THE HONORABLE DAD

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THE HONORABLE DAD

When I was pregnant the second time, I craved ham sandwiches.  And, unlike my normal habits, I ate them in the middle of the night.  I never did before, nor do I now, get up and eat in the middle of the night.

But I did then.

Getting up and going downstairs to the kitchen in the middle of the night was a taxing effort as my pregnancy progressed.  Preparing the ham sandwich was another effort.

In his usual, unique thoughtful style, my husband found a way to take away all the work, and make it sheer enjoyment: he fixed a ham sandwich for his lunch the next day, and an extra one for me.  Then, since the springtime temperatures at night were cool but not freezing, he opened our bedroom window and placed the sandwich (in a baggie) in the window between the screen and the glass.  He closed it, thus creating a refrigerator for the sandwich.  All I had to do was get up and go to the window to get my sandwich.

And I did.  And I loved it.  And I loved him for it.

And our son still loves ham sandwiches.

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Being pregnant is sometimes sheer joy, but often times it is sheer misery.  I experienced both.  My husband did whatever things—both small and large—that he could to turn the misery to joy, or at least to alleviate some of it.

When we were dating, I had a built-in barometer to assess his potential fitness as a future reproductive match for me:  he already had a son.  I liked what I saw, so I deemed him acceptable—if not excellent—as a match.

He was then, and continues to be an honorable—and excellent–dad.

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I thought this picture was taken on Father’s Day, but given my long sleeves and long pants (right), I think perhaps it was Dad’s birthday in March.  Suzanne is on his lap, Gail is in the back.

So too was our dad.  He was an honorable dad, man, husband and human.  He was fair and just.  He spoke his mind, which were always words of wisdom.  He was respected by all, and he knew not a stranger.   For all of this, I am forever grateful.

I know that not every dad is worthy of this honor.  I know there are many fathers—and mothers too—who are not honorable.  Who do not deserve to be a parent to their beautiful and innocent children.   Who do not treat their children with love, respect, caring kindness and tenderness.  Who did not want to be parents, but found themselves in that position.

There are many mysteries in life, and that is one of them.  How such gifts in the form of children are given to parents who are not honorable.  I don’t have an answer, and I don’t want to bring you—or me—down any further by discussing it.

Instead, simply pray for the children, and pray that future potential parents are somehow better chosen.  And if you are a parent, keep being the best parent you can be.

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If you have ever paid attention to the composition of a pasture full of cattle (I’m a farm girl, remember, so bear with me here), you will notice an imbalance between males and females.  In order to reproduce cattle, farmers and ranchers will place the heifers—adult female cattle—in a pasture with a bull—the male.  But there is only one bull for multiple heifers.  It only takes one bull.  More than one would cause disastrous conflicts between the bulls, but I digress…img_20180615_080341675.jpg

This was the scene at the edge of our backyard yesterday.  The cows come home to our home every once in awhile.

In the human animal kingdom, males can reproduce hundreds, if not thousands of times in their adult lives.  Females, who have approximately 30 fertile years, can reproduce at a maximum of about once per year.  Thirty is a generous estimate, but the world record for most babies delivered is 67, in 27 pregnancies with all of them being multiple births.  I could not find a statistic for most births to one woman without multiples.   Most women—myself included—strive to keep it in the single digits.  In 2015 in the United States, the average birth per woman was 1.84.

I have a point here:  females have a much higher physical stake in the reproduction process.  One cycle of reproduction, from fertilization to potential repeat fertilization, is about one year.  That is, if everything goes like clockwork.  The physical toll is increasingly measurable with each successive pregnancy.  For the male, there essentially is no physical toll.

Call it instinct, call it pure motherly love, but there is a force that nearly every mother feels for her child.  If she is the biological mother, she has carried it within her for approximately nine months, then she endures otherworldly and possibly excruciating pain to give birth.

This is not to take away from the love a father feels.  I am simply stating that he does not experience the same physical and hormonal phenomena that a woman does.

Sadly, there are too many stories of women who choose not to stay with their offspring.  If we are to call it instinct, then perhaps this would never happen.  Even in the animal kingdom—I have seen it on the farm—mothers sometimes abandon their young.

There are many stories of fathers leaving their children as well.  In the face of divorce or desertion, too many fathers simply walk away.

