I hope you got everything you wished for …
Though judging by the multiple celebrations …
And the many friends and family in attendance at your “official” party, I’m pretty sure you did.
I hope you got everything you wished for …
Though judging by the multiple celebrations …
And the many friends and family in attendance at your “official” party, I’m pretty sure you did.
My son turned six yesterday. Six years ago he was born into this world. In those half a dozen years, this is about the only thing I’ve learned definitively about being a father: No cliche is ever more true than the cliches of parenthood.
My world has changed? Check.
I couldn’t imagine my life without him? Check.
I think my kid is the smartest, bravest, best behaved? Check.
Well, let’s back up here.
Kyan is a bright kid — as smart, sympathetic and brave as the next one. Well behaved? Well sometimes. He can be a wild, untamed beast of a devil, free to follow only his own whims and cares. These last few weeks of school, after holiday break, the Wild Thing within him has lurked more closely to the surface. But is this not also a cliche? Is this not what it means to be a boy? Perhaps.
I know this much. To be a boy is to declare at some point in your life, like Ky did recently, that a dog is your “best buddy:”
It is to be mischievious:
It is to smile the biggest when you’re with your dad:
And it is, finally, to become your dad, for better or worse:
When talking about a boy, doesn’t it always come back to his father?
Believe it or not, that is my dad above, to the right, a few years younger than I am now, though looking far more like me than he has in any picture I’ve seen. Looking at this picture the other day, I had never felt more like my father. And I consider that a success.
In high school, most of my wardrobe consisted of my father’s old clothes. In fact, one of my favorite shirts was the one he’s wearing in this picture. I wear a beard today mainly because my dad did through most of my childhood. There was no one I looked up to more than my father, and I always thought if I was half the dad he was, I’d be a pretty decent dad.
Even knowing the sins of my father now, like I do, I still hold this outlook.
I had a conversation with my childhood best friend the other day about our fathers. About how we see them in a different light now that we’re older. But his viewpoint differed from my own. I admire my dad more now, knowing his faults. He is flawed, yes, but my picture of him is truer than ever. And that makes me love him more.
It’s ironic, though. Every parent’s ambition is for their kids to surpass them, to live a better life than they had as a child, and to become a better man or woman than they are. And yet, my boy, just as I did, wants nothing more than to be exactly like his father. I recognize the way Kyan looks at me, for I too once looked at my father the same way. And yet, when I look at him, it is with hope that he will be better than me. For my sins are many and my flaws could fill an ocean. And Kyan, he has so much potential — beast and all. That is what I see, just as that is what my father saw in me.
It’s impossible to not put so much of our own hopes into our children. For that’s the way of the final and most absolute of the parenthood cliches, and I’m obligated to carry on the tradition.
“Some say time is like water that flows around us (like a stone in the river) and some say we flow with time (like a twig floating on the surface of the water). My sense of the world tells me otherwise. I believe that time is like a train, with men hanging out in front of the engine and off the back of the caboose; the man in front is laying down new tracks the moment before the train touches them and the man in the caboose is tearing up the rails the moment they are past. There is no linear continuation: The past disappears, the future is unimagined, and the present is ephemeral.”
— Chuck Klosterman
It hurts less with each day, but there are days when it still hurts — that twinge of nostalgia that’s more like the leftover pain from a wound I still purposefully poke.
I do it to myself consciously, dragging through these memories of the past decade, finding the ones that are fresher than I thought and rolling them around in my fingers like a marble. In the last 10 years, I’ve gotten married, divorced, graduated from college, began a career, had a son, sent my son off to school for the first time, bought a house, bought my first car, ran a half marathon, jumped out of a plane, made new friends, lost old ones, had my heart broken, my world shattered, my life built back up again, found G*d and lost him again.
I know it’s absurd to suggest I’ve grown more in the last 10 years than during any other decade of my life. But in some ways this feels true.
And through it all, I try to catalog these memories, to write them down and remember them. For if I don’t, as I’ve said many times here already, these memories and feelings will be lost forever.
