Friday, June 29, 2007

The Post Where I Admit I'm A Terrible Parent

After almost a week back home, everything is once again approaching normalcy at the Denver family household. Chunk, who wasn't exactly sure he wanted to share Denver Mom with daddy again, is settling back to his usual self. By “usual self“ I'm speaking specifically of that charming combination of adorable and aggravating that toddlers seem to have down so well, as if maybe they'd been taking night classes while you're sleeping. So, in general, things are good.

I was talking with a coworker yesterday who has an adorable new baby. Okay, she's over six months old, but she's still adorable, and according to my coworker, already getting her move on. What? You don't know what a “move on“ is? It's just that strange quasi-crawl bumping, bouncing thing babies learn before they truly get mobile. With her baby already mastering her move on, my coworker is suddenly concerned that she needs to start baby proofing her home... RIGHT AWAY... or else tragedy will strike and her baby may get a boo-boo or something. That's when I realized something... I still haven't baby proofed our place.

Oh, sure, I put some of those outlet covers in a few of the holes in our walls, but I never went full out and wrapped our furniture in nerf, locked all the cabinets with keypad access/rental scanning super-computers, or put up little reenactments of the Great Wall of China in baby form, effectively sealing off parts of the house from our little mongolian barbarian.

See, I guess I just couldn't be bothered with that. I know, I know, I'm a monster, but I found that screaming “No!“ and sprinting across the room in a panic, arms waving madly, legs churning like I'm a cartoon character, suits my parenting style much better. Chunk is trying to stick a pen into an electrical outlet? Scream, run, and dive. Chunk is seeing what the speaker cables taste like? Again, do that slow motion “Noooooooooo!“ while you trip over the couch and knock over the lamp on your way. Chunk testing furniture densities with his forehead? Bah... just let him do that. He'll learn.

When I was a child, baby proofing mostly consisted of picking up the ashtrays and only letting the kids have a couple of sips of beer, and I turned out fine. Oh... wait... okay, now I see everyone's point about safety. Maybe I am a monster.

What about you? Did you go crazy with the baby proofing? Or, did your living room resemble an episode of the Fall Guy on most occasions?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Coming Home

It's all over. The arrangements, the viewing, the funeral, the uncomfortable conversation of the reception. It's all finished and I'm heading home, rolling towards Iowa at 70 mph.

As I said in my previous post, I was able to learn a lot about my Grandpa this week. Some of it was very surprising, some less so, but all of it endlessly fascinating. I never found myself waiting for a story about him to end, only wishing it would go on just a little longer.

I left Chunk and Denver Mom in Denver, traveling up to Red Wing with my parents. Making that drive, just one more time, this time as an adult, has been weird, but also nice. An uncle patted me on the back after the funeral, telling me it was nice to get to know me as a man, as opposed to the little boy he used to know, but that was only after I helped him set up his iPod, so I guess his comment might be a little suspect. My dad and I talked a lot of politics, something he used to only do with his dad, so in some ways it felt like the torch had been passed to me. I was able to have a few conversations with my grandmother-in-law that were nice and also very sad. She has a rough road ahead of her, a lonely road, and if any of you have any well wishes or supportive thoughts left in you, I'd appreciate it if you send them her way. She could use them more than I could.

It was very strange being away from Chunk. Denver Mom and I have had time apart, but I've never been away from my son and this week was harder on me, for that reason, than I thought it would be. I miss being a dad and I'm looking forward to getting that job back at the end of our drive. I'm also looking forward to being a husband again. I'm ready to be home.

We found a notebook in my grandpa's office where he had been writing down some of his memories. Whether my grandpa had known it or not, he had been doing a bit of blogging, and I'm looking forward to reading some of his memories and thoughts in the week ahead. I might even share some of them here.

Below is my favorite picture with my grandpa. He was quite a fisherman and I spent a lot of time in the boat with him, learning how to fish, but mostly learning how to be quiet and still. I'm told it was my grandpa's favorite picture too.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

We Inherit So Much

I'm in Red Wing again. My grandpa passed away on Monday.

I'm told he fought until the end, literally thrashed and kicked, until death finally took him. My grandpa's wife, Bev, thinks he fought it. I'm inclined to believe he fought for it, flailed his arms and flung his exhausted body at death, making it take him whether death was ready or not. In a way, that makes me happy, proud to know that when my grandpa wanted something, he got it, even at the end of his life.

