Sunday, January 27, 2008

Of Fathers & Sons

Over the summer, I attended a weekend workshop for men. Many cultures have a ritual to lead boys into manhood, but ours leaves many of us to fend for ourselves. A large part of the weekend was to provide some of that experience which may have been lacking in our lives as young teens.

Motivations were many for me to attend, although it took a year to “find the time”. My chosen vocation was in a tailspin of disasters leading to the brink of a second bankruptcy in five years. My marriage suffered from the stress. After 60 years in the same home, my parents were moving to an assisted care facility, and standing right in front of her, I could not even be sure my Mom really knew who I was.

Much of the first half of that weekend I spent in skepticism, my ego very attached to the concept that I am inherently good and the world around me was the one in chaos. True, I had come willing to change. Aware that my life was not working, I wanted to take responsibility for my faults, but the levels of resistance were so deep and numerous. The rituals seemed either too silly a game, or too naked and simple a process. I kept looking for the Real work to begin.

Only when I stopped watching the transformation of my fellow initiates, closed my eyes, and looked hard at myself, did I begin to fully participate. The first wall to crumble was how hard it was for me to accept the rigid and sometimes ridiculous rules. Even knowing they had a purpose and might lead to the changes I desired, it was difficult to play along.

True to my life work to be exceptional, I proved to be the most challenging initiate to the leadership in their process to get us to face our own individual demons. No different than facing my sixth grade teacher who asked more of me than I was willing to give, these men could only try to help me help myself. It was really up to me to make the difference.

Finally, early Sunday morning, I began to focus on the little boy inside of me who had just wanted to fill buckets of water at the swimming pool one summer day long ago, trying to get the terrace wet all the way around before the sun dried any of it. This had been a simple task he had set for himself, nonsensical to anyone watching, but he was working hard, having fun, and he was so very happy.

This little boy has long been lost to me. Sometimes, I’ve seen him flying down a mogul field, sometimes heard him sing with his guitar, sometimes playing with his own family at the beach. Lately, he’s been learning to play defense on a weekly afternoon pick-up soccer game with Latino and African refugees.

The theme of fathers and sons repeatedly came up for me throughout the weekend. I relived the pride I felt each Saturday morning as a kid when my own father invited me to the lumber store, and also the dread I felt approaching the stoplight, where if it were red, he would be awkward waiting in silence, only able to express with a hard slap to my knee, raising a welt, how much he loved me. I know he was doing the best he could, given the lessons he'd learned from his own quiet father who was 50 years older than him.

When we were released from the workshop late Sunday afternoon, our cell phones returned, I immediately called my father and euphorically vomited the lessons I’d learned. He listened with interest and an amazingly detached and understanding perspective, considering he could have defensively argued back thinking I was being critical, or sulked in regret. With my mother no longer there to translate, the best part was that we were talking at all, and I promised I would journey to his new home to visit soon.

I can see I have the opportunity to change this world for my own son. Open heartily, he reaches out to me, and I know it is important to return his hug, recognizing and overcoming my own discomfort, based on my past training. His coach for many years, now we play in that pick-up game together, sometimes side by side, sometimes opposing, and ride home afterwards through stoplights in blissful companionship.

He is learning to ski moguls with me, and on the chairlift, we talk about girls, math tests, and the temptations and dangers of drugs. This morning, I’m teaching him to make waffles from my great-granny’s recipe.

Perhaps we really will take that road trip across the country in his senior year that we regularly talk about. Possibly we’ll go on a dream-warrior survival weekend that equals any initiation ceremony. In the meantime, I do all these things to help him become a man, humbly aware that my own life is fragile, my business not prosperous, that I am still financially reliant on my own father. If I can help my son be comfortable in the knowledge that he is loved, help him to go forward confidently in this strange and wonderful world, if I can help tomake it a little easier for him, then all will be worth it.

Please share with your friends

1 comment:

John said...

great piece Kip, inspiring to me as I have recently been talking more with Corinne about Nick and how lost he might have felt at his age when I left home, his senior year, your piece allowed me to cry about this and it touched a part of my life I am reexamining and realizing, despite Nick having already left home, that it is not too late, to check in, make certain he knows who I am and that I am trying always to understand why it is life ends up where it does...I hope and look forward to transmitting what I have learned to Nick much earlier in his life, not that he won't make mistakes, but so he can see himself better with the help of someone who might know him best, help him to relive and keep alive those days when life was easy and he played hard, cared little what stress the outside world has to is a haven I am struggling hard to get back to as well...thanks for your inspiration, not only in this piece, but over the lifetime of our friendship...yo