I Am My Own Uncle

wp-1525652296590.jpgMy uncle used to swing me onto his shoulders and fly me around the sidewalk like I was an airplane. It wasn’t piggyback for us. It was real aeronautics, complete with propeller sound effects and a touchdown landing when we were done. I remember giggling for days over something so silly, my imagination ran wild with so many possibilities for our next game, it would carry me through for weeks. Which was, coincidentally, how long it would be until I saw my uncle again.

I think back on it, and realize I was craving a father figure back then, someone who would lift me onto his shoulders every day and give me the love and affection I needed. Don’t get me wrong. My dad was at all the “big” things, like my baptism, and my high school graduation, but those were the only things he really attended. He wasn’t there when I was crying after skinning my knee playing ball in the street. He wasn’t there when I wanted someone to talk to about all the feelings I had during puberty. He just wasn’t there.

And it was easy to blame him because my uncle was so cool. He was the man I would have picked out if someone had asked what my version of a father would look like, even

wp-1525652049158..jpgthough he had no biological kids of his own. At times I even hoped that he would be around more, not that my dad would, because my uncle was undeniably cool. That was back in the days when cool was good, and everything else was bad. Cool meant he was awesome in an ’80s kind of way, which was the kind of way I needed.

My uncle bought me my first bike when I was ten, or nine, or whatever age it was. I fell down so many times I would forget I was supposed to be up on it, riding against the wind. But he was there with me, to help me balance even when I felt unbalanced, to get me back up on the horse when there wasn’t a horse to be seen. My uncle stayed there until I got it right, until I was riding around like I hadn’t a care in the world, and I loved him for it. Then he was gone, and I missed him again.

You see, I was a boy, and growing up it was hard to explain these kinds of boy ideas and feelings with my mom. My dad was hardly around, but he was more a stern disciplinarian anyway, and I felt like he was inaccessible in a way that my uncle never was. If my dad was a part of speech he would be a preposition — before, after, or apart. And my uncle was a verb — always active. I wanted to be just like him, to carry with me even just a small part of his essence, so that one day I would be cool too.

IMG95201805059511012093495HDR.jpgWell, that day was yesterday. I don’t even know how to describe my feelings while writing this. Maybe I’m cool, and maybe I’m not. I’m not sure how the adjective would apply these days, in this world of hashtags and virtuality. But I am sure of one thing — I am past the age now that my uncle was when he watched me graduate from high school, when he patted me on the back and told me he was proud of me. And yesterday, my nephew graduated from college. I clapped him on the back and told him I was proud of him. I’m sure it meant just as much to him as my uncle telling me the same thing so long ago meant for me.

As I stood there on that immaculate lawn, watching the boy I saw come into this world enter into adulthood, it was so surreal. He was the boy I helped learn how to read, the boy who spent his summers with us, the boy I put on my own shoulders and pretended he was an airplane. He was the boy who didn’t know if he was going to make it through 20180505_101905.jpgschool, the boy who I gave emotional and mental support to for all of those years. But he was more than that. He was a man, and I was just so proud of him for reaching that destination, for getting done with this one stage of his life, ready to move on to what awaits in the wide world.

And it was real for both of us. While he was no longer that boy, neither was I. I wasn’t just the fun uncle who helped him fly. I wasn’t just the one who took him to the Baseball Hall of Fame, or the one who told him he could when he didn’t think it was possible. I was my own uncle, just twenty years removed, giving him the best of what was in me, just as I had always gotten the best of my uncle. I hope he sees that, after all this time. I hope he realizes that I’ve always had his best intentions at heart. I know he saw the tears in my eyes, tears of joy at him realizing this step of his journey.

Because he is now a man, as I became one so long ago, and I know he needed me as that figure to look up to for so long. But he doesn’t need me for that anymore. I will always be there for him, but I was serious. He is his own man now, just as I arrived at that stage before him, and just as my uncle was there for me then, I am here for him now. I am my own uncle, but not because my nephew is me all over again. He isn’t. I am my own uncle because I see now from the other side of the glass, and while it’s surreal, it’s only natural.

