“i didn’t say it would be a GOOD story”

Today Nels and I were up at odd hours. He stayed up all night and I awoke after a very brief sleep, at about 5 AM. Our son was thrilled, thrilled to be awake during his father’s getting-ready-for-work routine. The boy talked nonstop, fetched Ralph this or that, took wet towels in from the bathroom, devoured a honeycrisp apple with great delight, stole some noodles Ralph “accidentally” left steaming on the counter. He followed his father through the house, his entire body a spritely comma jumping in well-timed energetics. “Mmm Daddy?” he’d query politely, waiting for Ralph’s attention, then launch into his latest thought/fantasy/dream/suggestion/question. Minecraft beta is new and an update was released today; Nels was looking forward to bug fixes.

I decided I would try to rest instead of getting by on a three-hour sleep schedule, so I declined the fragrant and lovely coffee Ralph made up (which he did just for me since he doesn’t drink the stuff at home in the morning). I was nowhere near sleepy even after he left so I finished a pair of pants for Phoenie (pictures soon) and then cleaned and closed up my sewing room.

The sunlight was streaming through the house, dispelling our darkest-day-in-four-centuries just two days before. It was quite and warm and cozy. I poured myself a large ice-cold glass of water and drew a bath for my son and I.

Nels’ hair is reaching down past his shoulders now. It is one of my small but deeply-experienced pleasures in life, playing with or stroking it or burying my face in it or caring for it as much as he lets me. I don’t know how much longer until he decides he wants it cropped short again. Like mine, his hair tangles up and kitchens in the back; I’ve had to cut knots out of my hair if I leave it up and sleep on it. We could have a total mess of white-person dreds in no time. Nels doesn’t like having his knots brushed through, no matter how careful I am, but I’m guessing he’d like the dreds even less.

In the bath my son’s body is lean and spare and you can see every bone in his little ribcage and his high shoulder blades like butterfly wings. We had our arms around one another in the sunlight and he tangled his toes up in mine and his neck was the Most Delicious Thing. I was reminded of the many baths my babies and I took when they really were babies. There’s almost no other comparable pleasure,  just having that time together, the closeness and the healing and the Love. I’m glad, so glad, to have experienced so many years of these rituals and maybe get a few more.

After bath I helped him brush his teeth and I combed through his hair and clipped his nails and dried him off and set the bathroom to rights. Wandering through the house in a kind of sleep-deprived daze. I was too tired to work (besides a teeny bit of housework after our bath), too desirous of rest to watch a film or read a book that was good, gripping, or adrenaline-inducing. I settled on the Netflix streaming of “The Beast”, an FBI drama starring the late (and much-beloved at Casa del Hogaboom) Patrick Swayze and some douchily-written young feller, obviously the paragon of sexy leading man (to the dudebro producers/directors/writers) because everyone in the show seemed to refer to his good looks about eight times an episode. Yeah, “The Beast” was pretty funny. It was heralded as “DEEP UNDERCOVER” (Big Deal!) which means, OMG the “good guys” are totally these antiheroes and they’re gonna have to go in deep, and like do drugs and slap women around and cut corners and murder deserving perps at their own discretion because it’s just Such! Important! Work! and that’s what it’s like, Man! At one point there are these eighteen layers of deception and drug dealers who are really cops pretending to be bad guys pretending to be cops etc. so essentially you had all these fistfights and gunshots and crack-smoking mindgames and punchouts* with eighteen people in the room and as it finally turns out only one of them ACTUALLY was a Bad Guy (seems a bit inefficient to me). Hm, what’s the word they were going for, that’s right, “Gritty”. Yeah, it was trying to be Gritty. Swayze was fun to watch, as always. His pancreatic cancer (and more likely, the concomitant chemo) had hacked away at his features and prematurely aged him. How well I remember this effect in my own father.

