unpublished drafts

Drafts of 16 posts written by my eldest son, William, remain unpublished in the list of posts that I’m able to see as the administrator of the blog I set up for my kids.

William is an excellent writer, and the unpublished drafts include works of fiction, poetry, journaling, and philisophical observations filled with honesty of emotion.  His mind engages his environment with insightful and introspective clarity.  I’m sincerely impressed, and not just as a parent-fan, and I’ve told him so.

He has a litany of reasons for not publishing his thoughts.  “It’s all crap,” he says.  “I can assure you it isn’t,” I reply.  He laughs.

I have had difficulty conversing with William, always, but more lately.  Arbitrary, superficial, tyrrany-of-the-urgent stuff usurps a dominating role in our lives, but that’s not the full explanation.

In the flash-flood of my all-too-often, anger-fueled lecturing tirades, he has struggled  to keep his head above the water.  I heard somewhere once that in spite of theatrical evidence to the contrary, it’s impossible to cry for help when you’re drowning.  Apparently, you can’t gasp for breath and verbalize your need at the same time.

William and I are quite alike in so many ways that I’ve often belly-ached to God for his cruel mockery of my weaknesses by having them appear so obviously in my son’s predisposition.  Of course, William also has been gifted in ways for which I’ve only wished and prayed.

I love him fiercely.  I’m often caught unaware by the depth of the emotion of it.

Unpublished drafts give me a window into his thoughts, those he portends with silent, desperate gestures as he drowns in my flood of words, or the expectation of them.

I wonder about the misunderstandings of so many relationships incurred by the inability of one party to gain administrative access to the unpublished drafts of other parties.

So much is left unsaid, unpublished.  So many misunderstandings persist, and become historical fact, under the constant pressure and pace of time, and our passive-aggressive ability to assume and impose motives and rationale on the empty spaces of conversations.

Imaginations run wild, offense is taken, defense is mustered, assumptions make what they will of us.

After going to bed last night with misunderstandings busily building mountains of molehills, it took 2 calls and 45 minutes this morning for me to hear my wife clearly, and to explain myself adequately to draw out her typically gracious response to my shortcomings.  “Thanks.  That helps,” she said.  That was an understatement of abundant grace akin to Jesus saying, “Father, forgive them.  They don’t know what they’re doing.”

Lives become past-tense with unpublished drafts of real words divulging truth only to audiences who remain perpetually unaware of their existence.

God forbid, please God, that precious gifts and their days are wasted without notice on misunderstandings borne and sustained by silence.

God, please, make me a listener, especially to the silence.

And grant me, always, please, administrative access to unpublished drafts, or at least to the knowledge of their existence, so that I might, with love and grace, persuade their publication.

And thanks, God, for the depth of the well dug in William’s earth.  May it be a fountain of living water.  May your grace be sufficient for us both.

May your grace be sufficient for us all.

goodbye Papa

I wasn’t with my father when he died.

He was in a hospital in Bakersfield, California.

I was at my sister’s home in Brush Valley, Pennsylvania.

It was the 5th of May, 1995.

The memories are vague now.

I awoke to my sister standing at the basement bedroom door.

The light was on behind her and it pierced the darkness of our room.

She was crying.

I took the phone from her, and walked out of the bedroom where my wife and children were sleeping.

I remember feeling awkward that I was wearing only my underwear.

It was my mother on the phone.

She said, “He’s gone.  Papa’s gone.”

She wasn’t with him either, and she was crying, too.

It was three o’clock in the morning in Pennsylvania, maybe.

Midnight in California.

Mom was in her apartment in Arvin, California, straining to get rest.

Only nurses and maybe a doctor, the night crew of strangers, were with Papa.

Maybe the night janitor was pushing a dust mop across the cold-tile floor in the hallway outside his room.

In some ways, except in his best moments, we were all strangers to him then.

He knew us, when he remembered us, but he was mostly forgetting.

He spoke mostly of his mother in the days before he died.

He spoke to her.

I didn’t know her, but I wish I had.

Her name was . . . well, I can’t remember.

I wish I could remember.

He always spoke her name with such affection.

I remember the affection, but not the name.

Perhaps she was with him when he died.

I wish I had been there.

I wish I could have said goodbye.

I wish I could have looked in his eyes, and held his hand, and said a proper goodbye.

I hope he was not lonely, or afraid.