And then there are days when my words get logjammed in my throat and I can’t find a way to break the dam and understand what’s happening to me.
There are days when it feels like my blank pages remain blank, and the world turns and the sun rises and the sun falls and people wake up and people shower and people work and people eat and I continue on in this hum of existence like a blur. During these days my life feels like a photo distorted by a shutter speed that was too slow to keep up with the action. Nothing of substance may occur, but I still fail to feel and experience much of what does happen.
Then there are days like nearly every day the past two months, when almost every day is bursting with a new and jubilant memory.
Sometimes these moments are small, like coloring pictures in bed on a Sunday morning.
Or bowling at a birthday party.
And sometimes these small moments are part of a bigger moment.
Like moving my girlfriend from Columbus to Marietta and making an impromptu fort with Ky from the empty boxes.
Or grabbing a lunch of hummus and lentils with Jess at the North Market.
Or coming home to my girlfriend practicing her ukulele.
And in these moments I could get lost forever. In these moments, if I could, I would suspend time. I would stop that train from barreling onward and take just another minute to cherish the scenery, to breathe in the air and smile. For if I don’t, these moments will become just another memory, and thus, in some small way, less real.
If only I could stop that train …
The weekend went by in a whirl, my head still spinning to understand everything and its place and every detail of happiness that subtly slipped into my subconscious, filling me with warmth and wonder, like the first sip of whiskey on a cold November day.
And I know I must remember it all so I’ll start chronologically and work my way forward because the world is always moving forward and there’s no time for now, for the present, or certainly no time for yesterday. But I have to remember these moments for these moments are mere memories as soon as they happen, quickly moving into the back corners of my mind, sure to be forgotten and misunderstood with each passing minute. These moments are my life and my son’s and without the words in black and white they are shifty and transient and I must remember, to hold them as long as I can, to make these words and these memories immortal.
And off we go to Columbus for the weekend. I pick Ky up from daycare at 6 and we press on toward Columbus, stopping at first at Wendy’s for a brief dinner and then later, in Nelsonville, for Taco Bell. My conscious pricks at these dinners, but Ky was hungry and I had few alternatives. We sit down at the hard, muted tables in Taco Bell and Ky proceeds to ask me for the 12th time already that day about tornadoes and whether they were real and where they happened and would they ever come here.
I asked him why he wanted to know so much about tornadoes and he said he couldn’t get them out of his head. I tilted his head to one side and softly pounded on the top half, telling him, good, all the tornado business was now out, but he didn’t believe me and said it was still there. Sometimes the things we want to leave our memories aren’t going anywhere and sometimes the things we want to stay in our memories slip away like our youth.
Kyan then tells me about the plot for the new Transformers movie and I ask him not to tell me too much, because I might watch it still and he looks hurt and tells me, Daddy, I wanted to tell you. So he tells me how Optimus Prime died and came back to life and he later asks why his mommy and I didn’t name him after the Autobots leader. And I wonder if he, too, just needed to get this out.
We go to bed early that night and wake up the next morning for a bike ride to the farmer’s market, Ky in the bike carrier and my legs and lungs burning to pull us forward, down the next block and then the next, till finally we arrive at our destination.
We gather a few things for lunch and Ky pets every dog he passes and gets a free balloon from a car collision shop.
We go home, eat and head to my sister’s, where Ky will stay for part of the afternoon while Jess and I go to her tattoo appointment. Kyan and HeHe go to the pool and then back to her apartment and then sleep for a mid-afternoon nap.
Jess and I arrive shortly at the tattoo artist’s studio and we wait and look around at this arts collective’s warehouse and then Kat, the tattooist is here and we go to her studio and there are paintings on the wall, one of which is a large canvass of a dead guy, barechested, laid out in a field, blood splattered on his head and chest, a fly resting, nesting on his forehead.
This would appear ominous in any other setting but Kat is cute with dark hair and blue bangs swept to the side and she does her best to make Jess feel less nervous and I like her for this.
