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Yesterday, my Smiling 5yo Son sat in my lap and told me my breath "smells like throw-up." Nonplussed, I just laughed and told him he was probably right.

45+ years ago, as I sat on my Mom’s lap, I told her she had a mustache. She was shaken, angry, and hurt. I’ve never forgotten how badly that innocent comment hurt her. Of course I wasn’t trying to hurt her. I was just a curious little boy who noticed something I’d never noticed before. But her reaction devastated me – even though she didn’t mean to.

Yesterday was a victory in stopping some of the cycles of dysfunction that we tend to pass on from generation to generation. I pray that my kids grow up not knowing the fear of shaming and the pain of dysfunction.

It is only by becoming a better man that I can become a better parent and raise better kids. My love for them is incredibly motivating!

There are certain stories one grows up with that seem surreal and untouchable. When they are told in snippets and fragments, it can be difficult to grasp the sum of the parts. Families also seek to shape their stories, to hide the pain and dysfunction, and to make themselves better than we really are. All of this creates a mystic and aura that warps the past.

Saturday I had the opportunity to travel back in time. My time machine was a 2002 Saturn and my guide was my aging Dad. He was asked to preach in Waldport, the city where he grew up. I offered to drive him down to there.

My Dad has never been one to really open up. This can be frustrating at times, especially when I’m trying to discover the truth. On the other hand, we have spent a lot of time driving around together, but not saying much – so once I came to accept his silence, the frustration has evaporated. During our drive, as I gave him space, he began to share stories.

When we arrived at the church facility, I mentioned to the lady to the lady who greeted us that our family helped charter this church. She was unimpressed, but friendly enough. Soon, a few other people introduced themselves and chatted. I mentioned how, at one time, the offering plates used at this church, were made by my Dad. Surprisingly, they said they still used those plates. It turned out that only one of the three had been made by my Dad – and it was in remarkably good condition for having over 60 years of use.

He’s always been my hero.”

My Dad doesn’t get around so well anymore. He had a stroke 14 years ago and his health is deteriorating. He uses a cane, but is still unsteady. His legs are weak and he can’t walk far or stand very long. He tottered to the platform, stood behind the podium, and grasped it firmly as he talked about the Father’s love for the next half-hour.

Made by my Dad in 1951Earlier in the week, my Dad heard my Brother give a presentation on preaching. Ditch the notes, my Brother suggested, and so, at 77 years old, by Dad tried a new trick – he ditched the notes. I was proud of him. Afterwards, several people came to me and complimented my Dad. “He’s always been my hero,” I said with a smile.

As we chatted after the service, the nice people of this church gave me the offering plate my Dad made when he was a sophomore in high school. I was humbled and honored, near tears.

Afterward, we had lunch with my Dad’s cousin Ray, who had come to the church (for the first time in decades) just to hear my Dad. Then we drove out to the old family homestead where my Dad and Ray both grew up – along with their grandparents, parents, and siblings.

I’ve been hearing stories about this place all my life. I’ve figured out that they weren’t just pioneers, but they were dirt poor. No electricity, a gravity fed spigot in the yard supplied all their water, and they picked fruit, vegetables, roots, and flowers just to survive. To me, this perseverance makes me proud; growing up in the midst of it was most likely embarrassing and shameful. As we approached Waldport Saturday morning, my Dad began to share stories, most likely stimulated by visual cues and familiar places.

I learned that my Dad’s family used to set gill-nets on the Alsea River. They’d go out daily and collect the salmon or steelhead they caught and put them in an ice-filled box beside the river. Later a man in a boat would pick up the fish and pay them for their catch. One time, my grandmother fell into the cold river while wearing hip boots. My great-grandmother was frightened and didn’t know what to do, but fortunately, my grandmother was able to hold onto the side of the boat. Soon a man in another boat came to their aid and helped my shivering grandmother onto their rowboat.

Credit: Flickr

My Dad showed me where his grandparent’s orchard used to stand, where they used to swim in the river, where they caught the school bus, and where they rowed the boat across the river to catch that bus. I asked him what school buses were like in 1940? “Just like they are today,” he said without hesitation. Later he added, “They didn’t have the red flashing lights.”

