If by Rudyard Kipling

Sunday, 27 February 2011

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are los­ing theirs and blam­ing it on you;
If you can trust your­self when all men doubt you,
But make al­lowance for their doubt­ing too;
If you can wait and not be tired by wait­ing,
Or, be­ing lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, be­ing hat­ed, don’t give way to hat­ing,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream — and not make dreams your mas­ter;
If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with tri­umph and dis­as­ter
And treat those two im­posters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spo­ken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to bro­ken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your win­nings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your be­gin­nings
And nev­er breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long af­ter they are gone,
And so hold on when there is noth­ing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings — nor lose the com­mon touch;
If nei­ther foes nor lov­ing friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the un­for­giv­ing min­ute
With six­ty sec­onds’ worth of dis­tance run -
Yours is the Earth and every­thing that’s in it,
And — which is more — you’ll be a Man my son! 

Rudyard Kipling

My mom gave me a framed ver­sion of this po­em on my 16th birth­day. I wasn’t a man then, so I didn’t re­al­ly un­der­stand it. Later, when I thought I un­der­stood it, I dis­agreed with it on all points. It sat in the clos­et in my old room un­til I turned 30, at which time my mom gave it to me again. I flipped it over and on the back was the note she’d writ­ten my for my 16th birth­day, the note she’d writ­ten for my 30th, and the hand­writ­ten po­em my Grandma wrote for me on my 16th. Reading “If” at 30 is yet again a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence. Now I feel like I un­der­stand it; now I strive for the­se list­ed virtues. 

Now it hangs in my son’s room, and I hope as he grows that he will feel the same ways I’ve felt about it over the years.

My Dad Died

Saturday, 19 February 2011

My dad died awhile back, on Wednesday, 19 January 2011. He was di­ag­nosed with lung can­cer in the lat­ter half of 2010, had a lung re­moved, and then de­vel­oped an un­treat­able in­fec­tion.

Don’t smoke, peo­ple.

The Past

Here’s the thing: shame though it may be, for me, my dad died one sum­mer af­ter­noon about 17 years ago. As a 13 year-old, I jumped out of the 1970 Pontiac GTO (that I helped him re­store) on Western Avenue & 18th Street in Connersville, Indiana. He was yelling about how he was go­ing to beat the hell out of me when we got to his home. My fa­ther died dur­ing the ter­ror of those min­utes in the car, while I fever­ish­ly weighed the op­tions on how best to pro­tect my­self. I nev­er dri­ve past the ram­shackle house halfway down that block with­out re­mem­ber­ing.

At first it wasn’t like he’d died, but grew in­to death as the years rolled by. Throughout high school and ta­per­ing off in col­lege there were awk­ward in­stances at cross-coun­try meets, cards wish­ing me Happy Birthday & the like. I was un­able to rec­on­cile the man he ap­peared to be in pub­lic (which seemed an act to me) with the man who on­ce spent an en­tire day of vis­i­ta­tion dri­ving me around in his van and yelling at me & my mom for mak­ing his oth­er chil­dren bas­tards in the eyes of the Catholic Church. I was un­able to rec­on­cile the man who said he want­ed to be a part of my life with the man who fought tooth & nail to avoid con­tribut­ing to my up­bring­ing & ed­u­ca­tion.

He was eas­ier to for­get as those at­tempts at in­ter­ac­tion came few­er and far­ther be­tween. Once I start­ed my blog, I knew he read it, he left strange, stilt­ed com­ments from time to time, but by then it was easy to just see the­se as com­ing from one more stranger among the bunch. The awk­ward at­tempts to com­mu­ni­cate with me via the oc­ca­sion­al card, email for­wards, blog com­ments & prox­ies were the my fa­ther could do. I think he had a per­ma­nent vic­tim men­tal­i­ty. This al­lowed him to twist the wrongs he did to oth­ers in­to wrongs done un­to him. There is no need to ad­mit mis­takes or ask for for­give­ness (two things I nev­er heard or saw him do) when one is the chron­ic vic­tim. Repeat the spin enough and oth­ers will be­lieve it, re­peat it long enough and you’ll start to be­lieve it your­self.

