Friday, March 29, 2013

Ten years ago, I had a big vision for our Ten Year anniversary. It was going to be a great party on a Gatsbyan scale. Everyone was going to be invited, everyone who was at the wedding, and then anyone who had come into our circle of friends over the past ten years. You know who you are.

If you were at the wedding, you know how it was. The fun , the beauty, the good nature, and then the Nature itself. We dragged everyone out into the forest, a few hundred miles from home. Many of them complained all the way there, but to this day won't stop talking about how great it all was. We were so proud.

So I had envisioned all these good folks, friends and family, younglings and their like, all of us out on the old, turn-of-the-century coconut plantation where Mrs. Ditchman and I had honeymooned, on the leeward side of the island of Kauai. The old grove of coconut palms still stands, and nestled among them the most charming little set of tin-roof cottages, with their hardwood floors and covered porches. The subway-tiled bathrooms had very large steel showerheads, I recall. Plumeria trees glow in the yards, and mowed grass runs between every cottage. Torches light the paths at night, back to the plantation manor, where the main building houses the local brewery, and old, local Hawaiian men come down out of the hills and bring their steel guitars, to jam at twilight. I remember the guidebook advising that if you needed a place to sit for a month and write a novel, this was it. And I remember that every cottage had a metal placard that read the name of the worker family that lived there, back in the day. Ours read: DITCHMAN - NO. 64. And we were so charmed by the farm, that I've been jealous of those old Ditchmans ever since, and, upon returning to the Mainland, stole their good name and tried to do them right.

I pictured my big family out there, each in their own cottage, and we would all own the place, like a Disneyland Grad Night. And though I knew no one else would commit to showing up, I figured we could con a few friends into being there, and then on a set of warm, spring, Hawaiian nights, we would bump into each other on the lanai, sip a beer and watch the sunset, while the cousins played in the hammocks, out on the grass.

There might even be a renewing of vows, or at least a grand luau. And around a big table we  would enjoy a fresh local poke, and would take turns toasting one another, laughing, and enjoying life. We might view an old film of the original ceremony from 2003, and a show a few slides of all of us looking so good, in those mismatched tuxedos. And I might sneak off, and quietly present a new set of wedding bands for my bride and I, since we had gone so cheap ten years previous, when we had nothing.

We had nothing! All the money was borrowed and blown on the party, and whatever else we had I'd spent on the plane tickets and plantation cottage for the honeymoon. I remember going through the wedding gifts (the envelopes, mostly) the night after we married, before we left on the plane, looking for cash and checks -we needed it to survive two weeks in Hawaii! I took whatever money I found and deposited it in the bank, and we lived on simple groceries and cheap wine at the coconut plantation. And it was perfect.

So it's been ten years, and the dream of returning to DITCHMAN - No. 64 was not to be. And though we live like kings in the suburbs, and are proud of the good life we've worked so hard and built, us modern Ditchmans cannot return to the plantation just yet. Life is so different than I pictured it, ten years ago. 

This is not a criticism. Actually, I think it's better than I pictured it. Our home is great, our children are beautiful, and the cats are amusingly deranged. I take pride in the accomplishment when I mow the lawn. Our little business supports us, hard as it tries. But friends are different, and people are gone. Several of the couples at our wedding our now divorced, and yet some of those guests are now married. Others have moved away and across the continental divide. And still others are dead and gone, sadly. (At least 5 people who had attended our wedding have now passed on.) I look at pictures of our wedding from ten years ago, and I can hardly recognize myself. And where did all those people go? But, today, life is still beautiful. It's as if the wine glass of that perfect cabernet was emptied, and then quickly refilled with a perfect pinot. The senses are shocked, and yet immediately satiated. And you don't know what hit you.

So we've been busy. Treading water, staying afloat. Working. Raising the family. Keeping house. And when the Ten Year Anniversary rolled around, we had to make time to celebrate it. So us two Ditchmans dropped the kids off at the neighbors and drove away for the afternoon.

We went out to our local wine country. It's no Napa, but it'll do. Some dry, semi-Tuscan vineyards on a warm Friday afternoon, and no kids. Just the two of us. We dropped by a little winery we kinda like. Picked up a few bottles for later, and then a fresh bottle of chilled peach pinot Bellini, whatever that was. We borrowed a few glasses and wandered over to the garden. Sat down at an old wood table, had a few sandwiches, and talked.

