Miscellaneous, Parenting

The Daddy Box

Today is set aside to honor and to remember fathers. I tell my boys each year that on this day I don’t want them to make themselves scarce, or to wait on me hand and foot – I want to spend the day with them and do something we all want to do, and to enjoy being a dad. Where we go and what we do is up to them (within reason). This year they’ve opted for one of two choices – canoeing, which is something we do once or twice a summer; or if the weather doesn’t allow for outdoor fun going to see a movie we all want to see.

I hold no particular memories of Father’s Day with my dad. Certainly I gave him cards and the occasional gift and a phone call in the years when we were speaking – but none of these occupy any particular real estate in my mind and recollection. Dad and I had a very strained and even non-existent relationship for many years. Even after we reconciled, ten years prior to his death, things weren’t always smooth sailing. Dad even, while upset with me for not being able to visit him for more than a month, told me a story one day that ended with him saying he likely was not my biological father, and couldn’t possibly be. I look too much like him and other men in the family to truly believe that, and yet for some time I wondered if it might indeed be true. I never pursued it, but for a while I wondered. Ultimately, though, I resolved in my mind and heart that he was the only father I’d ever known – that I was a grown man, with a family of my own, and didn’t need to go in search of my identity. I knew who I was, and that was what was most important.

My father passed away two years ago. I think of him every day and miss him very much. When he died the assisted living facility that he called home for the last eight years of his life boxed up his belongings for my brother and myself. There wasn’t much, and like my recollections of Father’s Day in relation to my dad, his belongings didn’t occupy much real estate. The clothing Dad left behind was either donated or discarded – his few other meager items divided between myself and my brother, and a hat for each of my boys that Dad wanted them to have one day.

I keep a small decorative box in a drawer of my dresser of those things I chose to retain. It measures perhaps 10 inches by 10 inches. It is nowhere near full. A few photographs, his comb, a pen he kept in his pocket daily, a small notepad he wrote in, his wallet, and his watch. After 83 years of life Dad left very little behind. None of it is valuable to anyone but myself, and yet it is the only tangible link I have to my dad other than to look in a mirror. I don’t have a shirt I can put on to imagine it being a hug from dad now that he’s gone…I don’t have anything he ever made for me to hold in my hands, imagining his touch as he crafted the item. I have, for the most part, only memories – and not all of them good ones.

Several years ago now I realized a long-held dream and became a father myself. A wonderful little boy came along who still amazes me to this day with his kindness and compassion and ability to make me smile and laugh. Another boy, who I cared for as an infant and then had to love from afar but never considered any lesser than my adopted son is in my heart returned to my daily life where he remains to this day, filling me with awe at his strength, resiliency, and courage. Both boys call me ‘Daddy’. I didn’t ‘make’ either one of them, in the biological sense. Their looks, their physical traits, their DNA come from other places and other people. That does nothing to detract from my love of them and commitment to them. I didn’t give them life, I just get to share it with them. I do give them what I can – security, stability, caring, compassion, the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the years, and a deeply rooted desire to be a better parent to them than I feel my dad was able to be to me in my childhood. What they give to me outweighs anything I ever do for them.

Earlier this year I had to give them difficult news – that being that my husband and I had decided to divorce. They took it with some difficulty, for their own reasons. People say, and have said, ‘children bounce back’ and ‘children are resilient’ – and yet I still spent many sleepless hours thinking about the fact that I didn’t ever want them to HAVE to bounce back from that if it were at all preventable. In the end, though, it became a necessity, for the good of everyone involved. The boys have questioned the ‘why’ and offered their own ‘what if’ in the process, and I’ve told them both they did nothing to cause it, and therefore there is nothing they can do, nor should they try, to fix it.

A few days ago one of the boys gave me a ‘gift’. It wasn’t wrapped, nor did it have a fancy bow on it. He didn’t have to shop or order it online. It had no price tag attached to it, and yet the value of it, to me, like the few tangible remembrances I have of my dad, is immeasurable. It’s a single sheet of paper, with pictures and words on both sides. The pictures on the front side of the paper, one labeled good and the other bad depict my soon to be ex and I on one side (the good) with the words ‘will you marry me’ and on the other side (the ‘bad’) saying ‘We’re getting a divorce’ with two boys flanking us. In the lower right corner of the paper are the words ‘next page’, instructing me to turn it over, where I found, just above two small drawn faces topped by curly hair, the following words:

‘Meaning we were sad and still are but whatever makes you happy makes us happy and what makes you sad makes me sad.’