As natural as can be.

Sam

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Some Mornings

Some mornings are simply better than others. The birds chirp mellow, smooth, instead of high pitched and whiny. The coffee smells sweeter, infusing the air with the perfect hint of hazelnut, no more, no less. The bed feels warm, like a cocoon, enveloping me in its warm embrace. The children sleep in, so there are no interruptions, no screams, no yells, nothing at all. Just the sound of silence, and the steady breathing of my wife beside me as I hold her closely.

Some mornings I am in my thoughts, concentrating on what’s to come instead of on what has been, focused on the next thing. I am attuned not to the coming rain but to the storm clouds that are gathering, studying them for signs of early spring, or fading glory, or everything else and nothing else all at once. I stretch out my hand to feel the rain I know is coming, to embrace the coming downpour in ways I never have before. I flinch at its cold presence mingling with my own, and I close the window.

Some mornings there’s Ed Sheeran singing in my ear, reminding me that everything should be all about the rhythm. I sing along to the beat, knowing how close the lyrics are to my own life, to the words that would be in my head even if I wasn’t listening to it. I’m reminded that life, while solitary, is a shared experience, that others are listening to this same song right now, or ruminating on it in their minds, or lost in their dreams of it. Or songs like it. Or thoughts like it. And I smile.

Some mornings I am just so grateful for this life, for this ability to awaken again, to welcome the sun, the sound of the chirping crickets, the cold floor under my feet as I stand. The bed looks forlorn without me in it, with my wife still there steadily breathing, still fast asleep. I tuck the abandoned sheets and covers in around her, a poor facsimile for the warmth of myself, but it’s what I have to give when I have to be up and moving. When the night turns into day and I’m left staring at the thin line.

But some mornings… some mornings I can stay there with her. I can hold her closer than my own skin and our breathing naturally synchronizes. Some mornings I can imagine forever.

Sam

Hopeful For A Dry Season

“Casual match in a very dry field. What could be the season’s yield?” ~Suzanne Vega

heavy_rain_001The rain is coming down. First fast. Then furious. Then so blindingly swift it ceases to be rain, but instead becomes a curtain of water shielding me from the outside world. I don’t reach out to touch it because I don’t like being wet. I don’t like the knowledge that comes with feeling wet more often than not. And even though I know when it’s coming nothing ever makes it any better.

There is this Enya album called A Day Without Rain, and it brings me back to Ireland every single time I play it, back to the lush verdant green fields, and the endless days of rain keeping them that way. I guess it’s a tradeoff then, when I think about it, how the brilliant green doesn’t come without the steady downpour. But that day without rain, it’s precious. It gives us a chance to actually enjoy the brilliant green for what it is, not for how it’s obscured in the downpour.

I called my dad this week. That in and of itself doesn’t really qualify as news, except that it’s the first time I’ve spoken with him since his stroke, which was two months ago. We fell back into those patterns, not unlike riding a bike. We pedal one foot at a time, the rotation moving us forward in incremental steps, but we never truly go forward. We just go around in circles because that is our dynamic. It has always been our dynamic. I don’t know if I expected it to be different since his own life-altering experience.

a-father-is-a-man__quotes-by-frank-a-clark-16Strike that. I did expect it to be different and I was absolutely devastated when it was the same. Something about arriving back in the same place we’ve been so often before made my soul ache, made my spirit break into a million disparate pieces. If hope truly is the thing with feathers, then the conversation grounded me in a way that few things ever have in my life. It was like I was waiting, looking up at the sky, hoping it would stay dry, but like clockwork the clouds came and unleashed the rain. Continue reading “Hopeful For A Dry Season”

Home

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Every day I return to this place, and I exhale as I round the final curve and drive down the hill. I crane my head to the left to catch my first glimpse of our house, lonely out there in the field, waiting for us to move in. But there is still time remaining to get it ready, even though the outside is intact. Most days there are subtle changes that give me renewed hope that it will be our home soon.

