Sunday, September 29, 2013

Friday, September 27, 2013

September Pop Culture Roundup

Five items enjoyed this past month...

1. I pre-ordered Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber, pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, which is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. I've long been an admirer of Nadia for her irreverence and her insightful commentary on church, culture, and theology. To say that I was greatly anticipating this book's release date so that I could get my copy was probably an understatement, and I read the whole thing in two days. Nadia interweaves some of her personal story into her experiences of being a pastor of such a unique congregation, all with the humor and...ahem...vocabulary that anyone familiar with her would expect. This book is personal, insightful, at times convicting, at other times inspiring. This was definitely worth the wait.

2. I really enjoyed the second season of The Newsroom, which centered on the news crew pursuing a story about the U.S. military using chemical weapons during a conflict that turns out to be false after they report it. The events leading up to the report, as well as the fallout, are told in a series of flashbacks interspersed with present time dealings with network lawyers and executives to try to fix the mess, culminating on election night last year where things just seem to get worse and worse for everyone. This show is very polarizing for a variety of reasons, but I really liked the way this season unfolded, and I found myself much more engrossed in this than the first. The final episode may have been a little too "neat little bow" for my liking, but as a season it was good.

3. I found out by chance that Elvis Costello and The Roots were releasing an album together this month called Wise Up Ghost. These sorts of things always bring the worry that the whole doesn't equal the sum of its parts. But Elvis Costello and The Roots are Elvis Costello and The Roots, so in this case it works out. The Roots provide some great beats underneath Costello's distinct voice and lyrics, which feature his trademark bite regarding relationships and societal woes. This really is a gem of an album, and I'm glad I didn't miss out on it.

4. Steampunk band Abney Park released a new album this month called The Circus at the End of the World. The ragtime element of the band's sound is a little more pronounced on many of the songs on this one, giving it a good circus vibe. There are variations, of course. "Not Silent" is a little darker, and is more about current issues of intolerance than the usual steampunk stories. On the other hand, "Buy the Captain Rum" is a silly shanty that incorporates "Drunken Sailor." So as usual, the band shows its versatility and plays up its characters very well.

5. Gov't Mule also released a new album this month, simply titled Shout! If you've ever heard a Mule album before, this isn't all that different: Haynes' awesome wailing guitar, gravelly voice singing about the state of the world or more personal woes, while Matt Abts brings it on drums. The Mule is one of those bands where I'll listen to and probably enjoy whatever they put out, in part because I know what to expect from them. It's not that they're boring or predictable: more like dependable the way they handle their blues-rock business.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Music Review: The Mantis and the Moon by Son of Laughter

How in the history of this blog have I never had a standalone "Music Review" feature before now? No better time to correct it, I suppose.

It is not a new thing for regular readers of this blog for me to share that I, for the most part, have given up on what constitutes Contemporary Christian Music. I listened to it almost exclusively in late high school and most of college, but at some point I caught onto the fact that a lot of it seemed to be the same six cliched spiritual phrases over the same three acoustic guitar chords, with hardly any artistic depth to speak of. I held onto a few favorites who seemed to buck that trend and let the rest go for quite a long time.

As the years went on, I started to discover that there seemed to be a new kind of Christian musician transcending this saccharine wasteland of hackery, boasting both musical originality and lyrics that truly explore, question, and celebrate the vast spectrum of faith and discipleship. They actually sing about social justice, or doubts, or divine presence or divine absence, or rejoice in the beauty of creation without resorting to the same worn phrases.

Son of Laughter, aka Chris Slaten, is one such artist in this new vein. This little EP, The Mantis and the Moon, is a poetic ode to faith themes dripping with a soulfulness that more aptly captures the complexity and mystery that such things deserve.

Take the song "Grace is Gold," for instance. It is, in fact, a song about divine grace, but that acknowledges that such grace is something that we are given in the midst of our flaws:
If you're afraid we'll see inside through your hardened scars and wounds so wide... everybody lacks; don't cover up the cracks.
Grace is gold for broken banks to hold. Don't let it hide.
Grace makes gentle those parts of ourselves that we'd rather no one know about. So why hide them, if they have been redeemed as well? In a sense, this question could be asked of Christian music in general: why hide the bad stuff? Why not go ahead and sing about the scars and sores that are an inevitable part of one's life and faith? Son of Laughter acknowledges the importance of this, and treats it with the perfect balance of honesty and delicacy.

