Saturday, April 24, 2010

Fatherhood

I’m not sure whether I’ll post this or not. It is very personal and although I am no stranger to publicly airing certain catharses, this one has put me in an odd state of mind. In all likelihood some version of this will find its way to publication, but at this point I have no idea as to what that will look like. It deals with family, with a long period of time and with relationships. It is an attempt to describe feeling and emotion using mere words and though I would be the first to tell anyone about the power of words, this is an instance where words seem so very insufficient.

I have three sons. My eldest, Anthony, is 26. He has a one year old son, a wonderful fiancé and a career in Southern California. He is a good man, a good father and a responsible member of society. I am very proud of him. My youngest, Matthew, is 20 and serving in the U.S. Army, currently stationed in Afghanistan. My middle son, Timmy, 22, is perhaps the one most like me. He has tremendous but largely unrealized potential. I am equally proud of all three of them not for what they are or are not, but for who they are. My father once told me that if his children have embraced good moral values, high ethics and care for others the likes of which he and my mother modeled for my siblings and me, he has done his job well. By that standard, I have done my job well – my boys are all very good men.

There are other standards – measures of parenthood – that indicate I could have performed better. I don’t think there was ever a parent who never second-guessed his or her execution in this sacred role. But one thing I can say for sure and without qualification is no father ever loved his children more than I love mine. When it comes to love there is no continuum, no gray area – it is forever at the maximum all the time. My boys are all individuals and my relationship with each is uniquely personal, but my love for each of them knows no bounds and is equal in its indescribable strength. I would go to the ends of the Earth for each of them - no holds barred, no limits. And this is true despite the fact that I came into Anthony’s life when he was just past his second birthday. I married his mother and although that marriage did not last long, my role of father to that boy never ended.

Except on rare occasion when it is necessary for clarification, I never refer to Anthony as my stepson. Because he does not carry my surname, occasionally I feel compelled to explain, but even then I most often use terminology like “not my biological son,” however, I avoid even that technically correct language if at all possible. I avoid it because I do not now nor have I ever felt that he was not a part of me. It just doesn't feel natural to call him anything other than my son. I fell in love with him right from the start – there was never any question. Timmy is, and since his little brother was born, always has been my middle son; and of course, Matt has always been my youngest. I have three boys – end of story.

Anthony has known since he was very young that I did not conceive him. Although he has not asked many questions regarding his biological heritage, I know those questions had to exist. And I absolutely understand. Anthony’s biological father exited the picture (for reasons only he knows) soon after I came into it. For more than 20 years, his whereabouts were unknown. Through the miracle of Facebook, Anthony and his biological father have found each other. Anthony informed me right away and I assured him of what he already knew – that I am okay with it.

And I am. And I’m not. It’s not that I feel somehow threatened, that my status as Anthony’s father would somehow be reduced – that is not possible – but at the same time it bothers me when this veritable stranger comes into my world calling my son his son; my grandson his grandson. It makes absolutely no difference in my relationship with my son or my grandson, but being a father means sacrifice - willing sacrifice - and as far as I can see, this guy has made none. It’s about day care, mini-vans, midnight drives to the doctor, stitches, Little League games, camping, girlfriends, snowboarding, birthday parties and myriad other things that come with fatherhood that cannot be redone and that cannot be quantified by any measure. There are a billion moments filled with tears and laughter and everything in between that can only be lived once.

But my son has the right to have his questions (whatever they may be, all of them) answered. I have no intention of interfering with whatever relationship he might build with his biological “father.” I am here in the same capacity as I have been for the past 24 plus years – that of a father who loves and supports his son no matter what. That’s what real fathers do for their children. And I am Anthony, Timothy and Matthew’s real father - past, present and forever more.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Just Another Sunday

The Easter Bunny has not visited my home in many years. No brightly colored eggs, no fancy baskets, no plastic grass that gets everywhere. He (or she) used to, but since there are no longer any young children residing here, my home has been crossed off the Bunny-list. For me, this is just another Sunday. Also absent is the deep religious meaning that today brings to so many around the world, and closer to home, to many of my friends. Those who are familiar with my musings here know that I do not subscribe to nor have I any personal experience with any established religious doctrine. As a scholar of communication, however, I am fascinated by the tradition and history of religion and the influence it has on humanity. But I am not, in a structured sense, a “believer.”

But many of my friends and family are. The fact that we do not share certain beliefs has not negatively affected the closeness or the authenticity of those relationships, indeed differences in religious belief (or lack thereof) is just the beginning in a long list of different and sometimes opposing beliefs. None have ever tried to “convert” me, though many have argued for the legitimacy of what they believe. So do I, and I am not trying to win converts either. I used to have a much different view of religion; Christianity specifically, but organized religion generally appeared to be a game of politics in which the one that ends up with the most followers wins. And it seemed that they would say or do anything to win.

I know better today. Not that there are not those extremists who view their beliefs in a decidedly egocentric and myopic way, but rather that this is not the norm. A vocal, often hypocritical minority within not only fringe groups but also bad apples within mainstream religious organizations formed my impression. Those extremists are also often news, and I was constantly exposed to religion portrayed only at its ugliest. It’s still true today; even the current scandal within the Catholic Church is not a reflection of the vast majority of Catholics, although the church’s inept and bumbling organizational communication is certainly not helping matters any. The point is that through maturation, education and a little bit of common sense, I can view religion without being reductive.