Until then, of course, we are still here, in a place that can at once be both hostile and welcoming, depending on who’s home at the time. And I hold my breath after that exhale because in only moments after seeing our new house taking shape I can see this driveway, and I turn in. I have no idea what will await me here, but this is not home. We merely live here.

Someone once said that home isn’t a place, that it’s the people we love, and I find that to be partially true. My heart is with my family, so wherever they are is where my heart resides. But home is not as simple as heart. A home is an amalgamation of the two: heart and place. A physical place is necessary because it provides a context for interaction between family members. Because it gives a hearth, somewhere to come back to, a common ground that welcomes with open arms.

That’s why this is not home, and why this will never be home, even though my family lives here right now. That’s why I exhale when I round that last corner and drive down that hill, because they are doing so much more than just building a house out in that field. They are creating a home where we can grow as a family, where we can return after our long days and feel whole again.

Sam

Fathering the Nest

pop_Birds_Nest_Minnesota_1When I first found out I was going to be a father I had a ton of questions. Unlike motherhood, impending fatherhood doesn’t come with a training manual (or a dozen), so it’s easier to freak out for incoming fathers. I know I freaked out, but after the initial daze that came with getting the good news I knew I had to figure out what kind of father I wanted to be. Then I had to dig deep and determine what kind of father I was predetermined to be.

You see, this thing called fatherhood is just another nebulous term that we can treat any way we want. For some it means being heavily involved in their children’s lives, while others think it’s meaningless, those kids just a few in an endless assembly line of kids they don’t plan on being anything to or doing anything for. The vast majority of guys out there are somewhere in the middle, trying to figure things out as they go.

So, getting back to this whole predetermination thing. There’s something about nature vs. nurture, and how we turn out being one, the other, or some mix of both. I knew that my father wasn’t there for me when I felt like I needed him, and I knew I wanted to be different with my own kids. Did my father’s absence mean I was already destined to be an absent father? Or was it up to me to remember what he did and use it as a guideline of what not to be?

Then I asked myself “Can I do this?” Which means, could I be a solid father? Could I be someone they would look to down the line and say, “Yeah, that’s my dad. He helped raise me right. He was always there for me.” A friend of mine lost her father a couple of years ago, and the first thing everyone said who posted on her Facebook page when they found out was that he was not just a decent man, but a devoted husband, and a wonderful father. If I died tomorrow I would want that to be my epitaph. A decent man, a devoted husband, and a wonderful father.

And the answer was YES. YES, I can do this fatherhood thing. No, I won’t turn out like my father was. I can be my own man, and even though I have my own demons to fight, I will keep fighting them so that I can┬ábe there for my children. Now it’s 10 years into this thing called fatherhood for me, and while I know I haven’t been perfect, I have definitely been what my children need, what I expect from myself as a father, and a helpmate for my wife in this parenting gig we created for ourselves.

But it’s not all about reflecting on what’s gone on so far. It’s also about dealing with each issue one day at a time. It’s about having fun with my kids, but also about teaching them life lessons, sometimes hard lessons, that they’ll remember. I want them to grow to be independent young ladies who will look back on this as the crucible from which their lives sprung like flame, touching many lives with their own.

Maybe it’s true what my mother said so long ago when I asked her what it was like to have kids. She told me it’s the most amazing and the most petrifying thing at the same time. And I agree now. I’m so worried I’m making the wrong decisions sometimes, but I do my best for them always, and I hope that’s enough. That’s all we can do, right?

