It’s Not About The Kids

I was sitting there in the sanctuary this morning “listening” to the sermon. By listening, I mean I was thumbing through various bible texts that I find interesting. I usually see where the pastor is going with his message in the first two minutes, after that I tune out.

It’s amazing to me how little the bible says about having kids and raising a family, yet modern Christianity loves to espouse “family values”. It’s all right there, we should only take a wife if we absolutely must, only if we can’t control our urges. Yet we run around talking how we must marry young have lots of kids. If we stick with the New Testament, hardly a word is written about children at all.

I’m not saying family values aren’t important, but it doesn’t take a biblical scholar to understand that the bible wants us to experience our own spiritual journey more than anything else. It is less about what we should “do” and more about what roadblock should be removed so we can move closer to God.

Sure, it talks about showing our children the way, and not becoming a roadblock in their own journeys. But somewhere along the way we’ve made it about far more than that, and perhaps that is harming our children. Is it possible that Christianity is contributing to the “ME” culture so pervasive out there?

By making our lives “all about the kids” are we willing ourselves into a culture of narcissism? Quite possibly. Are we actually turning our gaze away from our own spiritual journey and using our kids as a nifty excuse to do so?

 

When I find myself in a funk, when I feel a general sense of uneasiness, it can usually be traced back to making someone, or something, else the center of my focus rather than my own spiritual journey.

The same way we can smother a relationship by focusing too much on the other person, we can smother our children.

As a single father it is easy to “focus on my kids” and ignore my own growth. This is quite often the cause of any loss of peace I feel. Not only that, but by focusing on them I am creating a roadblock in their own journey. How are they supposed to follow their own path if I’m all over them?

This isn’t unique to single fathers by any means. Nearly every family at church lives a child centered existence, and the early signs of the ME culture can be seen their children as well.

Simply being alone with one’s thoughts is a rarity these days, and unheard of for today’s children. While at first it seems selfish to turn my focus back inside myself, I am doing myself and my children a giant favor.

The Constant Value of Time

Is a day when you’re 20 worth the same as a day when you’re 80?

Is a beautiful summer day worth the same as one in fall?

Those that have followed me for any length of time know that I love golf, it is my main hobby.

Today was a beautiful fall day in Michigan. Nearly 70 degrees without a cloud in the sky. My kids were gone at their mom’s, so where would you expect to find me?

On the golf course, of course (sorry, had to).

Not just any course, my favorite one. The one I play any chance I get. It is a well-maintained track surrounded by the most beautiful scenery in the whole area.

A round at this course takes me away from it all, it is my form of meditation.

Only today there was a problem, I couldn’t get on the course. It was booked solid! That’s odd, I thought, I was just out there a few weeks ago and I was the only one on the course.

The guy at the clubhouse said it was such an unusually nice day for this late in the year, so everyone was coming out.

I wondered, where were all of these people when I had the course to myself on gorgeous summer days in June and July?

Then it occurred to me, these people were valuing this nice day because it was scarce. We won’t have too many like this left.

When the days are long and sunny in July we figure we have plenty of days like that left.

But when they happen in October, and the winter looms heavy, we cherish that time.

Why can’t we appreciate a perfect day in July as much as one in October?

Why must we live through hardship before we appreciate the boring, peaceful days?

We so often take days for granted, especially in our 20s and 30s, because we think we have more time.

Only when our days get short do we appreciate the value that each one brings.

 

 

Introverted Patriarch?

My uncle died a lonely man. An introvert just like myself, he slowly shrunk his world until it was only him left in it.

I would visit him with my dad on occasion, we’d go over there and watch a ball game with. Hardly a word was spoken beyond some light complaining about the manager or the “bum” who got caught stealing second.

He spent most of his time alone, listening to old music and reading old books. Not a bad life. It doesn’t sound too bad to me. That’s what scares me.

He and my dad had lost their younger brother to suicide years earlier. Hardly a word was ever spoken about that, ever.

Emotions were never shared, the same way it was in my household. There was this superficial level to most interactions. No need to upset anyone with pesky thoughts or feelings, it was much easier to keep it simple and clean.

My uncle was a very smart man, the few times I got to have a real conversation with him I could sense his depth. Most of this happened once it was known he was dying.

This could easily be me. I love being alone. I could read old books and listen to my music for days and days. Right now I tire of that routine after a while and I crave some connection with others.

But what if that fades? What if my desire to connect with others goes away and I’m only left with my own lonely existence.

My vision for the future is to be surrounded by children and grandchildren all the time.  To be a patriarch of a large family that bonds and shares, one that eschews modern culture and celebrates our heritage and faith.

Going the way of my uncle is the opposite of this. Can I fight my DNA and my very nature to accomplish my goals? How much energy will this take?

Can an introvert become a patriarch?

I don’t know, but I’m sure as hell going to try.

Shorter Days

When I was a kid, my dad would always talk about how he liked winter better than the other seasons.