In high school, one of my teach­ers (and a one­time friend of my fa­ther) had a talk with me about his abort­ed re­la­tion­ship with his fa­ther . He con­fid­ed in me that his one re­gret in life was that he didn’t make peace with his fa­ther when he had the chance. I wasn’t any­where near a place where I could have done that when I was given that ad­vice, but it has al­ways stuck with me. I fre­quent­ly thought about con­tact­ing my fa­ther, but con­tin­u­al­ly put it off, some­times through my own re­luc­tance, but some­times that de­ci­sion was re­in­forced through the ac­tions of peo­ple close to him. I’ve re­ceived hate-filled emails through the years, most long-since delet­ed, but here’s a re­cent sam­ple, from a com­plete stranger:

Hey, can I be any clear­er now? Do I have your at­ten­tion? I know Don has kept in touch with you and let you know what is go­ing on, but I dont know if you seem to un­der­stand the sever­i­ty of this sit­u­a­tion. Are you re­al­ly that shal­low that you are go­ing to al­low your own fa­ther, who gave you life, to go through this surgery, that he may or may NOT live through, and nev­er let him meet his grand­son? You are a sick, pa­thet­ic ex­cuse for a per­son and you have no feel­ings. My kids are so hurt by this. He is their grand­pa and they love him and he treats them won­der­ful and they dont judge him by mis­takes he has made in the past. I am cry­ing on a night­ly ba­sis and pray­ing to God that he makes it through and you cant even reach out to him in his time of need. He is not even my fa­ther, but he has treat­ed me like a daugth­er since the day we met.…..You should be ASHAMED of your­self. Every year that man has bought Christmas presents for you and they have just piled up in a clos­et in his and my moms house be­cause you nev­er had the guts to show up. BEMAN ADAM and let your boy meet his grand­fa­ther. Stop run­ning. You are go­ing to re­gret this de­ci­sion for the rest of your life if he dos­nt make it through the surgery. Please make peace. Your dad wants to be a fa­ther to you and ALWAYS has. Sorry your mom ru­ined that for you but your old enough to make your own de­ci­sions now. Be the adult and face him and let him know you give a damn. He loves you with all of his heart and it makes me sick the way he aches to meet his grand­son and wants to see you. You make me SICK. You so de­serve an ass beat­in!!!! I wish we could have been friends or fam­i­ly but you re­fused to let that hap­pen and I tried to give you the benifit of the doubt over the years and keep my opin­ion of you to my­self but se­ri­ous­ly, how do you look at your­self in the mir­ror every­day? ????

Do the right thing for your son Adam. Stop be­ing self­ish and think­ing about your­self. The world dos­nt re­volved around you. Are you old enough to un­der­stand that yet???

MAN UP BOY.…MAN UP!!!!!!!

Whenever I thought that rec­on­cil­i­a­tion was a pos­si­bil­i­ty I would re­ceive a re­minder of the un­healthy en­vi­ron­ment I’d been de­lib­er­ate­ly avoid­ing. I’ve nev­er felt the need to ac­cept that neg­a­tiv­i­ty in­to my life.

Things could have been much dif­fer­ent the­se past 17 years if at any point in that time I had got­ten the sense from him that he had changed in any way, but that nev­er hap­pened. In some ways, I’m still that scared 13 year-old boy when think­ing of my fa­ther, and I think my fa­ther was nev­er able to see me as more than the scared 13 year-old boy he didn’t un­der­stand. Not on­ly did I nev­er get an in­di­ca­tion from him that he had changed, but bits and drib­bles of ru­mor made their way to me through a va­ri­ety of sources that con­firmed my sus­pi­cions. Once my son was born, I start­ed hear­ing from peo­ple that he would show folks a pic­ture of Abraham and tell them “That’s as close as I’m ever go­ing to get to meet­ing him.” I think the on­ly way he knew to get at­ten­tion from oth­ers was to ma­nip­u­late them in­to giv­ing him what he want­ed.

