Not There

I’m not where I want to be.

This might come as a surprise to most of you.

Or not.

Maybe you have guessed that I am a bit restless in my current situation. Maybe you suspect that I am merely living a lie and will eventually give it up and go back to my old way of life.

I don’t want to go back.

I left a career of nearly ten years to go do something else that I loved. Then I left that after two years to give my wife an opportunity to do something I knew that she would love (and I wasn’t wrong). But am I doing what I love?

Yes and no.

I love being with my kids. I love teaching them and talking to them and watching them become great little people.

But sometimes they are real jerks. Sometimes I get tired of being around them. Frequently I feel like I fail them on so many levels. But I love them. So yes. I love what I do.

But.

I need adult interaction. And more than just the superficial internet interactions. The presence of people is a balm for my anxiety and loneliness. There are times when being around the kids perks up my spirit, but they are the takers in the relationship. Adults give and take, the dynamics are different. Right now where I am I do not get the kind of adult interaction I need.

I have dreams and goals. But I never think I am good enough. I am always the contingency guy. I have a goal, I assume right off the bat that I won’t get to it, so I automatically search for all the secondary plans.

Where do people get their optimism? How does one make a goal and dream and actually think themselves good enough to get them? How do they take control of their lives and make the things they want happen?

Or do they? Do people ever actually get what they want? Or am I just watching too many movies? I swear I see people out there on blogs and Facebook and elsewhere living the lives that they want. Surely there is something flawed in their life, something they don’t like, something that is not quite right.

How do they live joyously despite those things? How are they successful in jumping past those kinds of problems and focusing instead on the good things, the successes?

The simple answer is that they aren’t. Everyone has struggles. No one is arrived 100%. Some people are just better at displays than others. They are simply good at social media.

Or perhaps they really are hopeful. Some people are just optimists. They do a good job at seeing the good and understand the best way to make those good things happen is focused work towards them.

So the answer to getting where I want is simply focused discipline? Make an effort to get adult time? Focus on the good goals and spend a little less time on contingency?

Time will tell.

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Fatherhood Is Not Babysitting

This was in a Facebook group I’m in. Most people got the joke. One guy commented:

“What exactly is this meme saying?

Why is the woman abandoning her God given role as mother “for the next few days”?

Why is the father being regarded by both women almost as a boyfriend?”

My response was “you gotta be trolling.”

But looking at his timeline I really don’t think he was. His posts show that his worldview assumes men and women were created exclusively for distinct “roles”, women to pump out babies and stay with them constantly until they are capable of pumping out their own, and men to go out of the house most of the time to till the fields and provide the means to buy food (which definitely falls into the woman’s role). These roles are rigid and unbending.

I’m not completely opposed to the idea of roles. In any organization, such as a family, division of labor is helpful to ensure that all jobs are taken care of.

But implicit in this guy’s worldview is the idea that men are incapable of raising children. The fact that a woman would “abandon her God given role” and leave her children in the incompetent hands of their father is appalling. We all know men don’t have the capacity to nurture. We know their attention spans are way too limited to ensure the kids get all that they need to survive.

Implicit in this worldview is the concept that fathers are nothing more than babysitters when they take responsibility for the care of their children. If this guy had his way, the mother would never be out of the child’s presence. The father would will never be left out of his league watching the kids for a few days, let alone a few hours.

Maybe I am being uncharitable. Maybe this guy is a great father. Maybe he lets his wife “abandon her role” and go out occasionally. I don’t know.

All I know is I take exception to the idea that men are useless for raising children. I reject the notion that fathers are babysitters and the jokes about them needing “rescue” and being incompetent.

This guy may not have understood the meme, but I think most of us got the point loud and clear.

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A Successful Marriage, Just Out Of High School

Circa 2001 B.B. (Before Beard)

“You literally just dated and married someone from middle/ high school and stayed together?”

Yep. That’s exactly what happened.

Having that pointed out made me realize just how complicated life really is. Especially the finding and keeping a mate part.

I was blessed to meet a girl at the beginning of high school who simply latched on and never let go. One of my fondest memories of our early relationship was when I took her hand to lead her through a crowd and she stayed attached for hours afterwards. She literally would not let go of me. I asked her to go out with me fully expecting her to get over me within a month or so. Nope. She was mine and there was no changing it.