From a musical standpoint, Son of Laughter may most clearly resemble Paul Simon. This was my first thought as I listened, and I've seen other reviews of this album make the same comparison. SoL has a light touch with his acoustic guitar that is complemented well with a variety of other stringed instruments and percussion. The album in general gives off a whimsical vibe even when addressing more serious themes, perhaps living up to the artistic name that Slaten has adopted for himself.

This is the sort of album that could give someone like me who has long written off CCM a chance to revisit that opinion. More importantly, it is an album that has integrity in musicality and in message. Its underlying joy is infectious, and its themes grounded yet hopeful. I greatly look forward to Son of Laughter's next outing after this.

(I was sent a free download of this album to review by the Speakeasy blogging book review network. My opinions are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Ministry and Ego Death, Part 2

When sitting down to start writing the follow-up to what I posted the other day, I tried to choose between several possible illustrations or stories with which to open. These things had all happened within the past month or more, all of which seemed so timely and perfect. Choosing just one seemed futile, so you get them all via bullet points:
  • During a conversation with a colleague who like me went from serving a "pastor-sized" church to a "program-sized" church (i.e., a slightly larger church more centered around the work of committees and/or specialized staff rather than the pastor as hub of everything), he said, "You have to redefine your role, which includes letting go of certain things that you're used to doing."
  • The second week of my paternity leave this time around, I sent an email to the church secretary asking some church-y question, the response to which was, "I've been keeping you out of the loop on purpose, because paternity leave is meant to be time where you just enjoy being with your family."
  • Reading Nadia Bolz-Weber's wonderful new book Pastrix, which includes a chapter recapping a time when she became overly involved in trying to help a homeless woman, disregarding all boundaries of time and space in the process only to find out she'd been taken advantage of, too blind to see it in the moment due to her subconscious felt need to be the hero.
  • During a particularly frustrating night with Coffeedaughter, I waved away Coffeewife's help, only to give in a few minutes later. After everything had settled down and we both laid back down in bed, she said, "You want to do it all. Stop it."
There was so much pertinent wisdom from so many different places pointing toward the same general truth that I couldn't pick just one. So just pick your favorite from the list and carry it with you while reading the rest of this post.

Regardless, they each illustrate an aspect of the importance of checking one's motivations in ministry, or the consequences of not doing so. Just from the list above, we have:
  • Trusting and empowering others to do the work of the church so it's not all on you.
  • Important reminders from others in the church to the pastor to take care of him- or herself.
  • The felt need to be the hero for someone else, inviting the possibility of enabling needy behavior or the taking on of a co-dependent relationship.
  • Teetering on burnout when the outer limits of one's energy is reached due to refusing help from others.
Near the end of that first entry, I said something about this entry containing the solution to the problem of ego in ministry. I wish I could change that, because I've already given the solution: knock it off. Take care of yourself, let others help you, be clear about boundaries. We pastors hear this stuff all the time. We're actually required to attend workshops every so often to be told these things again and again. So one would think that we'd be better at listening. 

Part of the problem is the way we--not just pastors, but human beings--are so good at rationalizing that maybe just this one time, or in just this one way, it'll be fine. Texting while driving is bad, but I'm just going a couple blocks and I'll look up from my phone a lot. I need to lose weight, but straying from my diet or exercise routine this one day won't be bad. I need to cut back on my coffee drinking, starting tomorrow, or maybe the day after that. And then nothing changes or the precedent is set, a new bad habit in place.

And so it goes for pastors in particular. Well, if I go in on my day off for just an hour or two, that'll be okay. If I just come back this one time from vacation, what could that hurt? This is the fifth time I've given the same person money in two months with no visible improvement, but maybe this next time will really help them change. I know what I should do, but I'm going to do this other thing because it's really what I want to do, or it'll be the thing that makes me feel productive, helpful, heroic. I've made it all about me.

Consider the example of Nadia above. I know that one of the new things for hipsters wanting to reform the church is to do away with all manner of boundaries, you know, for the kingdom, man. Let the resources flow freely and without discernment to whomever, at whatever cost. It's worth it. But this sort of thinking misses how it may be more about me feeling good about myself for bucking the institutional system without necessarily considering what the endgame will be. It's more about me being the hero and, like, being radical and stuff, bro. I've made it all about me.