We talked! For over an hour. Who was this beautiful woman I was so enjoying, and where had she been? And, how lucky was I to have married her! I'm gonna take a picture! And what's that non-sound, pining from every corner of the Cosmos? Oh, it's the sound of our kids not anywhere around to bug us! It's us, and just us. And let's have a little more wine, while we're at it. And, hello! how are you, dear stranger? Today's our tenth anniversary, don't you know? We got a babysitter somewhere! 

I am still in love with her. More so today, even though I always heard that from people on their anniversaries and never believed it. And we hit life so hard and so fast ten years ago that we've never really stopped to take a breath -which is one of our secrets. We are both ever-looking forward to the day when everyone will leave us alone so we can just enjoy each other.

So that was our anniversary. It was nice. I looked up the "Traditional 10th Wedding Anniversary" gift on the webtubes and threw up in my mouth a little when I saw that it was "aluminum". So I didn't get her anything, as we've both had enough of the old atomic element #13. The other "suggested" 10th anniversary gift (Modern) is "diamonds", so that may be right out as well, though I have some ideas.

But, I don't know. We didn't do gifts. We didn't feel they were necessary. I was just glad to be with her, and have her to myself for a while. Maybe The Ditchmans will return to the plantation for their 20th. If you're reading this, you're invited. Mark your calendar: Spring Break in Kauai -March 29th, 2023. If it's half as fun as getting there, it'll be worth it.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Saw my brother-in-law the other day. "How are you?" he asked. And I just said that I was "good" but then added that I had taken some time off for Spring Break, and was trying to get a few things done around the house, but my answer was haltered, stuck in the springy head-collar of life, and I couldn't seem to finish the sentence, and just ended up staring at him. My brother-in-law performs excellent eye-contact in every conversation, and I was thrown off by it, like I always am with everyone with good eye contact.

"Frustrated," he said. And yes that was the word. Hadn't even occurred to me. I was frustrated. And I immediately felt relieved, however slight, just at the mere realization. Frustrated! Thank you! It was the perfect word. It's exactly what I was feeling. And I couldn't even come up with the word.

Mrs. Ditchman was on an appointment the other day and had told me how she had shared a few friendly words with the customer. Seems they both had three children, roughly the same age. One of them was in the room, the older one, I presume, and the customer leaned in, lowered her voice, and said, "Doesn't the third one just drive you over the edge?"

And for a minute you don't feel so alone in the world. This Third One, who is, in most ways, the easiest  one to love (since you know better, now, after the other two) and who DRIVES YOU OVER THE EDGE. This niggling Other, in this family with more small members than you have hands, he wanders up to your tipping point and gives it a thoughtless shove. And then you tip.

So whatever I was going to get done last week, didn't get done. And whatever was started was left unfinished. And perhaps that's my problem. Started too many things, again, when I should be starting so fewer, especially after I started this family. I should know better. I should be humbled. I am, after all, a Third Child myself. I am my own tipping point.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

She turned 7! Three years past the Age of Awareness and... what can I say? She’s a gem. I look at her and I see my late mother. Mrs. Ditchman wonders where the girl even came from, in that she yet thrives with a dearth of Kanowitz traits, but she is mine, gap-toothed, sensitive grin and all, and none can argue. She’s not the girl I would’ve predicted -the shy, curly-haired, bookish type I imagined when she emerged from the womb, but she is something else. And wonderfully so.

Only God knows what our children are destined to become, formed without our conscious input from the stuff of stars, but I try to relax in it all, and enjoy the show. (Though that is mostly impossible.) It’s a sport, it is, watching these kids grow and then calling out the traits: she’s got your sister’s hair or stubborn like you and she needs her space, like me. And you discuss and debate these things after bedtime, like diehard ball fans debating a questionable call, not because you’re angry about it, but because you’re passionate about the game.

She’s 7! AND NOW I AM GOING TO SAY THE INEVITABLE: They grow so fast! Where does the time go?

Einstein would know, with whom she shares a birthday. (The Little Ditchman also shares a birthday with Eugene Cernan, the Last Man on the Moon. I tried to explain this to her, but she couldn’t quite understand why he was the last one. I can’t quite understand it either, and so we reached an impasse, and went back to Einstein.) And Einstein would probably say that the time goes to the same place it always does, slickly into a wormhole the size of a gnat’s hangnail. But like Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, we change what we observe, and you never pay more attention to life’s passing than when you have children, and watching the time move by makes it fly all the faster. And so be it. Heaven help those who wish time a quicker clip, and God bless those who request the opposite. It’s a gift. It’s all, every day, Christmas morning.

