Saturday, November 29, 2014

Confessions of an Aging Father Part III: Do You Remember the Fleetwood Mac Concert?

My boys have repeatedly accused me of allowing my music tastes to get stuck somewhere in the ’80’s.  Of course I am not about to admit my state of guilt to them, but they are indeed correct.  I like classic rock music that is now thirty or even forty years old.  I was helping one of our 20 something’s at church move to a new apartment a few weeks ago.   When her ringtone blared out some unfamiliar, but no doubt contemporary tune I suggested that perhaps a song from Boston might be better.  Her response stopped me in my tracks.  I was shocked. I was stunned. She said…”Who is Boston?” I grabbed the side of the U-Haul truck to steady my balance. I turned pale. My hands suddenly felt clammy.  I couldn’t repeat her question. I was speechless.

As it turns out, my youngest son has embarked on a historical experience that will avert such questions coming out of his mouth.  He recently purchased a turntable. Yes, I mean the kind that plays vinyl albums.  He and his friends have started collecting albums. They are listening to James Taylor and Pink Floyd.  They are regular customers for Half-Price books now.  They are broadening their musical horizons. But it gets even better.

They invited me. Yes, they invited the old man. They invited the first person that held them they day they were born before being handed off to their mother.  They invited me to go with them to see Fleetwood Mac in concert in Oklahoma City in March.  And to top it off, this is going to be a Dutch-treat outing.  I was a freshman in high school when their Rumors album was released in February of 1977.  It is considered to be one of the best albums of all time.

Concert tickets are not selling at 1977 rates, so I hesitated at first.  How can I justify spending that kind of money traveling to Oklahoma City for a concert?  I quickly changed my mind.  It occurred me that there are some things you just do.  When your children invite you to attend a concert with music from your era, you don’t hesitate. You go. It is as simple as that.  It is their way of building a generational bridge. 
I suspect our concert outing will be one of those memories that will be talked about for years to come. “Do you remember when we went with dad to see Fleetwood Mac?”

Finding common areas of interest with your children in their late teens or early 20’s can be a challenge. I have been so fortunate to play in a fantasy football league organized by my sons for several years now.  When they are in town, we have to go eat one meal at The Firehouse Restaurant.  It was our dad/son eating establishment when they were in high school.  We usually make the trek to Ft. Worth to shop for deals at Half-Price Books, Academy Sports, and Ross Dress for Less. We play vicious, cut-throat games of Monopoly when the weather is cold. And of course we watch football together.  If you are a parent of young adult children, I urge you to not hesitate when you are invited.  Build those bridges. And allow them the opportunity to reciprocate. It is good for them and it is good for you too!

  I realize time is precious and relationships are priceless.  I am so very sensitive to my friends who would give anything to still have their children on this earth to so such things with. I take nothing for granted and feel grateful for every opportunity God gives me to be with my children. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Grief is a Tricky Character

It was one of “those” mornings as my day got started today. Perhaps it is the change of seasons.  Or maybe it is because Thanksgiving is right around the corner. It could be partially triggered by still another friend losing a parent this week. I will attend that funeral tomorrow. Another friend lost his son in a tragic accident earlier this fall.  There are probably a complex mix of reasons.  But the truth is I felt the pangs of grief as I reflected on the loss of several longtime friends over the past several years. 

Grief is a tricky character. He lurks in the shadows and jumps out at you when least expect it.  He sneaks up and takes your emotions captive when he intuitively knows you are vulnerable. 
Grief fools you.  You think he is gone. And maybe you are even na├»ve enough to think he has left for good this time.  But he is never far. He takes shorts trips, but he is never far.

Grief is persistent.  My father died in 1978.  During my teen years, he tackled me and tried really hard to keep me down. And then at age 29, when my mother died he was equally persistent. He is not one to give up easily.

Grief is unrelenting.  During 2012 and 2013 I lost four friends and experienced my first line of duty death as a law enforcement chaplain.  It felt like a hurricane of serious illness and death blew in during those years.  The deaths of peers and mentors alike came within months of each other.  Grief refused to stop.