For 17 years there have been things that I’ve need­ed to dis­cuss with my fa­ther; now I will no longer have a chance to do so. It might be cow­ardice on my part for nev­er hav­ing at­tempt­ed to make those tough con­ver­sa­tions hap­pen, and I think I bear a small amount of re­spon­si­bil­i­ty (the same re­spon­si­bil­i­ty any per­son has for re­solv­ing un­fin­ished busi­ness with an­oth­er) for not hav­ing con­tact­ed him on­ce I was ma­ture enough to know my own mind, but a greater re­spon­si­bil­i­ty lay up­on him to seek amends with me. Not on­ce in the 17 years of our es­trange­ment did he ap­proach me forth­right­ly, con­trite­ly or non-ma­nip­u­la­tive­ly. The ap­proach­es were al­ways oblique, con­de­scend­ing, re­tard­ed, as if he could not no­tice the gi­ant red flag of his abuse. I don’t know, may­be he couldn’t see it. Nothing could be eas­ier than to spread blame around; the fact re­mains that the sit­u­a­tion will al­ways re­main a sad one. It’s a shame; es­pe­cial­ly since I for­gave my fa­ther years ago. However, for­give­ness is on­ly pro­duc­tive when it is shared with some­one who seeks it; and for­giv­ing some­one for an abu­sive re­la­tion­ship does not re­quire main­te­nance of that re­la­tion­ship. I made my peace with him, but he nev­er gave him­self the chance to find out.

For 17 years I didn’t want the grow­ing pile of Christmas presents in his clos­et, I want­ed my fa­ther to re­spect him­self, our re­la­tion­ship, and me enough to say that he was sor­ry.

A lot of buried bit­ter­ness per­co­lat­ed to the top in this sec­tion. I’ve known about it and rec­og­nized it for years, and since I’ve done that, along with know­ing and rec­og­niz­ing oth­er dan­ger­ous emo­tions and prob­a­bil­i­ties that are my in­her­i­tance from my dad, I’ve been able to chan­nel them in­to pro­duc­tive en­er­gy, to­wards my­self, my son, my kith & kin. And bit­ter­ness is a pas­sive emo­tion; I bore and bear my fa­ther no ill will; I was sad­dened to hear of his can­cer and de­cline in the same way I would be sad­dened by hear­ing that news about any per­son that I know.

The Future

Because I’ve lived over half my life with­out a fa­ther, I’ve had to learn most of what it means to be a man on my own. That’s both a hin­drance and a help; a hin­drance be­cause I’ve had no con­sis­tent pres­ence to set an ex­am­ple or of­fer guid­ance, a help be­cause that very lack of pres­ence has forced me to work hard at defin­ing man­hood for my­self, and I feel that I’ve reached an un­der­stand­ing that I would have been in­ca­pable of if I hadn’t had to do the work my­self. The learn­ing process be­gan with sim­ple things, like teach­ing my­self to shave, but has ex­pand­ed and mor­phed through­out the years in­to some­thing as com­plex as a phi­los­o­phy for my ac­tions & de­ci­sions as a fa­ther. There will al­ways be holes in the foun­da­tion, but that just means I need to change the metaphor for man­hood from a struc­tural one in­to a pro­gres­sive one; it’s a jour­ney, not a house. A jour­ney changes, a house set­tles.

Because of my father’s dis­ap­point­ment that I wasn’t the boy he want­ed me to be, I’ve learned the op­po­site of his ex­am­ple: to ac­cept that what I want has noth­ing to do with what is. I’ve learned that the im­po­si­tion of will is less pow­er­ful than run­ning wa­ter. Instead of beat­ing on a wall and get­ting nowhere, flow around it and move be­yond. The dif­fer­ence be­tween be­ing stub­born & be­ing im­placa­ble.