Last Sunday she got a trip to the American Girl store, which, if you are not familiar with it, you should just shut up and thank your lucky stars and save that hard-earned cash for something reasonable. So when the day finally rolled around we had a simple family dinner with cake, and I made dumb dad jokes all the way to bedtime about how I couldn’t remember how old she was. She loved it. Every bit of it. And she thinks I am the funniest guy in the universe, which is fine with me, and all any dad needs to live on and work another day at some job that he swears is taking years off his own life. 

I don’t stop to think about her wretched, awkward, emotional and dramatic teenage years to come, or even consider the unthinkable possibilities of all our so often ill-fated, limitless existence. I just love her, now and forever, and pray I can do my duty and take care of her until I have to let the little butterfly go. And to love her mom in the best way possible, in a way that will teach my little girl to accept nothing less, down the road.

(Far, down the road!)


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

I had a dream last night.

I went into a bank, where my friend, Jim, was the teller. I was broke, so I wanted to cash in a jar of change I'd been saving up. He took it and put it into machine that counted it up to $10.05. He told me the amount, and then told me that the charge for the service was $30.00, and so now I had $19.95 due. I was confused and upset, so he said he'd waive the rest of the fee, since I was a friend.

And then I woke up. And I know exactly what the dream means. But I won't go into it.

I've got a handle on my dreams. I used to write them down in a journal fairly regularly, and it works swell. If you're consistent about it, and you grab the pencil and start writing the moment you wake, within a couple months you will start retaining them pretty easily. I'm a little rusty now, since I haven't kept the Dream Journal in years, but I take my dream life kinda seriously, so they stick in my head two or three times a week.

Dreams are good things. (I know people who think to the contrary.) It's the brain's way of sorting out the day, sorting out your life. It's why you need to sleep. All day long you are a sponge for information and experience, and at night the brain does a sort of disk defragmentation, and puts it all in a filing system that is specific only to you. This is why babies and adolescents need more sleep -their growing brains and bodies need to PROCESS. And, if you're a wise old man, worriedly watching the world decline, you're gonna need another nap, too.

What fascinates me is how the mind likes to translate your daily dilemmas, your ongoing stresses, your fears and dramas. It uses the language of Metaphor. In an ever-flowing juxtaposition of seemingly disparate images and visual similes, the mind does a figurative ballet to the Music of the Spheres. I'm not particularly Jungian, so I'm only a half-believer in the major Archetypes, but I do definitely believe there are symbols in our dreams. It's just that the symbols are particular to the dreamer. All those "dream dictionaries" are mostly astrological bunk.

(I took a lot of Lit classes in college. And Philosophy. And Neuroscience. Once. So please forgive me.)

It's easy for me to interpret my dreams, now, as a result. I don't believe in prophetic dreams, any more than one can predict behavior with a given set of characteristics and circumstances. And I don't believe dreams really solve anything, though I can attest to a good night of sleep contributing to some odd professional solutions. And then there is the rare, every-so-often, story idea, which I would use only for its bizarre details. But I do believe that our dreams can give us an insight into our character, and help us prioritize our daily challenges.

Metaphors are important. Figurative language dates back to the dawn of man, as does dream interpretation. And everyone dreams: kings and paupers, salesmen and ale smiths. The Pope has strange dreams, from time to time. So does the President. So do you. Ignoring your dream life, I believe, is a form of denial. And kind of sad, actually. Because if you toss a crazy dream aside, you are dismissing the one perspective on your life that knows at least as much, or more, about you, than you.

Dreams are who you are, when you're too tired to be you.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

I did not see the comet.

But it wasn't for a lack of trying: up on the roof, at twilight, 20 minutes after sundown, spying through my binoculars 10 degrees up from the horizon, just above the very slim crescent moon. And... nothing. I was really looking forward to it, too.

Comet PANSTARRS was discovered a few years back, having been blasted out of the Oort cloud a few million years ago heading straight for earth, where it would pass our mostly harmless planet on my birthday, March 5th, and then round the sun on March 10th, which happens to be my dad's birthday. I took it as a personal blessing of the heavens, though it could just as well be a portent of the end times -as if the pope's resignation or Obama's sequester weren't portentous enough.