In a different spot in my bedroom I have another decorative box, larger than the one housing the last effects of my father. It’s rectangular in shape, perhaps 15 inches by 30 inches, hinged like a suitcase with a clasp to hold it shut. Inside the box are construction paper Father’s Day cards, small rocks, art work, school projects, questionnaires they filled out about what I look like and what my likes and dislikes are, letters to Santa Claus, a couple of shirts, and several other items that the kids either gave to me or represent a special occasion we shared or something we worked on together. I call it the ‘Daddy Box’. It, to me, holds something beyond the memories we have thus far made, for which there is no box large enough to hold them all. It holds things we created together, things that we both touched and held; the tangible evidence of a fraction of the love I have for both of them that they can perhaps one day hold in their own hands and reflect upon the day we made this or that, or the times I helped them button up that shirt, or the day we walked on the beach together and they picked up a small rock and presented it to me as if it were a diamond.

Today I’ve added an item, the sheet of paper described above, to the ‘Daddy Box’ in the hopes that my son will know, one day when I’m gone, how precious this was to me and how much comfort it gave to me to know that one of the things he has, whether it’s through any influence of mine upon him or not, is the ability to see beyond his own needs and wants – to hold the happiness of another up before him and offer compassion and understanding to them, despite his own feelings. It’s gestures like this that give me an inkling of the man he will hopefully become, that both of them will hopefully become, and the fathers they may one day be to children of their own.

I hope they both create a ‘Daddy Box’ of their own. I hope they one day experience even a small portion of the joy and happiness with and from their own children as I do with and from them. I hope that their ‘Daddy Box’, as well as I’m sure my own will, becomes two boxes, then three, and on and on.

But more than that, I hope theirs are filled with as much love as mine is for both of them.

Happy Father’s Day.

 

 

 

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Parenting

My Most Firmly Held Belief

In the past few weeks both my boys have asked me questions about ‘God’.

I’m not surprised by their curiosity, whereas they have friends who attend church and are at an age for ‘Confirmations’ and such to be discussed amongst their peers.

One of the boys has asked me if I think there are people on other planets, and if God put them there.

The other boy has asked me what ‘religion’ he is.

When we were being interviewed for approval to adopt a child, we were asked our views on religion, and how we would ‘introduce it’ to a child should we be approved for adoption. I am not sure there is a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer to this question, so I answered according to my feelings at the time. I’d wait until the child was old enough to have some grasp on religion, ‘expose’ them to it in some form, and then let them make up their own mind as to what they believe and what they wish to practice.

I still feel this way.

That said, I have to stay true to what I believe and try to present both sides of the coin to them. I consider myself to be more ‘spiritual’ than religious.

The second edition of ‘Spirituality For Dummies’ (By Sharon Janis) defines spirituality as follows:

“Spirituality says that even if you think you’re limited and small, it simply isn’t so. You’re greater and more powerful than you have ever imagined. A great and divine light exists inside of you. This same light is also in everyone you know and in everyone you will ever know in the future. You may think you’re limited to just your physical body and state of affairs — including your gender, race, family, job, and status in life — but spirituality comes in and says “there is more than this.”

I have also heard it quoted (and used this quote myself) as being ‘Religion is for people who are afraid of going to Hell…Spirituality is for those who have already been there.’ (Vine Deloria, Sioux)

I think that faith and spirituality are both very personal things. I don’t think that any one person should tell you what to believe just as they should not tell you what faith to follow. I think that’s up to the individual. I know, personally, people who have given up their faith and begun to follow another. I know people that seemingly have no faith at all, but don’t define themselves as spiritual either. I firmly believe that people should choose what feels right for them….be that faith, spirituality, something else, or nothing at all.

Spirituality calls upon people to find greater meaning and purpose in their own self and their own existence. It promotes the belief that you should have respect for everyone, not just God or the others who believe what you believe. Spirituality is about transformation and evolving…psychological awareness and growth. It says, to me, that we are not just what we have done, but what we can do…what we are capable of doing and being, exhibited and influenced by all that we have learned along the way in our lives. It says to me that we are on a constant journey of experiences and interactions, and what matters is not just the stops along the way, but the destination we arrive at at the end of that journey.

In answer to the question about life on other planets, I explained that ‘it all depends on what you believe’ – religion tells us that God created us in His own image…that He created the Heavens and the Earth and populated the Earth with people. Science would indicate that just as our planet revolves around the sun at a distance sufficient but not greater than to sustain human life, and therefore there must be other planets in the universe where the same is true. Either you accept that the view of religion is true, or…you wait and see if science is correct.

In answer to the ‘what religion am I’ question, I said, ‘I know that you’ve not been exposed to much religion thus far in your life. If you’d like to learn more about certain religions, we can explore those together, and then after some time you can decide for yourself what you’d like to believe. No one, not even I, can tell you what religion you are or ought to be. That’s up to you. Whatever you decide is up to you, and fine with me. Even if you decide that no religion is for you. I want you to feel and believe what you think is right for you.

