Grieving for those we’ve never known

In the amazing, “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years”, Don Miller describes how he grew up with out a dad.  He eventually decided to investigate, to try and find his father.  Eventually, he gets information that leads him to believe that his father has passed away.  He writes, “… to be honest, I missed him.  I grieved the death of my father, I suppose.  And it’s an odd thing to grieve somebody you never knew.”

I had to stop reading then.  This just hit me somewhere so deep I don’t have a name for it.  I wasn’t effected for any sort of obvious reason.  My dad is alive, has always been part of my life, and I have a great relationship with him.  It was something else.

Without quite knowing why, I thought about how my wife and I lost a child while the child was still in the womb.  She was just out of the first trimester.   This child would have been our second.  We were so ill equipped to be parenting a second child at that point: I was unemployed.  Our marriage was a bit of a mess.  We were still new to the whole parenting thing.  We were young, which isn’t a problem, and we were immature, which is a problem.

And yet: I grieved.

I grieved for a being, who by in reasonable definition, I didn’t know.  I still grieve a little bit today.  I wonder what it would be like to be the dad of four children instead of 3.  I have this real sense of loss.  Whenever the thought or subject comes up– in conversation or just in my brain– I gasp a little bit.

Miller is right.  It’s an odd thing to grieve the loss of somebody you never knew.  But it’s built into us.  It’s hard for me to imagine growing up with out a dad.  But even if I did… if I was in his shoes, I’d feel the same way.  I’d grieve.

There is some element of grief and loss that is personal.  My grandmother used to make me laugh.  I miss her ridiculous and vulgar sense of humor.   We don’t have these connections with a person we never met.  We don’t know what we are missing.  In this sense, it is odd to grieve over a person we’ve never met.

I think that isn’t the whole story though.  I think that there is something more to grief than just the personal.  This is why we grieve for those we’ve never really known, despite the oddness.

I think that we are constructed to be in certain relationships.  We are made to be sons and daughters.  We are made to be brothers and sisters.  Many of us are made to be parents.   We have these holes inside of us that can only be filled by these relationships.

I wonder if when Don Miller felt grief over the dad he never met, if it’s coming from this universal element of grief.  I wonder if when I think of the child we lost, if it’s the idea that I could have been a dad to somebody else and I lost that oppurtunity.

I guess I’m supposed to wrap up with some pithy and optimistic thought… but I just don’t have it in me, right now.

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More Than We Need

My seven year old had a day which might have been quite disappointing for him.  Near the end of it his friends were leaving to watch fireworks.  Not only was he no longer going to be playing with them.  They were headed off to do something as cool as fireworks.  And him?

He was headed to another boring night at home.  His brother and sister (my other two kids) are away at my mom’s.  His mom (my wife) was out with the family car.  It was going to be me and him.   And to him, I’m sure if felt like everybody else in the world got to do cooler stuff than him.

“What can we do?” I asked him as he wailed on the bed.  “Can we walk to the park?”

They just rebuilt this playground near us.  I thought I was being a pretty hip dad.  It was less than an hour untill bed.  This was a bit of an out-of-the-ordinary treat.  At the time, I thought, to judge by his grin, that he was just admiring my wackiness.

As we assented to this plan, I was watching the gears turning in his head.  I figured out why as he shyly, slyly shared a piece of information with me as we headed to the door.

“Uhhm, dad.  Just so you know… it’s raining.”

I fed into his scheming ways tonight.  We walked in the rain to the park.  If it was a scene in a movie, if I was a super cool dad, I’d have been splashing along with him.  I’m not quite that cool.  I found a tree which offered me shelter.  And he played around.  The slide was super-charged with water.  The new park equipment was given this whole extra dismention.  He had it all to himself.  Turns out most people are smart enough to come in out of the rain.

He played for a while.  We decided to walk past home to our favorite little dump of a Chinese food restaurant for a second dinner that was after his normal bedtime.  The fact that we were wholly unprepared for the rain made it better, somehow.  I was in sandals.  We were both in shorts.    The rain soaked our hair and coated my glasses.

We shared General Goa’s chicken, shrimp Lo Mein, rice, and an orange soda.  It’s awesome to hear him read the fortune inside his cookie and hear him pronounce even the tough words right.  It’s so cool to discuss what the silly abstractions mean, and to hear him puzzle out how fortune cookies are just pretend anyway.

On the way home he got a little spooked by barking dogs and the way the streets look different at night.  He let me hold his hand for a while.  And then he found an excuse to pull it away rather than just grabbing it away.

I tucked him in bed a few minutes ago.  And he said something to me.  He said “Dad, thanks for giving me more than I needed tonight.”

And that’s most of the reason I’m sharing this all.  I’m not bragging.  This whole night was me at my fatherly best.  More often my parenting style is closer to Homer Simpson than Mr. Cleaver.