While I watched (with headphones) this watered-down Grand Guignol my son played Minecraft next to me, occasionally placing a hand on my arm so I’d pause the drama and remove the headphones and watch what he had to show me. Soon he was playing YouTube lyric videos and practicing some singing (a few songs I hadn’t heard before, love songs of course). At about 10 AM I sensed his little body, back up against me and slightly curled-up, was inert. I removed the laptop and placed it on the floor, tucked my son in, and a while later settled into my own slumber.

My husband is home for the weekend/holiday, something all four of us have been looking forward to. While Nels and I slept this afternoon, Ralph and Phoenix made a chicken potpie from scratch and did some Christmas shopping and wrapping. It’s almost embarassing how much work Ralph can get done when the two squawkiest-birds in the nest are down for the count. And I know it was nice for the two of them to spend some time together.

A day where I didn’t set foot outside. Rare for me, but they still make me uneasy. I’m hoping for another day of sun so I can get a little tomorrow.

* Yes, if you were reading closely you might think it is odd THIS is the sort of easy stuff I select for “resting”, and and god-bless-me, don’t know why, but No, this sort of show doesn’t generally upset me when it’s caper stuff with beefy hoodlums shooting at one another – it’s the constant rape/kid murder CSI misery-porn I usually have no stomach for.

they’re only little tears, darling, let them spill

When I was about my daughter’s age I remember my father burnt himself rather badly while cooking dinner: a horribly large scalding of hot grease to the belly area. I can’t remember if he was cooking shirtless, but it seems like he was. At any rate he was shirtless and cooking soon afterward, because I remember staring in waist-high trepedation at the telltale ugly red weals on his hard belly, flat and muscled like a pubescent boy. My father was tall and slim and had about eight body hairs on his torso so the whole cooking-thing isn’t as Homer Simpson as maybe some people are picturing. Or I dunno, maybe that’s my deep love of the fellow talking.

I guess I think it’s pretty cool I grew up in a house with a shirtless-dad family cook. Peasants. Proles. I’ll never outgrow my heritage and why should I feel embarrassed anyway? Tonight I’m thinking of my father while I’m standing in the kitchen assembling dinner; the kids tumble about and I’m thinking maybe I’ll live in a rental my whole life, maybe I’ll never travel much, maybe I’ll die in the town I (mostly) grew up in.

I’m my own person. Unlike my parents’ preferences, tonight’s spaghetti is prepared with sauteed meatballs in a wine-butter sauce that simmers half the day. I’m remembering my dad’s spaghetti and sauce because it was the same and it was cooked relatively often and it was so unvarying I thought that just “was” the way Everyone Did It: crumbled junky hamburger sauteed in the cast iron pan, then add one six ounce can of tomato paste, one fourteen ounce can of tomato sauce, and one twenty-eight ounce can of whole tomatoes, some salt – that’s it. My dad only cooked it down about forty five minutes I believe but my memory has it simmering all day, softly popping now and then so the vintage stove would accumulate little battle-scar specks of orangey-red, my dad never cleaned the range but my mom did rigorously, the most delicious smell, the sauce, a simple anticipation, the family sit-down, delicious. Usually one of my parents would over-cook broccoli to a sickly yellow-green and my dad would swipe each wilted floret in a dollup of mayonnaise in his rather finicky left-handed dining style.

I’m having a wonderful holiday season so far full of restorative and generous acts of reflection and gifting (I do love giving more than receiving). But if I’m honest I can say the cold and the wet is fighting me every step of the way. I’ve never had a case of winter small-d-depression so intensely. It’s to the point where Any Little Thing going wrong can knock me off-kilter and I feel the danger of spiraling further into a Darkness. I know more than one reader can relate.

It’s harder for me lately to write about the Bad Times, because since I opened comments whenever-ago it is agonizing to me someone might feel compelled to offer a rescue or to believe I’m crying out for a specific sort of help or need comments to feel validated. I love comments, my incredible readers have talked me down from closing them a handful of times and continue to offer up The Awesome with regularity and a consistency I look forward to. But I’ve always wanted to communicate my thoughts and feelings and experiences precisely and whatever happened next was of less concern because I have a fault, in that the pure pleasure of expression is one addiction I may never get over. If my blog had a Patronus it would probably be Magda from There’s Something About Mary – you know, a bit glamorous, a bit foxy, yes a bit wizened, occasionally showing more of my goodies than I mean to (I know I shouldn’t stretch the metaphor to unintelligible absurdities), but cheerfully-enough, here for the long haul whatever way I’m experienced by observers.