He said he enjoyed the darkness, he liked driving at night better, he liked the feeling of solitude that came from everyone being huddled up in their homes.

Now, as an introspective introvert, I understand why he liked the shorter days. They provide a refuge.

Shorter days means less pressure to spend time outside socializing with neighbors and participating in activities.

Shorter days means an excuse to sit quietly by the fire with a book.

Shorter days means early evenings and routine.

My dad enjoyed shorter days because it relieved his stress as an introvert. It suited his personality much better than the busy, social summer.

Now, as I approach the age of my father when he first said these things, I find myself thinking the same way.

While others publicly whine about the changing seasons and impending winter, I embrace it.

I look forward to the darkness that it brings.

Summer vacation leaves me run down and pining for some solitude.

Winter brings relief in the form of socially acceptable nesting.

Long car rides in the dark, a certain anonymity prevails.

As a father, the school year brings structure and predictability.

This explains why as a kid I loved curling up in confined spaces and playing video games or reading for hours at a time.

I like the restriction of choices that it would bring.

I still find myself longing for the refuge of a small, clean living space instead of a large home filled with the chaos of children.

But today I settle for the quiet nights by the fire with the soft glow of a Christmas tree and a good book.

These are the simple pleasures of an introvert.

So now, as the days grow shorter at a rapid pace, I am among the few eagerly anticipating the season ahead knowing a twinge of sadness awaits me in spring.

Fast Forward

There isn’t anything more analogous to the current state of gender dynamics than our consumption of scripted television.

In the 1950s, arguably the greatest decade for the greatest nation in the history of the world, TV options were limited yet widely adored.

Families would huddle around the television a few nights per week and enjoy their favorite programs. Then they’d talk about and wait for the next installment.

That made it interesting and exciting, the anticipation. One had to wait an entire week for the revelation.

Even if the revelation was a letdown, it didn’t matter, the anticipation had still occurred. The emotions were engaged.

Now, fast forward to today, the Netflix generation. We can pick any show we want and binge watch it in a single weekend.

No time to enjoy the experience or anticipate the next revelation, we simply put it on hyperspeed. What used to take a week now takes 5 minutes.

 

This is, unfortunately, how we’ve come to view our relationships as well. Rather than drawn out courtships that allowed for a full experience of emotions we fast forward straight to netflix and chill.

Allowing ourselves to savor each moment of a relationship as it unravels has been replaced with a race to the finish.

This has also changed our expectations of relationships. We now expect them to thrill us, not gently with ups and downs, but quickly, like a rollercoaster ride.

We want intensity, but it is a zero sum game. We can spread the intensity out and enjoy the anticipation, or we can burn it quickly and move on to the next, only the next one has to be more intense to match the last.

We eventually become numb because we’ve missed the simplest and most pleasurable of feelings – anticipation. We’ve fast forwarded through the best part.

Fragile

We love to read and talk about being antifragile. It is one of my favorite concepts. A fascinating book by Taleb.

However, in reality, most of us are anything but antifragile. We are susceptible to all sorts of shit.

Spend enough time on Twitter and you will see guys on there talking about “killing it” for a few months or years and then suddenly disappear.

What happened? Not “killing it” anymore so they quit posting?

Why not post the shitty parts of life too? Post when your girl dumps you, post when you ate a tub of ice cream and cried yourself to sleep. Post when you skipped the gym.

I’ll go on a limb and say just about every guy reading this is fragile is fuck. I know I am.

I am one missed paycheck away from disaster. I am one engine repair away from falling into more debt.

On most days I am one crying kid away from flat out losing my temper. That’s real shit.

My own thoughts exhaust me on a daily basis. I look forward to bedtime so they will stop.

I struggle to comprehend others when they talk because my own mind drowns them out.

I hold my life together with threads. It looks great from the outside but it can pop at the seams any moment.

Sure, I run a RP household and my kids are growing up with a sense of self and an ability to navigate the real world, but that doesn’t mean our life is any less ordinary.

Tonight, for example, rather than doing our usual evening routine we found ourselves rounding up four stray kittens from under the bushes and figuring out what to do with them.

Fragile.

I have come a long way, but I still have a lot of work to do before I can call my life antifragile.

In the meantime I rely on a little luck and a great ability to roll with the punches.

If we don’t share the times we are not “killing it” we fail to convey to the next guy all of the failures that have led to our successes.

We leave a false impression in his mind that our success comes easy, that our discipline must be some genetic jackpot.

What he doesn’t see is the ten times we started a lifting program and then quit. He doesn’t see all of the times we failed to talk to the cute girl at the store.

He doesn’t see the times we acted out of jealousy or insecurity rather than from our “masculine frame”.

I put the word real in front of my name because I can be real here. This blog and Twitter are the places where I can be honest with other men about the daily struggles we face.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to figure out what to do with these damn kittens.