He was ready. He had made decisions about whether or not he should be resuscitated. He picked out the people he wanted to be pallbearers at his funeral. He waited until he had one last visit with his son, then after he left, let his strength and resolve faded away just as my dad had done, starting the drive back home.

My grandmother was much the same. Although she wasn't able to fight off the cancer that took her, she had made a choice not to fight. The kind of cancer she had was simply too powerful to combat. Treatment would only prolong her life, while still taking away its subtle qualities, so she decided to just let her disease run its course, to live with what time she had, rather than force her body to give her more. Given her dignity and grace while facing death, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that my grandpa would choose his time with as much bravery and resolve. All of us will have our time, there's no escaping that, and I hope when my time does come, I can be as sure and poised. It's a powerful gift you give to those you leave behind and I'm thankful for it, thankful for the many amazing lessons he's taught me, thankful for this last one, one of many.

I've said it on this blog before, but my grandpa meant a lot to me. He was a father, when I didn't have one. Sitting around last night, I learned some things about my grandpa's own complicated relationship with his dad, and then his step-dad, stories that made things much clearer for me, made me understand why he stepped up when no one else did, why he protected me.

On these parenting blogs, we talk a lot about the duties of being a parent, about our responsibilities to our children. I take those very seriously, especially given the recklessness I experienced under my biological mother's watch, but it seems like many of those responsibilities are born in the physical world. We have to protect our children from the elements, feed them, protect them from harm. But, if we're lucky, we also teach them lessons about the emotional world, guide them towards honesty and love and responsibility. If we're lucky, we help them to become better people, kind people. Some of us learn what that means from hard-won experience, others simply know it, given an easy path from their parents, a path that works.

I don't know if, one day years from now, Chunk will look back and suddenly understand why I tell him every day that I love him. I don't know if he'll ever truly get why I hold him and tell him he's important, but he's an intelligent boy, almost too smart, and so maybe the light bulb will go on for him, as it did for me last night. Maybe he will have a single moment of clarity that makes him see why the path I tried to lay out for him had the turns and long stretches. If that moment comes, when he's tired and grieving and feeling lost, I hope it brings him the joy and peace that it has brought me. My grandfather has given me so much over the years, I was shocked to get yet another gift from him, even after he passed, and I'm thankful for that flash of understanding and clarity, that insight that came so quickly and powerful it was as if it had been written to me.

On Monday, before I learned that my grandfather had passed away, I went to pick up Chunk from day care. By that time, my grandpa was already gone, but for us, it was just an ordinary day, simple in its naivety. The room teacher pulled me aside and told me that a little girl in the class was upset in the morning, crying, and Chunk went over to her and held her hand. Maybe it was just the innate kindness all children have, the human urge we share to comfort those in pain, before cynicism and pain make us harder, cruel, aloof. Or, maybe he learned that empathy, was taught to be concerned when others are hurting. If he did, if I taught him any of that, it's because of my grandpa.

His gifts keep coming, even after his death.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

An Update About Gramps

Grandpa isn't doing well, again.

Dad called last night to let me know that grandpa has pneumonia and doesn't seem to be responding well to treatment. Dad was about to leave for Minnesota again to be with him, just in case this was "it."


A decade or so ago, we had another scare with my grandfather. They had run some tests and found that he had cancer. A tumor had already claimed one kidney and had spread into one of his ribs. The doctors were going to remove the organ and bone, hoping to stop the cancer's spread, and things looked dire. My dad called, explained what was going on, and he and I left just a few hours later, driving nonstop to Red Wing in my dad's silver Caddy, alone.

It was a stressful, strange trip, but also neat in a lot of ways. That probably bears some explanation.

My dad and I aren't good with each other. We never really were. Although we share some common interests, and have certainly enjoyed each other's company, we're usually only good for about two or three hours together, before silence starts to set in and we're both left wondering, "Geez, how much longer do I have to talk to this weirdo?" Given that it's a fourteen to sixteen hour drive (sans toddler) to Minnesota, that put us at well over ten hours of awkward, stilted dialog, not counting rest stop breaks or eating.

Some neat things happened during the trip. I got a lot done on my laptop which was nice (and not very unexpected). We got into an argument on gun control that made my dad so angry he couldn't speak in complete sentences for almost one hundred miles. Good times. Some other things happened, though. We went drinking. Well, he drank. I had soda water, but we sat at a bar together, drank, and talked. Then, I got to drive dad home, in his precious Caddy, which was something neither of my sisters can claim to have done. We laughed. I think that trip was the first time he saw me as a man, which was a corny and still very special thing for me. I also think it was one of the first times I saw him as a man, rather than a father. He made fun of what I was reading. I pretended to be interested in all the "Car and Driver" magazines he brought along. Although I can't claim that it was a good trip, I think it was a turning point for us, and our relationship has only gotten stronger since then.