Today I finished up a homesewn gift for my son (wonderfully soft and luxurious and simple and perfect) and contemplated another homemade gift for someone else (who may or may not read here so I cannot say more); I wiped down the kitchen counter and made up Nels’ requested dinner and folded clothes and made the bed and went out with my mother and daughter for coffee. All this is wonderful but it doesn’t quite keep the darkness (literal darkness) from trying to creep into my heart.

Another night, another shut-in against the Monster, another precious gift of my loved ones’ presence, another sleep marking time.

“most grown men will tell you there is no worse pain”, well I’m a Lady & I know birth but I take your point

A trip down memory lane as I find myself in the ER tonight for a kidney stone attack (two today, actually – yikes!). Is there any phraseology I can use to describe the episodes that will make them sound more badass and/or EXTREME!? Anyway, it sure felt like that.

I had kidney stones at the tender age of sixteen in a brief but incredibly unpleasant chapter of my life. The first bout was the most terrifying as the pain was so excrutiating and sudden and I didn’t know what was wrong. I was taking a morning shower to get ready for school and within a few short minutes had staggered out into a towel and began throwing up and shouting for my dad’s help (my mom was off on a work trip). To my total surprise when he saw how much pain I was in he got very upset and ran upstairs to another bathroom to vomit as well (true story, and my dad was stoic as Fuck, so, whatever). Anyway, we got done with our family barf-o-rama and hit the emergency room where the admitting desk lady acted totally put out by my writhing and retching and asked icily who my insurance carrier was (I didn’t know; my father had dropped me off hastily and parked the car).

During tonight’s visit the staff were a lot more compassionate and there were a lot more personnel involved; by the end I’d been talked to and prodded and stuck and vital-sign’d by about six or seven people. Phoenix came with me and was about the most tender and funny and compassionate and wise companion, ever. We heard the sound of a crying infant next door and she said, “It makes my heart happy to hear a baby.” Later, after an RN got my IV started then left Phoenix leaned in towards me and whispered evenly, “He was flirting with you!” (Later she told Ralph her suppositions; he wistfully asked, “Did Mama flirt back?” and Phoenix said No [true]).

But perhaps my favorite moment was when this same RN and a PA spied what she was doing in her sketchbook and stopped their actions to watch her draw. “Is she drawing that freehand?” the RN asked the PA disbelievingly. The two moved closer to my daughter, one of them absentmindedly wrapping up tubing, and flatly asked to see more of the pages she’d been working on (the Gila Monster Dragon and the Mutant Spider were my personal favorites). “I am just really impressed,” the PA said, more than once. It almost got awkward for me because praise makes me a bit uncomfortable. Fortunately, I remembered quickly that their praise had shit-all to do with me, and Phoenix took it with total aplomb (of course). She looked up with her level tiger-eyes and said, “Thank you,” and returned to her work.

During the course of almost three hours I received an IV (ouch!), tons of saline, an anti-inflammatory, Flomax, and (money-shot!) Percocet. It was the Percocet (or something like) I was after; I felt blatant terror at the thought of making it through the weekend on the however many thousands mg acetomenaphin I have at my disposal.

Hopefully with tons of fluids and a heatpad and painkillers for a few days as-needed and these episodes won’t repeat. The pain was horrible enough but the hours of incapacitation were a grim reminder of just how much we often take for granted.

Oh, and I got home and Nels and Ralph were very tender, and the cats didn’t seem to give a shit at all.

the secret ingredient is LURVE

Last night, playing “school” at the kids’ request:

This morning, first thing when Nels woke up. And by the way. You might think this is boring but I am on the EDGE OF MY SEAT for every second of this film.