But I also know of many fathers who lost their children’s mother to divorce or desertion, and remained the only present, active loving parent.  Sadly, I know a few who lost their children’s mother to death, and the love and devotion they show to their children cannot be exceeded by any degree of motherly love I have ever witnessed.

Many fathers have stepped up to become a father to children that were placed in their lives through circumstance instead of through birth.  Any father—or mother—who takes on children and raises them as their own deserves a special place in heaven—as well as on earth.

My point is this:  fathers can more easily walk away, and they more frequently do.  But most often they don’t, and those fathers are the ones we are honoring today.

Both Gail and Suzanne were single mothers for a period of time.  I bow down to each of them; I never had to face that challenge.  Gail told me today that her oldest daughter wishes her a Happy Father’s Day each year, as well as Happy Mother’s Day.  She realizes now that she was both mother and father to her for a long time.  Many parents have to be both, and they deserve recognition every day of the year.

Speaking of the animal kingdom, I have long had a fascination with two different species:  in college, I collected penguins.  Not so much now, but they still intrigue me.

I did not know this fact then:  the male emperor penguin incubates the egg by sitting on it for two months.  He cannot leave.  Even when the mother returns home late from the sea, the male has to feed the chick, even if he hasn’t eaten for months.   If you want your heart warmed but also perhaps ripped out by a true story from the animal kingdom, watch the documentary March of the Penguins.  It details this very phenomenon.

No wonder I consider penguins cool creatures—as well as another creature:

Instead of the female, the male seahorse—as well as several other related species—gives birth.  They carry the young—up to 1500 eggs– in a pouch for 9-45 days, then deliver them into the water.  Again, I felt an affinity for this species long before I knew the male did the hard work.  I spoke of this admiration in Lessons From My Sister—And the Sea Creatures (July 30th).  They are so amazing to me.

Of course, it’s not like I think they are so cool that I would get a tattoo of one or anything like that…no, never.

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Of course, I miss my dad today.  I cannot not feel the pain more today.  But I am celebrating.  I have a lot to celebrate with my children and their father, as well as my in-laws, and we did just that today.  We couldn’t all be together today, but this picture from last Christmas is my husband’s entire brood:

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My memories of Father’s Day as a child usually involve the harvest field, because that is typically where he was.  I made my annual pilgrimage to the family wheat fields yesterday for a truck and combine ride with my brothers, which will be highlighted in a future blog soon.

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I felt my dad there, too.

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My heart breaks for anyone who is struggling through this day because it is their first Father’s Day without their father, and I am thinking of more people than I care to mention here, but they know who they are.

He is still with you, and always will be.

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These flags were flying along the highway on my way home from the farm yesterday.  I don’t know the family who lives there, but I know of them.   My heart was warmed, and it was already 99 degrees outside.

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HAPPY FATHER’S DAY

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons From My Sister–And The Sea Creatures

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LESSONS FROM MY SISTER—AND THE SEA CREATURES

I sat sweltering and sweating, but savoring the sun and steam at the beach with Suzanne and her daughter, Julia.  The waves rolled in, crashed, ebbed and flowed, high-tided and low-tided, drug in seaweed, reflected the sun and the moon and then did it all over again.   All the while, the sea creatures did their thing too.  And then did it all over again.

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We made it to the beach again—safely.  Just as Suzanne said we would.   Our plane didn’t crash—just as she said it wouldn’t.  I need to listen to my little sister more.    I need to look up to her more.

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There were three kind strangers behind me in the airport who picked up my things as they fell out of my bag and caught up to me to give them back.

These should have been my first three clues.

My carry-on bag was obviously overstuffed, and losing its contents.  I struggled to carry it in my arms as I wheeled my suitcase along, so I tried to strap it to the handle of my wheeled bag.

Suzanne glided along smoothly, with her light load, consisting of a (smaller) wheeled suitcase, and a small, over-the-shoulder carry-on.  Julia had an equally small wheeled bag, and a small backpack on her back.

I had seven books packed in there.  I had snacks.  I had my jewelry holder.  I had water, which, of course, had to be drank before security.  I had my Kindle.  I had other stuff.  Too much stuff—obviously.

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Jettison:  to throw or drop something from an aircraft or ship; to throw away as no longer useful.

I am a self-proclaimed word nerd; I wear the badge proudly.  This particular word was the word-of-the-day not long ago on my calendar, and it quickly came to mind.  As I walked through the airport with this ridiculous load in tow, this word wouldn’t leave my mind.

