« Being The Better Man »

It would have been unimaginable a year ago. Or ten years ago. At both those times, my world was torn asunder by my father ushering me out of a house he owned. Spaced by nearly exactly nine years, the experiences of moving from my childhood home in two hours and my adulthood home in two months were some of the most traumatic of all for me. In 1996 on his birthday on August 26, I found myself having to break into my own house of 23 years while he was at work, and to have to collect everything I could cram into two cars—two drumsets, mattress, books, personal records and recordings, CDs, clothing, and whatever else. That summer was basically the real beginning of the total collapse of my family. A year ago, when ushered from my dear house and studio, I was beside myself with rage at the injustice of it. But I had little choice, and after a while, it became clear that nothing would change any decision about booting me, and that my energy was better spent elsewhere.

Most of the last year has been either extremely troubled or just distant. This summer had that to stew over but also the mark of ten years since the first experience moving from a place I knew as home. Clearly, I am not the same person as in 1996, but last year opened that whole wound up again. I for one don't believe a harder life with less security while struggling to make ends meet makes for better character. I'm sure it can happen. I don't thrive under it. Last year right before I was evicted, I was working hard on my EONSNOW presentation, just starting to figure out how I could matter to the world by conveying something meaningful. Then in a day, most of that was put aside for a couple months. To me, my meaningful work was terribly disrupted, and I was pressed into doing meaningless work that proved to be just that when I held to the character and sense of self I had formed while doing my more meaningful work. As for my father, I just stayed clear of him as best I could, if that was all our relationship was to offer—division, and imbalance of wealth, no cooperation, etc.

Kelli and I are on both a shared quest and personal quests to make sense of the world. Her professional path toward being a minister has drawn me into wanting to know more about her field, so I'd read some things of hers, talk to her about her studies, and we'd both go to Bible study at our church, meet and talk with people who have interesting things to impart on the matter of religion, ethics, faith, justice, and all that stuff. For her, it is both a professional pursuit, but one that necessarily takes over the personal life too. For me, I found it important to learn some things to keep in touch with her, but also to find a way to relate to people in a deeper way. Some of my activism comes straight out of a worldview that can be framed with the biblical language and the related fields of philosophy and ethics.

It is easy to learn things by rote, or by just reducing things to an intellectual exercise. But it is another thing entirely to see if there is a way to actually employ things in real life situations, when they either matter or make one into a total hypocrite. Everyone can rattle off righteous sounding language, but its always harder to live it. In my pursuits, I've kept that in mind. Kelli, as a professional minister, must try to harmonize word and deed, else people won't take her for serious.

The hardest thing that is expected of Christians is to forgive—not to forget—just to forgive. To turn the other cheek. To absorb negative energy so that it is drained of its harmful effects, and to do so willingly and lovingly. It is hard because everything in the world expects us to do differently—to return a blow with an equal or greater blow. Not so, said the Master. In fact, not so, says most every respectable religious and ethical code out there. There is a distinction between being a doormat-victim, and being a person who retains dignity and self worth even in the most challenging conditions of humiliation, while not trying to return such ill will. I guess I always knew that my task was to try to be a Christian while still relating to my father who had done some real humiliating and hurtful things over the years. That to me is the challenge I face. I reckon I can't not deal with him, but do I have to be the doormat-victim or can I do better to hold my own? As a regular churchgoer now (and have been since Kelli and I paired up in early 2002), I run the risk of loading up on empty, self righteous rhetoric as I increasingly see myself as in a certain group. But I don't like the disasters that result from us/them thinking, so I wrestle with how to put a pretty amazingly noble teaching into some form in my life. Hence the many months that I had no contact with my father except to invite him to see Kelli do her first three sermons at church this summer.

Birthday. Second wedding anniversary. Anniversary of moving house, twice (once on his birthday), starting another semester of school for Kelli. There was a growing symbolism in it for me to use the end of August as a time to make something of my abstract idea to transcend years of hurt and see if something else could happen. So on the 25th, I dropped in on his house and we ended up talking for about two hours and managed to stay pretty civil. But more than that, he was surprised to see me, and somehow it seemed that we reached past the obvious dead ends of our usual house and finances discussions. We didn't even mention it at all, though we did have an odd discussion on energy and how to move forward from oil. There was no overt and dividing tension that I would ordinarily expect, and I'd say we met on more levels than we had in the last several years. I offered to have a dinner for his birthday, but had not talked to Kelli about it yet, though she knew I was going to make some offer. Rare is the time when I hug my father, but on this day, there was this powerfully present hug. It was the hug of the old days when things weren't so complicated. It was the hug of the guy I knew who could lift amazingly heavy things and deliver harsh blows to steel in his workshop. It was the hug of a man who I offered as my protection when confronted with the bullies of my youth: "my dad can beat your dad up!!!" But it was also the hug of a man who is physically smaller than me now, and whose age ratio to mine grows smaller all the time, and now it is less than 2:1.

Kelli didn't believe much of what I had to say about that experience, and we got rather, er, excited at the next part I introduced. For Kelli who had no way of relating to him except by seeing how he affected me, and some rather disappointing and hurtful things last summer that she took very personally, she was not inclined to let me get away with this new gimmick.

Following my compulsion to rise above a good decade and more of strife, and to symbolically put some of that to rest, I suggested that we invite him over to our place for dinner. The idea of course was that that was the turning of the other cheek. Once, storming out of a house he lived in or owned, hurt and rage filled, now the table is willingly turned so that he is our guest at our place on precisely the anniversary date of one of the lowest times of my life. I did even better—we could have just gone out to Chili's or Outback or something like that, but I spent the afternoon cooking up food all by meself. Some of it was from the back yard garden, making it even more of a close-to-home thing. He went out to La Mesa to pick up my step mom/his ex-wife Eda. Kelli and I had the dog, the garden, and Suzanne here to keep it grounded in this house, and we had my parents here on a day and weekend rife with symbolic associations. We actually had a good time on the whole. Kelli's impression of him was given a lot of new things to work with, none as hostile as she had come to expect. Our freewheeling conversation ranged a few topics, from Kelli's education to politics, the relative merits of digital or film photos, to the history of our church (which, you see my father was close to because his mother was a founder), and many other things. By the end of the evening, there was laughter and joking around, and cameras coming out to take some candids and some sort of posed shots. It was really a worthwhile time, and to me, put to rest a number of things about how to relate again after months. And then, on the Sunday following, Kelli and I went to his house and had some dessert upstairs at his patio deck on the back of his studio apartment at my childhood house. This was the first of its kind with the three of us since a year and more before, the same setting that Kelli came to despise. But it went off well, and for Kelli and me at least, some sighs of relief were had. I was joking about it with her that this semester she can tell everyone the exact opposite of what happened last year when she started at CST: this year we have a house, dog, garden, smooth running marriage, and even my dad has been all different!

I guess all I can do now is hope that the momentum keeps this going. If nothing else, there was this one weekend when I/we realized that this relationship could be different than 1996 or 2005 led me to believe. Maybe it has to do with the lack of entanglements now—no shared bickering over the house. I don't know. But this is not the time to analyze and dissect. I'm just content that for at least one major instance, I was able to transcend my usual nature, and things turned out the better for it.

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