Now this? This is some trifling shit.
August 15th, 2010

Earlier in the day: chicken soup from leftover roast chicken and garden veggies (I cooked down the breast bones/remainder along with veggie goodness as bone-broth to freeze):

Chicken Soup For My SOUPTAKER

It was my mother’s birthday today: she turned 61. She was so pleased to see we didn’t forget her day and rather came bearing gifts and spaghetti and meatballs and a fancy dessert (trifles are decidedly not fancy but look and taste gorgeous). I had a couple glasses of wine and soon I was tearfully talking about my longing for another child (non-bio) and she was tearfully telling me to go for it. Ralph looked and listened on and didn’t seem too annoyed with me.

We left the kids to sleep over and Ralph and I came home and spent our evening in a pleasant enough way (note: TOTAL SHAG-ATHON) and now? It’s just about bedtime.

I almost forgot in the excitement of everything the last few days I was featured yet again in Sew Mama Sew! My sewing, with the heat and the last few days’ various excitements, has fallen to the wayside. We leave for our vacation tomorrow and it’s anyone’s guess if I’ll get my sewing projects finished before we go – my original goal.

For now, it’s close to midnight and time to fall into bed with my spouse, who is currently being chewed up by our two very frisky little kittens.

Two years ago: my father was dying. I’ll be re-visiting those writings over the next week. I wasn’t able to read them last year.

an apologist for lurve

I have to be so careful not to sound like I’m fetishizing the child-raising and family experience because, to tell the truth, it often seems to sound like I am.

What’s cool is that I do not promote my writings for readership nor take ad money or try to get picked up or join a web ring or in any way try to make a cash living out of the whole bit. It’s not that I have a judgment on those courses of action, it’s that I don’t want to do things that way with my writing (it is, um, mine after all). What the purity of my desire to merely communicate boils down to for me is a certain lack of pressure on my writings, whether they be Good or Ass. I can know that truly if I am boring anyone reading it’s not like I have in any way tried to say this journal is worthy of large readership or Everyone Should Listen. I talk so much on familiar subjects I’m sure I’ve scared may off, yawning. Secretly I’m happy to kind of Not Really Know About the many who’ve found me distasteful and fled. I am happy when I hear my writings mean something to others, I am. I am sad when my writings cause others distress, although I can’t always know when, how, or why this happens. I endeavor to communicate my experiences as clearly as I can, with little other goal.

Writing about my family and children is really writing about my expansion of experience. I find myself daily amazed at the lessons I learned in childhood and how I merely assimilated them even when they were hurtful or twisted. My life with kids and family has been quite healing as there are so many things I suffered as a kid, not huge travesties of justice mind you, but a series of Wrongs so subtle yet linked together such that my worldview used to be a sadder, more cramped one. For years I was angry or depressed that that world was The Way It Was and there was Nothing One Could Do About It. Today I know neither of those things are completely true; it is my children who’ve been my greatest teachers in this regard.

My family continues to afford me the opportunity to not only provide them with a gentleness and respect I was not always afforded, but to provide it to others as well. Today while my husband and I had breakfast out an older couple with their two young grandchildren shuffled in and sat behind us. The kids were enthusiastic about the venue (an airport cafe) and talked and babbled excitedly. Two things occurred to me: one that I was glad my husband and I were alone and did not have to “mind” squirrelly kids who get glares from grownups, and two that their voices, “raised” as they were, were so much sweeter and smaller than their carers likely heard them.

In another moment this observation was tested. The older child, a boy of four or so, became angry with his grandmother. He put his hands on her face and shouted to get her attention: “Grandma, you need to stop! You were wiggling! You are not supposed to wiggle!” Ralph and I carefully and successfully managed not to laugh aloud. The two adults at the table responded with a muffled and unified fury. I heard the grandfather (sitting so close to me our backs were almost touching) speak very sternly and angrily to the children: that was enough of that or they’d have to go home. The “disruptive” child seemed to have already lost focus in the moment, likely as he had assured his grandmother’s full attention on the grievance he wanted aired. The tiny ruckus had passed, leaving a slight air of tension in their corner of the diner.