I watched my little sister advancing easily along toward our gate.  Her 21 year-old daughter did the same.  I, however, struggled.  I, however, signed up for this.  I didn’t expect their help.  I did expect Suzanne to tell me I didn’t need all this stuff.  She did, and she was right.

Unlike Gail and me, Suzanne is a minimalist.  Gail and I strive to be more like her, but so far, it’s not working.

When Suzanne moved to my small city about six months ago, she jettisoned many of her possessions.  She sold or gave away much of what she owned, and started over—minimally.  Gail and I have been collecting stuff, and living in our homes 20 and 21 years respectively.  We want to be like Suzanne when we grow up.

Perhaps it is her minimal nature.  Perhaps it is her experience with cancer that made her realize she doesn’t need stuff. Perhaps it is both.

Perhaps she feels at one with the sea because the sea offers that same lesson to anyone willing to listen.  All one really needs on the sea is a minimal amount of clothing.  The creatures of the sea also offer that same lesson.   They may or may not carry a shell on their back, and sometimes they shed that.

…but the sea does not change.”  These lyrics were the first to come through my earbuds after I turned on my iPod (name that 80’s tune, if you can) as I started my morning run on the third of our four mornings there.

I don’t believe in “coincidences,” so I will take it as something meaningful.

I should have left the iPod in the room and listened to the crashing waves, because I can listen to music any other day.  These precious few days here are the only ones I can tune in to the ocean.  Ocean music trumps 80’s music—or any music for that matter, but, like so many other habits, I rely upon my daily patterns, this one with music to get me running.

Another habit I engage in during my daily run at home is the mental lamentation of my left knee pain.  I know the point as I take off down the driveway when it starts, I know the downhills hurt more and the uphills hurt less, and I focus on the exact spot inside my knee where the pain resides.

Except today.  I wasn’t in that daily groove like I am at home, so I didn’t think about it.  And there were no hills on the beach.

And it didn’t hurt nearly as much.

The sea does not change, but I did.

I know the power of the brain.  My day job is in the field of brain rehabilitation.  I know how habits are formed.  I know how patterns in the brain are made.  And I know they can be changed, starting with conscious awareness of them, followed by simply thinking differently about them, then ultimately acting differently.

I have some nasty habits, some patterns that should have been turned around long ago; some that should never have been started in the first place.

So I started looking around here on the seashore.  There before me was a wealth of learning opportunities, lessons from the sea and its creatures waiting to be learned.  In the spirit of keeping my 51 year-old brain in better shape than my left knee, I am always up for taking in new information, no matter how or where I can find it.

SEA TURTLES:  I didn’t see any sea turtles, but I know at least one had been there, and more would soon proliferate there.   A female Loggerhead Sea Turtle had crawled ashore and buried her eggs in the night, and returned to the sea.  The rule on the beach is that sea turtle nests are not to be disturbed—under penalty of law.   The nests are roped off, monitored, sponsored, studied and revered.

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When the buried eggs hatch, they climb out of the nest and go toward the light.  Hopefully, this light is the moon reflecting on the sea, and they crawl back in.   To minimize the chance that they will go toward artificial light instead of the sea, beachfront property owners are urged to keep their lights down because the baby turtles will not survive long if they go the wrong way.

Following the true light is a survival matter.  So it is with humans too, but we can survive longer than the sea turtles in the darkness if we choose to follow that.  Except that the darkness is the wrong way, and too often we don’t listen to those forces that try to guide us into the right light.

SEAHORSES:  I have long had a fascination with seahorses.  Julia does too.

In my work with the brain—and as a word nerd, I latch on to the cool words that describe its structures and functions.  Hippocampus is one such word.   It is the structure largely responsible for memory.  It is shaped like, and named after the seahorse, as hippocampus is the species name of the seahorse.

The male seahorse takes it upon himself to gestate and give birth.  Having been the star of Act One in the delivery room twice, I have a respect for him that is beyond words.

Both seahorse sexes shake it up a little bit and swim vertically as well horizontally.  I like any person or creature who goes against the grain, and I try to examine the grains of every social fabric before I go with it or against it.  Even if everyone else is doing it, it might not be right for me.

Seahorses aren’t easily found on this beach, and we weren’t lucky enough to find one. Julia, however, did find one on a trip to Mexico with her mother four years ago, and she has been fascinated ever since.   To commemorate this creature and this trip, I found this necklace in a cool little shop called Landing Company.

