Monday, June 22, 2009

I feel like listening to THE JOSHUA TREE for some reason

[NOTE: this entry is, for me, very short. I half-way conceived of it as a potential basis for a message on Father's Day, should anyone be so crazy as to allow me near a pulpit.]

After all the people were baptized, Jesus was baptized. As he was praying, the sky opened up and the Holy Spirit, like a dove descending, came down on him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: "You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life." – Luke 3:22 (The Message)

I am firmly convinced that no matter your age, social status, or any other qualifier, there’s something inside that sometimes…just wants to hear the voice of your parent. Specifically, I’m thinking about fathers. Granted, my state of mind may have something to do with this past weekend and it being a holiday and all that. Cut me a little slack.

Kids (and adults, and believe or not, even teenagers at times) seek out the voice of approval, of support, of encouragement from their dad. Even in this broken culture we have of absent fathers – those who may have been a part of your life but left of their own free will, those who come and go with little to no interaction, or even those who were never a part of your life from the get-go – there’s a drive, a need, a desire to be, if nothing else, acknowledged. Recognized. Although our voices may change over the years, and although we may become better versed in our language skills, there is something deeply-seeded inside each and every one of us that cries out, in its own unique voice, “Daddy, pay attention to me.”

I’ve come to realize that after only three months how much Kai likes to see me smile, and how much he responds to the sound of my voice. Granted, at his age, I could read the ingredients and nutritional facts side of a box of Cookie Crisp to him and he’d think it’s awesome. But more than anything, it’s the recognition of him by me that makes him smile.

In the passage quoted above from the book of Luke, I think that there’s more going on than we typically think of when we read or hear this passage. I’ve come to think that maybe – just maybe – the voice of God speaking in this passage was not as stoic or booming as it is commonly portrayed in movies or books on tape. Christ was fully divine from the time of His birth, but He was also fully human. It’s because of this balanced duality to His nature that He might have been able to have a balanced duality of understanding: the divine in Him perceived the beauty and symbolism in this baptismal marking of the start of His ministry and the mission He was about to undertake, while the human nature in Him felt His heart swell at the smile and sound of the voice of His father. Of his approval. Of His acknowledgement of Him. And I have a distinct notion that at that moment, Jesus wasn’t as quite as stoic/serene as He is often portrayed in the media, as a smile undoubtedly spread across His face when He felt the love of His father.

This past Sunday was my first father’s day as a dad. This was also my first father’s day without my own dad. This bittersweet duality played on my emotions most of the day, and while for the first time in a long time I found myself NOT crying at the memories, I did think about what it would be like to hear the voice of my dad telling me about Kai. About what he might say about my parenting skills. About what he might say to his friends about my parenting skills. (Yes, in reality, I know he’d talk WAY more about his grandkid than about my skills. Allow me a little artistic license.)

At the end of the day, what I have to trust in – to have faith in – is that I knew the love of my dad. And I know the love of my Father. And it’s this duality of love, this duality of understanding, that I get to pass down to my own son.

All we have to do is get past the diaper stage first.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Conversations With Dead People

(With all apologies to the BUFFY, THE VAMPIRE SLAYER writing team of Jane Espenson, Drew Goddard, Marti Noxon and Joss Whedon for the stealing of the title of this episode.)

Yes, yes, yes – I will get back to the deep, spiritual, faith-based writings that at least five people who read my blog with alarming frequency seem to enjoy. I’ve been stockpiling them, waiting for the right moment to write them out in greater detail. Shush.

Unlike many of my ilk, I am not going to shift EVERYTHING that I write about now that I’m a dad. Yes, the little monkey does overshadow almost every thought and action I undertake, and he’s foremost at the center of most of the decisions I make. And while this specific blog entry-like thing was initiated by my interacting with him, this particular little missive isn’t so much for anyone who is a parent, as much as it is for anyone who has ever lost anyone dear to them, be it a friend or family member. I think you who can sympathize with this will be able to understand where I’m coming from.

So. On with the story.

By now, everyone who has seen a photo of or met Kai in person has remarked about how he is apparently the first successful product of human genetic cloning to ever come about, as the little critter so vastly resembles me. Now, I haven’t ever spent a large amount of time observing myself (I’m not the guy who stares at his own reflection in the mirror for hours on end), so I genuinely only see a few cursory similarities with Kai (yes, I will go on record and state that we do have the exact same feet – poor kid). When I look at him, I mostly see HIM, but Ashley sees a lot of me in his face.

And so does my mom…which has GOT to be both weird and incredibly bittersweet.