I turned around to the subdued table and said quietly, “Grandma, I’m watching you. I saw you wiggling.”

At this the grandfather burst into deep and hearty laughter and the grandmother’s face relaxed. “Yes, I was. I was wiggling while I was moving this chair,” she affirmed. Ralph and I laughed because (we hardly needed to verbally share) the child’s outburst reminded us very much of one of our own. I can’t know if my joshing had any good affect on these fellow-diners (although it seemed to), but I can remember the times a kind stranger has smiled at me to let me know hey, it’s okay, we’re all human, and your children are human too. It has meant so much to me in a microcosm that often seems to wish my children to be silent and required a perfection of mother-care (these “perfections” often at odds with one another) and an unpleasant series of Disapproval hand-slappers. I thought how sad if parents, grandparents and carers can’t hear the “ruckus” of these small children, their voices so much smaller than the adult conversations happening all around the crowded restaurant, without feeling a tension to respond according to the cultural pressures in the room.

My father was a person with a resevoir of memory. He could bring forth a previously-unheard anecdote or Buddhist story or even a (usually funny) joke, always (it seemed to me) in moments when they most applied. I remember a story he told me once or twice. It is a part of the education he gave me that I savor.

One day while walking through the wilderness a man stumbled upon a vicious tiger. He ran but soon came to the edge of a high cliff. Desperate to save himself, he climbed down a vine and dangled over the fatal precipice.

As he hung there, two mice appeared from a hole in the cliff and began gnawing on the vine. His situation was growing more dire.

Suddenly, he noticed on the vine a plump wild strawberry. He stretched his arm out, reached, plucked it and popped it in his mouth. It was incredibly delicious!

Since the day my father told me this story it has meant a great deal to me. It is like something tender that swims in my heart. The slings and arrows of life and the blows and defeats; the inevitability of death and the lack of security in this flesh – none of these things can take away the meaning this story has for me right now.

8 AM
Phoenix, Nels, and Ralph this morning. The children sleep holding hands.

how we touched and went our separate ways

Tonight my mom huffs and puffs a bit before taking the dinner she made upstairs for her and her paramour.  She and Sophie are headed to Portland tomorrow, to meet up with my brother, stay the night, and then head East to scatter some of my father’s ashes on the same lake his parents were interred (yes, I know you can’t really “inter” cremation remains).  Anyway, right now she’s a little pissed because I’ve reminded her that she just decided to leave a full two hours before Sophie’s first swim team practice (this is not the first time I’ve told her Sophie’s sport schedule, nor will it be the last I suppose).  My mom doesn’t want to leave later to honor Sophie’s swim date, and she’s rattled enough (or maybe hungry enough for the hideous hangtown fry she’s just prepared) that she kind of trails off before stomping upstairs.

This schedule thing is purely between my mother and daughter.  I tell Sophie, “Grandma wants to leave tomorrow at 3 – but that means you’ll miss swim team.”  And the next few paragraphs indicate why my daughter is awesome: first she thinks for a few seconds, then says, “Is there a different time Grandma can leave?” and I tell her, “Well, you should figure it out.”  She doesn’t cry or whine; she doesn’t want to give up swim team or the roadtrip either.  And she’s definitely able to hold her own talking to Grandma.

I’ve worked hard at training the kids not to run upstairs to see my mom, with pretty good success.  They are instructed to call Grandma’s cell phone first if they’d like to visit her.  Sophie pads on over to the downstairs phone (she’s adorable, barefoot in the WTWTA Max costume prototype) and dials my mother’s number.  She realizes the cell phone is downstairs in my mother’s purse.  A few minutes later (after reading a bit of her Japanese comic book) she tries again; this time she sneaks the phone outside the door to my mother’s upstairs bedroom, comes back downstairs, and calls.  I hear her say, “Grandma, I have something I want to talk to you about,” … pause, waiting for assent …  “OK, I’ll be up as soon as I’ve finished vacuuming.”

