Birthday Man

During your first birthday as a husband, we waited for Into the Woods to begin at Shakespeare in the Park at Central Park in New York City. We sat there while it poured rain until a couple behind us held their giant golf umbrella over us to provide a little relief. We sat for at least an hour and watched sheets of rain sparkle in the stage lights until they announced a rainout. We walked on Broadway in the 70-streets in our wet clothes until we found a place that served cake and hot chocolate. We ate cake and drank hot chocolate. We were two months into being married. You were helping me move my stuff out of storage to Utah. I was excited about sharing so many more birthdays with you.

IMG_4445

Today is your 3rd birthday as a husband, your first as a father.

IMG_0114

We began your birthday celebration last night at dinner. A little party, just the three of us. You and I talked while our daughter sat quietly and watched us until she started trying to stand, which turned into rolling over in her carrier. Then you held her while I ate. I watched you with her across the table from me and thought, man, how did I end up with this amazingness in my life?

IMG_5283

You have spent the last four months getting up in the middle of the night to rock our daughter. You’ve stayed home and fed her and changed diapers and sang to her and taught her to blow raspberries. I think she understands the time you spend with her more deeply than we know. You are totally killing it as a father, which not only inspires me but makes me ever so grateful that you’re my husband. And I know our daughter is grateful that you’re her dadda.

IMG_5315

Tonight, you have class, and that’s okay. I hope you have a wonderful and special day with lots of laughs and smiles and memories, and we look forward to more fun birthdays with you.

2014-05A

Top 10 List for May’s 2012

I cannot believe this year. So much has happened, and I have only 56 entries to show for it. At least there are fewer blog posts to choose from for the annual countdown.

10. May: No one told me I’d eventually get to play against the BYU quarterback. I joined an intramural kickball team, and tonight was our first game.

9. July: Smartphone apps have a tiny dear place in my heart.  I looked around to see that I wasn’t the only one crying. I loved it.

8. July: This is the year I really got into hiking. And most of it during the season of a broken camera. Thank the Lord for making geology pretty.

7. August: Reilly’s birthday, and first time in New York City. We wondered about Glenn Close.

6. January: Careful to put ego-puffing somewhere in the middle. Being published in an academic, peer-reviewed journal would be a nice touch to my last semester.

5. September: The Oklahoma visit went along with going to NYC. Dad still finds happiness in little things. In simple things.

4. November: What an election year. I’m sorry to the friends I may have pissed off. But,  I spent maybe at least 5 minutes voting/playing with the fancy machine.

3. October: Recap of April’s commencement ceremony. I only slept because my friends who sat by me made me so very comfortable.

2.5. April: Full of transitions and excitement and bending rules for lists of 10.  The past four days have knocked me squarely on my rear. Three flights, up and down, up and down. My things, my books. His things, his books.

2. December: Can we distinguish the source of our tears in December? We talk about future names, but what is the name of our future?

1. June: Well, duh. Mindblowing. Incredible. Fantastic. Amazing. This.

This list doesn’t even include events like Christmas and wedding showers and getting jobs. It’s true that I am often vague in my blog posts, but know that these top 10 entries include the top people in my life. You’re always in my thoughts and prayers. You’ve done so much for my happiness and helped me to become a decent person. Thank you for your support. Thank you especially for your friendship and kindness and generosity, which I know will carry over into the new year and our upcoming and continued lives together.

I wish you all the blessings and happiness you deserve. Nothing less.

Churchery and Blogs I Read

It’s a little weird when someone you don’t know all that well approaches you and says that they’ve been reading your blog. Then they say something about your life that you know you didn’t tell them, which is pretty jarring until you realize that they read it on your blog.

You get to know people through their writing, and you feel a certain closeness to them. They recount experiences that you can relate to. They help you to remember that you’re not alone in this world. Even though you haven’t met them, even though you’re not friends, they understand that parts of life can be especially hard.