I think of Jess’ tattoo and how jealous I am of it and its meaning in her life. And I think of the tattoos I want and of how cute Jess is when she’s trying to be tough, flinching just slightly when the needle moves to the more sensitive parts of her arm and apologizing to me for squeezing my hand in those moments, as if she shouldn’t be feeling pain, or at least shouldn’t be transferring that pain to me.
A few hours later, we’re done, at least for the day, and we head back to my sister’s to get Ky, who spent the entire time we were gone asking when we would return because he was excited for the concerts we were going to that night.
So we get home and pack up and ride our bikes to the festival and park them at the bike valet and walk into a swarm of people, sweating and stinking of cigarettes and patchouli in patches , but otherwise just masses of people, moving down the walkways, swaying to the music. And it’s a little overwhelming, but I hold Kyan’s hand, maybe more for my own grounding than his.
We order our beer and food and find a spot to camp out for the evening, Kyan insisting on stopping to pet every puppy we see on the way. Each time, he walks up to the dog’s owner and asks politely to pet the doggie and the owner each time looks down at him with wide eyes and surprise and says of course you can, and my heart swells at this polite little boy I’m helping to raise.
And we listen to music and play with action figures and wrestle.
And then we make faces for the camera.
And then we play with Jess’ iPhone and Ky shows me how to use the drawing applicationand I think my lord, my son knows more about this piece of technology than I do and boy must I be old, but I know that we’re here, listening to music amid tattooed and pierced and bearded folks, and Kyan seems right at home and I think maybe I’m not so old after all and we head home late that night, Kyan thrilled to be up past his bedtime and we all three crash within minutes, it seems, of stepping inside the front door.
And then it’s Sunday, just like that, and we’re off to Whole World for vegan brunch and then off to the festival again and this time it’s less crowded and Kyan seems to enjoy the park more and we look at the fishies in the pond and take pictures of the lily pads.
And then he dances and dances some more and then it’s off to get his face painted and to tie-dye T-shirts and to listen to more music.
And then the day’s winding up and we head home and Jess and I sleep for a few minutes before packing up my car and then we’re off and my head feels drugged, like I’ve been sick and doped up on Benadryl.
And then we’re home, and it’s home but it feels so far away from home and I listen to the Elected and he’s singing that he’s not going home because he’s already there. And he’s singing that sometimes you can’t go home, sometimes you’re already there. He’s singing When I look at you, I’m there.
And I’m feeling this song and I’m thinking of moving back into the blue house from my dad’s and I’m a little stressed about the move and I’m then thinking of how I’m missing the whirlwind in Columbus, because, at least for those moments, it feels like home.
And then I pull down a Hemingway book, this one called “A Moveable Feast,” from my bookshelf and I think of its implications on my life and I read a little and then, like Jess says, I feel like I could sleep for two days and I turn out the light and I dream the whole night through.
Yes, these are the days we dream of.
Yes, yes, lots has been going on and I’ve struggled to compute it all. Thus my lack of posts. Through this busy-ness I’ve been examining a lot of my motives, a lot of my faults and a lot of my life. As always, it always comes back to Kyan.
First off, Ky graduated from pre-school, as seen here:
And yet again I’m left amazed at the way cliches about parenthood hold up. My lawd, they do grow up fast! Kindergarten this fall?! Really? Yes, it’s apparently true.
And everyday he amazes me.
He tells me he wants to be a trashmaker, you know taking trash and making into something. A creator. He stops our game of frisbee to pick up trash at the park. He tells me we have to go to church this Sunday. He insists we pray, in our heads, before every meal, because, you know, G*d is a personal thing. He gets gifts and immediately thinks of others and how he can give them something in return.
It’s like this song I’ve been listening to, where the author wonders if he was ever like his son, as good-hearted as his son, as clever and smart and brilliant as his son. Not the other way around.