He told me how the bus driver would make the boys clean the bus if they got rowdy; or he’d drop off any kid who didn’t behave, and make them walk home. He even showed me where the bus driver used to live. He showed me where the school was. He told stories and I listened.

When we got out to the property, I told him how I remember walking across a broken bridge. The planks were missing and he had to carry me as he balanced on the beam. I remember my Mom being very afraid and I was very young. That was probably the last time I was there.

According to my Dad, one time there, when I was just a toddler, my Dad and a friend were down the creek shooting guns when he heard my Mom screaming. Scared, unsure of what happened, my Dad ran up the creek to my Mom. He thought maybe I’d fallen in the creek. He found my Mom where she’d fallen through the cattle guard, hanging onto my leg to keep me from falling into the creek.

We found my great-uncle Leslie’s old place, but my Dad was having trouble finding my grandparents’ place. I pointed out some rocks along the canyon walls and my Dad told me how their goats used to scramble up that rock face. That’s when he realized we had driven too far, and we turned around. The forest had grown and changed, there were more houses and hunting/fishing cabins had been built all around. The landmarks had changed, plus, he was 70 years older than when they moved to the Portland area.

Just then, as we drove, the landmarks started to come into focus. He recognized where their old barn used to sit beside the road. Then he saw the driveway and the bridge crossing the creek. “That used to be a footbridge” he told me. A lady was sitting in a chair, out in the warm afternoon sun, reading a book. My Dad told me to drive across the bridge and I did. She was living in a trailer on the property, but she told us to feel free to look around.

My Dad recognized the old pine tree that stood outside their backdoor. A large maple tree, with two of its three largest limbs broken, barely stood nearby. “That’s the tree we used to play in,” he told me. He pointed out other landmarks and I got out. It felts as if I were on holy ground.

We never made it to the Tidewater Cemetery, where my great-grandparents are buried, but at least I know where Tidewater is now.

As we drove up Highway 101 headed home, I learned that my grandfather worked on the original (and famous) Alsea Bay Bridge, built in 1936. Most of the time we drove in silence, and sometimes we’d tell little jokes or stories, but silence is usually the norm when I’m with my Dad. It’s easier in the car because the TV at his house doesn’t get in the way, or the playful chatter of my kids at my house. Plus, unlike a restaurant, we don’t have to look at each other in that silence.

I believe women don’t understand the silence men share. Like two old cowboys riding across the frontier, we don’t have to talk to be friends, and we don’t have to look at each other to talk. My Dad and I do well in the car. We stare out the window, share jokes or amusing observations, and occasionally, we really talk. It is rare, it isn’t deep, but it happens. I try to pay attention when it does. It happened a few times on the ride home.

One shameful topic came up several times, and he never admitted to anything, but I can’t imagine him sharing those stories if he wasn’t trying to unburden his heart a little. I didn’t press, he didn’t volunteer much, but I think I understand. Probably more than he knows.

We asked about each other’s old friends. I realize both of us are losing our old friends. It’s sad really, but it happens. It can be difficult for we men to make new ones. An article I read in the New York Times provided good insight into that.

You have too much integrity. You can’t leave this stuff alone.”

I don’t know how it came up, or why, but at some point my Dad said, “You really got screwed by those guys.” He was referring to my termination three years ago.

“Yeah,” I replied. “But I’ve let go.”

It was about six months ago that I was able to shed the last of the hurt, resentment, and bitterness of my firing. I realize now that the people who wanted me gone were only acting out of their own pain. I realize that those who made the decision to terminate me were acting out of fear and ignorance. It wasn’t malicious. I just happened to get caught up in the storm. I’ve let it go.

That’s when my Dad dropped a bombshell of revelation on me. “Well,” he started, I let him know he screwed you.”

“Who!?” I wondered.

“The president. I went to see him.”

“What!? Really!? You went to see him!?” I was shocked! Amazed really. Almost speechless.

“Twice.” My Dad explained. “I really let him have it. I told him he was wrong. But I had to go back a second time to apologize for being rude.”

We both laughed – but I was shocked. I had no idea he’d done this. It doesn’t surprise me really, I just had no idea. My Dad has a long history of standing up for the underdogs in life. He has done battle with many giants, and he doesn’t back down.