I faithfully follow the blogs of two people who have been married for 10 years. On Monday they announced through their blogs (here and here) that they are getting a divorce. Over the years their blogs have shown what a great couple these people are. They’ve expressed love and appreciation for each other, and they’ve written about how they support each other in situations where they have struggled with mental health.

They announced their separation a few months ago, and when they announced their divorce, I couldn’t help feeling a bit of sadness for them. It made me think back to my parents’ divorce, and I guess I felt like lending a little bit of support and sent Dooce an email. Here’s part of it:

I didn’t understand my parents’ divorce when it was happening. They announced their separation in 1997, during my junior year at BYU. Everything finalized sometime in 2002. My mom was an immigrant and worked a minimum-wage job, and my dad’s lawyer somehow convinced him to sue Mom for child support for my then teenage brother. Dad came out looking like the bad guy.

But Dad has always seemed like the bad guy. Navy man. Almost draconian in disciplining us. We were spanked (belts, switches, whatever he could get his hands on), we were afraid of speaking up or forming original thoughts or developing our identities. He never listened, and he was always right. So I guess he felt he didn’t have to listen. The more I thought about it, and the more I talked it through with a therapist, the clearer the reasons for the divorce became.

They say that sometimes divorce works out to everyone’s happiness. Mom has since remarried, and my mental health has greatly improved. But my brother has stopped talking to my heartbroken dad, who has recently developed dementia and now convalesces at a Veterans Affairs place in Oklahoma. (When the house emptied, he moved from my childhood home in Florida to live closer to his sister.) I say “but,” but maybe Dad has found a little soothing in his blurry moments, like white noise or static on a tv screen. And maybe his lucid moments–when he recognizes his sister, when he and I have a good phone conversation–provide a little peace, too.

I see my dad in a different light.

Dad’s dementia has been an interesting extension of my therapy, an added reason to forgive him for the physical, sexual, and mental abuse I received as a child. He never remembered the sexual abuse (two isolated incidents), and I’ve debated confronting him about it for so many years. But now he’ll never remember it again, so why should I keep clutching a hurt that’s healed? When my aunt called with the diagnosis, it was like the tide came in after 25 years, and the sand I was holding in my fists magically washed away. I could finally swim.

Not that the divorce caused Dad’s dementia: causation, correlation, blah-blah-blah. Yet the divorce did seem to allow other events to unfold. And everyone in my family has learned to take varying degrees of charge of their lives. The happiness has been hard to find sometimes, but it has been there for the finding.

Today in church we talked about forgiveness, and one of the points that people kept mentioning was that many people don’t even realize they’ve offended you. They don’t set out to hurt you, but somehow it seems easier to assume maliciousness, so that you can take the high road and forgive. Which seems silly. The most sensible thing is not to take offense in the first place, because you don’t know the lives of those who may have hurt you. The better thing is to try to be more understanding, because forgiveness sometimes is so unbelievably hard.

Then again, if an offense is committed and your feelings are truly hurt, the other people may need your forgiveness as much as you need to forgive. It depends on the situation, I guess. So maybe my point here is not to let the grudge fester. Don’t let your refusal/unwillingness to forgive hinder your ability to see and the best in people, to understand them, to see them in a different light. Forgiveness can bring out the best in us, which is what the Lord always sees.

The happiness is there.

I Shoot Guns Here

The metaphor of taking aim and the satisfaction of hitting one’s target in the safety of a shooting range are so different than what I would imagine sighting a human being through a scope and creating a void in the universe by taking that person’s life.

My friend Eleece lives in Oklahoma. I was excited for her to take me on my very first shooting adventure. I was open to doing anything else, but this is the one thing I really wanted to do. We went to a range where Eleece and her husband are members, and she brought a few guns and her bag of ammunition. We bought two paper targets, and Eleece let me and Reilly shoot a few rounds from each gun. She taught us how to hold and load the guns and be safe with the safety. We wore earplugs and eye protection. Something about the whole experience was relaxing and exciting at the same time.

