January 10, 1988…

We left our little duplex a little late in the evening. I may have left work early that evening. It was a Saturday and I was working second shift, 3 pm to 1am, in a juvenile detention in Olathe, Kansas. The duplex we were renting was also in Olathe, and although it was just a five to ten minute drive from work, when you are a young couple expecting your first child close to the expected delivery date, you don’t want to take chances. The HMO we were on from my work, only would allow us to deliver in a hospital they prescribed, and that was Research Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri, a 30 minute drive from Olathe. When she started to feel pretty uncomfortable, she called the HMO nurse-line, to see what we should do. They suggested we go ahead to the hospital.

I remember it being a clear, bitterly cold night, which isn’t surprising, because that is the rule in Kansas City in January. As we drove through the night, there was a calm coziness between the two of us. This should have been our first hint that the baby wasn’t ready to be born yet. Calm and labor do not generally hold hands as we were doing as we drove. Labor kicks calm aside and demands urgency. It shouts its intentions, and gives orders like a Marine drill sergeant, with pointed direction and not a little cursing. Upon arrival at the hospital, Greta’s pains were growing, and we approached the emergency room arrival desk not in a state of panic, but of annoyance about the usual bureaucracy. We should have known by our relative patience that we would eventually be sent back home to wait for sharper labor pains. Hospital staff must know the signs of real labor by how loudly the parents yell at them.

Even though we didn’t show the signs of real labor, she was admitted, and taken to an examining room. When the attending physician checked her cervix, he reported that although her body was getting ready, she still had a long way to go. The physician suggested that she start walking around the hospital corridors to try and encourage the process. So we began to walk…and walk…and walk… When they check her again, they suggested that she be released to go home and get some rest. “The pains will wake you up!” A nurse told us. Well…actually, the pain wouldn’t let her GO to sleep… although the fact that we had a water bed with the lack of support couldn’t have helped…let alone the effort it took a VERY pregnant woman AND her young husband to get her out of the bed exacerbated her discomfort, as well…we eventually found what should have been a comforting panic. We were persuading the nurse-line staff, too. Our repeated calls signified that our suburban politeness was cracking, and we were entering the primal evolutionary state of reproducing, social-skill Neanderthals, that all first-time parents devolve into with their first child. We were eventually “invited” back to the hospital.

The second trip was much less calm, and exponentially quicker. However, once she was examined, we learned that her cervix had only dilated to a 3. We needed to get to 10.

Crap….

It was as if her body didn’t want to expel this new person she’d been protecting for nine months into the world. Her body became schizophrenic, with one set of natural urges providing a courageous push, while another set providing a protective pull. So we waited for the push-urge to win out…and I did what any new husband and father does: whatever she says. I remember massaging her back as she turned on her side, with the regular amount of assorted cords attached to her body. My hands and arms began to ache from the kneading of her muscles. Wisely, I decided to keep this discomfort a secret… I think most fathers know to keep their mouths shut in such an occasion, while watching the physical travail of the mother of their child. The idiots who do not, deserve whatever they receive…

Several other pictures are captured within the recesses of my mind:

Her family standing in the hallway of the hospital…

The pushing…

The crowning of the baby’s head…

The late arrival of the HMO physician, who almost had to dive to catch the kid…

Her mother, who we agreed could watch the birth because she had never seen one, who had to quickly sit down because she got light-headed due to the excitement…

Holding the baby boy for the first time…

Excitedly calling my family with the news…

The sight in the hallway of Greta’s best friend and her husband with his stupid sunglasses perched on top of his head…

The naming: Baird Conrad Williams. The first name chosen in honor of my childhood friend, and best man in our wedding; and the second taken from my paternal grandfather: Eli Conrad Williams.

Eventually taking the baby home snuggled in his yellow, arctic onesie covered by layers of blankets in the HMO, borrowed car seat…

…and the melancholy reminder that my father would never know this child and this child would never know his wonderful grandfather. I would be his only tie to his heritage from my side of his family. Although I couldn’t have known it then, we would have only a hand-full of opportunities for him to be in contact with my side of the family over the next twenty-five years. At the time, I mourned a loss that he would never fully understand: the loss of his knowing the patient, gentle presence of my father. At the time, I was unsettled as to my own ability to model this important relationship to him.