In July of 2008, when Ash and I found out we were expecting, I was able to tell my father in person he was going to be a grandpa. My dad had been sick for some time, just generally not feeling well, but we didn’t yet know the full extent of his illness. A few weeks after my trip to Tupelo when I was back in Coral Gables, sitting in Titanic, having a few drinks with some friends, I had to fight back the tears as I told him on the phone that we had found out the gender of the kid, and that he had to get better fast so that he would be able to play with his grandson in a few months. In November, at his funeral, Ashley and I placed one of the printouts of (at the time) Unnamed Baby Lemmons (UBL) from the OB-GYN in his casket with him, so that he could watch over UBL .

Ever since Kai was born (lo, these almost-ten weeks ago) I’ve often wondered what kind of advice – both welcome and the maybe-not-so-much variety – that Ashley and I might get from our friends and families if we lived closer to any of them. I know that we would LOVE the opportunity for Kai to grow up surrounded by people that love us and him, and for him to be doted on, babysat, and for the respective grandmothers to just smirk knowingly and hand him back over to the care of his parents once he gets good and would up and starts to cry loud enough to shatter glass.

I know that there have been countless days when I have sat in his room, rocking him to sleep, and we’ve been sharing stories. I’ll make up some tale about the pictures of the animals in his room, or I’ll tell him all about my adventures with the teddy bear I had when I was little (Barry is, of course, sitting on the nightstand next to his crib). Kai will in turn tell me about the meal he has recently had, either by belching, spitting up, pooping…or smiling. Or, we’ll look at photos, and we’ll talk all about the people he’s already met, and who all he will get to see soon. We try to be very intentional in at least stating the names of the important people in his life (beyond Mommy, Daddy and Puppy) so that there might be some kind of cognitive recognition with him when he sees them either again or for the first time.

But there are times when I sit there and watch him, and I begin to wonder to myself…what it would have been like to see my dad interact with him. To see Cricket interact with him. What would my dad think of this little bundle of giggles that looks like me? Would he remember what it was like to see me, to hold me…and would he share these stories with me, much like my mother does? Would my dad simply look at him and make those weird faces and noises almost everyone instinctively does when we encounter a baby…or would there be some deeper connection, some familial bonding that is impossible to express in words? Would Cricket just be in utter love with this little thing that’s her size and makes happy noises and has such amazingly smooth skin that, you know, HAS to be smothered in kisses from her puppy?

Many times when we suffer the loss of a loved one, we all have that wish. The One More Day™ Wish. The “just to be able to spend a little more time” wish.

The wish that I have would not really be for me; instead I would wish for there to be one day between my dad and Kai. There doesn’t even have to be a conversation with me. In fact, I think I’d almost prefer it were there nothing said between him and me – just an exchange of smiles. I think that if I had one more day with him, I know that I’d be greedy for one more…and one more…and another…but to be able to see him be with Kai, to watch his face light up the way that I know that it would, to watch him shake off the ravages of the disease that kicked his butt so thoroughly because dammit, he was bound and determined to hold and love on his grandson, to hear him tell this kid some of the most ridiculously drawn-out tales imaginable…man.

The last time I cried – and I mean REALLY cried – was this past Friday. It was one of those deep cries that as you’re crying, you just feel this weight, a weight of emptiness, and it feels tethered between the corner of your eyes and the center of your chest – that as you feel this pit in your heart sink, it pulls at the sides of your eyes. It’s one of those cries that you feel every day of your age with. A cry of loss, a cry of mourning, and a cry of pain. And it was all brought on by the memory of my dad and what I miss about him – but although some might consider it strange, it wasn’t a cry motivated of regret. Oh, sure – while there were words unspoken between my dad and myself, the greater, deeper pain was that I just wanted to be able to hear him speak to his grandson.

While there’s no theological or spiritual foundation for this belief, I truly believe that my dad does speak to Kai. That there are days when I hear this little monkey coo and talk to himself, he’s so animated and into whatever he’s gurgling about, I can’t not help but think that he’s actually playing with my dad…my grandparents…Cricket…all his family and friends who have gone before and now are in heaven. That there is a cloud of witnesses protecting (and tickling) his goofy little self.

I may not hear the voices, but I take great comfort in knowing that one day I will. In knowing that one day he will be held and loved by his family – that his Father will see a joyous family reunion – and that we’ve got all of eternity to catch up. And to make new memories.

And if there is a way for my dad to tell an embarrassing childhood story of mine, thereby upsetting what I might call paradise, he will.

And I welcome it.