That certainly makes it sound easy doesn’t it? I mean, compared to the majority of people our experience was pretty simple. One girlfriend (unless you count that one for two weeks in 8th grade) and one boyfriend (unless you count that one in kindergarten). No breakups or heartaches, no chasing and wondering, no getting attached to someone who wasn’t interested. Compared to the norm we are freaks of nature.

But it wasn’t easy.

Starting out together that young created all sorts of headaches others avoid. It didn’t take very long to realize that we wanted to be together forever. But since “everyone thinks that about their high school sweetheart” no one believed us. We got engaged in secret and wracked our brains about ways to make it happen. Elopement was not completely off the table, folks.

And temptation… There is a reason the Bible says to get married if you burn with passion. When you are young and truly in love there is a strong passion for physical connection. “True love waits” is a silly slogan. True love commits and becomes one flesh as soon as possible.

It wasn’t easy after marriage either. Being young and immature (though you think yourselves quite wise) makes living with another sinner difficult.

We didn’t have the typical surprises many people experience after marriage. With nearly six years literally growing up together there really weren’t any secrets or skeletons or odd habits we didn’t know about.

No, our difficulties came because we read the wrong books and listened to the wrong advice and took the wrong pills. The first months of our marriage were hell. We had a foundation in the many years together, but the walls built in those first months was full of cracks and holes.

It took a while to get our footing. It took longer to gain any sense of success in our marriage.

How’d we make it work?

Well, first off, divorce is not an option. It has never been a part of our vocabulary. Even during the times when one of us (or both) wants to leave “divorce” is not a word we ever use.

Loads of patience is the second. Love is not love without patience. That may mean waiting a loooong time for a change in your spouse. It may mean years of gentle nudging in the right direction (not nagging, nagging is impatient) before you see a result. It may mean bearing infirmities much longer than you would like. Patience does pay off though. In the long run you find that you can bear more and you love each other more.

Third, a big helping of stubbornness. I won’t let her go. And she won’t let me go. By golly we made this commitment, we are going to keep it! There is no one else that I want, so I am going to selfishly cling to her with all my might. If something I do is hurting her I’m going to work on myself to change it. Because I want her. And she is one thing in my life that I actually have. Nothing else that I want ever seems to happen, so I will hold tightly to the one that has happened.

We were blessed to meet so young (and cursed) but there is no reason why you can’t be blessed to meet someone later in life.

You just have to grab them and not let go.

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Daily Thoughts #9

Better late than never!

Don’t ever think of yourself as useless. You have no idea what you mean to others. You may very well be the reason someone gets out of bed in the morning. Even if you think you do nothing, sometimes your mere presence is enough to give someone else a purpose.

On the flip side of that, don’t ever take the presence of someone for granted. Every single day is a gift, and one of you isn’t going to be around forever. Always assume it’s the other person and make every moment with them as special as you can.

Accept that you won’t be perfect at this. Accept that if every moment was special, no moment would be, so sometimes it is good enough to just sit around and bask in the presence of each other.

I could bask all day in the presence of that woman…

Absence and Fondness Of Heart

There is an expression well known to people who go long periods of time without their significant others.

Absense makes the heart grow fonder.

Well, does it? I mean do you really want that other person around more when they are gone? Do you love them more when you are separated?

My marriage has been a test of this theory for some time. I used to go out once or twice a year on two week assignments, then I took a job that had me gone for two weeks at a time several times a summer. Now my wife has that same job and she spends a week or two away at a time. We won’t even mention the long days at her own station which make her home life basically just sleeping, eating a meal or two, and perhaps marital intimacy if the exhaustion isn’t too much.

Do I miss her? You bet. Do I pine about her lack of presence? No. What’s the use? Do I love her more when she’s away? Not really. In fact we have both found that the busier you are in a period of absence, the less likely you are to have strong feelings about the situation.

If anything, absence actually makes presence more difficult. You get used to a routine without that person. You get used to keeping certain emotions bound up. You stop thinking too much about the situation (and the other person) lest it become painful.

Then they come back. Your routine is muddled. You emotions are stirred. Where there would have been pain is now an empty hole into which you shovel your excitement over the reunion. Absence didn’t make the heart fonder. It kinda made it numb.

With the return comes the feels. Strong feels. So you bicker. Bouts of fighting interspersed with intense passionate embrace. All those emotions that you buried with busy-ness now find themselves naked in the laziness that comes in the arms of your lover. Your heart is no longer numb, it wants to explode.

You confuse your excitement with the negative feelings you had in the absence. It feels like panic, so you seek to suppress it. But your heart won’t let you, so you stutter over your thoughts and words and apologize profusely over the smallest of disagreements.

