Friday, May 29, 2009

Earning My Stripes

Sometimes loving someone does not take much effort, it simply flows from the deepest place in our soul, effortlessly enfolding it's object with tenderness, good will, and joy. When my wife is smiling, talking, and marveling at my insights and sense of humor (not to mention my strength), all the while watching Star Trek TNG with me, it is no heroic task to "love" her.
When she reminds me I havn't fixed the bathroom, the trash is piling up in the laundry room, and that I'm wasting too much time on video games...that's when I earn my stripes in this love battle.
The same is true for my daughter -- though I have only begun to appreciate this reality. My love for her is so complete at times, it causes my heart to swell. At others, I suddenly find myself wondering just what I've done wrong -- as if I have somehow broken her and created a difficult to like monster.

When she is stubborn, I find myself frustrated with her willfulness.
When she is sullen, I find myself angry with her selfishness.
When she complains, I want to tell her what she is taking for granted.
When she pouts, I want to withdraw (and I do), but it claws at me.

It is during those times and others that this Daddy earns his stripes. It is then that I have opportunity to really understand who she is, the chance to teach and mold her, the responsibility to correct her.

This weekend at Scarborough Faire was one example -- we arrived and were all ready to start the day when our little princess became little gloomy Gretchen (Guss's sister). Immediately I was ticked! Here we were, spending all this money, traveling all this way, ready to have fun, yadda yadda yadda, and she's going to start complaining and stop smiling?!

I exercised supreme patience for some time and finally pulled her aside and sounded REALLY intelligent..."Dora, we can leave here right now if you don't change your attitude." She looked at me with honest eyes and said something truly intelligent and insightful:
"Daddy, I'm okay, I promise...I'm just not used to all these people."

And that's when Mr. Psychology realized what I should have realized before it started, she was nervous, just like her Daddy gets when he is around large groups, or even small groups of people. Her behavior was symptomatic, not characterological. What a joy and priviledge to gain that insight in that moment. I immediately understood her mood change -- and could be who she needed me to be for her.

I recognize my difficulty to "love" those I LOVE spawns from my taking their "misbehavior" personally. My wife comments on the bathroom being unfinished and I experience an unintentional blow to the gut which says "Can't you do anything around here?" My daughter pouts and whines when I think she should be happy and I experinece an unintentional slap to the face which says "You failed to make me a happy, optimistic child."

It's hard to love someone while you feel the need to defend yourself from them. But it's all an illusion. Social psychologists call it the Fundamental Attribution Error: When someone is rude to us, we tend to attribute it to a character flaw rather than a passing situational circumstance. Thinking "He's a real ....jerk..." when someone cuts us off rather than, "Wonder why he's in such a hurry." for example.

I know my wife's character. I know my daughter's heart and soul. Why does my brain so easily assume these qualities that are imbedded within them are transient when I know full well that, when I'm having a bad day, I'm going to get over it and go back to being my lovable old self? I afford myself unconditional love and acceptance, why is it so difficult to offer it to those I love?

Selfish, self-serving interest...imagining my stake in their behavior and feeling the need to change it for myself leads to anger and resentment and thus, defensive posturing on my part.

Loving concern for their own wellbeing leads to something else however. When I see my daughter misbehaving and can remove thoughts of it being a reflection on me, then I remain open to her. I have no resentment, only compassionate concern for her current and future wellbeing.

Again and again and again life hands me my hat and reminds me that it's NOT about me. God help me to take myself out of the equation and be there to serve, and not be served.

And thank you God for not taking my sins personally.

Unconditional love - awesome. How freeing to know that when God looks at me, he sees me as I see my daughter: full of potential, a jewel, an "Heir to the throne." In my finer moments as a father, I look at my daughter when she stumbles into a whine or a pout and think (or say) "Honey, you don't need to ruin your time with that...let's think about something happy and good."

I want her to find peace. I want her to soar and experience all that her life has to offer. I want to give her everything I can to make that happen...and I hurt for her when, because of inexperience or lack of understanding, she falters...and I hold on tighter, letting her know I'm there, and I love her, and I believe in her.

In those moments, I get a glimps into where God's mind is all the time. If THAT's how He sees us - If that's how He loves us, what else do we want? What else do we need? The God of the universe doesn't take our sins personally...He knows where they come from, and He knows what we need to correct them, and He died to free us from the ultimate consequences. He suffered the true stripes, so I wouldn't have to.