And then she fiddles about with the vaccuum attachment and asks me how to make it work, and I’m busy sewing so I don’t get to her right away, so she figures it out herself. And by the way, I don’t actually know how to work that particular vaccuum attachment, so now I know someone I can ask.

And then she goes upstairs and remembers (without a reminder) to bring up the plate of chocolate-chocolate chip cookies we’d made for the old timers.

You know what?  I want my kids to make their own schedules, and understand them, and keep them, and negotiate around them (and yes, do housework!).  As it turns out Sophie agrees to miss her practice and my mom later comes down and tries to convince me she didn’t pressure Sophie into this particular agreement.

As for my father’s remains, I have my own little bottle or two.  That skinny old bastard made a lot of ash.  So, I’ll either go to the lake on my own or I’ll take his remains somewhere else or I’ll put ’em in a coffee can and toss them off a cliff and the wind will blow them back into Ralph’s face.  Or something.  I just can’t bear to go with my mom and brother.

what brings us together is food

An entry from today featured in our newly launched family project, Ask Nels:

Cynthia asks:
I want to find a boyfriend. Where should I look?

Nels replies:
You can just ask someone to be your boyfriend. You can look inside some woods, like my Grandma did. You can stay there until I get older and then I can be your boyfriend.


I hosted nine people for dinner tonight.  Three of our friends from up north came by on their way back from camping, and my mom invited her boyfriend D. over.  In honor of Sophie’s first soccer practice I prepared her favorite meal: spaghetti with meatballs (I rarely if ever use a recipe for this dish and it is always fantastic).  I also made roasted cauliflower, salted cucumber, garden carrots, ceaser salad, and sweet tea.  And somehow I did this while chatting with my out-of-town friend S. and not feeling at all crazy about (still) living in the non-space that I make my home in.

As we sat down to dish up D. waited until my mom had loaded his plate with veggie accoutrement, then took up a huge, huge spoonful of angel hair pasta.  My mom quickly (but quietly) jumped on him for taking such a large share.  “You can’t take that many – there are lots of people here!” she whispered.  “But I’m hungry for this much,” he said, and didn’t budge.  WTF – is he five years old? They actually argued over this for a while.  Then he put some back, and later when there was enough, requested her apology.  This was kind of perfect, a knife’s edge balance of things that grate on my ass: my mother’s constant chastisement of people about the “polite” thing to do, vs. a display of douchebaggery at a communal meal. Unbeknownst to the guests I’d already set an extra salted pot of water to boil for the possibility of a pasta FAIL, so we were covered.

In D.’s defense, I have seen my spaghetti and meatballs make people do crazy things before.  Once we had a male guest who loaded up plate after plate, telling us these enthralling stories the whole while to distract anyone from infringing on his meat-share, and only getting one speck of red sauce on his impeccable shirtfront.  I have seriously not seen anyone eat that many meatballs, not even Joe Crecca from my Port Townsend years.

By way of previous reference, my mom did indeed find a boyfriend “in the woods”. Or rather, they ran into one another in town and when she found out he lived off the grid out in the boonies (no plumbing, no electricity, a house that needed much work on) these aspects of his lifestyle further recommended him to her fancy.  I haven’t been to his place.  I don’t really like the guy.  But I’m glad my mom does, and that my kids do.  They’ve been out to his place a few times (the kids).  But he comes over much more often to ours.

Looking up my own caesar salad recipe I came upon a post  (also including diners who behave like heels) that reminded me:  I miss my dad so much.  That was some OG bastard.

My Fathers Shrine


Im not really into shrines, but I guess my mom is.
I'm not really into shrines, but I guess my mom is.

Last night I had the most graphic dream.  I was with my father in a hospital and we were wandering the halls.  He knew he had to die but we were electing to remove his current cancerous mass so he could die later. It was as simple as that: remove this tumor, and another would crop up somewhere else, somewhere more pleasant perhaps, and then he’d let go.