I did see Comet Hyakutake in 1996, standing on the shoulder of old Route 395 in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night, somewhere between Bishop and Lone Pine. We stopped to pee on a tumbleweed, my writerly friends and I on the way to Mark's parents' Mammoth condo, where we would collectively write a screenplay entitled Goodbye World, which was about... well, you can guess. But we looked up and there it was amidst all the starry heavens, a fuzzy little dot and tail, and I found it utterly enchanting.

Anyway, I missed Panstarrs, my birthday comet. I guess I still have a chance later this week, but tonight was supposed to be the most luminous of viewing nights, and a marine layer has rolled in over the past few evenings, sending up a twilight haze that really depresses my new hobby of astronomical photography (as if I needed another hobby.) I was on a roll, too. I tagged, with my trusty Nikon DSLR, The Super Moon, the Annular Eclipse, and the Transit of Venus (with sunspots!) over the last 365. Wanted to add a comet in there. I had a great shot in mind, too, of the comet hovering above that crescent moon rising over the Oceanside pier at twilight, but with the marine haze, and then the unexpected "+3.5 brightness slowdown event" (whatever that is)... aww, hell. I'll just have to wait for Comet Lemmon in May. Or Comet Encke in October. Or Comet Ison in November -which some say may be so bright it will be visible in the blue daytime sky. We'll see.

So it's the Year of the Comets! Which is cool, if it weren't so darned portentous. Might want to spend the night in a metal shed, if it worries you. But it could be worse. We could be mars.


Monday, March 11, 2013

I had a bad dream.

I was in my house, alone, one morning, and there was a knock on the door. When I opened it, I saw my wife standing there. She smiled and said, "I'm pregnant."

Which was when I awoke with a gasp, and found myself, thankfully, in bed, in the dark, with my Mrs. Ditchman fast asleep next to me.

It was one of those SO REAL dreams, the kind where you are thanking God for the ability to wake up, (an ability which fails me all day long) and it was the kind of dream where you know exactly the meaning of it, some time later, on reflection, up the ladder, at work.

DULY NOTE: We are not having another baby, not even considering it, and all necessary precautions have been taken to assure your inquisitive mind. (We might have had a fourth, though, had we achieved financial independence five years ago, when I was ten years younger.) No. We're done. And the meaning of the dream is this:

The house I am in is not my house, it's my place. It's everything I wanted to make of myself by my forties. It's my hopes, my tendered dreams, my honed skills, and the arrival of me at my long expected Achievements. It's me. This is why the house is empty. Then, the unexpected visitor. And she is everything else; the other side of my life, the house-transformer, the maker of the home, the home that would eclipse my smaller childhood dreams, in her perfect shadow. And then the startling news that breaks my sleep. A shock to the system. Our family. The hard part. The part that invades my place, eclipsing everything.

I've been struggling to do my creative stuff lately, and I've been feeling guilty for it, and the big reason I can't get anything done is the family, and the work, and how I've sacrificed all those passions to earn a living. And sometimes I sacrifice the family to write a little ditty, or plant a little flower. Passion. Duty. It's a the crux of mid-life. You must choose. And choosing half of each, leaves you half empty in both.

I had chosen the former for ten years, out of college, and so I know exactly where it would take me -rubbing pennies together to sit in a coffee shop. So choosing to do my duty for the next ten, though it was a fearsome leap, wasn't an impossible sacrifice for me. I had a good woman there, making it worth it. And all the other unexpected joys... It was a good call.

But I am pretty tired now, sunburnt and sore, and looking for inspiration, which only ever meets me halfway. And I am just hoping that the wisdom of my age will find me some nexus of well-intended energies, where I couldn't ten years ago, or ever before.

Serena, who is a good deal smarter than me, (and much more fortunate) asks me every time I'm typing at the computer, "When are you going to finish your book?" and I never have the heart to say when you leave the room, or, when all the patio covers have been built, or, after I get some rest when I can think clearly and my hands don't hurt. I remember explaining it to her some time back, when she was in kindergarten: "You know how you like to write down words? And you ask me for the spellings, so you can make your stories?" She nodded. "Well, this is how I write down my stories. It's faster. Instead of writing it out, I hit these buttons. See? All the letters are there." And now, whenever she sees me typing, "When are you gonna be done writing your book?" And sometimes she asks what it's about. Or how many words are in it. Or can I put her socks on for her. Or will I take her to school today. Or pick her up. Or will I give her a bath. Read a story. Talk. Play. Move. Teach. Go.

