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…

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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…

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….

A Father’s Advice…

At Greta’s suggestion, a friend sent me the following email:

I am interviewing fathers of daughters of varying ages for this article which is about strengthening relationships between fathers and daughters. I will be interviewing your daughter as well Larry. Greta and Jennifer both insisted that you would be excellent sources . . . Answer as many of these as candidly and openly as possible. If you want to remain anonymous please tell me and I will choose an alternate name for you and there will be no last names used . . .

If you do not want others to view your answers please just copy and paste in another message and send to me under separate cover . . . my email is also fearlessphoenix_kc@yahoo.com

1) Are you or were you close to your daughter? Please explain

2) What do you wish you could change about your relationship with your daughter or wished you could’ve changed if you she’s longer at home?

3) If you could tell your daughter anything in the world what would you tell her?

4) Is there an area of your life where you felt misunderstood by your daughter?

5) What activities do/did make you feel close to your daughter?

6) What is the most vivid memory of your daughter (good or bad?)

7) What is the most valuable life lesson you learned from your daughter (good or bad?)

8) How do you perceive your daughter’s faith or non-faith?

9) What is one question you always wanted to ask your daughter but never felt able to?

10) IS there anything you regret about your relationship with your daughter?

Thank you for your time and consideration . . .

 
My response…
1. Hannah and I are very close now. About 2 years ago, we shared a 30 minute ride every morning when I took her to school. On our daily commute, we listened to her favorite radio station and their morning show. We would kibbitz about the gags, conversation, and music. We laughed and shared unrushed time together. Eventually, we began to talk about… oh, man….. her life, my life, life in general, our family… whatever. We began to cultivate a friendship of sorts. As we have lived together, with just the two of us, our schedules many times miss each other completely, but we still catch up through long conversations or just watch movies together. Our conversations span the gamut from theology to theater. We both have ADHD and understand the strengths and weaknesses inherent in the condition. We are more alike than Baird or Greta, and daily life is just a little easier because of that.

2. I wish our financial condition was better, but we both make the best of what we have. I also wish our family life had been easier. She understands the reasons for Greta’s and my divorce, and why it is best for her mom and dad, but I suppose every divorced parent regrets we couldn’t have given our children the fairy tale ending. However, the four of us have found health through the divorce and are learning ways of relating to each other that are much healthier for all of us.

3. I would tell her how much God loves her just as she is. I would tell her to take her time in relationships with men that will happen later in life. I would remind her to treat herself with respect and learn what type of person she seems to get along best with. I would tell her to learn as much about herself, her strengths, and passions while she is young… that is how God has made her… and then to stay connected as much as possible to her strengths and to partner with people who are strong where she is weak….
But…. I do tell her those things…..

4. I’m not sure where I might feel misunderstood by her. If I did, I’d probably bore her with my explanation.

5. The car rides made me feel close to her. Talks about music and theater and movies, also.

6. When the two of us moved out for the first time, she wrote me a letter telling me how valuable she thought I was. I will NEVER forget that letter. It is in my bible.

7. Hannah does an incredible job of not allowing people’s perceptions get in the way of her trying something she wants to try. She also has done an incredible job of loving both her mother and me when the two of us were seperating.

8. She has a growing faith. As with most people… teens especially… it ebbs and flows. When you grow up in the church, you reach an age where you question why there seems to be a disparity between what is taught and how people live their lives. It usually takes time to realize that you have the same tendencies you scoriated adults about while you were growing up. Eventually, you embrace God as your God, not the church’s God, not your parent’s God, but yours. She is doing that.

9. Why don’t you pick up your clothes when you take them off? Really! AND… What was the best memory you have of our home?

10. EVERY parent has regrets. No parent is perfect. We ALL grow up saying, “I will never….” and end up either doing that thing or something else that drives our kids crazy. I wish I’d been a better provider, but… it is what it is.

There you go Kristi. Before Hannah was born, we were told she would be a 10lb boy. As soon as I saw the baby born, I turned to Greta’s face and said, “There he is!” A kindly nurse corrected, “There SHE is, Dad…” In my head I said, “She?” My hands went cold. “Boys, I know! Girls? I don’t have a clue!” I really had a hard time relating to a daughter while she was younger. I wasn’t afraid to parent, I was just… maybe clueless would be the word. How do girls think? How should girls act? Do you push dolls or are trucks ok? Greta helped…… some…… we’re divorcing, you know, so maybe I didn’t pick up the lessons very well.

If I could tell father’s anything, it would be to listen. I used to say that just about the time you develop the skill to ignore your children’s endless talking is the time you really need to listen. And ask questions. Letting a daughter know you care demands that you ask questions about them and then listen when they answer. Ok, so that’s probably true with sons as well. But with daughters it is imperative. Hug them. Joke with their friends. Be willing to look like an idiot…. they think we are many times anyway, and we ARE many times. Lighten up! Fewer battles, but make the battles you fight the important ones. Help them figure things out themselves. Don’t do everything for them, but protect them ruthlessly. Treat them with respect so they will demand the boys they bring home to treat them the same. Then you won’t NEED the gun.

