretty.
Try not to throw away your life plans to follow a rock band around the country. Even if it’s Hootie and the Blowfish.
If you love someone, tell them so. Life is short, the universe is funny. Don’t make the mistake of silence.
Mostly Teachable takes things all the way to the end of history and says “Farewell. Sorta” to life on earth as we know it. Thanks for listening to the poddy, we’ll be back Friday afternoon for the M.T. Christmas Special ( if weather and cataclysmic destruction don’t get in the way). Subscribe for free to the every back episode of the podcast on iTunes, and receive the satisfaction of being able to use one more app on your phone or p.c.
Marriage is more than your love for each other. It has a higher dignity and power, for it is God’s holy ordinance, through which he wills to perpetuate the human race until the end of time. In your love you see only your two selves in the world, but in marriage you are a link in the chain of the generations, which God causes to come and to pass away to his glory, and calls into his kingdom. In you love, you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than something personal-it is a status, an office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (New York, Simon and Schuster, 1997, as Reprinted in Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2012)
There are times during married life when mistakes are inevitably unearthed. The ever-changing seasons wash away dirt covering up indiscretions and the past has to face postmortem analysis in the light of a new day. My wife Lori and I have been leading a couples study based on a movie of a few years ago called Fireproof. The premise of the film, which starred Kirk Cameron, involved a couple going through the stages of pre-divorce and the motions of marriage. Caleb, the fire fighting protagonist played by Cameron, tries to rebuild his failed marriage using his own strength. Unfortunately, he hasn’t figured out that he needs to rebuild his own life first. While going through the class materials, Lori and I started talking about a time in our marriage when we lived together separately. I was in my own zone at that moment. Cooking all night followed by drowning any memory of cooking all night. I always got home somehow, woke up with a head made of lead and wandered through nothingland until it was time to go cook again. Maybe I’d surf the internet for things no man should obsess over, married or not. Most days I’d play video games and vegetate.Many late nights, I’d hang around with a fellow cook who always had something nice to say. Nothing happened, but I was still in the wrong place. Stupid, inebriated and listening to all the pretty words. That was my under-married, empty existence.
Lori knew some of the details, others I talked about at length. I talked about what brought us back together and would eventually fireproof our marriage. One night while in the throes of a good time, a grown up I hold in the highest regard grabbed hold of me and it saved my life:
Go home. You’re better than this.
So, I did. That and re-learned to run…and lost 40 pounds. Started to think about what God expected and Lori needed. In the process, I began actually talking to Lori instead of continuing to just pass in the hall between the bedroom and bathroom. We agreed on trying to have a marriage together rather than ending up with nothing separately. I found a way to cook and pay the bills in a way that involved coming home each night to see my family. Was it as sexy, or as much down and dirty fun? No, but every teenage rebellion that starts at age 32 either ends in heartbreak or personal redemption. I chose to be married, because Lori and I had started the journey together. Years later, Lori and I ended up being able to have a conversation about that time and then walk away still married. We were able to have the conversation, because I’d gone home and became better for it.
My 10-year-old daughter Anna brought home a permission slip this week asking me to sign off on her enrollment in family life classes at school. I wondered what in the world she needed to take a family life course for. She knows how life works in her household. She’s expected to complete all of her homework, treat others with respect, watch Spongebob without repeating anything he says, and…oh, sweet Lord! Family Life. AKA, “How to keep Anna from creating a family of her own until at least the time she’s completed her doctorate in astrophysics.” By calling early sex education courses Family Life, the schools have tried to break it to parents gently that their babies are maturing rapidly. This year the classes take place in the cocoon of the elementary school, but next year the kids will have a field trip to South Bend, Indiana for further study. Something to do with either corn reproduction or Notre Dame football. As long as both aren’t involved, I guess that signing the permission slip will be okay. Maybe.