It's funny how sickness and stress can do that. We always see the bad in the bad moments in our lives, but sometimes there is good, as well.

I think my dad wanted me to go with him. I think his telephone call, something he doesn't normally do, was his way of inviting me. Tired from a long weekend, I missed those cues, and I'm sorry I did. It would have been nice to spend more time with both him and my grandpa.

More Father's Day rambling coming soon... your excellent comments have me thinking, so there's certainly more to say....

Monday, June 11, 2007

Is Being Your Baby's Daddy All That Important?

I've come to the realization that I am, in fact, one of those bloggers. Oh, you know the type... they only blog about the exciting stuff they do or complain about how the entire world, no, the entire universe, has had numerous secret meetings behind the Applebee's to plot against them and crush their every dream. You know... those irritating bloggers. Yeah, I'm one of those.

Why have I come to this realization? Well, I haven't posted anything in over a week and while I have this nagging feeling like I should be posting something, I just can't muster the strength needed to waddle over to my laptop and type something inane into my text editor. I mean, what would I write? Would I blog about the coworker that is slowly eroding the sanity of everyone in my office, like some H.P. Lovecraftian horror? Would I blog about my dissatisfaction with my current telephone, a dissatisfaction that stems less from any issues with its ability to make calls, but more from my boredom with it? Or, would I draw up some elaborate blog post about how my son's slavish devotion to apple juice is making me angry, yes angry, at apples themselves, as if those fist sized fruits were somehow trying to steal my son's affection from me?

This is what you may not know about those bloggers. Sure, you get irritated with them when you visit their pages, day after day, only to find that nothing has changed. But, have you ever considered that their inability to post, their shocking laziness compared to other, more prolific bloggers, is actually a gift to you. Tell me the truth, would you rather read about my mind-numbing crankiness with my cell phone or would you rather I didn't post anything at all? Yeah, I thought so too. That's why it's been a week without any updates.

Not surprisingly, I've been thinking a little about Father's Day and what it means to me this year. Last year, I asked if I deserved it. Was I a good enough father to merit a day to celebrate my skills in child-rearing? This year, for whatever reason, I've been thinking more about society's views of fatherhood, a much bigger topic than I could hope to touch on in a blog post.

Several months ago, maybe even longer than that, I was having coffee with a friend of mine. We were discussing the challenges we had encountered since becoming fathers, the particular hurdles that had been tripping us up, and he made a startling confession to me. He and his wife had adopted two beautiful girls from China, but he was ashamed about needing to adopt. You see, he was struggling with the idea that because he was unable to get his wife pregnant, he wasn't a real man.

At first, I thought he was joking. I might have even laughed at him, since I'm sensitive like that, but he was very serious. We spoke in hushed tones, that morning, whispering into our coffee cups, trying to make sure the cute girl with the pastry tongs didn't overhear our man-speak.

I have another friend, father of an adorable daughter, who also carries a sense of shame. You see, he is troubled by the fact that his family name will die with him, unless he "sires" a boy. His daughter, although wonderful, won't carry his admittedly strange name into the future. If his family name is to continue, he needs a boy and time is running out. He explains this fact with a voice that continually rises in volume, his tone growing more and more stretched as he speaks.

What the hell is going on here? Is this the 21st century or is it the 17th century?

I know, I know... men have it easy when it comes to child birth. If pop culture is to be believed, we also have it easy when it comes to being a parent, as our job is simply to organize the garage, repeat "go ask your mother," and pray that our Viagra kicks in when the "time is right." With our jobs being so simple, so easy, of course we have to be saddled with some sort of weird insecurity, but does it have to be this? Haven't we passed the time when our worth is measured not in our abilities to parent, but our abilities to "father?"

Maybe this is where we're headed. Maybe, in a society where a term like "baby daddy" had to be coined, we need these old fashioned insecurities to come back into vogue. Maybe, with women becoming more and more independent, men suddenly feel like they have to contribute something unique to be valued. Or, maybe I just hang out with a strange bunch of knuckle-draggers. I just don't know.

Any thoughts on this topic?