I remember him running out onto the ice rink to confront a large player from the opposing hockey team. The player was on skates, but was already larger than my Dad, even without the skates. My Dad grabbed him by the jersey and let him know he wouldn’t tolerate this kid trying to hurt the smaller kids on our team. My Dad, in street shoes, and about 30 pounds lighter than this big kid, knew he’d bitten off more than he could handle, but he didn’t back down. The kid did though.

My Dad has mentored troubled kids for as long as I can remember. Many have gone on to have successful lives, good careers, wives, and children. My Dad was never afraid to buck the system, to stand for what he believes, and to rail against bullies and mediocrity. I come by all of this very honestly.

I told my Dad, “Your problem is you have too much integrity. You can’t leave this stuff alone. You’re my hero Dad.”

Somewhere during the day, I came to the conclusion that it was time to quit my job at AMR. My family is too important to stay at a place that is causing this much pain in our lives. I don’t know what’s next, but I know we’ll be OK. Our God, like my Dad, and the prodigal son’s father, will not abandon us.

During his sermon, my Dad gave an imaginative illustration, and I think he was talking to me. He said he imagined the actions of the father when his son decided to leave. He imagined the father telling his servants to make a new robe, a coat of many colors with the family crest sewn on it. He imagined the father telling the servants to make a ring, and some new sandals for his son, whom he knew would return. The father of the prodigal son, from my Dad’s perspective, never doubted that his son would return. I believe my Dad was saying that to me.

Several times in my life, I’ve turned my back on reality, and like my Dad when he was young, rebelled in unhealthy ways. Recently, I was quite angry with my Dad and didn’t talk to him for awhile. But I heard my Dad say that he never gave up on me. He always knew I’d return. And, like him, I have.

My Dad has always been my hero.

 

Confidence

Credit: Flickr

Most of us tend to plod through life, one foot in front of the other, without much intentionality. We look for opportunities to eat, sleep, have fun, have sex, and hopefully survive again to try it again tomorrow. We often make short-term plans and live for those moments. The weekend, next month’s annual vacation, or a birthday celebration are examples of these sort of short-term plans.

We look for opportunities to eat, sleep, have fun, have sex, and hopefully survive again to try it again tomorrow.

You would never get behind the wheel of a car and leave your hands off that steering wheel; you would never walk a narrow ledge with your eyes closed; and, you would never walk into a burning building without a purpose. So why do we, as parents, stumble through this life without a purpose or plan for our families? Why do we take a hands off approach to parenting? And why do we walk the dangerous ledges of raising children, with our eyes closed?

We think we are making long-term plans when we talk about finishing college, buying a house, or “someday” having a baby. We even think saving money, to buy a house, car, or big-screen TV is a long-term commitment. But we fool ourselves. I’d like to invite you to think bigger, more long-term, and take a moment to think about how intentional you are as a parent.

  • First, think back on how intentional your parents were. Are you anything like what they hoped you would be? Did they have a plan? What intentional actions did they undertake to help you become the person you are today?
  • Second, process these ideas into the kind of parent you are right now. Are you parenting in a way that you respect? Are you the type of parent you hoped you would become? What are you doing in your life, and the lives of your family, that will enable them to become the people you hope they will become?
  • Third, take a moment to jot down some notes about your children. What challenges do they face? What opportunities are in their lives? What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? When you picture your children 10, 20, 30, or even 50 years from now, what kind of people do you expect them to be? What kind of people do you dream they will become?
  • Finally, think about what you are doing to launch your own children to become the kind of person you hope they’ll become?

Are you parenting on purpose? Are you being intentional? Are you challenging the familial habits, dysfunctions, and flaws in order to break the cycles that have ensnared you and your ancestors?

“the un-aimed arrow never misses”

twin BASE jumpers

Credit: Flickr

I know in my heart of hearts that my parents wanted me to grow up to be a “good” person. But I also know that they had no idea on how to make that a reality. They hoped I would turn out OK, and they hoped they were good parents. And for the most part, their hopes were realized – depending upon who you talk to in my life. However, my Mom and Dad didn’t have a plan. Most of their parenting was accidental.