As to the other concerns over raising a child, neither of us felt burdened with the expectation that we had to be perfect parents. We realized, probably for the first time, that all parents will screw up, and the next generation will have to find their way through the maze of these faults. What did concern me, was the capability to financially provide for this child. And to live out my values in such a way as to invite him into them.

While he might have missed the opportunity to experience my family, he was granted a wonderful opportunity to develop the traditions of his mother’s side of the family. Many of these traditions and values were shared by both sides:

Learning that continues throughout a lifetime…

Loving each other during hard times…

Caring about issues, and acting in ways to support the community…

Courage to take risks…

The love of music…

The adrenaline-rich joy of performance…

As I have watched him grow, I have seen these values play themselves out in his life. But I have also seen wisdom grow within him that is his own. He shares with me, and the men of my family, a propensity to be quiet about difficulty, and to just take on the responsibility himself to figure things out, then take action. As I think about it, I see the same quality in Loy, his maternal grandfather, and Scott, his step-father. Maybe this is a quality that is especially embraced by masculine culture:

The masculine demand to keep your mouth shut when it hurts, and don’t ask for help…

Oh…

wait…

that probably is the dysfunctional side of self-reliance, against which every man must guard, lest he become isolated in the toxic mix of shame and pride. The more positive side is: don’t shrink from, nor side-step necessary pain, but take responsibility for your actions, ask for help when needed, and give it to others when asked. Although these are not JUST masculine values, they are certainly ones that I have seen in the men surrounding Baird as he grew up, and notice a lack of in many men of younger generations.

My son has become a man…a good man.

A loving husband.

A gifted scholar and musician.

A trustworthy employee.

A wise steward of his finances.

An astute judge of priorities.

Not only am I proud of him, I am impressed by him.

Happy birthday, Baird Conrad Williams!

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Connected…

When we moved from Delaware back to Kansas City, we left a large number of our belongings in a storage shed in the backyard of some Delaware friends. It took us longer than we originally anticipated to retrieve them, so they baked and froze in the shed through at least a couple of different seasons. When we finally returned with a truck, moved them back to KC, and began to unpack; Greta found a candle which was in a box, surrounded by several hard objects. The Delaware summer heat melted the candle so it formed to the space in which it was packed. Greta loved that candle. She thought it symbolic of the difficulties our family had lived through, and, although the candle was misshapen, it still worked! She wrote a well-crafted blog about the candle, and still has it to this day, I believe. Unfortunately, the “wick” of our family: our marriage; eventually broke. Although our family is just as misshapen… even more so… the light of our marriage went out.

For me, now the candle has a different message: God molds into the crevices of our lives and brings continued connectedness in spite of our collective brokenness.  Although we don’t speak or see each other very often… we each have different lives… God continues to connect us through our shared love for our children: Baird and Hannah. In fact, the candle has continued to spread. Scott, Greta’s new husband, is a caring, able step-father to my kids. I am grateful for that! Baird’s girlfriend, Ryann, is also a new addition since we found that candle, and the wax of God’s love, and ours’, surrounds her. As it does Mark, Hannah’s new boyfriend. Mark treats Hannah with gentle care and respect. I appreciate that!

While I am constantly confronted with the destructiveness to families while they divorce, from deep animosities going both ways; I am struck by the faithfulness of God through our divorce; to both Greta and me. However, the better I get to know God, the less surprised I am.

God fills every valley,

and

lowers every mountain.

Even in divorce…

A Delight-Filled Day…

This past Sunday, I spent the day with my son. I began school this past week and have been hard at work trying to get my life together, purchasing the tools I will need for the next three years of classes, ordering the books, trying to find a vehicle to save time cycling to and from work, and beginning my first tentative academic responses to the mission laid out for me by each class. I rented a car for the weekend in order to save time and aid in my search for a pick-up to buy. So, Sunday I decided to go downtown and hang out with Baird. Originally, I thought I would go to church where I usually do, and pick him up for a late lunch. Instead, I asked Baird if he wanted to go to Jacob’s Well in mid-town KC. JW is a cool church. I love the vibe of the music, which has an alternative feel. I also loved the speaking of JW’s founding pastor, Tim Keel. Tim has since followed God’s call on his heart to New Zealand… I kinda wish God would call ME to New Zealand… JW has been searching for a new “teaching” pastor for a year, and is in the final stages of deciding on which person to extend an invitation to. Before the divorce, we attended JW, and it holds a unique place in my heart.