Consider the example with Coffeedaughter. I may tell myself that this is my project, my cause, my need to pull my weight or act strong or do things the way I think they should be done. Who cares if I'm killing myself in the process? I'm the ordained person with the vision. I've made it all about me.

Ego. So, so much ego. And usually, by the time we realize that we've made it all about us rather than about God in our midst, or what the church or individuals looking for help really need, it's too late. The damage has been done: we're burned out, people formerly willing to serve have lost interest, those needing help are spinning their wheels. Nobody wins.

All that is to say, once again, that the ego must die. Or at least be kept at a reasonable size. It's the little compromises that kill us; that gradually build to something more out of control. All the little moments of "just this once, I can handle it, God can sit this one out" take us down a path of good intentions that feels hotter and hotter the further we go.

It's not about you, pastor. It never was. The more often we remember that, the better off we'll all be.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Ministry and Ego Death, Part 1

I need to start this post with a disclaimer that what I'm about to write is about me: what I've learned, what I'm still learning, mistakes I've made and hope to not make in the future. This post isn't about other people. Inasmuch as I do mention people and events, it is in the context of what I myself have learned. Okay? Good? Okay.

I love being a pastor. I love planning events and activities. I love preaching and sermon preparation. I love teaching and lesson planning. I even love meetings sometimes. I live by my UCC desk calendar. The flip side of all of that is that I get anxious when things don't seem to come together the way I want them to, or on the timeline that I had planned for. I sometimes joke that I'm an INFJ with a capital J: I'm a planner, scheduler, list-maker, and I start freaking out when someone or something messes with said plans, schedules, and lists.

That's the first thing. The second thing is that I suck at asking for help.

See, when one of those freakouts start to happen, I think that I'm the only one who can fix it. I have a particular idea of how things should go and I'd like to do my best to fulfill my vision, thank you very much. Don't you know that the church will fall down if I don't make it to tonight's committee meeting? Don't you understand that the very fabric of existence itself will tear if I don't have a sermon outline typed by Thursday morning at the latest? Can't you see that if someone dies while I'm on vacation, I'm the only one fully capable of coming back to lay them to rest?

You think I'm exaggerating, don't you? You think that I'm embellishing certain things here for laughs.

For just over eight years, I served a church that Smart Church Consultant People would call a "pastor-sized" congregation. What that means, is that the congregation was of a certain size where everything more or less revolved around the pastor. Think of the church as a wheel with the pastor as the hub at the middle. This isn't a commentary on the way that church should or shouldn't have conducted itself. It's just a basic reality of a church of that size. Sure, certain tasks and activities were headed up by other people, but for the most part, planning for everything--Christian education, mission, worship, pastoral needs--was/is done with considerable input from the pastor, or simply conducted by the pastor.

Now, re-read what I said above about being a workaholic and being terrible at asking for help and imagine a person like that at the center of an organization's activities. Do you see how this might end up being a problem?

In particular, that line about coming back from vacations to officiate funerals? That happened. Like, a lot. It was a bit uncanny how often people in that size of a church died while I was on vacation, but so it went. And I came back every. Single. Time. Someone died while I was on paternity leave after Coffeeson was born. Did I come back for that? Of course I did. I knew this person the best, and the pastor who'd agreed to provide coverage would have been okay at it, but I'm here, so why not? During my paternity leave, man.

This isn't just a vacation/funeral thing. Imagine this sort of person getting a phone call on one of his days off regarding an emergency, or at least something being presented as an emergency (most times they weren't). Who better but SuperJeff to help the person figure things out, or drop everything to come help? Surely I had the answer. Surely I myself knew the right way to fix everything without consulting someone else, deferring to my next workday, or simply flat-out saying, "You know what? No. You need to go elsewhere to get the help you need."

String enough of those incidents together, and you get several awful things at once.

First, you get someone who isn't very good at giving himself true time off. Give this person long enough, and he'll become irritable and resentful about the work he does. Ironically, he still won't ask for help, and then he'll hate that he has no help. He somehow won't be able to say no, and he'll hate himself for it. And he won't be able to see that this is happening to him.