The two of us ended up in a dark room that contained some kind of machine reminiscent of a CAT scan. Instead of a technician coming in to diagnose him, he laid back and expertly reached into his body to expose the tumor hidden within.   It was a huge, shining, ten pound mass enclosed in the epithelium of his body cavity.  I was not at all alarmed but, poised with scalpel in hand, I did not believe I could do the job myself and I wept.  In the moment I was not at all disgusted or afraid at seeing the body’s mysteries we are never to see, the violation of a beloved body.  I was, as I have been in such horrific circumstances, brave if a bit in awe of life’s terribleness, surprised and broken that I could not conquer the task myself.

My father sat up and thanked me for my efforts, and we left to find a surgeon.  As we stepped into the hallway I reminded my father to wash his hands.  Because I am a mother, now and forever.

I spent most of the day feeling like I’d actually been with my father.  It was in a way difficult to remind myself this episode had not indeed occurred.  I don’t believe in communication beyond the grave, but it was nice to see him again.

making it so hard to complete that you can’t even understand

Written a year ago:

One of the chief good trappings of this day was that my father came along with us. He has been feeling better, despite new tumor growths in his lungs and bones. His good spirits seem largely due to the fact he’s had more than two months off chemo (his choice). It’s sad to see him off chemo because chemo keeps him alive (albeit tortured and sick). It’s almost, in its way, even sadder to see his hair thicken and his skintone liven and his skinny 6′ 3″ frame gain a few pounds. He starts to look startlingly good. I look at him and think to myself, imagine how healthy and hale he would be now without cancer treatment these last eight years. This is almost the worst kind of thought to think because it takes me back to What Could Have Been, a place I for the most part abandoned and don’t often glance at.

This is my first Father’s Day without my father. It hurts. I think to myself of all those who celebrate the day with platitudes or some kind of gift they know their dad won’t much care for. I think of the demeaning, silly, and two-dimensional stereotypes of “dad” that we sometimes laugh about or celebrate or grow maudlin about and how I’ve never had any use for them (dad likes fishin’ or football or let’s grill him something on the barbecue, har har, as if that’s in any way the summation of a man). I challenge us to look a little harder, to care a little more, to learn to be still and present with the ones you love.

My dad did so many things for me I feel grateful for. The gift I most reflect on is that he accepted me and knew me for who I was. He did not try to correct me or change me – even the parts of me he didn’t like. This probably means more to me than almost anything else about my upbringing. He cared for us and stayed with us and made money for us but mostly he brought us into his life and accepted us as his own. He knew me about as well as anyone. He did not pretend I was someone I wasn’t. He paid attention to me. I remember once feeling sad in a roomful of people and I knew he was watching; he was the only person who knew something was wrong. I remember when Sophie first started school and I was just about to drive off after visiting my parents and my dad came to the window of my van and said he’d done the math, and he’d figured out that since Nels went to preschool about seven hours a week, I’d had this many hours of free time in my life since children. This was something new to me too and I was amazed he’d plucked it out of my mind and given form to the concept of freedom, to the weight I’ve felt since bringing children into the world.

I think of how difficult it was, impossible really, for me to say to him with words what he meant to me and how much I loved him. Sometimes I feel terrible about this. Other times I think that it makes sense: neither he or I tend to be verbally demonstrative. He had to know how much I loved him. Because I know I said it with every other part of me, every other part. I bought and made him gifts, I hugged him, and spent time with him, and talked with him, I brought him music and made him food he loved, and enjoyed his company more than most anyone else I’ve known. He is one of the very few people I felt open, curious, and trusting towards when it came to advice – and I know he loved giving it. And I really gave, a tremendous amount, in the last week, days, hours, and minutes of his life. I gave a thousand percent and something broke inside me but was mended again even in the awesome impossible fact he’d left me for once and for all.

This morning my husband, son, and daughter wrote and recorded a new song:

it’s hard to complete – by ralph, sophie, & nels ( download mp3 file )

Happy Father’s Day!