So I called Baird and asked if he would like to go to church with me, eat lunch at Gates Barbeque… Best bbq in Kansas City and therefore the WORLD!…  and then hang out at Broadway Café in Westport. Baird loved the idea… especially Gates… and we decided that I would pick him up at 10:15, to make it to JW by the 11:00 service.

I was looking FORWARD to Sunday!

Before classes started, I began reading a book titled: “Sabbath” by Dan Allender. It is another book in The Ancient Practices Series published by Thomas Nelson Publishers. I only read into the first chapter, and had to lay it aside once school started. However, the introduction and first chapter made a distinct impact on my understanding of Sabbath. The faith tradition in which I grew up aligned the concept of Sabbath with going to church on Sunday: Sunday School at 9:30, Church at 10:45, and then church AGAIN at 6pm that evening. They also defined Sabbath more by what you WEREN’T supposed to do, rather than what you WERE supposed to do. For instance: Don’t work, don’t eat out, don’t watch TV, blah, blah, blah… Therefore, I have always had a low level of guilt which accompanies each Sunday. Thankfully, I am breaking out of that dysfunction. Looking back at my past and most recent experiences in church, I find that there are two ends of an emotional spectrum to which the Church has difficulty expressing, or giving room for expression corporately: Joy/fun and Grief/sadness. The concept of Sabbath, as defined by Allender fits into the Joy end of the spectrum. Allender defines the experience of Sabbath as, “a day of delight that delivers us to joy.” In fact, the manner in which Allender describes Sabbath sounds more like a party than a somber day spent mining the depths of the ontology of God. Instead, it sounds like God walking through the expanse of his creation with a smile on his face as he encounters the beauty there, followed by a deeply significant word… “That’s just VERY COOL!”

 Another aspect of Sabbath which Allender suggests is experiencing “the holy”:

“The holy is not located in one designated and agreed-upon space, such as a church, a monastery, or a stunning vista that captures a breathtaking view of a mountain range. The holy comes in a moment when we are captured by beauty, and a dance of delight swirls us beyond the moment to taste the expanse of eternity in, around, and before us.

The holy usually comes in unexpected, utterly surprising moments where the gift of goodness opens our heart to wonder and gratitude. It may come as we are traversing a familiar ski run and the play of light and shadow creates a stage of grandeur; or in awakening in your new home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, after six months of language study and realizing that for the first time you dreamed in the native language. These moments of delicious surprise are pregnant with delight.

Delight doesn’t require a journey thousands of miles away to taste the presence of God, but it does require a seperation from the mundane, an intentional choice to enter joy and follow God as he celebrates the glory of his creation and his faithfulness to keep his covenant to redeem the captives.” pg. 3-4

These thoughts were in the back of my mind as I gained speed on the entrance to I35 heading north into the heart of Kansas City. As I drove, I listened to a cd I had recorded with some of my favorite artists. I was listening to Santana when a guilt-producing thought came into my mind: “It’s Sunday, you really SHOULD be listening to Chriiiiiiiistian music!” Old habits rarely die easily, and guilt is firmly entrenched in the crevices of my brain. Suddenly, from the recesses of my mind, came a thought:

“You are driving with the windows down, the wind blowing through your hair, listening to music that you love…. Isn’t that delightful? Allow yourself to enjoy the blessings of the experience and this beautiful day. THAT IS SABBATH!”

I took this new thought to be the voice of God to me. And I think he said in a slightly quieter voice, as if under his breath: “…besides, I like Santana too!”

Although I could be mistaken on the last part…

I was then able to become fully present in the beautiful moments of that day:

The light coming through the old stained glass windows of Jacob’s Well…

The music…

Being in church with my son…

The children dancing in the aisles to the music…

The incomperable briscuit at Gates which is always served piled between two pieces of plain white bread…

The bread sticking to the roof of my mouth…

The Cafe Mocha with the beautiful foam artwork on the top from Broadway Cafe’…

The wonderful conversation with my son that always begins, meanders from subject to subject, and never seems to end until it must end, with each of us knowing we will pick it up again… later…

Joy!