Growing up, I don’t recall having to have a slip signed permitting me to take sex education courses. Permission slips were meant for really dangerous subjects. I had to have permission to take driver’s ed. My dad dragged his feet for several years about signing that slip. With good reason, too. No sane citizen should sign off on having a high school kid drive two tons of steel and glass over flower beds and through the marble lobbies of downtown hotels. Sex? Well, there was no parental permission given to learn how exactly to make a baby. Plenty of my friends had already done so and professed to how easy the process was. I didn’t feel as a teenager that I needed a class for sex. The knowledge that I gleaned from several neighborhood girls, my mom’s copies of Psychology Today and After School Specials with Helen Hunt and Scott Baio gave me what I felt was a well-rounded education. The actual classes were a bit of a shock. My sex ed class (or health, as they termed it. Health, as in “don’t use somebody else’s gym towel, or you’ll go blind.”) was taught by a former Soviet scientist. She’d designed truth serum in her former homeland. Mother Russia would bark commands at us and boy, did we do what she said. She started the semester by handing out crude anatomical sketches resembling eggplants with arms and legs. Sort of like the Operation man, only not as pleasant. “Draw the ovaries!” Mother Russia would shout, and I’d quickly approximate organs. On my girl eggplant, the one with odd thoracic radar beacons, I drew a hat. Surely, the over-ease must be on top of her head? What did I care about all of these details? These weren’t the eggplants of my dreams! I felt that I could draw a more complete woman from my study of Sports Illustrated and my imagination. This talk of “fall-open” tubes seemed frivolous. Oh, but then we moved on to venereal diseases. You didn’t get STD’s back in the day. No, VD was the great black death. Every instruction against catching gonorrhea or syphilis was punctuated with
…and you’ll die!
as in “Hang around with neighborhood girls while reading psychology magazines pilfered from mom… and you’ll die!” Sometimes, even as a reasonably educated adult, I still fear the hand of lingering death from old school diseases. Death was always right around the corner. Driving was a lot easier. I got my license after taking the driver’s test just five times. My education about women, eggplants and reproductive “health” continues to this day.
Falling in love makes the heart sing and the eyes well up with tears. Compared to the act of falling in love with eternal God Almighty ,though, infatuation is just desire floating up and down with the breeze for a moment.
I’ve been watching The Bible on The History Channel over the past few weekends. I enjoy the program on its own level. The writers have taken some creative liberties with God’s word, but overall the series is very entertaining. The folks in the basic cable version of the Bible are a handsome nation of clean-shaven people. Good Englishmen and well spoken, one and all. The point is made, however, that God used all kinds of people to build His kingdom.
There is one small issue I take, but not with the show itself. No, my issue is with the moronic advertisements for one of the principle sponsors of The Bible, ChristianMingle.com. The ads feature a snippet of an old Jars of Clay song called “Love Song For A Savior.” The song refers to wanting to fall in love with “you.” The “you” was written as God. The love song was always about falling completely in love with God. ChristianMingle has thrown the images of doves and hand-holding together with the very temporary, infatuated feeling of falling in love. Falling in love makes the heart sing and the eyes well up with tears. Compared to the act of falling in love with eternal God Almighty, though, infatuation is just desire floating up and down with the breeze for a moment. Like many people, I’m easily duped by anything with Christian attached to it. A Christian dating service sounds wonderful because it’s got the Christ seal of approval attached to it. A Christian song, or bookstore holds the same place of honor. A Christian coffee-house is seemingly better, because the owners have deemed it Christian. The truth is that patronizing a business, watching a show or using a product doesn’t make a person a Christian. Pasting “Christian” onto a dating service doesn’t mean that two people can forge love a lasts for a lifetime and honors God any more the relationship formed by meeting each other in some less structured way. I want to fall in love with God, too. Over and over again. He takes me back. He alone lifts me up. The companionship I’ve found with my wife is amazing, but doesn’t have the same eternal ramifications.
If I’m a dupe for the Christian cottage industry, then so be it. I’ll get the shirt and the Bible with the inspirational bookmark. What means the most and gets me away from dupe-dom is the knowledge that I’ll be able to go share the words in that Bible with others and meet people where they’re at. For all the ideas the sales arm of Christianity has put forward, I still managed to meet my wife in a sinful world without the help of the name-of-Jesus dating service. God made it possible for me to find a Christian in this weird world, just as he’s done throughout history. Now, there’s a History Channel mini-series if I’ve ever heard of one.
Swagger is a pretty cool quality to possess. Guys with swagger can do things that mere mortals only dream of. I was watching a commercial for some overpriced vehicle in which the spokes-dummy just oozes swagger. He’s depicted as being well-off, well-endowed, well-groomed. Well…I was slightly curious about the oodles of oozed swagger. The gentleman in the car ad had so much swagger that he could make love to his wife while he was away driving the over-priced auto (thanks to the onboard swagger computer which allows whoopee thanks to uploading preferences to the “cloud”). Swagger doesn’t work for everyone. When I try to put a little testosterone into my walk it just looks like I’ve filled my pants.