The day ended better today I saw a quote a friend posted that caused me to see things in a different light.  The quote is as follows: Grief is the last act of love we have to give to those we loved. Where there is deep grief, there was great love. That fires off a change in perspective.
Grief has fooled me into thinking he is control.  But he is not.  I am in control of how he functions in my life.  I choose to let grief be the last act of love that I give to those I loved, because I firmly believe that where there is a deep grief there was great love. And I am grateful that God is ultimately in control and empowering me to love deeply even in grief. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Indirect Communication: The Devil's Playground

I read an article recently about facebook statuses that need to come to a screeching halt.  I have to confess that I chuckled at a few of them.  The author made the case that leaving people hanging with vague status updates does not promote deeper friendship. Shocking statuses are equally destructive in the realm of interpersonal communication. And then the author calls for an end to what he called “the private message.”  He is describing the practice of “telling one person off” in the context of a facebook status that everyone reads.  It might read something like this :"I am glad you are out of my life. I hope I never see you again".  And of course all of your friends are left wondering who was lucky enough to be on the receiving end of a private message that is communicated very publicly.

 What happened to direct communication? What happened to going and talking to someone when there is a point of disagreement?  It seems like the onset of social media has propelled the disappearance of face to face communication. Instead of working out our differences with each other we resort to the indirect mode of communication that social media allows.  And in the process, every single day friendships are destroyed.

Indirect communication is the devil’s playground.  And social media is not the only piece of equipment of on that playground.  Text messaging maintains a prominent place.  It is a lot easier to put our thumbs to work and fire off a hateful text message than it is to take the initiative to have a real conversation with another human being. And it is even easier to send a text about someone else than it is to actually talk to them. Now that is indirect communication at its finest!

In recent years, I have grieved the loss of several friends.  Childhood friends, longtime mentors, professional colleagues, and former employers have been among those that I have said goodbye to at funerals that are terribly painful. And it seems like I come home from such services to find my remaining friends playing on the devil’s playground of indirect communication. In a top 40 hit from the previous generation, Karen Carpenter sang: We go on hurting each other, making each other cry, tearing each other apart. Can’t we stop hurting each other? Gotta stop hurting each other…

Life is too short.  Friendship is too precious to allow the ready availability of social media or text messaging to destroy in a matter of seconds what may have taken a lifetime to construct.  I hope we can learn to value our relationships enough to speak directly to those with whom we have differences. Even at age 52 I am eager to join my friends on the playground, but not the devil’s playground. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Surround Yourself with Impulsive Friends

When I was about 30 years old, an extended family member asked me when I was going to grow up.  I replied “never.” That was not the answer she was searching for.  I failed the test.   But the truth is I have grown up.  I am not as impulsive as I was at one time.  I am far more cautious than I was in my younger years. Perhaps the word “tame” is fitting.  I am not convinced that is entirely good.

Earlier this fall a friend lost his son as the result of a vehicle/pedestrian accident.  It was truly an accident, but the outcome was devastating.  The young victim was an up and coming engineer for a large corporation.  At age 24, Ryan had finished his degree at a prestigious university and was quickly making his way in the world.  He had no shortage of friends. His generous heart and well developed interpersonal skills drew people to him in all sorts of social settings.

As we discussed the pain of acute grief only weeks after his son’s death, his dad told me about a friend that chose to honor his son in a unique way.  The man felt that a tangible memorial strategically placed was the right thing to do.  He purchased a Crimson King Red Maple tree. And he decided that the tree should be planted in front of the engineering building, where Ryan spent a good deal of time during his undergraduate experience.  Bear in mind there are over 57,000 students at this well-known university.  

Universities invented the phrase “red-tape.”  Large institutes of higher learning hire people to take care of their landscaping and grounds maintenance.  There is no such thing as random tree planting. Planting a memorial tree would likely necessitate the formation of three committees and the approval of several deans.  It would not be out of the question for them to initiate a research project on Crimson Red Maple trees by some PHD on campus.  In the final analysis, the gentleman made arrangements to have the tree planted in front of the fraternity house, where Ryan also spent a good deal of time.

