briefly, the 25th hour of parenthood

The 25th Hour is a novel by David Benioff–later adapted by Spike Lee into a film starring Edward Norton–a vignette of a man’s final moments of freedom before reporting to prison for a seven-year sentence. In those ultimate hours, he spends the evening with two friends, contemplates the choices that brought him to this point.

Tomorrow, wife and I send the girls off for their first day of 4K. Granted, it’s only three-ish hours a day, but it’s their first first day of school and, after this, they won’t have a last first day of school for at least 14 years. I will be approaching 50 years old then.

We spent years trying and failing to have children, then we ended up with the beans, and things were good. They weren’t going to school for years. Then Don August showed up, which was cool. Not easy, not by a long shot, but cool. Well, time being what it is, slipped away and here we are, toddlers who don’t toddle, armed with backpacks and heading off to school tomorrow.

We knew it was coming. We tried to prepare for it. And then, I realized that their last first day of school will be at least 14 years from now, and I will be approaching 50 years old.

And that’s when I realized my life is over.

I’ve been having a hard time reconciling myself to that fact. From here, it’s parent-teacher conferences, something resembling organized sports, extracurricular activities: for the first time in my life, I told the girls, sans irony, to get ready for bed because it’s a school night.

IT’S A SCHOOL NIGHT.

How did I get here?

Our adventures seem like they were eons ago. Weren’t we just in Kansas City? Wasn’t I just in grad school? Didn’t I write that incendiary column at the Northern Light last semester?

The only semesters that matter anymore are at a grade school attended by my children. If it wasn’t about me before, it’s definitely not about me now.

This is where I’m at. I’m done, and I have to make my peace with it. Maybe I’ll do a Coffee With Dead People on myself! Or perhaps it’s epilogomena!

Maybe I’m just being melodramatic–particularly to those who aren’t here (or aren’t here yet)–or some wiseacre who has been here before just reads this smiling and nodding, but there is an eerie sense of finality here that I was not anticipating, and I didn’t even necessarily feel when I was first introduced to my offspring or even when I got married. This is weird!

So, I will go to bed (I’m really, really tired, can’t you tell?) and wake up tomorrow (I took the day off for the occasion) and we’ll take pictures of the girls with their sign and we’ll take them to their classroom.

After that, we’ll probably go grab some breakfast: two dead people–with a cute, mulleted mini-me in tow–wondering how it all came to this.

And life will keep marching on.

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briefly, a bedtime story

So the girls have been getting stories about ‘the sleepy princesses,’ and since I’m a crappy storyteller, I just barely dramatize the events of their day. The names of the sleepy princesses are Princess E and Princess I. There’s also Prince Brother, Queen Mama and me, Brave Sir Daddy. They’ve already figured out that I’m just recycling the day’s events and it bothered them at first, but now they just go with it.

Tonight, they wanted to hear about the sleepy princesses; I wanted to hear about a dragon (who was introduced a few nights ago and is actually imaginary), but E wanted nothing to do with a dragon, even one who was friendly and played with them before.

So, I started in on how the sleepy princesses went outside on a beautiful day with a nice, cool breeze and were playing with their friend, the dragon. E began throwing a fit over the apparent indignity of invoking the presence of said friendly dragon.

“…and their friend the dragon went home because one of the sleepy princesses was mean. Princess E.”

The end.

an accidental feminist: a note of appreciation for the women in my life

My family isn’t exactly what one would call a bastion of progressive or liberal ideology. In fact, quite the opposite: much of my family is firmly planted on the right of the political spectrum fiction. And you would be hard-pressed to find people who are more caring, compassionate, respectful, generous or even-handed. Politics has divided us, and not for the better: people of good will can be found anywhere, and we will be a better society when we stop shovel-feeding ourselves preferred narratives, tell the politicians to shove it and realize that there is a reality that very much exists without our assorted grievances being rubbed raw all the time.

That said, it wasn’t until I was much older that I realized that our red-meat-potatoes-and-America family was decidedly feminist. And thus feminism isn’t a left- or right- wing proposition, but a human one. To reduce it, like so many other matters co-opted by activists and power players, to politics undermines everything that feminism–generally speaking, the idea that women and men ought to be on equal footing–stands for, namely, the provision of identity to people who historically have gone without. I would go on to suggest that identity politics is detrimental to respective causes, but that would be another conversation for another day.