Thanks for the opportunity, Kristi.

lw

It Was Good…

Christmas was good…

I very much enjoyed the time together with everyone. On Wednesday, Greta came out to take Hannah and me to see “The Blind Side” with Sandra Bullock……(was there anyone else in the movie?) Great movie, btw. Greta paid for the movie, and I paid for dinner at Spin afterwards. Greta suggested I take her back to Independence, about 40 minutes away, and use her car for work the next day. I had planned to go to the Christmas Eve service at my church (Indian Creek Community) and wanted Baird and Hannah (my kids) to go with me. So Greta suggested I use her car to get Baird and Hannah, then come to Loy’s house afterwards. That was the plan.

The Christmas Eve service was fun because my kids were with me. I enjoyed taking them a tour of the building…. I love the design… modern cool. Anyway, it was sleeting before we went inside and snow was forecast for afterward. We were supposed to get 2-3 inches… Wrong! When we left the service, huge Alaska-flakes (although I have never been to Alaska, but they must have been Alaska-flakes, because they were as big as Sarah Palin’s ego….) And it was beautiful! Greta’s car is really a Geo Tracker. Light weight, rear-wheel drive, not really good in poor weather. But, I have driven in nasty weather, and kind of enjoy the challenge, and it’s better than a bike, and she didn’t have to offer. So we left, took our time, and talked. I love and respect my kids. Both are intelligent and very different from the other, and that’s even better. When we are together, Baird is usually the more vocal and Hannah is confident enough to listen and chip in on occasion. It was a fun drive! Sharing a mild adventure with my kids.

At one point during the evening, I received a text from Greta:

“I would really like the 3 of you to not die this Christmas…..”

So Baird called and asked if anyone had a chain to pull us out of the ditch… but the laughing in the background gave away the joke.

We finally reached Loy’s, and found we needed some food, so Baird and I went back out to get some pizza and, of course, Egg Nog!

Scott, Greta’s boyfriend, asked if we wanted to borrow his SUV…

Thanks, but the Geo will be fine…

Baird laughed and totally expected me to respond that way. (He wondered if there would be a “pissing contest” at some point during the holiday… No.)

So, pizza and egg nog for Christmas Eve… Perfect!

And it snowed… all night it snowed.

We woke the next morning with about 6 inches on the ground, and intermittent new snow which brought the total to about 10 inches. I awakened at about 8 am. I looked outside, Loy was shovelling a path so he could take his dog, Sterling- a Schnauser, out to do his business. Scott came across the street from Greta’s house and talked to Loy for a couple of minutes and borrowed his snow shovel and retreated across the street to shovel Greta’s walks and porch… Upon seeing Loy outside shovelling and Scott taking the shovel, I felt a pang of guilt… “I should shovel Loy’s walk and driveway…” Then…

Ahh, ahh, ahh…. No pissing contest!

So I started to get ready for the day. Later, I went out for a walk in the beauty. A cold wind blew from the Northwest. People were out shovelling their walks, and I conversed with an older man down the street… nothing big, just a friendly chat about the weather. As I finished the walk around the block, I noticed that Scott had made a huge heart in Greta’s yard by tracing it out with footprints…

A little over the top, I thought.

Whatever…

So I went in Loy’s house and hung out until Scott came over and started making breakfast…

No pissing contest, Larry…

We ate… Good stuff. Scott cooks a mean breakfast. The rest of the morning was nice. Greta’s sister and nieces came over in the afternoon. A nice time. Talking, eating, openning presents… awkward… and then Baird and I went over to Greta’s to check email and hang out. A very nice time.

Scott is a nice guy. We got along well, in spite of the awkwardness. I wish them well. Greta is a very creative, intelligent, organized person. Scott compliments her well. I am glad for them… Really!

Ok… now let me come clean… I finished shovelling Loy’s driveway… and As we checked email, Baird and I finished a bottle of champaigne he brought. So I felt the weirdness, just a little. And we talked about new starts and theology and life in general. As we conversed, Greta texted me about taking her car for the week so I would have transportation while the weather was bad. Very nice of her…

Later, after everyone left, I was standing outside and thinking. I began to remember all the memories packed in the yard from 25 years of holidays. Somewhere within, a thought came unbidden: “You are really saying ‘Good-bye’”

Wow…

Never thought of it that way. But it was true. It was like God knows the depths of me and brings up things I need to do even when I don’t realize it. The thought didn’t bring sadness, just a sense of leaving one place and stepping onto the path for the journey to a new place. Although I know I will see these people in the future, my kids will follow me on the journey, but the others will walk different paths.

That’s ok.

That’s life.

That’s good.

That’s God.