The second thing you get is a Pandora's Box of bad precedent where after you do it the first time, you'll be expected to do it again and again. After doing things one way long enough, imagine the possible reaction the first time you try to say no. You did it then, so why not now? This only builds the resentment more. And again, the person in question won't see what's happening internally.

The heart of the motivation here, as I've come to understand it after thinking about it every day for nearly seven months now, is my own damn ego. Perhaps you've already picked up on that while reading this. When you understand yourself to be the only one capable of coming back for funerals, even if you're couching it in language such as, "Well, I'm around so I might as well," is about ego. Feeling the need to have your input counted during every meeting and in every church decision? Ego. Thinking you're the only one who can help so-and-so without alerting others or at some point trying to direct them elsewhere or even just saying, "You think this is an emergency, but it really isn't so I'll deal with it when it's not my day off?" Ego.

Horrendous boundaries, yes. Or we call it something else: a desire to be liked, or feel needed, or feel productive. But still, at the root of that: so much ego. It may not be the only thing, but it's usually one of the main things.

So, what's the solution? The answer is simple, yet really not at all. To paraphrase Family Guy's Stewie Griffin: "The ego must die."

There's your setup. Part 2 will be describing the solution. Or something.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Small Sips Is Just a Bunch of Michigan .gifs, Basically

WAIT WAIT WHAT ARE YOU DOING oh okay. Michigan played Notre Dame for the last time at the Big House for an undetermined amount of time, as the rivalry is going on hiatus after next year due to ND deciding they'd rather play a bunch of ACC teams, Michigan State, and Purdue instead.

At any rate, Michigan won in another classic, although this was a little more comfortable to watch than the past few years. One of the big stories was how well QB Devin Gardner played, including one scoring play in the first half where the play clock almost expired before the ball was hiked and Gardner ran it in himself.

Before that, head coach Brady Hoke tried to call a timeout to keep from getting a penalty, which obviously didn't happen. ESPN caught his attempt to do this and his subsequent reaction to the TD, which is now available in .gif form:


Bonus. After the game, Gardner was being interviewed, and it was a perfect time to be photobombed by WR Jeremy Gallon:


So yeah, the game was fun. I was worried that I shouldn't stay up what with having a newborn and sleep being a premium and all, but it was worth it and she actually slept in my arms as I watched.

What, you want non-Michigan content? FINE. This is the time of year when many churches--particularly mainliners--have Rally Day. It may be called something different, but the gist is the same: it's the big kickoff of the church program year, particularly Sunday School and other educational events. My church had it this past Sunday, and even though I wasn't there (paternity leave), reports are that it went well.

As you may expect, some want to rethink the concept of Rally Day in light of new cultural realities. For example, Jan at A Church for Starving Artists:

If we take seriously our commission to make disciples of all nations, we can’t be congregation-centric.  A new kind of Rally Day seems to be called for. 
Here are some ideas from churches with a missional culture that I’ve known and loved : 
  • Rally Day as a community appreciation for First Responders
  •  (fire fighters, police officers, EMT volunteers.)  This works well in terms of a positive 9-11 remembrance.  Invite all the local First Responders to a party in their honor in a grocery store parking lot or a very public local park.  Get local businesses to donate things (moon bounce? popcorn machine?  smoothies?) and approach others to donate gift cards to give to those who protect your community – who are probably either volunteers or paid very little. One church I know gives $100 grocery store gift cards to each of their local First Responders.
  • Rally Day as a community service event: “Jesus Has Left the Building” Day
  •  with 3-5 pre-planned opportunities for serving the community.  After gathering at the church building, individual teams then choose one project and then leave to go serve as a small team by weeding a community garden, picking up trash on the highway, visiting a nursing home, serving dinner in a shelter, making sandwiches for volunteer fire fighters.  Something for everyone.
  • Rally Day as a massive community Love Bomb.  
  • Where do people gather on Sunday mornings who are not church people in your town?  Go there.  Take popcicles or coffee or water bottles or whatever.  Be careful with food that not’s pre-packaged.  (Would you take a hotdog from a random stranger in a park?)
The point of all this is basically to get out into the community.  See who’s out there.  Who are they and what do they need?
I do know of churches who have done stuff like this before, not necessarily specifically for Rally Day, but as a way to get out of the building and into the world. Likewise, I don't think these need to take the place of Rally Day. They could instead be the sorts of activities that we psych ourselves up for during that initial celebration, sprinkled throughout the year. So rather than rethink one event, we'd be rethinking what the event is kicking off. Tomato-Tomahto, perhaps.