Absence doesn’t create fondness. There isn’t really a fondness growing at all when she is away. Instead, there is a ton of awkwardness rising up and waiting for the return. And oh so much passion.

I don’t want her around more when she is gone. I just want her to stay more when she is here. Honestly, I would rather she never leave. Especially it it’s only to build up some sort of elusive heart fondness.

Because that doesn’t actually happen anyway.

All You Need is Love

“Love…is a many splendored thing.

Love… Lifts us up where we belong.

All you need is love…”

While Moulin Rouge might have been more of a lust story than a love story it at least gave us some memorable medleys about love (and was a darn good movie).

What is love? (Baby don’t hurt me)… Love, biblically is: patient, kind, not arrogant or boastful, selfless, forgiving, truthful, strong, trusting, hopeful, enduring, and everlasting… All the things that we as sinners seem to have such a hard time being.

Why is marriage so difficult? Because we aren’t loving. As soon as we lose our patience, or distrust our spouse, or hold onto a grudge about something s/he did, we are no longer loving. As soon as we decide we would rather selfishly sit on the couch then get in the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, garage, home office, or nursery and lend a hand we are no longer a loving spouse.

Why is parenting such a hardship? Because it is hard to be patient with three year old tantrums or a nine year old’s backtalk. It is hard to be kind when you have been working your fingers to the bone and your six year old demands some attention. It’s very tough as a finite creature to give endless amounts of discipline and instruction to little people.

Love is tough, it does not come naturally to most of us. Movies make it seem so easy. All you have to do is kiss and say some sweet nothings and your life will blossom with joy. Not so with reality.

In reality love is holding your pregnant wife’s hair while she loses her breakfast for the third time that day (for the record my gag reflex was too much. My wife was gracious enough to let me out of this halfway through her second pregnancy). Love is sitting down and helping your nine year old figure out her feelings or giving your six year old a much needed piggy back ride. Love is making your spouse lunch every day. Love is getting up and going to work every day (or staying at home to take care of things there) so your spouse can live out their gifts and talents (at home or in a workplace).

Love is ugly sometimes. It forces us to confront our own narcissism. It makes us crush ourselves so others may rise to greatness. Love frequently leaves us feeling spent and used. There is not always an immediate or even short term return on our investments.

But in the end (the love you take is equal to the love you make), love is worth every struggle and hardship. Every pain will be counted and rewarded.

God rewards our good deeds, and those done in love all the more.

Adventures in Fathering

Four out of five, because it’s impossible to get them all together…

When you take over as a full time parent, people always seem to have expectations for your success or failure. Dads are particularly singled out with these expectations, but not in the way one might think. From what I have experienced, the male of the species is expected to do a lot less.

I get compliments all the time about my kids. I suppose I could just chalk it up to how good they really are, and beautiful, and smart. But most of the compliments seem to be aimed at me. But I am only half of the reason they are how they are, if that. Would people compliment my wife like that? Would they compliment her if she had to wrestle all five of them through a church service? They tell me I’m doing so well bringing them week after week, would they do the same to her?

The double standard seems to assume men aren’t as capable of parenting as women. Fathers are inept creatures, barely able to juggle one child, let alone five.

Frankly the assertion makes me laugh. Yeah, my kids are a handful. They are constantly moving, vibrating really, and sometimes they make noise at inopportune times. They treat me like a jungle gym. They stand firm in “no” and make me drag them by the leg into certain places. But it isn’t hard. It’s exhausting sometimes to be sure, but not “hard”.

I love them. I love the challenges they bring. I love watching them make connections and grow and learn. I love that they force me to be strong and active. I love that they ask complex questions and make me think. If I was not actively involved in their lives I dare say I would atrophy.

I pity the men out there who don’t have kids, or at least act like they don’t. I pity the men who don’t know their kids well enough to know what discipline works for what kid (hint: they are individuals, every one is different). I pity the men who never engage with their kids, physically or mentally, for they will grow olds quickly without the exercise.

Most of all I feel a bit grumpy towards the men who fit the stereotype of inept and aloof. They are the reason for so many misplaced compliments towards men like me. They are the reason I will get five compliments to every one my wife gets. They are the reason my kids never get told how awesome they are, everyone is too busy being surprised by me.

Next time you see a lone father (or mother) with well behaved (mostly) kids, compliment all of them.

They’ll appreciate it.