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In celebration of Suzanne’s five-year cancer survival, she deserved her own special piece of jewelry.  With the capable, kind and personalized attention from the amazing jewelry lady Dawn, we were able to find the perfect necklace in Landing Company, something Suzanne truly wanted—and she doesn’t want for much.  It was a beautiful silver image of her favorite sea creature:

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THE MERMAID:  Don’t bother telling Suzanne they are not real, because she has chosen to believe they are.  She has a new-found fascination with this mythical (real?) creature, and to show her just how happy I am to still have her with us, I put it on my tab with the seahorse necklace.

The mermaid is noted to have powers of telepathy and immortality.  Suzanne has always had an intuition that I cannot explain.  Before she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer five years ago, she consulted several doctors.  An ENT and a radiologist pronounced her without cancer, but nevertheless, she persisted.  She knew something wasn’t right, and she moved on to a doctor who found the problem, and began treatment.  Now, five years after she visibly exercised her power of telepathy, her powers of immortality have commenced.

May these powers live long, and may she continue to inspire all of us with her powers that, like the mermaid for her, are very real.

 

CRABS:  One of our favorite restaurants in this beach town is Crabby Bill’s.  Seafood is a local specialty—of course—and this spot is our favorite. I am not a crab eater, but there is a lesson to be learned from crabs.

In a bucket of crabs being harvested, if one tries to crawl out, the others will pull it back down.  No wonder they are called crabs.

Don’t hang out with crabs.   They will try to drag you down to their level.

Our host at Crabby Bill’s was Ed.  Our dad’s name was Ed.  He even has the same sweet smile that our dad had.

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We also found an old friend there from last year.  Gregg was the host we mentioned in my first blog post, and of course, he remembered us.  Gail was the one who hugged him upon his introduction last year, but he remembered us too.

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Now, because I don’t want any of you to suffer the fate that the next creature can deliver, I must bring you down for a moment.  I promise I will bring you back up.

SEAGULLS:  Recognize them for the beautiful creatures of God and Nature that they are, but beyond that, be careful.  They are takers.  They may charm and woo you with their natural beauty, but don’t be fooled:  They are there to take.  And when you give them—even a little, they will stay for more, because they already know your weakness.  They know they can get something for nothing from you, so don’t even give a little.

Leave them to their own devices and vices, because they are not going to change.  Give up hope, as I mentioned in my last post.  Give up hope on changing a creature who only knows how to take.  Bless them and send them on their way.

Shoo.

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We missed Gail terribly.  She was with us last year in this beach haven, and even though we thoroughly enjoyed Suzanne’s daughter as proxy, there is no one like our sister Gail.  She is the spark plug that ignites our fires inside and outside.

People remembered us.  Even before we checked in to our hotel Friday night, one of our favorite restauranteurs greeted us heartily when we stopped in for a late dinner.

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Gail was not able to join us, as she had recently returned from a trip to Michigan to see one of her older daughters.  Suzanne and I, however, kept her spirit and her memory alive here.

We were able to reach out—without Gail–and make a few new friends.  Fred B. happened to be sweeping his driveway as we walked by his house.  He lives adjacent to our resort, close to the beach walkway.  We were staring, slack-jawed at this perfect little house, perfectly located by the beach.  His house has been in his family since the 1930’s, and he has lived in it since he arrived in the 1940’s.

We are so jealous, but a house like this couldn’t belong to a nicer man.

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Dawn at  Landing Company, and Terri Anne at The Tervis Store are now counted among our friends there, too.

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The sea does not change, but after spending this trip with Suzanne and her daughter, I am motivated to change.  Suzanne’s spirit of minimalism is admirable and I want to be like her when I grow up.  So I am starting small, but starting nonetheless.  Despite the purchases I made that, perhaps I didn’t really need, I am trying to jettison other possessions at home.   I am trying harder to recognize the patterns of thought in my brain that lead me to repeat the same futile actions over and over yet again.

Next time I’m preparing for a trip, Suzanne has volunteered to pack for me.  She said she will be able to fit it all in a Zip-lock bag.

Like the sea creatures, we shouldn’t need all this stuff.

Like Suzanne, we should all celebrate every day of this life we are granted, because, unlike Suzanne, we are not immortal.

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This post is dedicated to Suzanne the Survivor, and to Denise who is fighting the fight right now.  Denise, let’s plan a trip to Florida in five years—and maybe even before.