A familiar song. PeaceBang writes about a recent encounter with a homeless man in Louisville:
What I wish I had said was this: 
I don’t care if you sing about Jesus or God. I don’t think Jesus gives a sh** if you believe in him or not. I think Jesus wanted to convert us to a way of life, not to a system of belief. I think Jesus cares that I want to help and support you, and that you want to help and support me, and that we want to do that for everybody we meet, with no exceptions. 
But I know we don’t have time for that, and I didn’t have time to think it clearly anyway, and so we do our awkward step-and-shuffle with the exchange of $20, which I tell him I hope he will use in some way that contributes to his well-being. He starts telling me about how he has a dream for his life and something about rehab but his eyes are dead — this is a practiced recitation — and I interrupt him. “No, no, you don’t need to explain anything. I’m just telling you what I hope for you, okay? It’s just what I hope for you. That you take care of yourself. Okay?” And I walk on. Good Lord. For a twenty buck hand-out he thinks he owes me a college application essay? Please. Honey. Just go.
I know this little routine between potential giver and receiver. It's not always a song on the street, but the basic elements of having a story, reeling someone in, skepticism on the giver's part, giving anyway, profuse thank yous after the fact. It's not that one shouldn't help or should always suspect the other. It's just the deception of the whole thing, the rehearsed nature, the manipulation, the lack of honesty on the part of both about what each really needs to do. It's easier to just exchange money and leave it alone, but it doesn't get either of us any closer to transforming the situation.

Misc. Black Coffee Reflections on when churches seek volunteers. Brant Hansen on the infamous Miley Cyrus MTV performance. Sure, it's been a few weeks now, but what's one more take on it? Rachel Held Evans reviews Nadia Bolz-Weber's new book Pastrix, which I preordered and devoured in two days. I'm debating whether to post a review of my own.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Gas Bubble Smiles

If you attend more than one wedding that I officiate, you'll likely notice that my homily is some variation on the same theme: today is not the most important thing. Today you are awestruck, and everything is beautiful, and everyone is smiling, and the future is as pure and pristine as it possibly could look through the lenses of this big overly expensive celebration. Tomorrow, of course, it will all be different: everyone will have gone home, and there will be bills to pay and careers to juggle and inevitable hard situations to manage.

It's the classic "wedding vs. marriage" schtick that many pastors talk about in many weddings on any given weekend. No matter how much time and money and energy you've spent planning for this time featuring fancy dresses and carefully prepared food, this will not be how it always is. Eventually, you actually have to start figuring out how to live with each other, quirks, warts, bad habits and all, preferably for a lifetime.

The wedding is the living out of a fairytale for a day, but we never hear the story about how Snow White always yells at Prince Charming for peeing on the toilet seat and how Charming has to occasionally nudge Snow White during the night to get her to stop snoring. It always stops with the shiny happy hopeful moment before all that stuff starts.

This doesn't just apply to marriage, of course. Pick any grand moment that one may celebrate: graduation, a new job, and news of a pregnancy and eventually the birth. Any of these may be marked with that same big moment featuring congratulations and smiles and indulgence, but then again, everyone goes home and it's time to actually live into this new reality, whatever it is.

The birth of Coffeedaughter, as expected, was that kind of a moment. Announcing it on Facebook probably brought the record number of "likes" for anything I've ever posted there. Likewise, well-wishes and celebratory words came from Coffeewife's co-workers, my spiritual direction classmates, and other friends and family in other ways. And don't get me wrong, it was truly wonderful to finally see her, hold her, begin interacting with her. I looked forward to having her home, having Coffeeson meet her, and all those other things you imagine before they actually happen in real time.

So naturally, when Coffeedaughter actually did come home a few days later, that was something to celebrate in itself. But that's when the fairytale ends and reality begins. We knew it would; we'd been through this before. At that point comes meconium-filled diapers and feedings at 2 a.m. and crying fits that seem to have no justification whatsoever. Then comes actually learning what it means for a family of three, who have established their little routine and have come to know each other's preferences and idiosyncrasies, to learn what it means to add one more. Eventually will come reconsidering how work schedules affect the family system and making sure that Coffeeson gets to where he needs to be on time and eventually the inevitable clash of siblings. No more fairytale; no more high moment of blissful delirium pretending that this is how it will always be.