And I always stop and Do, and I just never want to resent it. And here's to hoping that if I ever get to read her books, I never will.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sunny, today. Birds outside the window here, chirping. I noticed the birds not chirping the past few months. Glad they're back. Looks like the ground is warming. Plants should be popping up soon.

The birds chirping. I try to keep that peaceful sound turned on, to keep me calm, to ward off any sudden FREAKOUT, which I am prone to, or think I am. It's impossible to write here, nowadays. The kids see me sitting at my desk and it is an invitation to them to come tug on me, ask me useless questions, or invite me to accomplish certain tasks. ("Daddy, will you put the shoes on my Caroline doll?") Lincoln, who is all of one years old, sidles up and wipes his nose on my leg, which is precisely why I didn't change out of my pajama bottoms, earlier. Then he reaches up and grabs the corner of the keyboard323323333l33k223233/3//3/3/3////////////////333. Then he moves around and empties everything off the shelf near my foot. (I have long since removed everything important from the shelf, and piled on it old scratched CDs and empty DVD cases.) And then another kid comes in and pushes my chair, which spins and is on wheels. (It was, at one time, a fine feature, but it is now the source of a niggling stress, and I could really use a cold hard, heavy dark mahogany chair, nailed to the floor.) And then the little guy wanders down the hall and into the other room, and I have to keep one ear open for the discordant sounds of mischief making, or even a dreaded prolonged SILENCE, which always works to get me up out of the chair and investigate. And so I can't concentrate, as I wait for the *kerplop* of something going into the toilet, or the rustle of kitty litter, (not from the cats) or the unrolling of an entire bat of toilet tissue. Objects randomly tossed over the gate and down the stairs just to watch them fall, I can handle. But it's the crying -THE CRYING- that stops everything, elevates my blood pressure, and just plain gets in the way of everything else I was pretending was important.

And it drowns out the birds chirping.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

So we’re playing with LEGOs. Star Wars LEGOs, in case there was any question. When asked about the mess, Serena claimed they were doing “freehand” LEGOs (or, as she described it, "without following directions") which, though it was an impressive description, amounted to a large, choke-able mess. And seeing all those little pieces in disarray reminded me to go and google “infant Heimlich” the next time I’m in front of the Big Book of Everything. 

I had these LEGOs all organized, once, in separate, pre-assigned Ziploc baggies, so that the various speeders and starships and whatnot could be re-made without having to pick through the plastic soup. (Seriously. They should market a “Death Star Trash Compactor” and just sell a six pound box of random pieces.) The kids were making a mess just trying to pluck out the little characters to add to their “freehand” battle structures, and I pulled out all the droids and quoted aloud, as every Dad does, “These are not the droids you’re looking for.” To which Keaton responded, “Ben said a lie.”

So it’s clear he’s been thinking about it.

I could hardly believe my ears when he said it. So I asked him why he thought Obi-Wan lied, and he said, “You mean, Ben?” (In Keaton’s Star Wars, these things are different somehow.) 

“Yeah, Ben. Why do you think Ben lied?” and the kid just shrugged. I pressed him on it, but he wouldn’t give me an answer. I wanted to talk about it, but I didn’t know how to broach the subject that sometimes you have to lie; like when you’re hiding Jews in the basement and the Nazis are banging on your door, or when your wife asks if the pants make her butt look big, or anything about Santa Claus, or if you’re smuggling robots with the enemy’s secret plans to the ultimate battle station in the universe, or whatever. Anyway, telling a 4 year old that sometimes you just have to lie struck me as, well, unwise. So I just let it go. For now.

And it had never occurred to me that Obi-wan -er, Ben, actually lied, there. The old Jedi was just doing what he had to do, which was The Right Thing. But to a kid, it was very clear on the face of it: it was a lie. And I thought that this was all good. And God bless Star Wars, because there are a lot worse circumstances that one could get stuck in to have to learn that lesson. And again, later that night, at bedtime, another probing question about the mysterious death of Dads.

“Do Dads go to heaven when they get old?”

And I just said, “Yes.” And then added, too tired for anything else, “Let’s all plan on meeting up, there. Sound good?” And I kissed him goodnight, and went out. Not really ever wanting to die, at least while he was around, because I wasn't sure either of us could handle it.