As Mother’s Day approaches, I want to recognize a few of the women who were and are examples par excellence to me growing up, and who, wittingly or otherwise, made me an accidental feminist.

Growing up, I always looked forward to visits from my aunts Susie and Elaine. For many years, my father’s oldest and next-youngest sister lived with my grandmother in Milwaukee, and continue to do so in the exburbs. It never occurred to me that they were never married–Susie married later, long after her career at one of the largest banks in Wisconsin ended–they were always their own people, career women whose strength of personality left no doubt in my mind that they were their own people in their own right. Susie, the reigning family queen of the one-liner, taught me the power of humor and her sense of practical sense and savvy rubbed off on me by osmosis. When I was older and in college, I would spend days at their home, talking with her from morning late into the night about just about anything.

Elaine taught me the power of compassion and hope. An intensely religious person–my family is all pretty much devout Protestant and Evangelical Christians–her faith and love continue to speak volumes to me. Physical maladies have ravaged her body, but her spirit is strong and she doesn’t allow anyone to feel sorry for her. My aunt Nancy may have never officially entered the ministry, but to think of my uncle in the ministry without her presence and involvement is absurd. Her wit and grace, kindness and bedrock support to her family and the extended family–including friends who might as well be family–have been evident and enviable throughout the years.

Growing up in a family that was a clear partnership, and being surrounded by family that treated each person as a person, the idea of sexism was alien to me: why should women be treated differently from men? They were full participants in their lives and didn’t take crap from anybody. The women in my life were strong, confident, successful people. So, when I realized that there was a world around me that didn’t match the experience or perspective I had growing up–including an implicit sexism and departure from original views in the Christian denomination in which I was raised–I guess that’s when I realized I was a feminist, which isn’t necessarily feminist as much as it is pro-humans-be-treated-as-humans, which I suppose is a way to describe what feminism is at its essence.

***

The idea that women aren’t permitted to be ministers in parts of Evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity is fundamentally wrong and degrading to me as a man who was raised surrounded by strong women. When the urban church we were a part of in Kansas City accepted its first female deacon, it was natural for me to stand for an ovation at the announcement. When we moved to Springfield, we were part of a church that had already integrated women into its leadership structure and specifically sought out input from everyone involved. When we moved back here to Wisconsin, we joined with a church that again shared our values.

And I see many churches around the country whose directories show males as pastors and a female on staff as ‘coordinator’, ‘administrator’ or ‘director’. That’s horsecrap, and that’s not gospel. Some of the fastest growing churches in the country are sexist by design; those churches are horsecrap and they’re proclaiming a limited gospel, which could be construed to say they’re not proclaiming much of a gospel at all.

Priesthood of all believers: neither Jew nor Greek, neither male nor female. That’s my feminist credo. (That, and calvinus delenda est.)

***

Then there’s my wife: passionate, bold, her own person from a strongly matriarchal family not entirely dissimilar to mine. I couldn’t survive everything I’ve endured without her surviving and enduring with me. She’s given the paternal side of my family their first daughters in 60 years. No one will ever tell my twins they cannot do whatever they want to do in life. They already show the spirit of their female forebears, and they will be full participants in their lives, never second-class. I hope to provide a home like the one I knew as a child: where everyone is fully human and full participants. I want them to see a world where sexism exists as a strange and alien place and work to make a difference through their own gifts and graces.

Finally, my mother is the strongest person I know. The depths of her love, fire and inner strength are unknowable. Her patience and graciousness and generosity are unmatched. As she’s transitioned from Mom to me to Mimi to my girls, I’m always left blown away by the quality of person she is, the insight and wisdom she has, the incisive sense of humor I didn’t realize she had until far too late.

All of that doesn’t make her a great mom, it makes her a great person. And that’s the ideal, isn’t it? To see people as people, character and virtue above all else? That’s what I’ve learned growing up. And if that’s what makes me an accidental feminist, I guess I can live with that.

(PS – there are so many more women in my life and family who have meant so much to me. Please know that I love and value you beyond measure as well, even if you remain nameless…and, you know, happen upon this somehow.)