We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Fatherhood

Beltane                                                                          Moon of the Summer Solstice

09 11 10_Joseph_0256Fatherhood. Sharp knives. Explosions. Football. Muscle cars. PBR. Fishing. Fixit. Harsh discipline. Stuffed feelings. Dutiful, not loving. Nope. None of us all the time, some of us some of the time. Men and boys.

It’s complicated. Motherhood has obvious physical triggers: pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding. Can’t beat those for intimacy. Too, the stereotypical domesticity of wives/mothers, challenged but not diminished much, means early childhood intimacy as well. Where does a dad fit in?

The push of the culture of Alexandria pressed and presses fathers into work, outside to the lawn and the garage, into the military, away from the kids. Men earn, protect, fix. Except when they don’t, as is now the case for many of the white working class men in my hometown in eastern Indiana. The whole county, region.

Dad

As many of you know, my father and I were estranged from my age 21 until his death in 2003. We made efforts to reconnect, especially during regular visits after Joseph came into my life, but the damage was too deep, too long lasting. Whether my mother’s early death forced us into a level of intimacy we couldn’t sustain, or our mutual pride during the difficult years of the Vietnam War wounded us both more than we could mend, or the distant father role he shared with most of his peers were most to blame, I don’t know. It was, no doubt, a toxic mix of all three.

At this vantage point, now an older man myself, the anger is long dissipated and what remains is sadness, a certain wistfulness for what might have been. But wasn’t. We were, as all of us are, flawed. At perhaps the crucial juncture, during a time period when I got ejected from campus for public drunkenness and had to live back home during my junior year for a bit, I was ashamed. He reached out, bought me a car, let me come home. But a war was raging.

fuck-the-draft-anti-war-poster-1960s

Vietnam. We were on different sides. He was a WWII veteran of the Army-Air Force, a Roosevelt liberal, and deeply anti-communist newspaper man. I was young, radical, counter cultural and deeply anti-war. One afternoon he came up to me and asked, “Charlie, are you a homosexual?” I laughed. “No, why do you think that?” He indicated my long hair. Long hair then was for classical musicians and gays in his thinking. “Cut it.” “No.” “Cut it or get out.” It was ten years before we spoke again. Pride. On both our sides.

It may be that adopting Joseph was an attempt for a do over on father and son. If that wasn’t a primary motivation, it certainly became a primary preoccupation. My father was not a bad father, just a father of his generation. I was probably a worse son than he was a father. The obedience and dutifulness that he expected, partly a result of his German upbringing, partly a result of lack of parenting by Elmo, my grandfather whom I never knew, was not possible for me. And I didn’t even try. At this point, he’s been dead 14 years, I’ve forgiven both of us.

20170615_075104

Joseph is the redemption. He’s a fine man, a loving son and husband, dedicated to a life of service. He will, I’m sure, make a great father. Healing the disruption that my experience with Dad created in both me and him was a constant drum beat in me during Joseph’s childhood. And, yes, I made many mistakes raising him. Not possible to raise a kid and not make mistakes. The key though, at least I think it’s the key, is to sustain the relationship, to realize that love bonds us even through deep disagreement.

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When I had lunch with Joseph a couple of weeks ago during his unexpected visit to Colorado Springs, I knew we’d made it past the storms of mid-life. There was my boy, the one I carried home from the airport in a wicker basket, the one I held on my shoulders so often, the one I went to baseball games with, the one who calls me when life gets hard or scary, the one who asked me to perform his marriage to SeoAh, the woman he loves. He was there at the Black Bear Cafe. He was there with Pikes Peak craggy and snowy looking on. He was there and we were father and son and it was good.

 

10,000 Things

Beltane                                                                       Moon of the Summer Solstice

Hiking Staunton State Park yesterday launched me on my first day ever of 10,000 steps, actually 11,435. A weird thing to be proud of, I know, but still, I am. My eventual goal is to hit at least 10,000 every day. First though, I had to do it once and yesterday was that day.