I remember my parents telling me how overly strict their parents were and how it was their intention to not be as strict. They went on to explain that because of their more casual approach, I would probably be a more strict parent. I believe my parents believed in balance and I believe they were seeking balance, but I’m not so certain they ever found it.

It’s been said, the un-aimed arrow never misses. The same is true in child rearing. If you have no plan, you will never fail.

My Dad quit smoking because he read that children are more likely to smoke if their parents smoke. My Dad used to smoke four packs of cigarettes a day. But he quit cold turkey in order to save my life. That, by itself, is a tremendous legacy. What legacy do you want to leave with your kids, your grandkids, and your great-grandchildren? Have you thought that far down the road? Are you capable of thinking that big?

I hope my kids will be happy, healthy, smart, fun, compassionate, content, and well-liked. I pray for them in these areas. But the fact of the matter remains, they are going to mimic me in these areas. Am I happy? Am I healthy? Am I well-liked? If I possess these traits, there is a good chance they will too.

Marine Rambo

Credit: Flickr

I learned common sense from my Dad. I learned to be creative from my Mom. It wasn’t necessarily because they were intentional about teaching these things, it is just who they were. My Dad took me to work with him. I handed him tools, rode on heavy equipment with him, and watched every move he made. Some kids that I grew up with never had opportunities to do those things – and it shows.

I’m giving my kids those opportunities, but I’m trying to be more intentional than my Dad. I intentionally allow my Darling Daughter as well as my Smiling Son to help me work on the car, hang some shelves, or repair a lamp. I deliberately take them with me when I go to the hardware store. The task becomes secondary to my ability to expose them to the resources available and the process of problem solving. I not only allow them to watch me fix, solve, hammer, cut, and repair, but I intentionally involve them in the process. This allows them to see how my mind works and I intentionally pass on the wisdom of my Dad, my grandfathers, and all the other mentors in my life. I’m intentionally instilling common sense.

Just as my Dad quit a 4-pack a day habit, for my sake, I’ve made similar choices. Long before I met my Wonderful Wife, I chose to stop drinking, stop being addicted to TV, and to stop making poor relationship choices. I did these things for myself and my own survival, but I also made these choices for my future children. It was an act of love that transcends time and space. I’m so glad I was inspired to make these lifestyle changes, especially after my kids came into my life!

It isn’t enough to hope though. There has to be a plan.

Many people want their kids to be successful. That is a good goal. But define success. What does that mean to you? Now, how will you prepare the way for that to happen. For me, success means a life of balance, contentment, and wholeness. I’m not as concerned by financial success as I am by their ability to be whole, and to achieve spiritual, emotional, mental, social, and physical health.

Now, the challenge becomes, how will that be accomplished? What am I doing to make this goal a reality? What changes am I undertaking? What challenges am I willing to face? What opportunities am I pursuing?

still

Credit: Flickr

It’s easy to look at my kids today and bask in the blessing of their presence. They are well-mannered, content, and healthy. Sometimes I wonder what they will be like five years from now, or 10, or 15. It is difficult to imagine my Smiling Son as a 25 year-old. The thought of my Darling Daughter entering puberty is frightening enough – let alone picturing her as a 25 year-old like I was. What will they be like when they are 35, 45, 55, or 75? Will they be good people? Will they love God with all their heart, mind, and soul? Will they love others more than they love themselves – or at least as much?

Will my kids be good parents? Will they overcome the curses of addiction that plague my family and challenged my ancestors? Will my children be good spouses? Will they be good citizens? Will they be good employees? Will my kids be loving grandparents? Will they overcome the burdens of dysfunction I’ve passed onto them?

Some of these things will happen, even without a plan. Arrows, shot into the air, will occasionally find a solid target. There is a lot of good in our lives, passed on from some really good genes and family dynamics. Many of the dysfunctions are impossible to overcome – they are just there. But my kids are not so old, and I’m not so far over the hill, that at least within our family, we can’t continue to be intentional in our parenting.

I’m curious, what are you doing in your life, and in your family, to be intentional about raising your kids? What challenges do you face? What opportunities have been presented to you? Where do you see your kids in 5, 10, or 50 years down the road?

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