Kyan is the most caring, compassionate, hilarious, creative, environmentally friendly, God-loving, five-year-old I’ve ever met. Of course, I’m biased. Sue me. But where does he get this stuff from? It’s certainly not from me. No offense to his mom, but I doubt it’s from her, too.
I’m also reminded of a scene from “Mad Men,” where the main character, Don Draper, is being hounded by his wife to punish their young son, who keeps getting into mischief. The wife, Betty, wants Don to spank the child to teach him a lesson. Afterall, Don “wouldn’t be half the man he is today if his father hadn’t hit him.” Later in the episode Don reveals to Betty that his own father beat the hell out of him and it did nothing but make him fantasize about the day he could murder him. Oh, and Don was half as good as his own son is.
That’s how I feel. That already I’ll never have half the heart my son has. That how could I ever be disappointed in him when he fills me with such inspiration.
What is it about kids that seems so progressive? What mystery it is that they seem to take the best parts of ourselves, expand upon them and leave the worst parts behind.
A week after Ky’s graduation, we went to the beach with my family and swam and played in the sand and went putt-putt golfing (Ky was sort of like Happy Gilmore, treating the game as if it were hockey, but still managing somehow to be a success) and ate and napped and laughed and looked for crabs and seashells and dolphins. It was one of the few vacations I’ve had where I didn’t return needing another vacation just to recover from the one I just took.
And yet it all went by in a blur.
It was also one of the few times I’ve been able to be around family and friends and partners for an extended amount of time without feeling overwhelmed by the stimulation. I’m one of those odd types, the ones who prefer time alone to most company, who are deemed eccentric or weird or stuck up or sad or socially awkward. Maybe, just maybe, we prefer to dine alone, to watch movies alone, to read, to jog, to bike, to live life, largely, alone.
I’ve been finding myself more and more drawn into this way of life and more and more having to explain why I’m like this. I’ve started reading “Party of One, The Loner’s Manifesto,” and so far there are many sentences I could quote here at length.
Let’s let these suffice:
“Alone, we are alive.
Alone does not necessarily mean in solitude: we are not just the lone figure on the far shore. This is a populous world, and we are most often alone in a crowd. It is a state less of body than mind. The word alone should not, for us, ring cold and hollow, but hot. Pulsing with potentiality. Alone as in distinct. Alone as in, Alone in a field. As in, Stand alone. As in, like it or not, Leave me alone. This word wants rescuing, this word wants pride. This word wants to be washed and shined.
… We are part of the human race. We need our space. Get used to it.”
And through it all, I’m left looking at my life, as in shambles as it may be, as broken and as unperfect as it may be. I’m left looking at these pieces and trying to piece them together for him. So he has some solid foundation to stand on.
And yet. And yet, because of him, I’m inspired to learn more about myself so that he may learn more about himself. For, as Socrates said, the unexamined life is not worth living.
I’ve been looking over my life, my recent life, lately. There’s nothing I wouldn’t change, despite how others may see me from the outside.
Because of him, I’m once again inspired to conquer that beast that lurks within. I’m inspired to conquer the one thing in this world that seems impossible to conquer: myself.
I’m once again reminded of my own dad and his own flaws and how those rough spots only furthered my love and admiration of him.
This is me. This is me in all my truth. This is me, with my head in the clouds, dreaming, creating, hoping — alone or not, but content either way. Like it or not, take it or leave it, this is me.
I hope he always sees me at my best. But if not, I hope he always sees my heart and how it beats for him. I hope he sees these attempts and when his own children are born, he can see mine and how I struggled for him and how I loved him so.
No matter what I try, or what I do, Kyan is scarcely interested in riding bikes. He acts like he doesn’t understand how to pedal. He insists it’s too hard. I think he’s just lazy — the laziest hyperactive kid I’ve ever known, that is.
As an incentive, a compromise if you will, I bought a used tandem bike adapter off Craigslist. The tandem adapter consists of one wheel, a handlebar and pedals, all of which attach to the seat stem of my bike, allowing Ky to pretty much just coast off my effort, all the while learning how the pedals revolve up and down.
