The Day He Died

Tomorrow marks the 36th anniversary of my father’s death. Most years it’ll occur to me at some random moment and I’ll calculate based on how old I was then (12) to how old I am on the given year.

It hit me a moment ago. A random glance at today’s date. And then a rush of emotion rising from my core and escaping my body through tears. I wondered why tears this year? Not that tears aren’t totally reasonable. It’s sad. He was 42. It was an agonizing, slow death. A disintegration. But I don’t usually cry.

This cry is selfish but also not. It hurts that he died such a painful death, but from my current vantage point, I can also see his longings, his insecurities, his talents, his heartbreaks so starkly. No longer through the lens of a child preoccupied with pleasing him and with my own self-protection (he was very tough).

A friend once told me, quoting Wayne Dyer, “don’t die with your music still in you.” I’m crying now, because I know that my father died with his music still in him. I’m crying because I’m terrified that I will do the same. And when I say terrified, I mean it causes genuine panic and sleepless nights. The worst part about this fear is the self-fulfilling prophecy of it. Stifling. It’s inexplicably enticing to hold on to this music. Is this a way bond with him? To relate? To not one up? To honor him? To say, in essence, it’s ok man, being your whole self is too hard. I get it. I get it!

Sometimes I’ve fantasized about dying young enough to validate never fully showing up. I mean, everyone could say, if only she’d had more time. My father was searching, struggling, hitting and missing. He was extremely smart, and by others’ accounts sensitive and funny and full of ideas.

I feel connected to my father in melancholy. He had a darkness about him that I inherently understand. He wasn’t glib. He was deep.

My father lost his children. He lost us in divorce. He lost us with his inability to allow us to be innocent and vulnerable. He lost us with his cruelty and expectations that we meet his brazenness with equal force. Meaning, he wasn’t one of those “shut up and be quiet” dads, he wanted children he could match wits with. He wanted nothing hidden. No inner or outer privacy. Try as I did, I could never feel safe enough to be myself with him, to be vulnerable, to be a child. I was just throwing darts at a moving target.

Which is sort of where I landed as an adult, in many ways. Trying to hit a mark, instead of showing up completely. Trying to fill in the notes to someone else’s songs vs making my own music.

In the most crucial ways, I am not like my father. I didn’t lose my children. I didn’t do to them what was done to me. And that has been more important to me than anything. And I know they have the confidence to show up and to make their own “music” and to make the most of their lives.

That’s an important distinction. Maybe the most important. Maybe one that enables me to unravel this perverse enmeshment with my father’s pain and terminal frustration with being human.

Watching my father struggle in life, then disintegrate and die, was humbling. And the way death came for him – like a compassionate savior – framed living as a much more brutal path. And I’m only really reckoning now with how much fear and restraint that engendered. How much I’ve sought to just muscle through. How every big step out has been followed by an even bigger leap back into retreat. The safety of being unseen, of keeping the music in me until I die.

But, I have time that my father didn’t have. Maybe I honor my father most by breaking the cycle and transcending generational despair.

I’m not going to define here what “music” means in terms of my own personal output. I can’t totally define it. I just know it hasn’t happened yet and we’ll all know when it does.

Tomorrow marks the day my father died. In his honor, I pray that none of us die with our music still in us.

On parenting and the speed of time…

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I was just speaking with someone who has a six year old.

It brought back memories of those days—long and full of Legos and questions and battles over getting in the bath followed by battles over getting out of the bath. Nights were filled with cuddles and kisses and remembrances of the day, as if the day had been a fairytale set in a long ago time with vibrant characters and morals easily extracted. Having witnessed that innocence so intimately brings me to tears, even now, especially now.

Six years old. That was my younger son’s age when my ex and I split, when we attempted to penetrate his naive determination that things are like this or like that, with an alternate reality, that things are really about to be a whole other way. An inconceivable way.

It’s impossible for me to know if time would have sped up otherwise, but our world spun off its axis and sparked a sort of chaos and warped speed that never slowed. It’s felt like skipping and tripping and sprinting and juggling ever since. Even in my quietest moments I don’t feel I have caught up to the present. It’s better. I’m closer to being in my skin again, like the younger me but with more humility and willingness to cede control.

My kids now tower over me (both more than 6 feet tall) with deep voices and man gestures. I find myself daily saying out loud, “who are you and where did you come from?”

And I think maybe that’s just how parenting goes, no matter how present you are, no matter how conscious of the adage that “time flies so fast,” there is no way to avoid the inevitable moment where you wonder where the time went and how these adult looking people are lumbering through your house, with insatiable appetites and distinct, passionately espoused interests and world views.