I didn’t know, then, that I would wish I had been there.

a tangle of limbs and polka dots

A two-year-old girl in a navy, polka-dot dress with white tights, and cool Converse sneakers, which in her pronunciation become “cul cumbers”, happily irresponsible on a sunny Sunday morning, as she skips and trots along the sidewalk, absent-mindedly leading her family to the church entrance, trips over a menacing crack in the unforgiving walkway and tumbles forward in a tangle of limbs and polka dots, scraping small spaces of tender, poorly protected skin against the abrasive reality of a gravity-empowered earth.

Her father, walking a few steps behind her with another little girl in his arms, a scowl on his face, and an offended cloud of stormy emotions – self-imposed by the suffering of disappointed, unreasonable, selfishly designed, and entirely unnecessary expectations – brooding invisibly over his mind, while wishing for escape from the frustrating bonds and simultaneously demanding retribution and grovelling from his offenders, watches the two-year-old bundle of the best sunshine the world can offer fall violently and pitiably, pushing the stake of disappointment and anger all the further into his enshrouded heart.

As the inevitable screams, and horrified wails of “owie” begin to flow, inspired more by the shock and offense of such an unfair and so grievously perpetrated surprise attack than the very real sting of the scraped skin, the girl’s father says to her, as he grabs her arm and coerces her flailing, injured limbs and body from the embrace of the concrete, “Okay, okay!  You’re fine!  You can stop with the drama queen act.  We need to keep moving.  Come on!”

sometimes good sometimes bad

Occasionally, Renee will call me while I’m at work and ask for me to speak to one of our kids about particular behavioral issues.  For some reason, my voice over the phone carries a little extra magic that can have a positive influence on such situations.  It’s a Dad thing I guess.

I like those times, in some ways.  It makes me feel useful, I suppose, and it’s nice to think I can help my children and my wife navigate a tough day.

Sometimes I get a bit gruff, but mostly, being distant and caught up in a work day gives me an objectivity I lack when I’m home.  In those cases, I can offer a voice of reason and a bit of a fatherly threat perspective that changes the dynamics.

Sometimes, there are benefits to talking to my kids on the phone.  We have intimate moments as they explain to me the events that brought us together for a conversation.  Sometimes, they teach me things through and after those moments.

Like, for example, what happened with Ben on a recent Monday.  Ben is rarely the problem child, but on this particular day, he was having a hard time negotiating the troubled waters of a small house with a big family.  His attitude was in the toilet, let’s say.  Renee asked me to do a little plumbing.

Dad:  “What’s up, buddy?  You having a hard day?”

Ben:  [with tears] “Yes.”

Dad:  “Why?  What happened?”

Ben:  “Well . . . ”  [more tears, sniffling, and whining] ” . . . blah, blah, blah, they said, blah, he, blah, she, blah, blah, then . . .”

Dad:  “Okay, okay, okay!  Never mind.  I got it.  Here’s what I need you to do . . . you listening?”

Ben:  “Yes.”

[This is where I pull stuff out of a hat and see what happens.  When I said, “Here’s what I need . . . “, I had no idea what I was going to say next.  Don’t tell my kids about that part, okay?  I have to say, though, this moment of inspiration was original and produced a better result than most of my stuff.]

Dad:  “Okay . . . get on your bike . . . and ride down to the park at the end of our street.  Okay?”

Ben:  “Well . . . ”

Dad:  “Nope, I’m not finished yet.  Are you listening?”

Ben:  “Yes.”

Dad:  “Ride your bike to the park.  Stay there for 30 minutes.  Think about your day, and clear your head a bit, okay?”

Ben:  “Ohhhkay?”

Dad:  “While you’re there . . . and be careful crossing the streets . . . write me a note.  Take a piece of paper and a pen, and sit down at the park . . . be sure to tell Mom where you’re going . . . and write me a note while you’re down there.  Okay?”

Ben:  “Well . . . but . . . what should I write about?”

Dad:  “Whatever you want.  Tell me about your day.  Tell me about what’s going on.  Just write me a note.  It doesn’t have to be long.  Just a few sentences.  Just write me a note about whatever you want to say.”

Of course, I had to explain this story to Renee and convince her it would be fine in spite of the way I just messed up her schedule for the day.

But these are the moments when parents learn profound things, though seemingly simple, from their children.

Ben has an amazingly tender heart, a beautiful heart, a heart of worship and love.  I love him more than I can say.

Thanks, Ben, for teaching me, and all of us, a little about heaven before we have a chance to “mature” it out of you.  Thanks for giving me permission to publish your stuff and share this story.

Later that night, I found this note in my closet:

Note from Ben July 2009