As a parent, I always hope to have answers for my kids, or at least be able to point them in the right direction. When it comes to ‘what makes the sky blue’ and ‘why is the dog’s nose wet?’…I’m aces on that one. The subject of religion shows me two things…it shows me that my little boys aren’t so little any longer, and the questions are going to get tougher as they grow.

It also shows me that I need to hold firm to my beliefs in order to show them what a sense of conviction looks like and model ‘belief’ in something – and at the same time ‘let go’ of their beliefs. They will form their own opinions and views. They will develop their own moral code. They will decide what’s right for them. I can’t make those choices for them. That isn’t my job.

I have to simply hold on to my firmest belief of all – that the boys need to be whoever they are meant to be, and I just need to always love them no matter who that is.

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Parenting

My Collection Of Hats

I have a collection of hats.

I wear them all the time.

They aren’t sorted by color, or size, or even style.  I don’t choose which one I put on by the clothes I’m wearing, or the weather outside.  I choose them out of necessity.

Sometimes I put on my thinking cap to figure out how to make a rainy day fun, or explain homework in a different way so that they understand it a little better.

A few times a day I put on my chefs cap and fix snacks, or lunches, or dinners that aren’t full of sugar and calories and might just do the kids some good to eat them, while still remembering that an occasional item of ‘junk’ isn’t going to hurt them.

My chauffeur’s cap gets used when someone forgets that there’s a project due at school the next day and they need glue and we don’t have it, or when there’s a cough that’s going to keep them awake and we’re fresh out of medicine for that.

The maid’s cap gets worn daily, cleaning up near tornado-level destruction and socks left in random places around the house that make no sense and putting the endless piles of laundry through the washer and dryer or vacuuming up the forgotten crumbs and bits of paper that make their way to the floor and lay there until I come along.

When there’s a tumble in the driveway that results in a scrape, I put on the nurses cap and clean out the wound.  Then I immediately change to the clown hat, whereas nothing dries up tears like laughter.

The hard-hat I reserve for special occasions when I step into the middle of a conflict to act as a negotiator.  That one gets a lot of use.  Sometimes the thinking cap compliments it nicely.

Then there’s the police cap when I need to figure out who broke something and no one wants to admit to being the guilty party.

The safari hat comes out when the kids forget that there’s a whole world outside to explore, right in their own back yard, and need a guide to point them in the right direction, rather than sitting in front of the t.v. all day.

The mortar board and tassel get reserved for those extra tough questions like ‘why do I have to go to bed right now’ and ‘how come I can’t have ice cream for breakfast every day?’

The wizard cap gets tossed up onto my head when there’s a broken toy or a missing part to something and I fix the toy or make the toy work again by magical means.

The pointy cap that says ‘Dunce’ on it is for when I make a not so good parenting choice or do something that shows the kids that despite all the powers I possess, I have flaws, and I’m only human.

The soldier’s hat comes out when they seem to want to argue everything I tell them and not do their homework or take a bath and I need to find the strength to just get through that moment and on to the next one.

The crown comes in handy when they need to understand that I’m the boss, first and foremost, and what I say goes.

I have a collection of hats.  They are not fancy, nor colorful, nor anything special to look at. They all have one very special characteristic in common though: They are all invisible. No one sees them, and I don’t regularly get complimented on them. You never even know when I switch from one to the other most days, I just do it without thinking. Some days I only wear one or two of them. Some days I have to pile them all on top of my head and use them all at once.

My hats are not rare, nor do they ever wear out despite all the use they get.

I wear them all not because they all fit just right or because I feel like putting them on day in and day out, but because I choose to.

I have them all because I am a parent, and wearing my entire collection of hats is what the job requires.

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Parenting

What I Really Mean When I Say ‘Just Because’

Often times my boys find me looking at them, or reaching out to put my hand on their face, or rub their back….and they ask me why I’m doing it.  Many times I answer them with ‘just because’ and they accept this simple reply as a sufficient response to their question.  Little do they know the answer is anything but simple.

I thought perhaps it was time to set the record straight, and perhaps sometime in the future if they find themselves again wondering, they can satisfy their curiosity with this blog post. Perhaps it will mean more to them and explain things to them they are now too young to really comprehend or appreciate.

I look at you because I wish to memorize every expression you have….every nuance and contour of your faces.  The sparkling of your eyes, the smiles that play across your mouths.  Sometimes I sit next to you both and wonder if you feel happy, if you feel safe….if you feel loved.  I mull over past encounters and conversations in my mind and wonder how they impacted you, and what you will carry with you from that moment into the future…into your adult lives….and what you will recall when you think back upon your childhood as I do my own. I wonder if you are experiencing something now that your young mind cannot articulate, but that having me next to you, watching you, paying attention to you, at just the right moment will reassure you that you are valued…that you are special….that you are, without hesitation, loved absolutely and completely.