And … not so much interested in that either.
So I resort to a more grown up version of the bike seat I borrowed from my uncle that he had used for much of his early life. That bike seat allowed him to sit behind me, with his helmet on, and sleep, or observe the world around him.
This new, grown up version is nothing more than a bike trailer, but one that allows him much more freedom to play — or sleep.
But first things first: fun.
I attach the trailer to my Raleigh and plop him in. He insists on wearing a Star Wars clone trooper helmet smiles nearly as big as the face of the carrier.
We set off on the bike trail and Ky says hi to everyone we pass, eliciting smiles from each person.
A short time later, we move down a small hill and as we speed up, Ky’s voice rises in volume and enthusiasm, “Now that’s what I’M talking about!”
On the way back, however, Ky is less than enthused, as I try explaining to him we don’t have time to stop home to get action figures, as Mommy is going to be waiting for us on the other side of Marietta in a matter of minutes. My explanations aren’t satisfactory and he pouts.
Still, the first foray of the summer must be considered a success, especially as I see him exit the bike carrier, his chest puffed out and his face beaming, eager to show his mom his new chariot.
“This was fun, Daddy,” he says.
“Of course, it was. I was the one doing all the work,” I reply, to no one really but myself. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Unlike most boys, I never wanted to be a policeman or a firefighter or an astronaut. At least as far as I remember. My earliest thoughts about any future usually revolved around kids. Yes, it’s cliche to liken myself to Holden Caulfield, but all I had ever wanted to be was someone who kids, and particularly boys, could look up to.
I owe all this to my father, a man who served as a surrogate dad for many of my friends, primarily through soccer. I had one friend whose dad roughed up him and his two brothers on occasion and who at one point we had to come get in junior high by driving our four-wheelers into the city to pick him up. I had another who, as far as I knew, had seen his dad fewer times than Dane Cook has actually told a joke. That’s not a lot, by the way.
Each of these two — and more — looked to my dad for guidance or acceptance from time to time. As a result some of the awe I bestowed on my father certainly came as I looked at him through their eyes.
I was looking through an old journal the other day, the first one I had ever written, and found a horrible horrible poem I had written horribly. But in it there was a line about the only thing I wanted in the future was to be a husband and a dad.None of this astronaut stuff for me.
That dream stayed with me for most of my life, well until I had a son of my own, when it was no longer a dream. I’ve been thinking a lot about dreams lately. Not the nocturnal ones. As Aesop Rock puts it in “No Regrets,” “You can dream a little dream, Or you can live a little dream, I’d rather live it, Cuz dreamers always chase, But never get it.”
But it’s easy to forgot why you had a kid in the first place. It’s easy to get caught up in the everyday.
On Saturday, some of that childlike wonder returned when I took Ky and Jessica to Marietta College’s new planetarium. We waited in the lobby area for the group before us to be finished with the presentation and Ky played on these ball like chairs that reminded me of planets. When we told him Story Musgrave, an MC alumnus and astronaut, was down the hall signing pictures, his eyes grew to the size of the moon.
Once seated, we looked up and to the side and beyond us, as a short little film played around us on the half dome, 360 degree screen. The audience let out a collective gasp as stars zoomed past us, making any scene from Star Wars or Star Trek seem amateurish.
After a second presentation later in the day, we decided to meet the astronaut. I asked Musgrave a question about the awe of space and he ignored me. Unfazed, I then asked for a picture and he came around the desk where he was signing his own biography and put his strong hands around the back of my neck, turning me this way and that until he had me positioned where he wanted me for the picture. We tried asking a few more questions, but he seemed more interested in pushing his books on those in line.
We moved on, a little bummed. Perhaps once you’ve seen the splendor of space and its celestial bodies up close, mere mortals aren’t worth your time. Or, perhaps, I was right all along to set my eyes and dreams somewhere much closer, like my father and son.