A few memories of that hike:

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Bound

Beltane                                                                     Moon of the Summer Solstice

Second hike at Staunton. Chose the Mason Creek Trail. It goes up, then up and finally it turns into switchbacks, going up. Huff and puff, not at Hogwarts but here in the Front Range. The Mason Creek Trail will provide a consistent challenge, plus it has meadows, waterfalls (see video) and large rock formations.

methodology-sight-size-827x399While hiking and thinking about Reimagining, I realized I’m taking an atelier approach to it. Ateliers train would be artists in the classical mode, using lots of drawing, life models and work with perspective. They’re considered conservative in today’s art world, a sort of throwback to the artist/apprentice studio that dominated art education for so many centuries.

In my case I studied Christianity and the Christian ministry in a seminary, United Theological Seminary, and earned the world’s most outrageous degree, Master of Divinity. In the late 1980’s I took a doctorate at McCormick Seminary in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. The Presbyterian ministry occupied me for 15 years and afterward I dabbled in the Unitarian-Universalist ministry. Now I’m in my second year of Jewish immersion, not a convert, but a close student of this ancient tradition.

bound to the earthYet what I really want to do is rethink what faith is, why we go to the places that we go to for spiritual nourishment and whether there might be a real faith, an approach to the religious life, that emerges naturally from the world in which we live and carry on our daily lives. That is, one without a charismatic founder or an ethnic base, a faith which would help us see the holy ordinary, that would expose the ligatures that bind us to this planet, to the plants and animals and minerals and atmosphere, expose them and help us see them as the loving embrace that they are, not only as limits to our lives.

 

After

Beltane                                                                              Moon of the Summer Solstice

resilience-Disaster-risk-reduction-Climate-Change-Adaptation-guide-englishAnother short trough of time where work here will focus on moving, rearranging, hanging.

Decompressing after finishing a long project starts now.  The joy of holding the weight of the manuscript in my hand as I passed it to Kate, always my first reader, pleases me in a deep way. Superior Wolf is the first work I’ve finished in Colorado, on Shadow Mountain, yet its bones are deeply Minnesotan.

The inspiration for Superior Wolf came from the last native packs of timber wolves in the USA, those in the Arrowhead region of northern Minnesota. It merged along the way with the Latin work I’d been doing, translating Ovid, which included the story of Lycaon, the king of Arcadia. Minnesota and Ovid, the core of this novel.

There is, too, the usual regret that I couldn’t have done better, written more poetically, created more tension, brought the characters to life more convincingly. These regrets are, strangely, the fuel that will carry me into my next novel, probably Jennie’s Dead. Perhaps it will be the one where my language sings and the plot cannot be put down, where the characters take over the work.

disenchantmentBut not yet. The next period of time belongs to another very long term project, reimagining faith. There is that bookshelf filled with works on emergence, of pagan thought, on holiness and sacred time, on the Great Wheel, on the enlightenment, on nature and wilderness. There are file folders to be collected from their various resting places and computer files, too. Printouts to be made of writing already done. Long walks to be taken, using shinrin-yoku to further this work. Drives to be taken in the Rocky Mountains, over to South Park, down to Durango, up again to the Neversummer Wilderness. The Rockies will influence reimagining in ways I don’t yet understand.

Reimagining is already underway, has been for awhile. The first task is to collect all that work I’ve done, so what comes next will be clear. Maybe in a week or two. First though I want to wander around some, move some books, hang some art.

Life in the Rockies

Beltane                                                                        Moon of the Summer Solstice

zoharpageHeavy rain yesterday afternoon, felt like being back in the humid East. Black Mountain is no longer white; it’s green with its lodgepole and aspen looking healthy. It’s gone from white haired old man to green man. Good to see. Cub Creek, Maxwell Creek, Bear Creek and Blue Creek are all full. The snowpack is well above average. A much better scenario for this summer. Thankful.

I’m relieved at Kate’s news, again. She’s had a rough time since the second week of my surgery and I hope the ENT doc has her on a path to eating with no pain. This is seven months of up and down health. Tough for her.

Second kabbalah class tonight at Beth Evergreen. I’m beyond fascinated. This Jewish mystical tradition seems to synch up with the way my mind and spirit work. I haven’t been this excited since I began to move toward paganism many years ago. The three main threads in my spiritual life have been, for a long time now, existentialism, paganism and Taoism. Looks like I may be adding a fourth.