On the third night of this new-yet-familiar experience, around 3 o'clock in the morning following a sequence of giving Coffeedaughter a bottle, changing a poopy diaper, needing to give her another bottle, and worrying about the onset of carpal tunnel trying to get her to burp, I set to trying to rock her gently back to sleep so that I in my zombie-parent state could maybe get a little myself. As it turns out, my new little bundle of basic needs wanted to take a moment to check everything out instead. Her eyes, as wide as I had ever seen them up to that point, were looking around the room, at the ceiling, at me. And then, as if satisfied with her little survey, she slowly began to close them. And she smiled.

I know that, developmentally speaking, this was not really a smile of amusement or contentment. It was not an emotional reaction to something in her surroundings. Instead, the most likely culprit was a bubble of gas making its way through her tiny frame. No, it will be a while before she can express happiness and joy.

But for me, running on the endurance energy that parents dig down to find in those early morning moments, I caught a glimpse of what I can look forward to. There are aspects of these first fairytale-squashing months that suck, which I'll be glad to leave behind as we start to establish a regulated sleep and eating schedule. But there is and will be joy: of holding close this delicate little person, of watching her grow and discover herself.

And there will be smiles. Real ones. The ones that come from seeing some silly thing that her daddy does or gentle tickles from her mom, or from wanting to be involved in whatever her big brother is doing. There will be laughter, too, the infectious high-pitched full-bodied kind that only the littlest among us can pull off. And there will be reciprocal love in the midst of this joy; that causes it, really, and that will get us collectively through each day of new coordinating challenges and each night of hoping to string together a few hours of rest.

And really, that's the closest to a fairytale that one could hope for.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Vintage CC: Green

This post from February 2008 has come to mind again with Coffeedaughter's birth this week. I wrote this just a few months before Coffeeson was born and re-posted it for his birthday the following year. And while I get how this works a little better nowadays, it's still very much relevant.

Let’s start from the beginning.

This is one of the many thoughts that I have as I sit at the edge of the double bed in what will eventually become the nursery. The transformational process has been a very gradual one: the walls had been painted a light green color even before we knew we were pregnant. A completed changing table stands along one wall, the deep brown of the wood adding a certain refinement that will be completely contradicted by its use. Against that same wall leans a tall flat box containing the pieces of a crib. It will match the table once it is assembled, but that task will not be tackled until the very bed on which I sit is removed from the room. We’ve really just been putting it off. We’re either ignoring it, or we’re that lazy.

I am sitting in this room, as I so often do, because here the feeling of impending, unavoidable change is the thickest. This will be the hub of the baby activity. The walls, the changing table, and the sheep light switch cover all tell me so. Our DVD collection has not yet been overrun with Bob the Builder and Spongebob. The dining room does not yet feature a highchair. There is not yet a gate across the steps or a pumpkin seat in the living room. Other than a glance at my wife’s stomach, at this point it is only by stepping into this space that one may deduce that something else, someone else, is coming. This fact is more real to me when I sit in this room, on this bed, in the midst of the emerging nursery and my own anxiety.

I absolutely crave the tangible. Every time I pass this room, every time I sit here, every time I look at or feel my wife’s stomach, the desire to see something real overcomes me. I need to feel the little bumping and kicking of my unborn son against my palm. I’m trying to understand beyond some superficial level that one day very soon this room will be inhabited by a little person always in need of a fresh diaper, another bottle, a couple trips around the house in his father’s arms. And I need to understand that he will begin as that little, pooping, hungry bundle of helplessness who will depend on me for love and for his first experiences of the world.

Most of all, I need to understand that he will first appear as a baby.

There’s a reason why I’m now telling myself that we’re going to start from the beginning and not partway through. We’re not going to start when he’s already six and imitating all my worst habits or when he’s fifteen and judging all my worst flaws. I need to understand that he will not first appear with fully formed opinions on religion and politics; that he won’t root for Ohio State just to spite me or judge my career as the dumbest or most embarrassing thing that I could have done with my life. We’re not going to start arguing right out of the womb and he’s not going to squint at me through the remnants of amniotic fluid and blood and demand a second opinion from the midwife.