Tomorrow is my Dad’s birthday. He would have been 74, and he’s been gone 9 years now, and not a day has passed since that I haven't thought about him. I’m sure my boy knows this, from the photo on the kitchen calendar, and he most likely is perplexed by why I've been stringing him along, not coming flat out and saying that, yes, we’re all food for worms, boy. But I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit.

My Dad’s dad died when my Dad was just 12, and he never talked about it. Though I’m sure, of course, that our relationship suffered that loss as long as we both lived together. I know nothing about that grandfather, except that he and my Dad shared a middle name. And when I was going through my parents’ stuff, after they were both gone, I found this photo:

And there is no note, no inscription. But I am going to hang it alongside the photos of all the other deceased relatives. And I’m just going to lie to everyone and claim that that guy, that smiling guy in the suit looking off to the horizon behind the cameraman who couldn't keep the lens in focus -that’s him. That’s the grandfather I never met, and he was a helluva guy. Because there is no one alive in this world to tell me that it’s not, or that he wasn’t.


Friday, March 8, 2013

I’m at a brewery. Okay, “tasting room”. With a laptop. And a beer (of course.) 

This was a Friday that fell apart. It happens, sometimes. I had so many other things planned, with the rain coming, but the smallish child (Lincoln) fell apart early on, crying and draining fluids from his face (this is my third shirt.) And when he finally gave up on the morning and opted for a nap, the rain had stopped and it looked like I could drop everything and go to work. But I didn’t. And then I broke my mouse, and after that, I just gave up on everything.

I caught Keaton in a lie. He broke the the wing off a little fairy garden statuary, claiming it had fallen from the play structure. He was sure I could fix it with some super glue, and at that moment the guilt was clear on his face. I pressed him on it, “How did it fall?” and he restated the lie, “It fell.” Adding, “It’s the truth.” Which was when I started to burn inside.

So I asked again, and he gave a slightly more elaborate description of how high it was when it fell. I knelt down to his level, and made him look me in the eye, which made him distinctly uncomfortable. I asked him again: “I want you to tell me exactly what happened.” He hemmed and hawed, and eventually came out with a story of the fairy going down the slide, with a bit of assistance on his part. 

What’s a dad to do? I can say I felt an honest disappointment, even though he is only four, but it is nonetheless an awful feeling, accompanied by the thought of him lying in the future, into his adolescence, into his adulthood -and it honestly scared the bejeezus out of me. I had a fleeting sense of how the morning had fallen apart, and how nothing significant had been accomplished. How I’d been spinning my wheels since getup, and then here, unexpectedly, something terribly important was happening. A preschooler’s playground sideshow, a conflagration of superficial events, and then it all mounting unto a moral quandary. And here I was now, on my knees on the kitchen floor, guiding the future of my 4 year old.

“I am mad at you,” I said.

He knew it. He saw it coming. It’s why he lied, after all. And he shifted on  his feet and looked this way and that, for a way out. Even tried to change the subject, as he reminded me that just a little super glue, yeah, and we could all be on our happy little freewheeling way.

But I went for his eyes. “Look at me.” And he did, reluctantly. “I’m not mad at you for breaking the statue. I am mad at you for not telling the truth.” And I was suddenly buoyed by the look on his face, the look that said that he knew this. But that he couldn’t help himself.

I told him, “I can fix it. No problem. You shouldn’t have thrown it down the slide, but what bothers me, what really makes me mad, is that you didn’t tell the truth. It hurts. And it makes me mad, and it makes Mommy mad.” And I stopped for a second, removed all personal doubts and reasserted my religious faith, and added, “And it makes God mad.”

Which I do believe it does, one way or another. Surely God, Himself, has more important things on his mind than the deceptive breakage of a plasticine garden fairy in the Oceanside suburbs. But I think God is bigger than all that, that He can have it both ways. All ways. That here I have a little boy, caught in a lie, and God is handling daily Chinese human rights abuses on one hand, and the corruption of world leaders on the other, and yet He is looking me in the eye and telling me, “DEAL WITH THIS KID.” Because if I don’t, who will? And then what will becometh of the world at large?

So I’m on it, reluctantly. Though, I don’t have time for this! But rain had fallen, and droplets of water hung from the budding jasmine vine just outside the window, and it was very clearly the eyes of God Himself, and Him kneeling down on my kitchen floor, getting down to my level, saying, "Don’t worry about all that other stuff. I can fix that. This is what matters.”

