168 Cafes

A wee chat with my son, Cooper, this morning:

George: Can’t wait to travel again. See another country.

Cooper: My friend has been to a lot of countries.

G: Really? Well, you have been to two countries.

C: Scotland?

G: No, you haven’t been to Scotland yet, but you’ve been here and…?

C: England?

No, you’ve been here in America and in Mexico.

Well, my friend has been in five countries.

Five? Wow, where has he been?

He’s been in Scotland and America and England and here and America.

I see, quite a traveler.

Yeah, and … and he is from a different planet.

A different planet?!

Yes. Far far away.

How far?

So far! It takes 168 cafes to get there.

That’s a lot of cafes.

Yeah.

Do you have to eat the whole way?

Yeah. But it’s so good!

  • Cooper, lying on a dresser, as he tells his stories.

It’s going to be magic

I must have been falling asleep
right there in the chair
as my weans continued to play
as passionately as they do
at that so delightful age.

“You know,” my 4-year-old son
said in response to something
from my wee girl that I hadn’t heard.
“It’s just that Daddy’s a bit old
and broken. Like his car.”

My boy fiddled and fudged
with a piece of paper
creating God only knows what,
so of course I had to ask,
“What are you doing there, lad?”

He stopped what he was doing
just for a moment, it seemed,
just long enough to glance
reassuringly at me in the mirror
with that oh so charming smile of his.

“Don’t worry,” he said,
“it’s going to be magic.”

Cooper, my wee clever man

fatherhood

Ghostly glimmerings
halo this highest moment.

While I cradle him eagerly,
smiling with absolute certainty,

a future portentous persists
in torturous anonymity.

And perhaps that is why
I cling to him more than he me,

fearful of the inevitable time
to come when wisely he

anchored in a now unknown
describes a photo to his love,

“Oh, that was my father.”
And her heart will smile on him.

“What was he like?” she will ask.
He’ll pause and grimace.

Not that it’s his fault, really,
just that ghosts are so much harder to know.

When my sweet boy Cooper was born. (Aug 2016)

it astounds me

just how much she can do
at so young so tender an age
how deeply she floating feels
how fully she unerringly knows
my tiny yet ever growing one

i revel in her honest smile
which is nothing if not transcendent
my thoughts trembling with her laughter
so joyfully contagious
and her eyes translucent with hope

when she reaches for my hand
i feel empowered to become
the father i have always wished to be
able to see colors where there are none
and hear whispers of joy

when she cries i fear the very world
will shatter around me
and wrapping her in my arms
i kiss her cheeks waiting for that moment
when my heart can sing again

my beautiful boy

he is a wondrous whirlwind
of expansive energy
and most honest intent

he is the beckoning voice
of a far gone youth
compelling me to rise and follow

he is the breath of curiosity
refusing to comply
yet always eager to please

he reaches deep into my heart
and finds the hidden places
i once wandered when i too was young

he keeps me honest and hopeful
and richly rewards
every second i am willing

to play in his world

Fatherhood, Failure, and Hope

I have lived long enough to know this: the greatest obstacle in my life preventing me from exploring my fullest potential has ever been an enduring conviction that what I say, make, sing, create, produce, promote … will never find an audience.

When I began teaching long, long ago in San Francisco, I was encouraged to see myself as if from the outside, from the perspective of another. And what I saw was a young man, quite eager, yet debilitatingly insecure, who tended to begin lessons, get his class working on a task, and then shuffle his way quietly to the back of the room where he might more easily avoid the gaze of his students. … Considering that this is how it all began for me as an educator, I am amazed that I survived in this profession.

However ill-received the theories of psychoanalysis may be by many today, it is—or should be—indisputable that one’s early experience may have more than simply a residual impact on one’s future. The past might easily shade in the tones of the present if not stitch the very lines onto the canvas within which we will be expected to remain ensconced while we timidly test the colors of the palette that someone else—or some other time—has provided us with.

There is a sense of freedom that is juridically determined. Yet more significantly, there is the freedom that we grant or deny ourselves. The freedom to do, to explore, to believe. And most relevant, to believe in ourselves and what we are capable of.