I’ll never know how things would have evolved if my marriage hadn’t ended. Life knocks us all on our asses in multiple ways. Perhaps there’s just a limit for how long one can remain in what feels like an intact, manageable existence, to the extent that time doesn’t seem to be running ahead of us.

You tell me? Do you relate? Is this part and parcel to raising kids in general? Specific to divorcees? I can only assume any trauma or upheaval can have such an effect. I’m interested to know how other parents have experienced the passage of time…

Lighten Up And Laugh

Kid with the screwed-up eyes

Seriousness is the only refuge of the shallow. – Oscar Wilde

Things have been pretty heavy around here (on earth) lately.

The planet is in peril. Politics is corrupt. The middle class is dwindling. Racism is rampant. Wars are ensuing. Hunger and disease abound. There’s a lot to be upset about.

I, and everyone I know is struggling to get by, to stay optimistic, to balance our ideals of what the world should be against the reality that there’s so much we can’t fix or control.

Confession:

The other night, in an effort to lure my children away from electronics and compel them to spend some family time, I agreed to play Cards Against Humanity with them. The game is patently inappropriate and not intended for those under 17. I perused the cards and decided that a) in light of all the violent shit they’re exposed to in movies, video games and even literature, this was pretty palatable. b) this is probably how they converse with their friends and I could get a glimpse into what they know and don’t know.

Well, hilarity ensued and within minutes I found myself laughing to the point of tears and  nausea. My kids were equally amused, having free rein to use profanities and observing my overt discomfort. As I struggled to catch my breath, it occurred to me, I don’t laugh enough.  

When my kids were little, there was so much play and laughter in our home. Everyday moments cracked me up and I found myself dressed up, hiding in forts or chasing someone through a sprinkler.

As the kids have aged, with their dad gone most of the time, me stressed out and dealing with “serious” grown up concerns, and their individual responsibilities mounting (homework, social pressures, puberty etc), there’s been a void where joy and enthusiasm used to be plentiful.

It’s not to say we never have fun. We do. It’s just, I’m charged with so much hustling and haranguing, I’ve kind of become a bit of a sour pill a lot of the time.

I’m upset about world events and passionate about so many issues. But, life is short and it’s definitely time to lighten up.

I absolutely CANNOT recommend playing Cards Against Humanity with kids under 17. I doubt we’ll do it again anytime soon. However, I do recommend—with the holidays approaching and amidst all the stress on us grown ups to make everything just “so” for those we love—don’t forget to have fun! Play! Laugh! Put on some music and dance your heart out. Find something to smile about.

Thanksgiving is the time of year to express our gratitude. For many of us, it is also riddled with challenges in the form of family dynamics. Of the many things I have to be grateful for, humor is moving up to the top of the list. I intend to laugh my way through Thanksgiving dinner and hopefully find some creative and age appropriate ways to have more fun both with my kids and without.

Here’s to a happy, hearty, humorous Thanksgiving (and beyond)! 

Death, Divorce and “The War of Art” …

It’s been over five years now since my husband and I split up.

Looking back, what fascinates me most is how I could have possibly sunk so low, how my identity and sanity could have been so rattled by the unilateral move of another human being. It’s not that I don’t understand intellectually—my family is everything to me. But, how could I have forgotten the inevitability of loss and suffering in some form? How could I have deemed myself immune from having my reality shattered in one way or another? Continue reading

Do you know your child’s best friend is a bad influence?!

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Childhood friends come and go. This is a good thing, as the fickle nature of children ensures that no particular friend will hold sway over our kids for too long. At least that used to be the case. Continue reading

Middle School, Oh how I Hate Thee…

Why am I, a 40 something year old, complaining about middle school? Because experiencing it as a parent of middle schoolers is ALMOST worse than having experienced it as a student myself.

Gee, I wonder why the following strategy is not working – Continue reading

Parenting in Ten Words

father and son walking rural footpath
1. Love

2. No Privacy (okay that’s two words but I couldn’t find one word that captures the sentiment)

3. Culpability

4. Fucking Homework (two again…so sue me)

5. Vomit

6. Vulnerability

7. Despair

8. Laughter

9. Worry

10. Growth

BONUS WORD- Exhaustion!!!

UPDATE- How could I have forgotten these whoppers?

Humbling

Expensive

Gross

Funny

Endearing

Food (they actually have to eat 3 meals a day!!! Always. And snacks. WTF?)

Feel free to add to my list. 😉

All you need is love … Bum bum ba da dum

MediaFile_269By now, I’m not supposed to be a romantic. My heart has been broken to the point of what I thought unfixable.

But, I still believe in love.

Continue reading

Redefining Fatherhood

I had a birth father and I have a step-father. Both of them loved me. Both of them imparted wisdom. Both of them caused me some of grief. Continue reading