Naturally I looked forward to visiting New York City, but I definitely wanted to visit Oklahoma. My dad and his sister live about 80 miles east of Tulsa. My aunt and her husband own dozens of acres of open land, where fish swim and breed in ponds scattered around their property. They catch the fish. They eat the fish. Buddy the dog likes to run in front of the truck that tumbles over the rampant, tall grass. He doesn’t bound quite as high as he did two years ago when I last saw him. But he does seem to eat an entire pack of hot dogs with his usual, efficient flair.

Reilly and I entered my aunt’s trailer, and the television blared Fox News. This aunt loves to give advice and tell stories about her days in northern Arizona, where she held various occupations and caused her share of trouble. The renegade of the siblings, she does whatever she wants but believes the things she believes with more conviction than anyone I know. I found her comparisons of Barack Obama and Hitler rather outlandish and very unconvincing, but she rattled off her theories as if they were truth. If you’re in your 70s and have made choices in the name of unforeseen wisdom, then I won’t mind whatever your political proclivities are.

My stomach sank when my aunt’s husband said how glad he was that we were able to visit, because he thinks this might be the last time I’ll be able to see my dad.

My aunt took us to the assisted living facility where my dad is staying. The dementia seems to be somewhat at bay. He talks far less than he used to, and whenever we talked on the phone in the past year, he’d describe the birds outside his window or how he watches this one particular squirrel scramble about the yard. The difference between having a clear mind and having an empty mind becomes heartbreakingly clear in my dad. My aunt told stories about how he nearly drowned when he was a child, how he had seizures and always had trouble in school. This is so different than my childhood perception of him, but this knowledge helps me to understand him, his passion for cooking that he no longer has, his meticulous cleaning habits that he couldn’t care less about now, because those thoughts never cross his mind anymore. I wonder if he’ll even know what I’m talking about if I tell him I’ve forgiven him for that time when I was 8 and 9 years old. I wonder if it really even matters.

Staring at the television, staring out the window. It scares me to think when his mind will shut off, when the power button on the remote will get pressed and the screen goes blank. Dark.

This growing mental void brings no satisfaction, but a type of grace emerges, makes itself known.

Dad still finds happiness in little things. In simple things. Him being able to walk, even though it’s much more labored with a weak heart and weight gain, and stricken with varicose veins and arthritis. The birds and the squirrels. Him seeing me with my husband. Him being able to tell me in person that he loves me. If hearts are the target and love and understanding are the weapons, then we’re finally becoming sharpshooters. Aiming across a thousand miles at each other, we’re turning into snipers, feeling more alive with every shot.

Recipes

One day when I was younger, I asked my dad to teach me how to cook and bake. Mom and he took turns cooking, but Dad did most of the baking. He cooked and baked during most of the time he was in the Navy, and I couldn’t have been more grateful that he brought his work home with him.

At different points throughout college, I called my dad for advice about cooking and baking. How much cold water for the crust? How much difference does nutmeg make? He gave me tips on many of his recipes, that while it was important to measure exactly, he told me to observe consistencies and textures and trust my instincts on what “looks” right. He told me not to be afraid to taste and adjust accordingly.

Sometimes my attempts were successful, and other times reminded me that I needed more practice. And that maybe I needed to trust myself more.

The missionaries came over all the time for meals, and my dad proudly fed them. His goal was always to overfeed them. He was constantly tasting and stirring and seasoning and often experimenting. He made great stews and steaks and chili. He made a great sweet-and-sour sauce that went well with pork or fish or chicken.

Dad likes to tell a story about a time he was at sea and preparing a meal for all the sailors on board. The the ocean was rolling, and he was trying to bake bread, but the bread pans would slide in the oven and bang against the side, and the dough would inevitably fall. My dad was a perfectionist with his baking, and he would always throw away his sunken attempts and try again.