Sam

Chatting With Lexi: On Screen Time

screen480x480School vacations are always challenging, trying to find a way to fill the void of time that would normally be taken up by school and school activities. It’s a special kind of cabin fever, and I get it. The kids are used to being around their peers; they’re used to a routine that accounts for nearly every minute of the day, from 9:00 am until 3:30 pm, and frankly, so am I. Having so much time with their grandmother during this week has led to some bruised feelings, and I have to admit, a little more screen time than I’d like.

So I got home yesterday at 3:30 and both girls were on their iPads, Lexi engrossed in a youTube video all about Minecraft, and Madeline in what must have been her umpteenth episode of Inspector Gadget. I told them their screen time was up. And Lexi went ballistic…

Me: How much screen time have you had today?
Lexi: I don’t know.
Me: Well, when did you last do something that wasn’t screen related?
Lexi: Um, I don’t know.
Me: How long is this episode?
Lexi: Well, most of them are, like, 30 minutes.
Me: And how many episodes have you seen today?
Lexi: I don’t know. Like five of them.
Me: Don’t you think it’s time you turned it off? Five episodes is 2 1/2 hours.
Lexi: But I love it sooooo much! I don’t want to turn it off!
Me: Finish this episode and then turn it off. It doesn’t matter if you want to.

At which point my beautiful child’s face contorted into what I can only guess is what the devil’s face would look like. I fully expected snarling and spitting, not unlike from a rabid dog, at any moment. Eventually, though, she cooled down and we were able to talk again like normal human beings. It helped that by then she had turned her iPad off and it was sitting in the chair in the other room, charging for whenever it was going to be used next. She was hoping sooner, but I knew it would be later — much later.

Lexi: So what do I do now?
Me: You have a million things you could do. Find one.
Lexi: But I’m sooooo bored, and I don’t want to do anything.
Me: What if I told you you could have your iPad back again?
Lexi: Can I?!
Me: No. My point was that you aren’t too tired to stare at that screen so how could you be too tired to play with your toys or play with your sister?
Lexi: Daaaaaaaaad! You know what I mean.
Me: Yeah, I know that you’re completely obsessed with Minecraft and those videos, and you need to find time for other things in your life. Things that are real. Things that you can do with other people.
Lexi: Maddie can play Minecraft with me,as long as she doesn’t wreck my stuff. I spent a lot of time building everything in my world.
Me: That’s not what I meant, but it proves my point.

She proceeded to lay down on the couch and began humming some tune I can only imagine is prevalent in Minecraft.

Me: So you’d rather stare at the wall as if you’re watching paint dry than find something constructive to do with your free time?
Lexi: Why would anyone sit and watch paint dry?
Me: Again, you totally missed my point. Find something constructive to do.
Lexi: What do you mean by constructive?
Me: Anything. Like building a fort, or playing with your ponies, or helping your sister put together a puzzle, or reading a book. Anything!
Lexi: But I don’t want to do any of that.
Me: So you’d rather watch paint dry. Okay.
Lexi: I don’t care about paint drying! No one’s painting anyway.
Me: I’m sure someone’s painting somewhere.
Lexi: Daaaaaad.
Me: Seriously, though, Lex, you’re not getting your iPad back until you’ve done at least three creative or constructive activities as approved by me.
Lexi: I’ll just lie here then.
Me: I’m thinking I might just designate some days as iPad free days. And no, it doesn’t mean you an order whatever apps you want for free. It means you won’t have the iPad for the entire day. You’ll have to find something else to do with your free time.

And I meant it then. I mean it now. Sometimes I think that “with great technology comes even greater responsibility.” As a parent I need to make sure my child is a productive member of society, and having her nose in a screen all day long won’t help her get there. We’ve already limited her screen time to 2 hours a day, but instituting these iPad free days will make it even more of a focus, a focus on getting creative and constructive.

Lexi: You mean I’m going to have to come up with stuff to do?
Me: Yup. That’s exactly what I mean.
Lexi: Can you just wake me up when it’s the next day?

Sam

Chatting With Lexi Archives

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