Delight! 

Simple things which were certainly, “… a seperation from the mundane, an intentional choice to enter joy and follow God as he celebrates the glory of his creation and his faithfulness to keep his covenant to redeem the captives.”

Sabbath…

Last Week with Hannah…

My daughter, Hannah, leaves for college next Sunday. This is her last week in her beloved Olathe. She is leaving claw marks all the way down the highway. She is soaking up all the good, summer memories she can before starting a new life in college. That’s good! Hannah’s friends and the Olathe South theatre program have been her oasis, in my opinion, in the craziness that has been her home in the past 4 years. I have been thankful for this.

I must say, however, that she has weathered the storm well! I respect her and am proud of her!

Actually, I’m proud of both she and Baird. They are maturing into strong adults. While no parent always agrees with every decision their kids make, the point is they are making decisions and not looking for someone else to choose for them. A pretty important lesson to learn and very fundamental to life. I am happy with our relationship right now. The three of us are in a good place.

As I have heard the stories of other families’ divorces, a frequent componant is the kids take sides with one parent over another. Hannah and Baird haven’t done that. Both maintain contact with Greta and Scott, and me. Although I’m sure at times they shake their heads with confusion, they are there, with love and respect. I appreciate that and respect it.

Our final week together will probably come and go as most others have. Our schedules will clash. I will leave for work while she is asleep. She will come in late at night and we will share a sleepy greeting and “Good night”. but I will feel a melancholy with each greeting. One week from Monday, Hannah will take another step towards adulthood. Not the final one, adulthood comes in a jagged mix of start’s and stops in all our lives, like a person just learning to drive a manual transmission automobile. Our post-modern, urban/suburban culture doesn’t  have the clear cut break that an agrerian culture once did. Adolesence is a fairly recent, and lengthening, reality of our technological world. We leave… and come back…. and leave again.

If I have done anything right as a parent, it is in allowing my grip on my kids to be relaxed. Greta and I understood early, that trying to control our kids would NOT work. Especially when they grew older. While it is still my responsibility to ask questions and bring up issues for them to think about, in the end, THEY make their own decisions. Oh…. and I am responsible to love them…. to be one of at least two people in the world they know will love them unconditionally. We share a bond of blood and genetic code. That can be both good and bad… as Baird is learning when he notices a slowing of his metabolism with age and Hannah struggles with distractability. But they both share a passion for life and others with Greta and I. They both have a good work ethic, especially when they love what they are doing.

Ultimately, they are both good people. I am thankful!

There are pictures I will take with me of Hannah:

… of her wrapping her arms around her mother in a passionate hug during a devastating time in Greta’s life.

…of our conversations late at night about our lives and the people we care about.

… of her final choral concert, singing with 4 good friends, alive in her element.

… of her accepting the Best Actor Award at her last theatre banquet in high school.

…of 6 year old Hannah on the beach in ankle deep water befriending another child as a long, lost friend.

…of  her bed piled high with stuffed animals, year after year after year.

I am sure there will be pictures added in the years to come, but they will be somehow different. Although she will always be my daughter, she will no longer share my address. I will be no less proud of her, but we won’t share the same proximity. That is OK. That is life… the way it is supposed to be.

But the new pictures will never erase the old…

From the Inside Out…

For the majority of my life, I lived from the outside in. The best phrase to describe my mindset was: “Do what you gotta do.” I don’t mean to say that I didn’t work hard, or was constantly looking for the easy way out, I just understood life to be filled with immovable obstacles which must be scaled or hiked around in order to go…. where? Although I had dreams for the future and wanted my life to count for something, I didn’t really know what that “something” was. I didn’t take the time to identify or define my hopes and dreams, because I was busy living life as defined by someone else or by what I perceived I was expected to do.