So I told Keaton again. “You have to tell the truth. Always tell the truth. It is very, very, important.” And then I added my own little lie -perhaps because I feared I wasn’t a good enough example, otherwise- but I added, “I know when you’re not telling the truth.”

And the kid nodded, and went about his way.

At work last week I got a text from Mrs. Ditchman, out of the blue. I was up the ladder and heard the bleep, and climbed down and found the phone. It read simply and succinctly, “KEATON WANTS TO KNOW WHY GOD IS INVISIBLE.” It didn’t take me too long to come up with a proper, satisfying (for me) answer. 

“He’s not,” I wrote.

And Marci wrote back, “Yes, of course he’s not.” Which relieved me, a bit. It’s a good question. It’s a great question, really. After all, what philosopher has not asked it? And here it was from a 4 year old. The simplest questions are the most profound.

And yet, the simplest questions often have the simplest answers. God is not invisible. We humans see what we want to see. If you want to see God, there He is. And when we are caught in a lie, we always, always, look away.

Keaton asked another profound question recently (he is prone to it, I guess.) We were on the couch, nearing bedtime. All the family was there, and the idea of death came up, as it has in the past. Great.

“Do all dads die?” he asked. Do all dads die. I don’t need this right now. I’ve had a long day. I still haven’t gotten a shower, and it’s taking every last bit of energy in my being to just hang with you right now and now your big sister and your mom are eyeing me for some right answer to the question of the ages?

And the first thing that came to my head was YES, they all die. And I knew that that would ruin him. I immediately conceived of his entire life becoming selfish and miserable, if he had accepted that simple fact, that one day, the one man in the world whom he most cared about and relied upon, would be gone forever, and so, inevitably, what was the point of anything? What was the point, even, of Truth itself? And I was not going to say, “Yes, all Dads die.” So I said, “No.”

And then I added, “They live in your heart forever.”

And he accepted it. But I suspect it was a slightly disappointing answer. For all of us. And I felt God nudging me with his elbow, but I wanted to look back and say “what?” and that I could use a little bit more inspiration. But there was silence.

Why is God invisible? I thought. He’s not. I’ll still stand on that.

But why is He so quiet?


Thursday, March 7, 2013

The run did not help.

But I'm here, anyway. My head is full, which deludes me into thinking I am BUSY, but it's not true. I know this because I found ten minutes this morning where I could change my desktop picture. And then I found another ten minutes where I could change my Facebook wall cover photo. I'm not kidding, here. That's twenty minutes!  So I went for a run, which took 25 minutes. You tell me which twenty was more productive.

We kid ourselves that we can't find time. I never believe anyone when they tell me they're "too busy", because I've got three kids, ten hobbies, and a business to run, and I still find time to mow the lawn, exercise, take out the garbage, read Instapundit, watch The Bachelor, and manage my Facebook profile.

I don't post much on Facebook anymore, but I know people who do. A lot. These are the same people claiming they're too busy to work out, finish that novel, whatever. It's amazing how we kid ourselves.

But at least I got a run in. What entered my head this time? Dead Fascist Tuesday. That was my birthday. Hugo Chavez died, and it was also the anniversary of Stalin's death, so now I'll never forget it. Dead Fascist Tuesday would be a good title. For something.

Also thought about turning 43, which seemed oddly meaningless. Not like "42" which has all the weight of The Meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything behind it. No, just 43. Which may turn out to be a nothing age. Like 38. I don't even remember 38! Years from now I'll look back on 43 and think, "wha'happin?" and then be interrupted by, "Ow, my back hurts... Where are my pills? Who drank all the coffee?"

But... 43. Lincoln walks today. We established this morning that he has completely abandoned one mode of transport for another. He stands. He walks. I can set him down on his feet, and it is an amazing thing. It reminded me to live longer. Hold out for the grandchildren. That's the goal: meet the grandkids. So I went out on that run.

43 seems old to have a 1-year-old. Older than my parents were, after their sixth. So I am going to have to live longer than they did. Not sure I can. I can only do so much.

Hugo Chavez' last words have been revealed. The fascist whispered it to one of his generals, after he suffered a massive heart attack. He said, "I don't want to die... Please don't let me die..." So, yes, we can infer that there was nothing special about him after all. An ordinary mortal, afraid of death. How utterly profound.