It occured to me that we have a heavenly father.  What he has for us isn’t just enough.  He’s got more than what we need.  He’s over the top and gratitious, decadent, and so very good, all of the time.

More than we need

My seven year old had a day which might have been quite disappointing for him.  Near the end of it his friends were leaving to watch fireworks.  Not only was he no longer going to be playing with them.  They were headed off to do something as cool as fireworks.  And him?

He was headed to another boring night at home.  His brother and sister (my other two kids) are away at my mom’s.  His mom (my wife) was out with the family car.  It was going to be me and him.   And to him, I’m sure if felt like everybody else in the world got to do cooler stuff than him.

“What can we do?” I asked him as he wailed on the bed.  “Can we walk to the park?”

They just rebuilt this playground near us.  I thought I was being a pretty hip dad.  It was less than an hour untill bed.  This was a bit of an out-of-the-ordinary treat.  At the time, I thought, to judge by his grin, that he was just admiring my wackiness.

As we assented to this plan, I was watching the gears turning in his head.  I figured out why as he shyly, slyly shared a piece of information with me as we headed to the door.

“Uhhm, dad.  Just so you know… it’s raining.”

I fed into his scheming ways tonight.  We walked in the rain to the park.  If it was a scene in a movie, if I was a super cool dad, I’d have been splashing along with him.  I’m not quite that cool.  I found a tree which offered me shelter.  And he played around.  The slide was super-charged with water.  The new park equipment was given this whole extra dismention.  He had it all to himself.  Turns out most people are smart enough to come in out of the rain.

He played for a while.  We decided to walk past home to our favorite little dump of a Chinese food restaurant for a second dinner that was after his normal bedtime.  The fact that we were wholly unprepared for the rain made it better, somehow.  I was in sandals.  We were both in shorts.    The rain soaked our hair and coated my glasses.

We shared General Goa’s chicken, shrimp Lo Mein, rice, and an orange soda.  It’s awesome to hear him read the fortune inside his cookie and hear him pronounce even the tough words right.  It’s so cool to discuss what the silly abstractions mean, and to hear him puzzle out how fortune cookies are just pretend anyway.

On the way home he got a little spooked by barking dogs and the way the streets look different at night.  He let me hold his hand for a while.  And then he found an excuse to pull it away rather than just grabbing it away.

I tucked him in bed a few minutes ago.  And he said something to me.  He said “Dad, thanks for giving me more than I needed tonight.”

And that’s most of the reason I’m sharing this all.  I’m not bragging.  This whole night was me at my fatherly best.  More often my parenting style is closer to Homer Simpson than Mr. Cleaver.

It occured to me that we have a heavenly father.  What he has for us isn’t just enough.  He’s got more than what we need.  He’s over the top and gratitious, decadent, and so very good, all of the time.

The things I will tell you

A couple good friends asked me what I was thinking about when I posted the last post, “The Things I’m not going to tell you.”

They’re pretty wise people.  In fact, I was wondering the same thing myself.  I’m quite clear on what I meant.  I wasn’t as clear about why I was feeling so intensely.  I thought I’d say a little more about that topic.  I’m all for artistically done ambiguity.  But I’m also all for calling a spade a spade.

So this is what I was trying to say, and why I was feeling so intensely about it:

Failure to treat parenting as a full time vocation is a profound act of cowardice and quite possibly the root of more evils than I could possibly list.

I was most specifically focused on a couple good friends who are raising their children with out the childrens’ biological fathers.  One of the dads has just gotten somebody else pregnant.  And I want to kick him in the teeth.  A lot.

But I also want to tell him, I want to scream at him, that being a dad isn’t something you can do part time.  This doesn’t mean he has to be married to the mom.  It doesn’t mean he has to have custody.  But it does mean that caring for his daughter can’t be something on his to-do list.  It has to be that the fact that he is a father has to be written on the top of the page of every to-do list he ever writes.  The fact that he is a father has to be the filter for everything he’ll ever put on a to do list.

If he doesn’t do this, then he, and everybody else can use whatever words they want.   All the words in the world won’t change the fact that he’s not a real dad.

We make so much of teary reunions when dad’s finally get it.   And in doing that we imply a message:  “If you get your head out of your rectum, in a few years it’ll be like you had all that time back.”  And honestly, I have to say, I think that’s dead wrong.  A child more loving than me might be able to forgive an absentee father.  But forgiving isn’t the same as having those years back.  I don’t think we send that message enough “You’ll never have those years back.”  And much more importantly “Your child will never have those years back.”

As for why do I feel so intensely?  At first I was going to play the “Jesus is Lord of the lost and forgotten card.”  But that’s actually just a cover.

The harsh truth is this:

That could have been me.

I married my wife when she was like 7 months pregnant.  I spent half a year trying to justify and rationalize how I was going to fit impending fatherhood into my life.   Being a dad was well on it’s way to my to-do list.  Probably a bit above the chain of monogous relationships I was gunning for.  Probably a bit below the idea of being a philosophy professor.

