Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father’s Day: Particles of Connection

This is my 5th Father’s Day without my father.

This is my 13th Father’s Day as a father.

What I am learning is that the power of a father is not a political issue. It is not theoretical. It is real. The power of a father’s presence or the power of a father’s absence shapes the context – is a shaping part of the context - for a child. A good man brings good context for his children.

The measure of a father does not come in the number of children he has. For men, there is little obligated initial investment, unlike women who carry the child inside them, risk their lives in giving birth, and oftentimes are the very source of food for the child for months. Men must assert their engagement from the moment there is a pregnancy until…until someone dies, really.

The measure of a father is not that he made a genetic contribution, although participating in the miracle is no small thing. It comes in daily units of connection. Each interaction with his child is a particle of formation for the child. It is a particle of formation for the father as well. Each particle of connection means that the connection was the thing happening and not something else.

Particle? That’s so small. How does it matter? Well, each particle of connection on its own may not make a significant difference. Accumulated particles matter a great deal. The sum of particles of connection is good, but it does not tell the whole story. When enough particles of any kind gather between a father and his child, whether they are of connection or of something else, they form expectations, they form identity, they form beliefs, they form what a person calls reality. The accumulation of instances organizes into something much deeper and more profound than the instances themselves. So in one sense, no single particle of connection is essential, but every single on of them is sacred.

Accumulating particles of connections builds interest. This is both literal a metaphoric. Literally, the more connected a father and child are the more interested they become in each other. It is not a static thing that once father status is established, there it is forevermore more. No, it is always changing. It must be attended to. Metaphorically, accumulated particles gain interest, like money in the bank. It becomes more valuable not just in accumulated size, but it becomes more than it would be merely added together.

What is curious about these particles of connection is that they are not static. They change and move and rearrange and reorganize and get interpreted in more than one way. A father introduces the particles of connection into the relationship he has with his child (the child introduces them as well). Both the child and the father participate in arranging them, setting meaning to them, and collaborating in deciding how these particles will form life identity. There is a constant stream of contribution of more particles of connection and at the same time the construction what the new particles mean on their own and when they join the existing collection of experiences.

Becoming a father is the collaboration, negotiation, and social construction of a mosaic of connection particles between a man in his offspring. It is permanent in that it always matters. It is dynamic in that it always changes. It is meaningful in that it constantly exists and therefore must be interpreted and reinterpreted. It is powerful in that it always has consequences. It is moral in that it is always laden with obligations and entitlements.

Fathers matter. They matter in macro-fathering – the big stuff. They matter in the micro-fathering – the little stuff. This is both an affirmation and a call.

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Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Sandestin #3

Some seabirds swoop, some hover and still others dive. They have their varied strategies for getting food. A heron will befriend a pier fisherman if it knows it’ll get a little fishy snack out of the deal. The birds have body shapes meant for their type of hunting and fishing. There must be many more fish than birds as much as these birds eat. I wonder where these seabirds sleep at night. Do they sleep at all?

The fish jumping in the cove of the bay between Sandestin and the main land were not shy whatsoever. Better then any bass or northern I had even seen in Minnesota. And they were strange fish. An ocean tends to breed variety.

Last night we saw lightning like skeleton fingers reach out of a sunset orange and darkening grey thunderhead in the east. We also saw the moon in a crescent in the west. It looked like a celestial showdown. The thunderhead got us out of the pool as the lightning seemed to be approaching. We believed the moon would not protect us at all from the lightning and so we didn’t take our chances.

There is something wonderful about swimming in the ocean. It is fun and dangerous. The idea that something so huge could be hospitable enough to welcome me into it is something special to consider. Who am I to get to be so involved. I feel the same way at the mountains of Colorado or the forests of Minnesota. What I do not like is the feeling after getting out of the ocean, but before getting a shower. It feels terrible. The sopping and heavy whatever I am wearing wants to rub and chafe and bother me. The saltiness of the sea remains on my skin, seaweed finds ways into my pockets, and the grit of sand is everywhere. I want it all off – now! The feeling is so annoying and miserable it make me wonder whether I really like the ocean. After the shower, I feel good again. I can love the ocean again. I think about when I can go back.

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Monday, June 06, 2011

Sandestin #2

Creatures in the Evening

The evening walk on the beach with Gail something I have wanted to do since we got married. Here we are, 15 years into this marriage, and we finally did it. The breeze and setting sun provided a mercy from the intense sun heat of the day. We walked and our bodies didn’t sweat and our skin didn’t burn. it felt good. Brandon, Sheryl, Judy and all the kids were stationed on the beach. Sierra went with us, her camera ready to click.

The sun slowly set over the towering resort hotels as the daylight slowly evaporated. The ocean is beautiful at dusk. Gail claimed she saw crab scurry off into the ocean, but I didn’t think so because there were still lots of people out. What do I know of crab behavior? Then Gail saw  something disappear into the sand, a tiny something. Again, I saw nothing. She followed up on it and dug into the sand and found what she called a clam. A clam? It was the size of one fourth of my pinky fingernail. It looked like a small white pebble.

She set the clam on the sand just after the a wave retreated back to the ocean and sure enough, it reproduced its previous behavior. It melted into the sand like a little piece of hail next to a candle light. It was gone. It burrowed down quickly and hid from our sight. For Gail, it was a pilot test. Now for the real experiment – show the kids.