Finally, somewhere around the age of 43, I began to ask the question, “What do I believe?” In effect,  I began the process of redefining the foundations of my faith and life. Although I have written about this in several other posts, I must again say that I formerly built my life… that is …. how I defined myself… upon an equation: church+family+performance=worth. I judged whether my life had significance by my perceptions of what others thought about me surrounding the issues on the left side of the equation. Eventually, all the outter voices grew silent  as each piece of the left side: church… family… performance… fell with a great crash. And God’s grace took their place while I began the painful process of a personal re-mix.

When we reach the mid-point of  life, we begin to question whether the first part was valuable. Sometimes, a particularly unexpected event can also bring us to a point of redefinition, such as divorce, a job loss, or health crisis. The movie “Up In The Air” makes the point really well.

 George Clooney plays Ryann Bingham. Bingham’s job is to fire people. Companies hire Bingham’s employer to “handle” the process of laying people off when they decide to downsize their employee pool. Ryann meets with each person, delivers the news, and presents a package which will help them transition into new employment. A really, really tough job. But Bingham loves his job, because he gets to travel all over the world and build up his air miles. Bingham always uses the same air carrier, and is awarded additional perks with each milestone he passes. His ultimate goal is to reach the ten million mile mark, which has only been accomlished by one person. However, just as he is on the cusp of reaching his goal, the president of his company decides they can cut costs by going to video conferencing instead of doing person-to-person exit interviews. The president hires a young woman, fresh from an MBA program, who has developed the program he wants to implement. However, because the woman has no real life experience in the field, Ryann’s boss pairs her with him to learn the business.

Natalie Keener, the MBA grad, has developed a program, complete with a script and list of responses to questions offered by the employees being fired.  At the boss’s direction, after only one trip in which Natalie observes Ryann, Bingham is forced to allow her to take the lead in the face-to-face meetings.

Natalie’s first client is a man in his late 40’s to early 50’s. He is sullen, sarcastic, and aggressive. While she tries to read through her script, he interrupts, and she can’t find responses on her list to meet his sarcasm. Finally, he asks, “What am I gonna tell my kids?” Natalie remains silent, intimidated by the man’s question and by her own feelings of empathy for his pain. Bingham takes over:

http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi3748923161/

I finished a book that has been very fundamental to me: “The Gifted Adult.” I find myself going back to it often. I learn something and begin to implement it until, invariably, I get stuck. So I go back to the book. Recently, I have been working on living from the inside out. As Bingham mentioned to the guy getting fired, remembering what we have loved to do in the past can be the path forward. God has designed each of us to love certain things, and mining these loves or passions out of ourselves is a lifelong process. When I look across the span of my life, for instance, certain recurring themes pop up. I have learned that we sometimes need to go to the past in order to go forward. That is what living from the inside out is all about. So I’ve begun to question what my loves are, and to work towards them.

When my son, Baird, was about 5, we went to a small county fair in a little Missouri town. Eventually, we found the carnival and I figured Baird was old enough to ride the Octopus with me. The Octopus  has little egg-shaped capsules in which the riders sit, located at the end of long spidery arms connected to a center pivot. When the ride begins, the arms both spin around the center pivot and go up and down. Since the capsule also freely spins, the combination of movements leads to a chaotic spinning of both the capsule and the equilibrium of the riders.

 The carney in charge of the ride openned the front of the capsule by pulling a pin which allowed the front of the capsule to pivot downward. The capsule nose was partly open, with a couple stairs upon which we crawled up to the seat. As soon as we were sitting down, the carney lifted the front of the capsule, replaced the pin, and sent us spinning in the capsule by giving it a strong shove. As soon as we stopped spinning, I noticed that one of the bars, which protrude part way across the openning in the nose of the capsule, was missing. I didn’t think much about it at the time, other than the thought that repairs needed to be done, and about how much money they actually spent on maintenance. However, as the ride began, I soon realized that we weren’t belted in and that the bar was an important component to keeping the two of us in the capsule!

The ride was wild! Wilder than I remembered it, probably due to the fact that I was trying to hold my 5-year-old son and keep the two of us from flying out of the capsule. Up and down we bounced, all the while spinning. A couple of times, I was sure we were on the verge of flying out of the capsule. As  the ride slowed to a stop, I promised myself that I would NEVER ride another small-town-carnival-that-moves-every-five-days-so-the-fittings-of-each-ride-get-worn-from-constant-set-up-and-tear-down rides in my life. And I never have, either.