If there is a way to avoid that oft-repeated sentiment on your deathbed, well, God has a say in it, I reckon. And if you believe that, then what is there to be afraid of?

My current Facebook wall cover photo:

A near-complete, meaningless and irreverant, collection of old children's toys. On display. Funny thing to busy myself with, at 43. But I'd like to give it to my grandchildren. Personally.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

It was a fine birthday. No, truly fine. Best birthday in years, actually. Kids made me poster-sized cards. We celebrated the "Fifth Day of Wine", culminating in the best bottle yet (though not yet drunk.) I went on a run, and then got ready for work. Keaton cried out, "-but if you go to work, you'll miss your birthday!" Which is exactly what I was thinking, and then I realized I was still a child. So then I wrote some, and then I went to work, though only half-ly.

I did what I could. I didn't have a choice. I've actually been working on something that has been a satisfying challenge, and that small fact can resolve some pain. It looks like this:

And if it does not impress, I am not offended. But it is something. What did you build today?

On the way home I stopped at Best Buy and got a new gadget. Nothing fancy, but a little something that made me happy. Was greeted at the door by my mother-in-law, who gave me some money for beer. Imagine that! And then I put on some new pants, some new shoes, and went downtown for a swanky dinner with my best friend.

That would be my wife, who has it in her heart to make me happy, which must be the hardest job in the world sometimes. And yet only she can pull it off so consistently.

The restaurant was called the "Flying Pig", and was on a side street on downtown Oceanside. Art on the walls, menus made from old vinyl LPs, a fine selection of microbrews, and a clientele that felt they were the hippest in North County, how could I not feel the same? In any case, the food was great.

So I am 43. Doesn't feel particularly old, though my back's been sore of late. I honestly don't feel a year older, any more than I feel a day older. But one thing remains: I've still got living to do.

Lincoln was born. So there goes another year away from writing anything down. If someone had honestly explained to me how hard it would be to have three kids over two, I would have demurred at the challenge. I had no idea. It happens in life: You make a decision. You think you're awesome. You have no idea.

And you own it.

Which is utterly fine with me, because I wouldn't trade him for anything in the world.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

I thought I’d take a half hour and put a few words down, since it’s my birthday, and all that jazz. At 43 I’m feeling that long dad-spiral into birthday irrelevance. Do I feel a year older? Nay, I feel a day older. I’m late for work. And behind schedule. Rain, maybe, this week. No one will ever see this.

I was thinking about writing more. MORE! And I was thinking about the old bad and ugly failed blogs of years past. Maybe I’ll start another. Do I need to do this? Do I need an audience? Do I need anything?

On the run, words come at me and I almost always forget them all, as I pull up to the house. Word play. But today I remembered: “dad-spiral” and the idea of birthdays becoming irrelevant. And that’s what it feels like: a dad-spiral. Coffee and the news in the morning. A quick workout, every few days. The Job, day-in, day-out. Then home, shower, dinner, and then... too damn tired to do anything. Repeat, the following day.

When things go full rote at work, my mind wanders to all the stuff I’ve been wanting to do, all the obligations I never met, all those people I need to call, and how, when I get home, how I’ll tackle it all with unrelenting fervor and zeal. But when I get home, I can’t. Can’t. Too tired.

Spring is coming, and I turn to the garden. My garden, which is ever a failure. All that labor, and a 20 percent success rate. I just turn the soil, water and weed, fertilize and plant, and then abandon the weekend to the ages. Weeks later, when I get some time, I go out back and do the same thing. But sooner or later it happens: something bursts colorfully out of the ground for a few days, and if I’m lucky, I notice it. It doesn’t seem worth it.

But, as a meditation, it is. Years ago I had a friend who had a bowl of rocks on his dining room table. Smooth stones. Pebbles, really. We asked him about it.

“Every day, after everyone has left the table, I pick up a rock and roll it over in my fingers. I examine every pore and scratch. Every imperfection. I spend a minute on it. And in that minute I give it everything. Every thought goes to the rock. Everything in my head is put aside so I can focus on the rock. I think about nothing else. I sacrifice a whole minute to the rock. Then I put it back, and go about my life.”

And then we mocked him.

But here, years later, I’ve got this big bowl of rocks in my yard and I’m trying to do the same thing. And with the phone ringing and the kids screaming and the worries of the world and all the other labors and their intent demands, I try to focus on those rocks for just a bit. To keep my sanity. 

And I think I’m about halfway there.