I touch your face to be in contact with the innocence and the blithe delight you express in simple joys and pleasures that come your way. To perhaps be a participant, rather than just a witness, in what it feels like to experience great joy merely in rolling a toy car back and forth across the floor, or cuddling with your favorite stuffed animal, or believing you just outran time and the wind and nearly lifted off the ground and soared into the sky as you charged across the lawn….to be able to feel something so innocent and so unsullied….to reach out and caress the pure and flawless nature of your loving….without conditions and without agenda.  In a way I suppose I want to feel that for myself again, rather than the adult experiences of being self-conscious, of money worries, self-doubt, the disadvantages of aging and watching people you love pass on before you and know you must live your life missing them each and every day….feeling times of regret and frustration and helplessness, and the sobering reality that no matter how much we might wish to fly away from it all sometimes, just for a few hours or a day, we are grounded here on the earth, our feet firmly planted to soil, and the blue sky above is merely a vast playground and wonderland that belongs to the birds and the clouds and the air.

I rub your back or your arms or your belly because I know it soothed you in younger years and know that one day nothing I say or do, no touch or persuasion will ease some hurt you have experienced and you will be left to your own devices to find peace and comfort in some way.  I know that one day you will no longer be assuaged simply by the sound of my voice or by simple words of reassurance, and I wish to prolong that for you.  I would stay by your sides always if I thought that whatever ills impacted your life I could take them away for you, even if I succeed in teaching you how to heal from life’s wounds yourself, just to give you an alternative for times when you misplace your courage and strength and simply wish to fall into the arms of someone who will shelter you from the crash of the thunder and the bursts of lightening in the sky and tell you ‘it’s okay….I’ve got you….’ and you won’t feel insecure and vulnerable from taking comfort there.

I hug you and hold you because the compact enclosure of my arms affords you a feeling of safety against the rest of the world…against the vast and capacious landscape of doubt and fear and disappointment that awaits you, along with happiness, success, and delight; when you venture forth as an adult.  One day I may not have the strength or the mobility to put my arms around you as I succumb to the unforgiving and profane desecration of time upon my body. One day you’ll see me struggling to walk from one side of a room to the other and perhaps feel sadness that your source of strength and safety as a child, that stalwart person who fought back all your dragons and boogeymen, and looked in every closet and under every bad, no matter how black and absolute the surrounding night was, has become nearly incapable of once ‘routine’ deeds and accomplishments. Eventually you’ll have only the memory of me to guide you through life, and the knowledge that I loved you until my very last breath, and I hope it will be sufficient to carry you through the rest of your life, and that you will pass that on to those you in turn will leave behind you.  You may go beyond the reach of my arms, but you’ll never go beyond the reach of my heart and my love for you.

Right now you are so very young.  Right now the words that I have written here would likely rise above your understanding and your comprehension. You value a new race car more than you value unconditional love.  You prize your trading cards more than you do the ability to tell me anything without judgment or fear of being abandoned by me.  You race off to turn on your video games rather than linger in my embrace an instant longer than you must.

And that’s okay.  When I was a child, like you are now, I did the same thing.  I suffered through the peaks and pratfalls of childhood not truly recognizing the love that I had available to me, and thought of nothing but running away from it all. And then, as I grew, I couldn’t wait to make my own rules and eat ice cream for breakfast and watch t.v. until the wee hours of the new morning  Eventually I made my way out into the world and did all these things and so much more, and realized that at times all I wanted was to run back to my bed and throw the covers over my head and pretend there was nothing beyond them until someone put their arms around me and said, ‘It’s okay….I’ve got you.’  There are those who I know would do that for me.  But based upon either their expectations afterward or my own struggle and discomfort with the idea of making myself ‘vulnerable’ to others….it usually always comes with a price.

There are a million or more reasons why I look at you as often as I do…why I reach out and touch you or wrap my arm around you or stare into your eyes when you don’t know I’m looking at you.  There are volumes I could write on what I see and hear and feel, and so many long, passionate speeches I could give you about the joys of being your parent and loving you and watching you grow and learn and having you here day after day…despite the challenging and frustrating times….despite the noise and the mess and the exhaustion….the remuneration of parenting you far outweighs the expense.

When you ask me why I do these things, I could sit you down and speak for hours on the multitude of reasons why I hold you…why I look at you….why I love you.  Hopefully, in the time I have left in your lives, I will have that opportunity and it will be a meaningful and lasting conversation that you will carry with you for the rest of your life, long after I’ve departed it, and you’ll look back on these questions and know in your heart, without question, what the answers are.

For now….I’ll say ‘Just because.’

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