I like this man.  He is my age, but life has not tamed him completely.  He is still impulsive.  He still thinks you can throw caution to the wind and plant trees where you think they should be planted.  He cares about his grieving friend and sees the value in a tangible memorial. He is thoughtful and tenacious. He is creative in the way he chooses to express compassion.  Thankfully he has not grown up yet and I hope he never does.

And… I learned something about fatherhood after hearing this “tree story.”  Becoming tame and mellow and all grown up is not necessarily the best way to serve our friends or our children.  My boys need to see that I can be impulsive and extravagant in the way I choose to love and serve them. I need to throw caution to the wind and do things with them that are just fun.  My generosity on their behalf should have a similar feel and look.

My friends need that quality as well.  Part of being an aging father is walking with other dads during the good times and the times of excruciating pain too. I can’t fathom what Ryan’s father feels right now, but I am a father.  A father of sons at that.  Aging fathers with gray hair and gray beards need to forget this whole business of growing up.  It is overrated.  Instead… we need to be impulsive and crazy in the way we choose to serve the men that are journeying with us on this trek called fatherhood.  No one can serve a father like another father.  I am indeed an aging father, but I still refuse to grow up.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Confessions of an Aging Father Part I: Fatherly Flashbacks

I have been experiencing flashbacks the last several days.   And believe it or not I really did not do any LSD back in the ‘70’s.   I actually did a little research.  Apparently having LSD flashbacks decades after ingestion is indeed urban legend.  As a matter of fact, my flashbacks have been very specific. They seem to be characteristic of an aging father...

The first one occurred Saturday evening.  We hosted some friends overnight that have three small pre-adolescent children.  It was so nice to have kids in the house again.  Their questions, their concerns, and their innocence….It did my soul good.

As I was making hamburger patties to put on the grill, two of the kids wanted to help me.  I said:  “Of course! Jump in there!”  And I patiently showed them how to make a good hamburger patty that is not apt to fall apart.  And then one of them wanted to place his handiwork on the grill. Not a problem. I patiently supervised that process too.  And that’s when the flashbacks started...

I don’t recall being as patient with my children.  I don’t even remember being as receptive to their assistance. I think I was more inclined to say: “I need to do it!”  “We are late for dinner.” “I don’t have time for you to help.”  And then there was the proverbial phrase…maybe next time. Maybe next time you can help me.  I would be more inclined to tell my own children that they would burn their hand on the grill, so I had better place the patties on there.  It was sort of like Ralphie in the movie  A Christmas Story being told that he would shoot his eye out with the Red Rider BB gun he so wanted for Christmas.

The second flashback came this afternoon. I was loading one tiny sack of groceries in the trunk as I observed a lady with a very small little boy perched in her shopping cart loading an abundance of groceries in her vehicle. The wind was blowing and she was having a hard time keeping the cart from escaping her grasp as she unloaded.  I wanted to help her, but I thought she would think I was a creepy old man.  My week-old beard is not doing much to enhance my appearance these days. It actually adds to the creepy factor.  When I looked at that little boy, I had a flashback.  I was loading a 1986 Suburban with another little boy in the cart.   There was a part of me that wanted to get up in that ladies face and say: “Enjoy that little guy!  You will blink and he will be 25 years old.”  But I resisted. I knew that would confirm in her mind that I was indeed creepy and perhaps a tad unstable too.

 I am learning that flashbacks come with territory of being an aging father.  And I am learning that I am more patient today than I was when my boys were small.  I am wondering why God allows us to have children when we are so young and immature.  Do I apologize to my children for being uptight and impatient as they grew up?  It would not be a bad idea… I think mainly I will just try to extend my new found patience to them where they are in life today.  I never experienced that.  My father died when I was 15.  Perhaps there are benefits to being an aging father.  They will be home for the holidays. I hope we can make some hamburger patties together.  And maybe we can go the store together.  In the meantime, I anticipate more flashbacks.  It is just part of being an aging father.  And I certainly desire such flashbacks to be redemptive as I yearn to be a better father.