Does that mean that I am doomed to eternal damnation? Perhaps, but if I truly believed that, I certainly would do something about it. I’ll not go into the multitude of contradictions and claims made by differing religions, but I will say that I am absolutely sure that I will get whatever I deserve in the end. I am not living my life for any reward in the hereafter, but rather in the right now. I believe that if I can adhere to the principles that are considered universally virtuous throughout the history of humankind (coincidentally enough, the same principles almost all religions hold as honorable), I will have fulfilled my purpose. Whatever else that purpose entails specifically, I believe we are all meant to strive for the highest moral standards that have always existed.

Of course, that last sentence opens an entirely different can of worms: If we have meaning, where did it come from? I’ll leave that question for another time.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Moving Mountains

My professors, collectively, at California State University, Sacramento are simply amazing. They are and have been professional, dedicated, informed and selfless… they are genuinely interested in the success of their students. These are attributes that cannot be faked. Although this is true for the vast majority of my instructors during the pursuit of my bachelor’s degree, it is universally so for every one in my postgraduate quest for a master’s degree. Every single one. All have helped to shape not my vision of the world per se, but my ability to critically form a vision of my own. All have had a profound and lasting influence on my life. Frequently - check that - daily, something one or more of them has said becomes real in that particular moment in time. Today is no exception.

I know how to write. I have been gifted with some innate ability to string words and punctuation together that seems to make sense not only to me, but to many others as well. It is not the artistic talent I would have chosen, but I am grateful for it nonetheless. But it is not as easy as it might sound – I still have to take what is in my head and articulate it. It’s the articulation that comes naturally; apparently, getting the thoughts out of my head is a different story. One of my professors acknowledges the simplicity of the act while identifying how complex it often is in one simple statement: “Know what you want to say and say exactly that.” Of late, that middle ground that exists between the knowing and the saying has been quite a challenge.

Another former mentor once told me that he thinks in pictures. He was not trying to say that I should or that everyone does, just that he has identified how his thought process works. It helped me to not only understand where he was coming from, but also to think about how I formed my ideas. After thinking (and writing) about it, I came to the conclusion that I do not think in pictures – not as a primary modus operandi anyway. I resolved that I think in words. And though I still put a large degree of stock into that notion, I am beginning to think it’s just not a simple as all that. If it were absolutely true, I would not have as much trouble extracting my ideas and setting them to words. In other words, my thoughts do not begin life in language – it is something more primal than that.

The first part of that statement my professor made it not exactly difficult – I almost always know what I want to say. The problem rises when that knowing doesn’t manifest itself in language, it is more an abstract feeling that must be further translated before it can be expressed symbolically. That is not to say what is happening between my ears does not get communicated in other ways; non-verbal communication occurs all the time. It may or may not be as precise as symbolic communication, but even words need to be translated and interpreted. And when I decode the words of others, I do not necessarily believe that they are taken in and processed as the symbols that conveyed the ideas – they are translated back into abstract feelings that I can relate to. It explains why a moving speech, or scene, or image is moving… symbols alone cannot do that, they only represent something else and what that is can never be absolutely, precisely represented.

But when those symbols are carefully constructed, what they represent can move mountains.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The More I Know

The more I learn, the more I know how much I don’t know. The academic history just over the past 2,500 years, despite the fact that likely more is lost than has been retained, is overwhelming. Studying it is like digging a hole in the sand. So often, just as things appear to become clear in a moment, the moment is gone. I started this quest, in a formal academic sense, late in life, but in reality those haunting questions and the search for understanding has always been with me. Today, that fire is burning brighter than ever.

The frustration is part of the journey, but at some point small segments will begin to crystallize. Indeed, in many respects they already have. And there is something to be said for experiencing much of life’s brutality without any prior theoretical knowledge. Many facets of my unscripted life were experienced unfiltered by any great framework by which it could be analyzed, rationalized or contextualized. It just was. From that, however, a more global perspective has both aided and confounded my post-graduate experience… a brutality of a decidedly different variety.

Core to my inquiry are answers to the questions that cannot be answered empirically. Science is of no use here; it is all about finding meaning and more often than not that meaning is elusive. It’s not just in words or language, communication is part of our everyday lives – it is part of every part of our everyday lives. Nothing happens outside of communication. That is not to say that if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to see or hear it, that it did not happen. I am not interested in such sophomoric philosophical diversions. I am, however, interested in what those diversions mean.

It speaks to a much deeper and, for me, personal quest. Purpose. And that leads to quality, for the way to determine if a thing is good or not is by determining how well it serves its purpose. And that goes for us, too. But it begs the question; before I can judge the quality of my life, first I must determine its purpose. And that is a question I never stop asking myself. For a very long time I never consciously thought about it, though it was always lingering at a subconscious level. From purpose, we get morality, we get ethics, we get beauty - very basically, the ideas of right and wrong have been largely static for the collective history of humankind. It is not a matter of perspective despite what postmodernism would tell us. There is no individual truth: right is right and wrong is wrong – always.

But in the postmodern age, we seem to be able to justify the most egregious behavior - in the name of justice, in the name of religion, in the name of democracy, in the name of nationalism, in no name whatsoever – because we are free to interpret circumstances in a very personal way. And that way is easily manipulated. Yet even the institutions that we hold to dear, that ostensibly take the moral high road in their stated ethos, do not live up to the standards they profess even when they accept a moral obligation to embody them (some even claim to have delivered or created them) – and the global brutality of just the past century is witness to that fact. And often the amoral justification is simply whether or not we can get away with it.

Too often, I’m afraid, we do.

Thankfully, another timeless truth survives: virtue is its own reward.

Author's note: I know this piece is scattered and more than a little unclear - it very much reflected my state of mind when I wrote it.