Men without swagger can, of course, find ways to compensate. We can live alone, for starters. If we end up needing the comfort and contact of companionship with women, then living alone is out of the question. The man with no swagger who wants to enjoy contact with women must be useful. I have some skills to pay the bills. Spray cheese art, actually. I am a whiz at beautifully topped crackers. If I ever have a party, I’ll invite people and show off my staggering (but not swaggering) skills with aerosol faux dairy products. There are other ways to compensate for lack of swagger. I wear minimal undergarments, which helps. Nobody really cares how confident I am when I roll with nothing between nature and my jeans. A combination of party tricks down with spray cheese while parading around like that replaces swagger with brazen, blissful goofiness. The goofy man uses silliness to his advantage. We’re forced to confront the world of swaggering men with silly, embarrassing behavior, or live alone in our parents’ basements sucking the life out of cheese cans. I chose life. If I can’t swagger boldly like Captain Morgan down the streets of life, I’ll be the first clown out of the car. The one with cracker crumbs and spray cheese on his face and a distinct lack of boxer shorts.
Although I consider myself a reasonably educated man, having attended some of the finest elementary schools that the public school system ever funded, there are certain subjects that have eluded me. One in particular is the Women’s Movement. On this subject, I grabbed whatever self-education was available. My daughter’s American Girl books have a short historical background appendix in each, and I got some useful information from those. I had nightmares about the dolls marching for equal rights out on the front lawn, though, so I quit reading that material. In truth, I’ve always been a daring, ever curious reader. I can remember staying with a host family while on trip when I was 17 years old. The family had an attic library tucked away full of books that were educational, but not meant for me. I spent rainy days reading Pauline Réage and Erica Jong. The trip I was on happened to be church sponsored and the family wasn’t thrilled that my free time had been so eye-opening. There was suddenly a new flow of consciousness within my addled, previously under-stimulated brain.
Aha! So women think differently than men! This changes everything…
Okay, I didn’t get anything out of the rainy afternoon reading club other than a smile and some confusing physiology lessons. As I grew, there was a growing awareness of women that I admired. Eleanore Roosevelt, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Maya Angelou, Hilary Clinton, Grete Waitz. The list goes on, but I stopped with the list itself. I knew that they broke through the glass ceiling, but never stopped to consider how they did it. Worse were the women I objectified. I can’t picture Kate Upton, for instance, one day curing cancer unless she’s doing so in a painted on bikini. My thinking is slowly changing, though. Two nights ago I was watching Makers on PBS. I don’t know why I was watching a show about the Women’s Movement. Maybe it was because Everybody Loves Raymond has been in reruns since 2003. The show was great and I got hooked on the stories of Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. What an amazing time it was to be a woman in the early 1970’s, when there were suddenly options beyond throwing away one’s education and taking care of a house. I sat and watched the program with a sort of boggle-eyed wonder, as if I’d lived my life on a deserted island and never met any women. Well, until technical difficulties interrupted the show and it was replaced by Antiques Roadshow after ten minutes of blue screen. I wanted to call the station and protest, or threaten to burn my undergarments if they didn’t bring back the second half of Makers. Women may not dig me, but I realize now how far they’ve had to travel. Call it the education of a middle aged swine.
You might never guess by reading this blog that I love being a parent to my ten-year old daughter, Anna. I love her for who she is and the person God made her. The life of being her dad is something that I really love, too. Anna is not an easy child to raise, but I don’t suppose that any parent of an adolescent child has a completely smooth journey. Sometimes, I throw my hands up and turn to various authors for some insight and wisdom about raising healthy, happy kids. I start and end with the words of Deuteronomy 6:
4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
In between the start and end, I look to parents who’ve been down the road and raised children themselves. What follows are some of the books by moms and dads that I’ve leaned on over the years:
Babyface: A Story of Heart and Bonesby Jeanne McDermott. Science writer McDermott details the birth and raising of her son who was born with Apert Syndrome. I am the father of a child with Crouzon Syndrome, a similar cranio-facial disorder, so there was a lot to relate to in this book. Even without that connection, Babyface is a help for any parent struggling to allow their child to form personal identity and deal with the slings and arrows of life.
What a Difference a Daddy Makes: The Lasting Imprint a Dad Leaves on His Daughter’s Life by Kevin Leman. Leman made the case, long before John Mayer, that fathers really should be good to their daughters.Being a part of a girl’s life, and being there for every step of her upbringing is sort of a lost concept. We as father’s influence the choices girls make as they grow and not all nurturing can be the responsibility of mothers.