He figured out that he should make enough dough to fill enough loaf pans to put into the oven at the same time, to pack them side by side, across the oven rack, fitted against each other and the oven walls. This allowed the bread to rise and the sailors to have homemade bread for their meals.

His best work was always his baking. At holiday times he made multiple pies. He made cookies and cinnamon rolls and cakes. It’s hard to imagine a time when our home didn’t smell amazing.

He taught me how to make French toast and how to tell when to flip over pancakes. He made enormous three-egg omelets and cooked bacon and sausage perfectly. I owe my love of breakfast to my dad.

I learned the importance of a clean workspace from him. He said to clean as I go, for not only does that free up space that I need for the next delicious thing to prepare, it prevents a giant pile of dishes to wash at the very end.

He baked whenever, not just for holidays. Sometimes I would help him roll out his perfect pie crust for pumpkin or apple or cherry cream cheese or pecan pie. Sometimes I would help cut the pie crust into smaller circles to fill for turnovers. Then he’d let me seal the edges with a fork and paint the turnovers with an eggwash. They went into the oven, then I’d mix some powdered sugar and milk to brush over them as a glaze once they cooled off .

He’d let me sprinkle sugar and cinnamon across rolled-out bread dough that had been brushed with melted butter. Sometimes there were raisins. He’d roll the dough back up and slice cross-sections and place them on a baking sheet and let them rise. Then he’d bake and ice them in the morning for fresh cinnamon rolls for breakfast.

Waking up was never hard for me as a kid.

Banana bread happened quite frequently. He let a couple of bananas go beyond ripe,  soft and almost black, and nearly self-dissolved in sweetness, and he would put them in the freezer until he needed them. I remember doing homework in my room and suddenly smelling banana bread and coming out of my room for a warm piece sometimes served with a scoop of ice cream.

Then, of course, there was the eating of our creation. And the sharing. My dad always shared with guests and neighbors and folks from church. He always made plenty. He loved being busy in the kitchen. He loves making people happy.

The other day, my aunt told me over the phone that my dad has driven to places several times and couldn’t find his way home. In his clearer moments he realized that he isn’t safe–he is endangering himself and others–and he suggested to my aunt that he can’t live on his own.

She said there were times that she’s found him sitting in his chair, staring at the walls, waiting to die.

But he’s on antidepressants now.

He’s in a lot of pain a lot of the time, and his doctor scheduled him for a follow-up surgery on a long-standing condition he has, but according to my aunt, no one has checked on the effects of the combination of medications he is taking. His blood is thin, his heart is bad: he is not a good candidate for surgery. At my aunt’s insistence, the doctor referred him to a specialist.

Dad gave my aunt power of attorney and she’s been trying to organize his affairs. He’ll get rid of his house. And his truck. He won’t be driving anymore.

He’ll be checking into assisted living. He and my aunt have checked out the facility, and apparently, Dad has already made friends with a neighbor across the hall from his room.

He knows that my aunt and I have been talking. He worries that she’s told me everything.

It’s important for me to know.

She’s such a good sister to him, and I cannot imagine what it’s like for her to watch him fade before her eyes. She has only wanted for him to be happy.

She said that doctors have diagnosed him, and there’s only so much they can treat.

My aunt said that the missionaries don’t come over anymore.

Dad has stopped cooking and baking completely.

He’s forgotten the recipes.

Now (Again) I Can’t Sleep (Still)

KING LEAR
Be your tears wet? yes, ‘faith. I pray, weep not:
If you have poison for me, I will drink it.
I know you do not love me; for your sisters
Have, as I do remember, done me wrong:
You have some cause, they have not.

CORDELIA
No cause, no cause.

I worked on a final paper today for my Shakespeare class. While rereading certain parts of King Lear, I realized that I have lived this passage.

And tears surprised me.

So.

Dad.