However…

There have been several days, weeks, and years where my life felt the same way as my experience on the ride.

Jerked this way and that by forces outside of my control.

Seeing a possible problem, but deciding to “ride it out”…

Watching my kids riding the same forces, and wanting to control their experience, yet knowing I had limited control…

Making promises to myself…

Walking away shaken, tired, and bruised…

Giving away the responsibility of my life to others and relying on them to make decisions for my life…

Feeling like the ball in a pinball machine…

Blaming others rather than taking responsibility for past decisions…

But…

I am learning new ways of living. I am taking tentative steps in the process of living from the inside out! Two key components of which are:

My daily interactions with God. I am experiencing the reality of living every day as if it were an ongoing conversation with God. I am learning of the transparency of my life to God. Nothing hidden, because it cannot be. What is so cool about that is, I am aware of God’s grace constantly. That awareness is very freeing. Kind of a return to Pre-serpent Eden in a relational sense.

Secondly, as I walk through life with God, I discover how I am designed. He doesn’t TELL me what I love and am gifted in, He allows me the joy of discovering myself. Sometimes I am surprised when I find something that piques my interest. My mind keeps coming back to it, and I am perplexed because I never really cared about it in the past. So I go on this mini-adventure of self-discovery, and it’s cool! Invariably, I come across someone else with the same interest, we talk, my interest grows, and I meet a new friend! Very cool!

I must confess that living from the outside in for so many years has helped me become extremely adaptable. In fact, it is now one of my strengths. And being adaptable can be quite handy at times, but I want to learn to use it while living in my sweet spot.

That’s how I want to live the last part of my life….

A Son’s Memories and A Father’s Reflections…

I have become a fan of  “Deadliest Catch,” a reality TV look at one of the toughest professions in the world, crab fishing off the coast of Alaska, near the Aleutian Islands. The show has become quite popular, as have the captains and crews of the four or five ships whose wintry adventures are chronicled every week. One such boat is the Cornelia Marie, piloted by Captain Phil Harris, with two of his sons, Josh-the elder and Jake-the younger, as part of his crew. Captain Phil appears to be the quintessential captain: tough, a talented skipper, hard-charging, hard-smoking, formerly hard-drinking, divorced. He certainly looks the part, too, complete with tattoos, mullet, and fierce eyes. But inside the man lives a tender heart expressed only intermittently. Captain Phil’s body shows the effects of the stress of battling Nature’s extremes on the Bering Sea, as well as the ongoing need to make their share of the fleet’s quota of a variety of species of crab taken from the Sea. Running a business from the seat of his pants while riding a watery rollercoaster that can take your life, your crew’s lives, and/or your livelihood will make a man old very quickly. Captain Harris battles the elements, business pressures, family issues, crew politics, and a myriad of other concerns with a body that is showing the effects of an unhealthy lifestyle…. and he knows the eventual end scenario if not the practical events which will lead to the end of his life. He feels it coming, nonetheless.

The final episode of Season 6 brings about a perfect storm of events which tips Phil over the edge and into the downward spiral headed to tragedy. Phil’s youngest son, Jake, has been a crewmember on the Cornelia Marie longer than his older brother, Josh. The show has told the story of Josh’s arrival onboard as new crewmember, and Jake’s badgering of his older brother who has now entered into Jake’s domain. Their relationship titters back and forth in sniping comments, several times nearly coming to blows. Although Josh is larger, similar to his father, Jake is made of the thinnest steel, seemingly unbreakable. Jake is ruthless, at times, in his critical assessment of his brother’s ability as a fisherman. And honestly, fishing doesn’t come as naturally to Josh as it seems to for Jake. However, Josh has grown through each season. He’s gotten better at his job and shown leadership. Jake, however, has been slipping of late. He seems preoccupied. The end of Season 6 shows the reason for his preoccupation: Jake is an addict. Phil finds out when several pain pills disappear from a prescription he needs for his deteriating physical condition. He confronts Jake in a fiery wrath worthy of  an old school skipper of ships powered by wind,  mast and sail. Phil told him that upon return to port, Jake would be put off the ship and he never wanted to see him again. Rather than return his father’s fire, Jake breaks. He confesses, maybe for the first time, that he is sick. “Whaddya mean SICK?” his father screams. Jake turns away from the camera, leans into his father’s ear, and softly confesses…”I am an addict…”