Monday, May 18, 2009

"Wait, my bear..."

I don't know if it was because it was 2:30am this morning when my daughter called for me to come get her and bring her into bed with us, but at the time, I thought this would make a good blog topic....if nothing else to share with her later.

So, I'm lifting her out of bed to carry her to our room when she says "Wait, my bear..." Setting her back on her bed she looked around and plunged her hand through a hill of stuffed animals and pulled out a little stuffed "Webkin" elephant. Happy as a clam (I guess there is research to suggest that the molusks are particularly resistant to depression), she held tight as I moved through the hall. By the time we made it to our room, I think she was nearly asleep again. (Makes it sound like our house is huge doesn't it...I'll let your imagination run).

I guess my question is, "Who needed whom?" Did she worry that the webkin would feel lonely or did she feel connected and in need of the webkin? Now, though Dora has a special love for her stuffed animals, she does not have one in particular which she always carries around. It just seems to be on a whim; sometimes it's Tiger (my favorite), and sometimes it's someone else.

To me, the beauty is in her innocence. She was in the arms of her father, going to sleep with her mother and father, safely in their room....and she remembered her "bear." That is one of those "make you smile" moments when I just felt awe at the gift of this child."

Another which I've seen a couple of times recently is the "can you keep a secret" whisper which children use when sharing surprises with adults. An example, we have a new portable DVD player (that's 3 in 8 years...longevity is not their strong point...but boy are they awesome on trips). It is an RCA so it has the RCA dogs on the front as the start up picture. Dora liked that almost more than the player itself and, when she saw her Auntie Bobo, she shared her new player with her and then: "It's new, and when you turn it on..." (she cups her hand to the side of her mouth in secret telling style and lowers her voice to a whisper) "it has dogs on it." I love that! The adult implication is "Don't tell anyone, but listen to this!" Such juicy gossip! But it's not a secret...just special information that she was sharing just with her Auntie Bobo.

I have a million of those "I wish she could stay this way forever's." that I could record in Daddyspeak.

(Writer cups hand to mouth and lowers voice to a whisper)

I hope you don't mind.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Daddy's Girl - Part 1

Dear Dora Diane,

What a gift you are! Every day you say and do things I can only begin to try to put into words. For example, the book that you wrote and illustrated for Mommy and me about how "Parent's Rock." I'll have to try to scan that into the computer. Or the shirts you very carefully planned for us to make with iron-on letters. One, in blue, says "Daddy's Girl". The other, in black, says "Mommy's Girl".

So true. You belong to both of us and our hearts belong to you. What a joy it is to see you so proud, and so innocent in your pride and joy at being loved by, and loving your parents.

That makes it all the more difficult when that innocence is dashed by the reality that some men have failed to overcome their selfishness. These are the men who have failed miserably to create a loving atmosphere in the home. Sometimes these men fail to even hang around so that their children know that they are loved. This is why that girl in your class made fun of your "Daddy's Girl" shirt. I am sure that she would love to be "Daddy's Girl" and to see that you are was painful for her. She hurt and felt jealous so she lashed out at you (people in Daddy's business call this displacement).

As angry as I get at those children for hurting you...I try not to be unrealistic and blind to where the blame really should fall. Failed fathers - or sperm doners for a graphic label. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are married, some are out for a good time, others are afraid, and still others are simply evil in the depth of their self-centeredness. But why are they like this. Why are fathers failing so miserably? The reasons are numerous, but I like to simplify it down and call it the mashmallow syndrome.

These are the marshmallow inside, cookie crust outside guys. They feel whimpy and soft inside becuase they have never discovered their strength...probably no one has ever told them they have strength, or that they should be proud of their accomplishments, whatever they are. These men decide early that, rather than face life as a marshmellow, being picked on themselves for what they believe is their deep weakness, they begin early to build a tough external layer (the cookie crust). Sometimes it is thick, sometimes thin, but always it is false. Often it is made up of exactly what these men lack in their core: confidence, verility, or strength. Always, the cookie version is brittle, and might break if attacked. Thus, these men spend a lifetime building and protecting their tough exterior until they forget about their marshmallow inside....until they fear it will be exposed. Exposure of the inside leaves these men feeling oozy and sticky...all the things many men fear and refuse to face.