I’ve been blessed to have sur­ro­gate fa­ther fig­ures through­out the years, not the least of which have been my un­cles. They have al­ways been there with the right ad­vice — right when I need it. I haven’t gone through this alone, and though I’ve done my best in this post to stick to the core and key (my fa­ther, for­give­ness, my­self) of this many-ten­ta­cled in­ter­per­son­al con­flict, there is much more that could be said. For my part, I think I’ve shared what has been most im­por­tant to me. It is nice to fi­nal­ly lay the bur­den down.

The whole par­a­digm I’ve been talk­ing about and work­ing through is a sad and com­plex sit­u­a­tion. This sto­ry could have been about re­pen­tence, for­give­ness and heal­ing; so what I mourn most is what the last 17 years could have been if things had been dif­fer­ent. One thing I do know, my fu­ture will be dif­fer­ent; I’ve got my rea­sons and I’ve got the mo­ti­va­tion.

Flag Days — Caring for my Great-Grandfather Barnard’s Flag

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

A few years ago I re­ceived the flag that was placed on my Great-Grandfather Barnard’s cas­ket when he died. He fought in World War I and was a POW, twice. The flag hadn’t been prop­er­ly cared for, stuffed in­to an old card­board box that was too small to hold it, along with a sheet of pa­per de­scrib­ing how to prop­er­ly care for the flag, and who is en­ti­tled to one at their fu­ner­al.

The doc­u­ment is cer­tain­ly pre-World War II, as it made men­tion of World War I, but noth­ing else. Discolored with age, and some­what brit­tle due to acid con­tent, the pa­per, in con­junc­tion with the an­cient card­board box, had stained the flag.

For sev­er­al years I tried to fig­ure out the best way to re­move the stains with­out harm­ing the flag it­self, which is at least 50 and per­haps as many as 90 years old. I want­ed to safe­ly re­move the stains, have it prop­er­ly fold­ed and put it in­to a flag case. I tried con­tact­ing the Cleveland Museum of Art to talk to a spe­cial­ist in tex­tile preser­va­tion, scout­ed around on­line & even Asked MetaFilter. I read fo­rums on flag eti­quet­te and ran across some some­what “ex­treme” views on what con­sti­tutes des­e­cra­tion of the flag (e.g. wash­ing it pe­ri­od). I didn’t find any­thing con­clu­sive or even some­what help­ful in deal­ing with a flag of ad­vanced age.

So I washed it. And the stains came out! And I when I spread it on my bed to dry, it cov­ered the whole bed, and then some. And I called my mom to tell her about it, and she asked how many stars were on it. And there are on­ly 48 stars on it! 6 rows of 8.

I end­ed up hav­ing to fold it my­self, and I did a pret­ty good job at it. The flag case I got for it was too large though & then the glass in it broke. I still don’t have some­thing to prop­er­ly put it in for dis­play or stor­age. But I feel a lot bet­ter know­ing that it has been suc­cess­ful­ly cleaned and is prop­er­ly fold­ed.

Imbolc

Friday, 4 February 2011

Yesterday he was given a mound
of slow-release tranquilizers,
grease-drizzled.

Today, still stupefied,
he will be made to prognosticate.

Not that it matters;

his shadow
or lack of
shadow;

six weeks of winter
either way.

All the rodent knows
is that it is too damn early
and too damn cold to
get the hell up.

Amor fati

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

My for­mu­la for great­ness in a hu­man be­ing is amor fati: that one wants noth­ing to be dif­fer­ent, not for­ward, not back­ward, not in all eter­ni­ty. Not mere­ly bear what is nec­es­sary, still less con­ceal it — all ide­al­ism is men­da­cious­ness in the face of what is nec­es­sary — but love it.

Ecce Homo — Friedrich Nietzsche