Phil’s demeanor changes. He understands this. Phil is a recovering alcoholic. He shares his son’s sickness. So Phil decides to cut the season short, and return to port early. Once they return to port, Phil tells Jake, “You need to go to rehab.” He says it not only as a dad to a son, but also as one addict to another. Through the rest of the cruise, father and son keep to themselves. Captain Phil quickly begins to physically unravel. His leg bounces uncontrollably as he sits at the helm, guiding the ship, chain-smoking cigarettes. His hands shake too. We, the watchers, can see what will come next.

When the Cornelia Marie reaches port, they unload their load of crab, and a crewmember searches the ship for Captain Phil, so he can sign off on the final count. Unable to find him, he heads for the captain’s quarters, where he finds the door closed and no response. The crewman opens the door and finds Phil lying on the floor, unable to move. Captain Phil has had a massive stroke.

If you are interested in more of the story, I am including a link:

 http://popwatch.ew.com/2010/06/30/deadliest-catch-recap-phil-stroke/

Father and son relationships are so subjective. I have no other perspective than my own as both son and father. My relationship with my father was a positive. Although it was tragically cut short when Dad was killed in a truck accident while I was a college student, the power of his influence runs deep in my recollection. So deep, in fact, that I’m only aware of it when I recognise him in some of my own mannerisms. Dad had a sweet, quiet soul. Although many people would not have seen his quietness, he was by nature, a shy person who overcame his shyness to preach to thousands of people across North America as an evangelist or pastor. People generally liked my dad. In fact, he was a very likable person not prone to promote nor maintain controversy, generally. He definitely had his own opinions, but saw no reason to debate without reason. Dad allowed people to be who they were, and left them in the hands of God to shape their belief system. I respect that and have tried to emulate it.

As a child, I certainly saw Dad as the voice of God. What he preached, I took as gospel. He lived his life in accordance with the scriptures, too. He loved God and loved others. Dad knew how to work hard. Growing up in the Dirty Thirties of Depression-era Southeastern Colorado and Southwestern Kansas, Dad’s family knew poverty and deprivation. However, they never allowed difficulties to bring a spirit of complaint to their relationship with God. Dad accepted life and adapted to it. That’s not to say he didn’t have times of questioning. He did. But I never felt that his questions pulled him away from faith in the goodness of God nor the value of people.

When I was in junior high, I began to rebel against some of the lifestyle issues our tradition of faith taught. I experimented with alcohol and tobacco. My language changed, too. However, I tried to hide my experimentation from my parents, not in fear of my father, but out of respect. Looking back, I suspect the most respectful thing for me to have done was to be honest about it. By so doing, I would have been showing respect to him as well as to myself. Maybe we could have discussed what I was doing, and more importantly, why I was doing it. While the alcohol experimentation hasn’t really affected my life, and I have no qualms with having a beer now and then, tobacco has been a major problem in recent years. Tobacco addiction is hard. Easy to start, hard to quit. We could have discussed that.

While I wouldn’t say my relationship with Dad was never close, it certainly was very good. I never expected Dad to be anything than who he was. He quietly went about living his life. It seemed the closer you would get to something he felt intimately about, the quieter he would get. He didn’t say “I love you,” often, but I knew he did. He didn’t say, “I’m proud of you,” although I knew he was. That was Ok… it was Dad! I suppose I could spend my life bitching and moaning because my father wasn’t more vocal about his feelings for me, but why expect him to step out of character? That was his personality. It’s good enough for me.

I remember when I felt like my father first treated me like a man. We were discussing a book we had both read, and he brought up a point which was somewhat controversial in our faith tradition. He then turned to me and asked, “What do you think?” I gave my opinion, which was different than how our faith tradition had tought, and Dad agreed with me. Somewhere deep within my consciousness, I felt validated as a thinking adult. A pretty cool day. Our family has always discussed ideas. In fact, I admire both my parents because they never quit growing and learning. I want to emulate that as well.