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. I know this is fiction, but it’s very good fiction. I read this around the time Anna was born and it made me consider the true depths of a father’s love for his children and the lengths parents go to for them.
Parenting With Love and Logic by Foster Cline, Jim Fay and Eugene Peterson. The love and logic method of parenting seems a bit harsh until you actually witness children understanding the cause and consequence relationship. Not just the “if I sass, I’ll get a time out” bit, but logical consequences like falling asleep if they choose to stay up all night.
Pat the Daddy: A Parody by Kate Merrow Nelligan. I’m not a saint, and this book offers not much parenting advice. I just really crack up every time I find myself reading it in a bookstore. Every daddy needs a pat once in a while.
In marriage, many statements that begin with “we” are precious. “We’re going to have a baby!” is a welcome sort of moment of we-ness in a couple’s life. “We get the keys on Friday.” was one of those good, moments for team Andy and Lori when we bought our house. “We” sometimes leads to those details in life that make my brain shut down and shrivel away, though. I got in trouble tonight, in fact, because I said the dreaded anti-we phrase to my wife:
What’s this we stuff?
When confronted with the “you know, we should…” ideas from anyone, my mind tunes out. I go to a lonely forest, where there is no “we.” In the lonely, empty path down the center of my mind, I leave behind all of the stimuli forced on me about the meaning of couplehood. The relationship of a true, loving couple apparently has a lot to do with cleaning the basement and finding mystery smells in the sink drain. “We should clean the basement” is code for “Go clean the basement, devil man.” I’d rather travel down the empty path, but it isn’t to be. I’ll end up in the basement, attempting to clean, or reading old Mad magazines. Part of the “We” relationship is knowing when to give in to it. You don’t get the good moments, the one’s where you’re both laughing at the world’s stupidity, unless you give a little back to the couple fund. The we bank has to be filled for the lean times. So, I’ll help out. Sometimes, out of the blue, “we” actually means what it says and we end up accomplishing tasks together as a couple. We’ll knock out the Saturday morning house fix-up jobs, and then I’ll use the fine art of distraction to get us out of work and to Taco Bell. We love each other and we love our time when “we” means “we’re together and that’s what matters.” Of course, Lori and I love crappy tacos, even more.
In the process of creating the date kits that I mentioned earlier in the week for 300 local couples, my wife and I missed having a Valentine’s night date for ourselves. So…we made some time and snuck out to see Silver Linings Playbook. Bradley Cooper plays the good soul gone awry to perfection, as does Robert De Niro in the role of his father. Jennifer Lawrence is a force of nature. We had to make a choice between Safe Haven and Playbook. Not taking the safe route proved to be a memorable movie experience.
The joke last week on the blog was about how Lori and I enjoy a date by eating Taco Bell food and falling asleep. Well…we got our Bell on and got to catch up with each other. Sometimes we need that. A night to not much of anything. I was glad that we braved the snowy roads and went out to the movie, but honestly, it’s just fun to sit around in our pajamas and eat the same food we enjoyed in college before meeting each other. A belated date night is still a great date night.
One of the strangest parts of not being quite in my right mind was the fact that I always just said whatever came to my not quite right mind. It wasn’t so much that I prided myself on being funny. The silly, messed up humor part of me was the only way of coping with the downward side of not being able to look upward. Now that I’ve started to live right and in a positive manner, I’m happier and able to cope with all sides of life. Following a plan helps. The only hitch is that I no longer spontaneously combust with weird jokes and absurdities. The thing I feared is happening. I traded happiness for a dulling of the little edge of madness that I always balanced on so precariously.
The mind/body connection is mysterious to me. I can’t seem to find the weird spark of my soul that, if nothing else, made me laugh. Oddly, I feel healthier and happier without it. The only way I can describe the process of recovering from depression is that you give up the partying without regard to mental self-control and find yourself in the warmest, most comfortable pair of pajamas ever, perfectly happy to fall asleep. The goal when I was weaving and bobbing through untreated depression was to always be the funniest guy in the room. Now, I could care less. There is a joy in suddenly noticing everyone else in the room and engaging in their interests.
Part of the journey toward wholeness as a person, in mind, body and spirit is finding joy in serenity. When I was on edge constantly, serenity was both the ultimate dream and the enemy of all that was making me tick. Small moments of calm, and peace without always having to have the last fidgety laugh in any conversation are treasures. Small rewards for trading the lost weekend of the soul for the found joy of simple, peaceful living.