I never counted on fatherhood playing a significant role in my life. And yet others have remarked on how close I am to my daughter, how precious it is to see a father spending so much time with his child, adoring his child, nurturing her. And I appreciate every one of these comments. I find it appalling that any man would accept the role of father and then turn his back on his children, seek to escape into loathsome self-indulgence.

I was reading a report on BBC yesterday, an analysis of statistics that indicates that more children are abused and even killed or allowed to die of neglect within their own families—their OWN families—in the United States than in any other industrialized nation. I was not terribly surprised by this report. Just saddened. And deeply angered.

If you have not the commitment to stay with the child you help to bring into this world, to protect her, play with her, guide her, direct her, laugh and cry with her, encourage her own journey of self-exploration—then why in God’s name did you become a father, you miserable cretin?

Is it easy? Of course not. It is easy to love my daughter, yes. It is easy to find joy in the time I spend with her, certainly. However, the hardest thing I have found in being a father has been my own inhibiting sense of self. My own fear that I will … how should I put this? … screw up! That I will fail her. That I will teach her unwittingly to think and behave as I do, including my many faults. Raising a child is a demanding and profoundly vulnerable investigation into yourself.

When I published my novel, I was sure no one would read it. I hesitated from committing myself to a book signing, because I was sure no one would come. When my latest textbook came out, my wife offered to arrange a talk at the local library or to set up a table at a teacher’s convention to promote it. And I have declined each suggestion, because that dark voice clinging cruelly to the back of my mind chants over and over again, “Why would anyone want to listen to you? Who do you think you are? Who do you think you are? Who do you…”

The very voice that I struggle to silence in the presence of my daughter. But how can I? How can I avoid the questions that plague me, asking me, Will my daughter learn my faults? Will she grow to doubt herself, just as I doubt myself? Will she hold back from expressing herself publicly because she fears what others will think of her?

When my mother passed away, I found my memories drawn more and more to my father, who has always been as much a friend to me as a paternal authority. And what amazes me is that, however intelligent I may seem to be, however capable I am of critical thinking and historical analysis, I cannot for the life of me remember a time when my father failed me. Rationally thinking, I must assume that he made mistakes. He is a man, after all. But what mistakes? What am I missing?

And in that apparent failure of my intellect, I find some solace. Perhaps, I tell myself, the mistakes didn’t matter so much. Perhaps that is why I cannot remember any of them. And perhaps—just perhaps—my daughter, once she is grown to womanhood, will feel the same way about me. Maybe all the things I see myself doing wrong now … will not matter to her in the years to come. Maybe she will, God willing, go on to embrace her memories of me, when I am gone, as a good man. And a loving father. And somebody she truly loved. Just as I love her.

There is a Father

There is a boy who in pleasure plays

and friends adores and of folly knows not,

only that now is now and never to be reconciled

with anything greater, anything further

from this, which is a tingle and a tickle

and a laugh keenly shrill, rising rising

only one way to go, like the bell at the end of school

the opening whistle on the court, and he, with no thought

beyond this, grasping at the ball for one more shot

 

Such is innocence

 

There is a youth who in pleasure desires

far more than he has ever known beyond illusion,

beyond fantasy, which is the realm of the idiot

a place he knows so well, having girded himself

sultan of a domain that exists only in his own mind

while any world outside of this has length and breadth

on paper alone, scribbled, printed, typed in tiny strokes

belying an arrogance that only the young may enjoy

without the blush of shame that ascends with age

 

Such is ague

 

There is a man who in pleasure obsesses

demanding surely more than he ought

greedily touching more than he should

and never knowing where the end must come,

dumbfounded is he by the endlessness of

sensual striving, peak after peak after peak

as if it were only in that, in each trembling yes,

in each pulsing heart, in each throbbing prick

that he could ever be more than he is

 

Such is ambition

 

There is a father who in purpose thrives

awed by his own inescapable mortality,

cowed by his unbreakable bonds to the very earth

he fancied to rise above, embracing at last

the resilient limits of his here and now redefined

as the rotting borders of a sullied earthen bed

at the core of which is she – this seed, this blossom,

this mighty tree whose roots and limbs pierce his flesh

with pleasure beyond anything he has ever known

 

Such is eternity