Like so much righteous indignation, much of this is truly aimed at the parts of myself that I don’t like, the pieces of me that would have been so capeable of standing on the dock and watching the boat pull away.

The Things I’m not going to tell you.

This is not like cooking.

Or interior decorating.

It is like snake handling…

or nuclear power plant management.

It is not something to be dabbled with,

flirted with,

or trifled with.

 

It is not a place for amateurs.

 

The boat is leaving.

If you are not going to run along this dock

now.

If you are not going to push people out of your way,

mindless that they have plunged into the water,

if you are not going to run and leap for all that you are worth…

 

It would be better if you just let them go.

But don’t you dare  wave good-bye.

You would not have earned that right.

 

If you decide later that you wanted to catch up.

If you swim along side when you can,

if you decide later that you’d like them to help pull you

into that little row boat…

You will only capsize them all.

 

Let them go

If you will not join them in that boat.

Swimming alongside when it is convenient,

doing what you can when it works out…

Deciding, later, that you might hope that they will pull you in…

 

If you do this you will only capsize them all.

 

I am not going to tell you that your life will be easier if you do it.

Here’s a brutal truth: This is not going to end well for somebody.

I can not even tell you that it will be better

by most definitions of the word ‘better’.

I am not going to tell you about the right thing.

You already know.

I am not going to tell you

that you already made your decision and if you were a man you’d live by it.

 

I am simply going to tell you

Do it now: decide. 

I am simply going to tell you

standing there is deciding, too.

So own that choice you chicken shit.

 

 

I think that’s the one thing that you have to understand.

You are making a forever choice now as they row away.

And they have to row away.

 

Even now, that perfect little child does not reach for you when you come by.

Even now, that perfect little child does not call for you in the middle of the night.

That perfect little child does not know what it is to have her daddy.

 

It is almost to late.

Run, run now…

If you’re ever going to run at all.

A post from an unabashed sap

My eldest is now close to his 12th birthday.  About eight years ago we lived in Long Beach, California.

We lived in this complex where all the apartments opened on this central court yard.  It was like a low-rent version of Melrose Place, or that place where Ralph Machio moves with his mom at the beginning of the first Karate Kid movie.

We developed this ritual.  I think it began when his younger sister was a cholicy infant and he needed a bit of escape in the midst of all her screaming.  We’d start with mugs of apple cider.  We’d stir in gooey spoonfuls of caramel.  I’d microwave my mug for like 3 minutes: It was sweet, applish lava.  I’d microwave his for about 12 seconds.  His ended up the temperature of bath water.

My boy and I would sit out on the steps and watch the amazing California sun sets.  Some nights it looked like the smog that blanketed the valley was just caught on fire.  We’d have this sacred, quiet time together.  Probably we were quiet more often than not, just me and him.

All the years later he think he’s a teen ager.  That’s partially because he’s almost as tall as me.  (And I’m a bit over six feet.)  Partially that’s because he’s frighteningly well-read.  Partially it’s because he’s the oldest of three siblings.

He’s moody and broody and self absorbed and melodramatic and thinks he understands the ways of the world.  He’s doing this independent thing.  It’s almost a stereotype: he shies away from hugs, he doesn’t do “I love you” anymore…

I didn’t even know he remembered our time on the courtyard in Long Beach.  I can remember being his age.  I can’t remember being four.  I didn’t think he could, either.

And so this all made it even more special, when, tonight he said “Oh, yeah me and mom got some apple cider at the store yesterday.”  He paused a little bit, unsure of himself.  and then he added “It’s too bad we don’t have some caramel.”

I think maybe I’m going to get some.  And maybe we can rekindle a tradition.

Miss

There is this pain that runs so narrow and deep

That I understand how the canyons are etched out by a trickle…

Because that trickle

Has etched out this canyon

In me.

 

And there is this sorrow

That is not this season to be walked through

But a thing that lives at the core of me.

I love you.

Though I never had a chance.

I love you though I had a chance.

 

And I

I have so little of you.

How could I ever want to exorcise this…

 

I have no school pictures

No first words

No first steps.

No finger paintings.

 

We did not have our years together.

We did not have even those ten months

That it’s easy to think we’re promised.

 

We had only this knowledge that you were coming to be.

And we had the changes in your mothers body.

And we had these hopes and these prayers and then

You were

Not.

 

I feel like I should tell you

That I think of you all the time.

But I love you.

And I have to believe that you live in the truth now.

And you must know how it is with me.

 

There are days and weeks and perhaps a month sometimes,

When you do not cross

 the parts of my thoughts that I remember to think about

but you are with me

I am glad you are with me

I wish

I wish it had just been so different

How could I ever want to exorcise this?

 

I have so little of you

How could I want to shed myself of this

Mourning-sickness, sadness, sadness

 

 

 

This poem was submitted to Watercooler Wednesdays, Randy Elrod’s blog carnival.