Exposure is threatened by all sorts of things: criticism (real or imagined), failure (real or imagined), and strangest of all, love. The love of a good woman threatens to expose this tough exterior for what it is...a very false and very fragile front. However, rather than give in and reveal that they are gooey and sticky inside, and attempt to change. These men often choose to hide behind additional layers of cookie crust, or run; leaving behind the people who didn't understand that these were just cookie men, with a marshmallow center.

Why do I tell you this? Why do you have to understand about cookie men?

Because you will meet the offspring of cookie men. In their own attempt to cover their vulnerable marshmallow center, they will be building a cookie crust. You are a target for them as you have no crust. You have no need for a false front as you have been taught that you are lovable and acceptable just the way you are. Your innocense and transparency allows you to be a real person: clumsy sometimes, silly sometimes, sad, scared, and joyful. You are not afraid to fail as you have been taught that failure is ok, and natural, and important. All of that is true, yet for marshmellows, it is horrific. A marshmallow boy or girl can't tolerate failure. In themselves they cover it up, in others, they pounce on it; tearing it down in an attempt to build up their cookie crust.

The offspring of cookie-men hate you just as a starving person hates the one who has plenty to eat. Some will wait for you to fail in some area and then pounce with glee. Others will try to make it happen, so they can then pounce and kick you while you are down. They may not be able to take what you have, but they will work to ridicule you and tear you down enough so that they can imagine you don't have it anymore either.

You may even fall for a cookie man one day. Your loving nature and willingness to make excuses for everyone warns me that when one of these pitiful cookie men comes along, you will see right through to the marshmallow and figure you can help them enough to help them become whole and shed their crust.

I have very bad and very serious news for you. You must listen to me and understand that I am telling you the truth; that I am right. Your whole future, and that of your children centers on your understanding and accepting this very bad news. Here it is...and you're not going to like it:

You can't.

Friday, May 1, 2009

"Be afraid, be very afraid."

I had to look up the original use of the phrase. Not only was it from The Fly, but it was said in response to another character saying, "Don't be afriad."

If I didn't know better, I would think there was a vast conspiracy to make the population of the US, and the world utterly terrified of everything. If there should be a national motto right now, I think it should be that one.


Terrorists, might strike. The economy might collapse. We might lose our jobs. We might lose our savings. We might get the swine flu. We might ALL get the swine flu. There isn't enough money. There aren't enough bullets. There aren't enough hospital rooms. Our children might be abducted. Muslims are taking over. Christians are taking over. It's getting hotter on the earth. It's getting colder on the earth. The sun is too quite. An asteroid might hit us. Earthquakes, floods, volcanoes, war, famine, pestilence, pandemics.................................

I think I'd stay home...if I wasn't afraid of losing it.

Doesn't it all seem just a bit too convienient? Doesn't it seem a bit "wrong?" Is that what we are here live life as a 70 to 80 year dash to the finish...desperately hoping nothing takes us out too early. No. That's not why we are here. But it IS just one more way to rob us of our time and our peace.

"...because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory." Romans 8:14-17

America used to have a motto which understood this. "In God we trust."

I'm sick of the spirit of fear which has gripped America for so long.

And I'm SO sick of being personally afraid. I'm not going to be afraid anymore. Cautious, concerned, and careful...but no more fear.

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me." Psalm 23:4

I wonder if that means things will be racheted up a little more.

I'm with my good friend who is facing many more reasons to be afraid right now than I:

"Bring it."

Where oh death is your sting, where oh death is your victory.

My hope rests in eternity. I know my family will be there and I know I will as well. I will hold to that with every ounce of my being and I will live a life which glorifies the One who decided to give me life. I have nothing to lose, and eternity to gain.

Tying this in to Daddyspeak...being a daddy has done this for me. I used to be rather fatalistic and uncaring about living or dying...until I had a child. Now, the main source of my fear is not what happens to me for me, but for her. "What if she dies is replaced by what if I die and she loses her father or mother", and on and on and on and on and on and on.

Letting God's spirit move in me though has helped me see that "I DON'T HAVE ANY CONTROL OVER ANY OF THAT AT ALL!!!!." Worry does not equal control, it is the semblance of control. I can not allow myself to fear anymore. Ironically, it will kill me faster than some of the things I worry about.

"For you did not receive a spirit of fear but of sonship."

The swine flu can't kill a son or daughter of God....only release us to be with Him.