I lost my dad at a very fundamental time in life. I was beginning to make decisions that would affect the rest of my life. It was just the time where the parent/child relationship changes to adult to adult. As a man grows older, having your father around so you can ask questions is important. Experiencing life helps you gain perspective as to how your parents lived as adults. The old adage, “The older I get, the smarter my father gets,” is appropriate. I missed the opportunity to get to know Dad, man-to-man. I still miss that. Don’t even ask how much I hate it that my children don’t know my father, now they are becoming adults. I guess I am the mirror through which they see him. I’m sorry, but it seems a poor reflection.

I miss my dad.

I miss his quiet strength.

I miss the unconditional affirmation he added to my life without saying a word.

Tribute to a Southern Lady…

My Mother-in-law died this past Thursday.  Greta called me in the afternoon to say, “Mom’s gone…” It wasn’t entirely unexpected. Marlene had Alzheimer’s and has been in a steady decline for about 9 years. Her diagnosis was 7 years ago, I think, so Loy (Greta’s father) has been in an extended grieving process since that day.  In late fall of this past year, Loy decided she needed more care than he was able to give her at home, so they moved Marlene into an assisted living facility in the same community and close to their home. Her health deteriated quickly, or so it seemed to me. The funeral will be this coming Saturday, January 30, 2010.

It will be a strange and hard week for the family. Especially strange for Greta and me, because our court date to finalize our divorce is Tuesday of this week. (More about that in a subsequent blog.) Loy decided to wait so Marlene’s family could get in town. Marlene had 3 sisters and one brother. There are only 2 sisters remaining, and one also has Alzheimer’s. Her family has always been close so many will make the trip across the country to say good-bye to “Aunt Molly.”  Tough week ahead.

Marlene was the quintessencial Southern Lady. Loy describes her approach to life this way… ” For Marlene, there were only two ways… this way and that way. Right and wrong. That wasn’t always easy to live with, but I’m a better man because of her.” Wow. Marlene was a 7th grade English teacher who believed in the rules of grammar. You followed the rules. Either you used the English language correctly or incorrectly. She pretty much lived her life in the same manner… follow the rules:

If something is worth doing, it is worth doing right.

Always put your best foot forward.

When something works, stay with it.

God and church first, family next, and yourself last.

Duty without regard to how you feel about it.

She always sang in the church choir…alto. She served as the Missionary President in their church. Her perspective being that she didn’t need to always agree with the pastor, she was serving God, not the pastor. When personal difficulties arose, she maintained a serene, public persona. Dignity. An entirely English perspective. She held to her privacy tenaciously. I think this stance brought loneliness to her, but she built into her day time to deal with her difficulties alone with God. Marlene was a Speech major in College, so she would perform readings infrequently at church… perfectly enunciated… and powerfully effective.

After finding out about her death, I notified Baird and Hannah.  Baird and his girlfriend, Ryann, came to Olathe to pick up Hannah and me so we could spend Thursday evening with Loy and the family. Loy wanted Baird and me to be pallbearers, and we will. He also asked if Anna Margaret, Greta’s sister, would sing the first verse of “It is Well With My Soul,” a favorite song of Marlene’s. Scott came down from Iowa to care for Greta, and pitch in where needed. It was good. I was reminded again of the depth of God’s grace. When life meets death… grace, forgiveness, love… become the only important things.

Later in the evening, when Loy, Baird, and I had a quiet moment together, Loy said, “Marlene really liked you, Larry.” It didn’t always seem that way. We approached life from very different perspectives, yet we met at the throne of God. Our shared love for God helped us walk past possible disagreements, sometimes. But, ALWAYS, I  knew  Marlene’s highest priority was to live a life honoring to the Lord. I respected that.  She liked the manner in which I communicated… did I phrase that correctly, Marlene? Actually, reading a letter I wrote to Greta was when she began to decide I might be worthy of dating her daughter. As the years progressed, I began to learn just how high praise that was. Actually, I wrote a blog about how Alzheimer’s changed the nature of our relationship for the better.  You can read it here:

https://blueeyesseeingclearly.wordpress.com/2009/11/09/a-god-with-alzheimers/

As I carry her to rest on Saturday, I will remember her tenacious love of God and protection of her family.

A Southern Lady indeed….