 

Continuation

Beltane                                                                               Moon of the Summer Solstice

20170601_183426On Thursday night Jon and I drove into Stapleton. Ruth’s 5th grade class had presentations and exhibitions for class projects, then there was the oddly named “continuation” ceremony in which each 5th grader got a diploma. This was their last event at Schweigert elementary because next year each of them will be in middle school.

Ruth’s outfit and her posture speak for her in this fuzzy cell phone photo. Other girls had on white dresses with fancy shoes; but, not our Ruth, a girl in the fifth grade with fashion sensibilities I didn’t develop until college. She was one of two girls dressed down for the occasion. The other one had on t-shirt that said, “I like to fart at night.” The rest were in some version of fancy.

These occasions are fraught for Jon, and I suspect for Jen too. The hostility, shame, guilt and resulting tension from the marriage has not yet dissipated, but events important to the kids naturally bring them in proximity to each other. The day after this time at Schweigert Jen went to the police complaining about harassment from Jon, trying to trigger a violation of the restraining order. I don’t know why she did it, but I imagine inner turmoil from Ruth’s event contributed to the timing.

20170601_174005Ruth is a gifted student, a rebel and a usually sweet kid. She has a depressive side which can make her angry, sulky. She also resists, stubbornly, talking about her feelings, refusing to open up to counselors in the aftermath of the divorce. Her 5th grade teacher referred to her as a “little spitfire” whom she would remember forever. That’s Ruth in a phrase.

Being a grandparent of troubled kids, both Ruth and Gabe, is difficult. We can see what’s happening, have an idea about what would be helpful, but possess little true leverage, especially in these months so soon after the final orders for the divorce. What we can do is show up, love them, and offer, with some delicacy, our ideas.

I ache for Ruth, seeing all the potential, all the possibility in her, yet watching her forced to deal with emotional currents far too complex for her current level of emotional maturity. She does have her own reading chair in the loft and she sometimes retreats here with her kindle.

 

Oh. Really?

Beltane                                                                         Moon of the Summer Solstice

20-the-map-is-not-the-territoryI guess it’s time to admit it. I’m a deeply religious guy, whatever that means. It means at least that I find religion and religions fascinating, personally transformative. I have approached religion since high school with a mixture of deep skepticism and a willingness, no, a need to rethink, refeel, reexperience what I’m told.

J. Harry Cotton, professor of philosophy at Wabash College, introduced the radical skepticism to my journey. In my senior year of high school I had grown dissatisfied with the Methodist version of Christianity, so I asked the local Roman Catholic priest to give me instructions in the Catholic faith. He introduced me to the traditional Aquinian arguments for the existence of God. Since I had not, at that time, fully recognized the relentlessly logical bent to my mind, I found these arguments profound and felt like the Methodists had hidden them from me.

Triumph of Thomas Aquinas, Benozzo Gozzoli

Triumph of Thomas Aquinas, Benozzo Gozzoli

Then, that fall, J. Harry systematically dismantled each one of them. It’s not hard to do with the proper philosophical tools. Take God as the Aristotelian prime mover of the universe. God put the whole shebang in motion, otherwise how would things have gotten started? Well, like many similar arguments, this one suffers from the problem of infinite regression. So, if the universe required a prime mover, then who or what moved the prime mover?

When I left J. Harry’s class that afternoon, walking across the great lawn with brick academic buildings on every side, my world had been shaken at a foundational level. Out went the whole Christian project in my life, right then. Later, I would find Camus and his version of existentialism, which still informs me, but then, there was nothing.

downloadSince that day until now my ancientrail has always wound its circuitous path back to the big questions. I’ve explored Christianity, Islam, now Judaism, Taoism, existentialism, various spiritual disciplines like lectio divina, meditation, morning and evening prayers, contemplative prayer, even some modest peaks into Tibetan buddhism occasioned by my friendship with Gyatsho Tshering. Though I am now and have been for a while an idiosyncratic version of Taoist/pagan, I’m finding the Reconstructionist path in Judaism a surprisingly familiar one.

Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan

Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan

Reconstructionist thought, begun by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, is radical. Very radical. He asserted that the Torah is not divinely inspired. He went on to say that God as a supernatural intervener makes no sense. He rewrote Jewish rituals and insisted on a reexamination of the whole tradition, reconstructing it where it made sense. I love a key line of his, “The past gets a voice, but not a veto.” Yes. Very Emersonian.