We got back to where the cousins were all together playing in the surf and gathered them for a demonstration. Gail showed the the miniature clam and its great disappearing trick, and they were off. Again, again, they wanted to see it again. They all wanted their own clam. They wanted to do the disappearing clam trick themselves.

Soon each of the kids dug holes looking for miniature clams. They each found one of their own. Over and over again Maddie, Ella, Sam, Canaan and Sierra played the hiding clam game. Then Canaan dug a hole looking for another clam and instead found what must have been the smallest crab on earth – the size of half my pinky fingernail.  It was sand colored with dazzling and oversized blue eyes. They looked like two bright blue ink drops a few hairs held together with clear glue or gelatin. We wowwed and wondered how wonderful this tiny world was.

Creatures in the Morning

The sunrise run was slightly cooler than the previous day, but much more humid. The sun had not yet awaken enough to swallow some of the humidity with heat. It’s not a great exchange. As a Minnesotan, trading heat for humidity is like being told that the good news is that there is a treatment to help take the edge off the headache, but it involves pounding a hammer on your hand. I began to sweat even before I began to run.

I made my way to the beach and then headed eastward, toward the rising sun. It rose over the sand dunes past the resorts. Although I do like the manicured landscaping, the structure and order of the buildings, and clarity on what to do and where to go in the resorts, I also like the ambiguity and unkemptness of the ocean front beyond the resorts. It was this beach wilderness that I saw the crabs – sand colored and fast. Probably the same crabs Gail claimed to see the night before, but I dismissed her. I shouldn’t dismiss her. It’s a dumb thing to do.

The first crab I saw was a wave chaser. I noticed it about 20 feet ahead of me on my run when a wave had made its complete advance on the sandy shore and then retreated. The crab chased the wave right back into the ocean and then got gobbled up into the foamy next wave. A couple minutes later, two similar crabs did the same thing about 20 feet ahead of me. They are quick little creatures. To hidden to detect them and too quick to catch.

Then I spooked another, but this one was not a wave chaser. This one was a hole diver. Crabs have holes in the sand they dive into and disappear. I looked for it, kicked the sand around, dug a hole with my running shoe, but it was gone.

I saw about a dozen crabs that morning and was amazed. They had two ways of escape from me – both equally effective. And yet, I got to see them scurry. Minnesotans see crabs on plates at restaurants, not in nature. It was a real treat.

As I continued to run the beach, I thought about Charles Darwin and his observations of creatures in the Galapagos Islands. I thought of him as a scientist and a wonderer of nature. He must have been so curious, so interested, so taken by all of this world.

I wondered if I would ever make a trip to the Galapagos Islands. But it didn’t matter whether I would or not. It appears there are wonders of nature everywhere I go.   

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Sunday, June 05, 2011

Sandestin #1

First time at the beach

We arrived at Sandestin in the early June, but it felt like August. The sun forced us to go to the beach. White, soft, fine sand. We are at Sandestin with Brandon, Sheryl, Maddie, Ella, Sam and Judy. We headed to the beach as fast as we could get there. The waves sounded distant until we were right there at the shoreline – then they roared. The flag was yellow, meaning moderate surf. I liked the idea that the waves could be a little dangerous, but not super dangerous.

The water depth can be measured in color at the beaches of Sandestin. Tan water is very shallow, light green water is a little deeper, teal water is deeper still, then dark green and blue is the deepest. We got into the  light green water and got a feel for the waves. Having children present with the age range from 6 to 13, it can be a little challenging to know who can handle what so far as waves are concerned. Sam and Maddie stayed closer to shore as I went deeper with Sierra, Canaan, and Ella.

We played games with the waves. We jumped over the waves. We taunted the waves. We moved and danced with the waves. Chest deep in wavy water is a fun and occasionally vulnerable position in which to be. No matter how hard we tried, we kept getting mouthfuls of salty seawater. We tried to stand our ground, but the pushing and pulling of the waves made sticking to any position for very long a complete impossibility. We were guests of the sea, but also its playthings.     

Running on the Beach

I ran on the beach – 3 miles or so. Even the morning sun was not the least bit shy about scorching the earth. It was hot. Unlimited humidity made it hard to breathe like I usually do when I run. But it was beautiful. The sounds, the green-blue sea with frothy whitecaps and curling, crashing waves made me want to keep running. Birds, sea type birds flew around, some looking for food, some just flying around decorated the beach. A marlin jumped out of the water and glistened in the sun. A beautiful fish. I wanted to catch one.

Sand is a hard surface on which to run. The sand closer to the water is more solid and flat, but also gets repeated covered in water. The waves keep sneaking up and claiming little bits of beach as the tide rises. Sometimes a wave sneaks up and floods my shoes. I am not annoyed because I am running on the beach. I know the risks. Sometimes the larger waves travel in threes and push each other further into the beach. Yesterdays sandcastles look like Mayan ruins, silt-filled motes and deteriorating structures. When a strong wave pushes over dry beach, a thousand bubbles fizz up as the water replaces the air in the sand.

The beach is not level. It slants toward the water. My ankles complains as they are the first to notice the slant, but I remind them that we will not always run on the beach. We must all make out sacrifices. The skin on my face makes the same complaint while running in the winter. Sometimes I have to remind my body parts that this is a team effort.

I will run on the beach some more. I like it here.

Also, Jimmy Buffet is making slightly more sense to me now – slightly.

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