This sounds tremendously insecure, doesn’t it? I know it does. And yet, thoughts like that have been stuck in my mind more than anything else related to my son’s birth. I wonder what he’ll be like when he reaches those different ages; how he’ll react to the world around him. Mainly, I wonder how he’ll react to me. I’m constantly hounded by this absolute dread that I’m not going to measure up. I’m supposed to help mold the character of this tiny wrinkly wailing person, and if I don’t remember that he’ll start there, I’m going to be too scared to follow through past the first day.

I sit here on this bed and I imagine the follow-through. At times I somehow think that bargaining for my imagination’s approval will help. I conjure these scenarios in my head and try to solve them as if they were an algebra problem, a simple “if A, then B” sort of thing in an attempt at convincing myself that by the time he first colors on the walls or refuses to take a bath or whatever, it’ll just be a matter of remembering my preplanned technique.

Of course, the reality is that I don’t keep conjuring them because I think I can handle them…I think I really do it to think up new ways to torture myself in the face of an already mounting degree of worry that I’m going to suck at this.

That’s right. Apparently Daddy is a masochist at heart. Why else would I worry so much about how I’ll balance work with what he needs and how often I’ll move him around by changing churches, communities, schools? Will he be convinced that I really want the best for him? Will he believe me?

I suppose that it’s stability that I want the most for him. He’ll need a father he can count on to show him through the argument with his friend or how to maneuver through his first crush. He’ll need a father whom he knows would rather be with him than at that committee meeting. He’ll need to be told that this really is supposed to be the last move that he’ll ever have to make and that it’s like a dagger through his parents’ hearts to make him leave what he knows behind. If I can convince him of that, maybe I’ll have a shot at getting a lot of that other stuff right. And I know that I'll have his lifetime to do it, and I can grow into it right alongside him.

Daylight has faded to make way for evening. The streetlight across the parking lot lazily blinks on, casting shadows across the bedspread and the floor. The green on the walls is now a dark gray. I rise to return to the living room, and to feel the bumps against my palm again.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Fatherhood's Many Discoveries

It wasn't very long after we found out that our second child would be a girl that Coffeewife started scouring clothing racks for whatever deals that she could find. I wasn't against this, really, as we had planned ahead with Coffeeson pretty well, and now especially that in some ways we'd need to start over, it made sense to do so again.

Coffeewife began showing me what she bought, and I wondered what all this pink frilly stuff was. There are, like, skirts and bows and lace and things laying around here. I mean, I know they serve some kind of purpose, but what? It is a great mystery to me. Perhaps it is for this baby to wear? I mean, that's why she bought them, right? I only had a brother growing up and heretofore have only been raising a son, but that has to be it, I think. So I guess I'll dress her up in them. What else am I going to do with them, right?

True enough, this is new territory. I've written about that already. But as of late Sunday night, that territory became a little more concrete. After a long day that started with phone calls to key church people letting them know what was up, I drove Coffeewife to the hospital where we would wait. And wait. And wait. The dilation and effacing came slowly. We found Oceans Eleven on the hospital's limited channel selection. We walked around the unit, Coffeewife refusing to lie in bed for too long until she absolutely had to. We watched Simpsons episodes (When did Flanders marry Mrs. Crabapple? It's been a while.).

And finally, the epidural was needed. She was ready. And at that point it didn't take long for Coffeedaughter to make her appearance.

So far, she seems to be night and day from Coffeeson. She sleeps in her bassinet on her own without needing to be held. She strongly disapproves of being cold and loves being swaddled and feeling warm and secure. She seems pretty easygoing about most things, save for those basic needs like hunger or needing a diaper change. Otherwise, she seems quite content to keep to herself. As time goes on, more of her personality will emerge, but in some ways she's perhaps already shown that she'll be more mellow and reserved than her brother. Time will tell how accurate this really is.

Now begins a new time of discovery: of who Coffeedaughter will be, of what it will be like to raise two children instead of just one, of what it will be like to raise a daughter as well as a son. It will be pleasure to discover these things, to continue growing as a father and as a man; to further discover who I am at the same time.