Maybe my reimagining faith project is not so far out as I have sometimes thought. Perhaps it’s the work I’ve been in training for most of my adult life. What if I knuckled down and got at it with a reconstructionist bent in mind? Might be interesting.

 

Outside in the Rockies

20170526_095523Beltane                                                                         Moon of the Summer Solstice

Drove the fifteen or so minutes to Staunton State Park yesterday. Since we moved here I’ve wanted to include regular hiking as part of my fitness routine, but I let first one thing and then another get in the way. No longer. Bought an annual state park pass. “Sir, could I ask you if you are over 65?” Saved me ten bucks. Sure. Ask away.

Debbie, the personal trainer who put together my new workout plan has suggested I alternate cardio days with resistance work. Since I’m paying her for her expertise, I’m going to go follow her suggestion. She also said hiking would be good for abductor/adductor strengthening, uneven terrain. “The Davis Pond trail at Staunton would be a place to start.”

Here are a few pictures from that very trail. I used to exercise outside a lot: Crosby Park in St. Paul, Lake George Regional Park and Rum River Regional Park in Anoka County, but the ease of the treadmill and inertia moved me away from it. Glad to be getting back. And the scenery here is amazing.

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A Few Trees

Beltane                                                                                                Rushing Waters Moon

 

 

ram dass

Ponderosa, Beth Evergreen

Ponderosa, Beth Evergreen

Ponderosa, Flying J Ranch

Ponderosa, Flying J Ranch

Ponderosa, Flying J Ranch

Ponderosa, Flying J Ranch

Ponderosa, Flying J Ranch

Ponderosa, Flying J Ranch

Flying J Ranch

Flying J Ranch

Grandmother Ponderosa, Beth Evergreen

Grandmother Ponderosa, Beth Evergreen

Mother’s Day

Beltane                                                                          Rushing Waters Moon

Mother’s Mothers dayday. It’s hard to write about Mother’s day. My mother’s death in 1964, when I was 17, drained the day of meaning. I suppose it didn’t have to be that way. I might have taken the opportunity to celebrate her on this day, but somehow it’s never felt right.

Even though I know it’s a Hallmark holiday, a clever way to sell cards and flowers and candy, it has a sneaky power that comes from the Judaeo-Christian admonition to honor thy mother and thy father. This is a simple phrase, easy to remember and oft repeated, but often difficult to fulfill. This sentiment is not unique to the West, of course. Asian cultures often have an exalted view of parents, extending even past death to care and grooming of graves.

Mom was a 50’s mom. She never learned to drive. She stayed at home, raising Mary, Mark and me though at the time of her death she was updating her teacher’s license so she could work again full-time. It was her plan to use her income to pay for our college costs.

cards-mothers-day-ad-1952She was not, however, fond of the typical duties of a housewife. That’s not to say she neither cleaned, nor cooked, nor did laundry. She did all these things, but only as necessities.

Mom’s been dead 53 years and my memory of her has faded, but the presence of her has not. That is, I can still feel the love she had for me, the countless hours she spent bringing me back from literal paralysis during my long bout of polio. In fact, in what is surely an apocryphal memory, I can recall being in her arms at the Madison County Fair surrounded by bare light bulbs strung through the trees, a cotton candy machine whirring pink spun sugar, and suddenly feeling sick with what would become that disease. But I felt safe with her. The memory may be a later construct, but the feelings behind it are genuine.

Since my relationship with my father soured during the Vietnam War, in 1968 to be exact, I have felt parentless, sort of adrift in the world without close family support. That’s a long time. And, yes, much of that experience was reinforced and maintained by my own actions. Nonetheless it has never changed. My analyst once described my family as atomized rather than nuclear. It was apt.

So, mom, today I want to say thanks for your love and your caring. Thanks for all the energy and attention you put into all of us. Thanks for the gift of recovery. Thanks for the vision of me as a capable person. Thanks for all the meals, the clean laundry, the clean house, especially since I know these things were not what you really wanted to be doing. Thanks for giving me life. It’s been a long time, but perhaps I can celebrate mother’s day now. For you.

 

 

June 2017
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