Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas Poetry Corner

Good Is the Flesh (by Brian Wren)

Good is the flesh that the Word has become
Good is the birthing, the milk in the breast,
Good is the feeding, caressing and rest,
Good is the body for knowing the world,
Good is the flesh that the Word has become.

Good is the body for knowing the world,
Sensing the sunlight, the tug of the ground,
Feeling, perceiving, within and around,
Good is the body, from cradle to grave,
Good is the flesh that the Word has become

Good is the body, from cradle to grave,
Growing and aging; arousing, impaired
Happy in clothing, or lovingly bared,
Good is the pleasure of God in our flesh.
Good is the flesh that the Word has become.

Good is the pleasure of God in our flesh,
Longing in all, as in Jesus to dwell,
Glad of embracing and tasting and smell,
Good is the body, for good and for God,
Good is the flesh that the Word has become.


I love this poem because it is so ‘incarnational’. It bespeaks God, in Christ, taking on human flesh – that life in the body is good, and the dignity of human bodily life is only enhanced by God taking it on Himself. Through the Incarnation, God takes our embodied-ness, and fills it with Himself. No longer is He remote from us; His knowledge of us is not merely that of ‘Creator on High’ – He has walked in our world as one of us, hungered and thirsted, stubbed His toe, and ultimately, died.

“Good is the flesh,” indeed. It is not merely that God created human flesh, although it has a dignity that inheres simply to God having made it, and in His image, no less. But even more, the Word became flesh. Emmanuel – God with us.



Wednesday, December 20, 2006

I Didn't Even Know He Was Sick

When I was a kid, my parents (I think especially my mother) did the whole Santa Claus thing right to the hilt. One year, I think I was about seven or eight, on Christmas Eve, my brother and I were sent off to the family room, on the other end of the house from the living room, where the tree was, and instructed to wait, because my parents had just heard that Santa was in our area, and would no doubt be stopping at our house soon. Compliant souls that we were, we went off to the family room and shut the door firmly. We didn’t want to get caught trying to sneak a peek at the Big Guy, no sir.

After a while, my mom came to retrieve us, telling us that, yes indeed, Santa had just been there. We went to the living room, and, lo and behold, there were presents piled up under the tree, and spreading out across the living room floor! Just then, my dad came in, all flustered, telling us that we had to get back in the other room, because Santa was still at our house – he had just gone back up to the roof to get a couple more presents. So we ran back to the other end of the house, hoping like crazy that we hadn’t ruined everything by coming out too soon.

A few minutes later, they came to get us, saying that everything was okay now, we had all the presents, and Santa Claus had left. This time, when we came to the living room, there were a few more presents left near the fireplace, and a bright new sled (a Radio Flyer!) sitting right in the fireplace! Obviously, with us having come out before, Santa had been in a hurry, and rather than place the last few presents under the tree, he had just dropped them by the fireplace and left in a hurry.

It was a masterful ruse, and it kept me safely in the ‘believers’ camp for another few years. I mean, what could be more obvious – we came back the second time, and there was a sled that hadn’t been there before!

But, of course, in the fullness of time, I figured it out. And, in a way, I was a little sad when I did. Santa Claus was a sort of godlike figure in my imagination – “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good. . .” And, when I knew that Santa wasn’t ‘real’, it only seemed natural, by extension, to wonder about God Himself.

When I was in my teens, I came into a serious Christian faith, and, odd as it may seem, my whole ‘Santa Claus experience’ was a hurdle to be overcome on my road to faith. Both God and Santa were these benevolent old men (in my imagination; also the pictures I’d seen) who I never got to see, but who were looking after me, and keeping track of what I was up to. So, ‘no Santa’ seemed to point suspiciously in the direction of ‘no God’. Of course, I eventually figured out the difference, and all was well in the end.

So, when Molly and I began having children of our own, we didn’t want to sow the same ‘seeds of doubt’ for our kids – we didn’t want to set them up for future disillusionment that might possibly make it harder for them to believe in God. But, we didn’t really want to cut Santa Claus completely out of their lives – we had enjoyed the ‘experience’ of Santa Claus. So, we told our kids that Santa Claus was a fun game that people play at Christmas time, and we told them what the game was about, and how to play it. We especially told them that some kids don’t know it’s a game, and we don’t want to ruin it for them, so we should act as if Santa Claus is real – that’s part of the game – we know it isn’t really real, but pretending it is, is the fun of the game.

It seemed to work well enough for our purposes. To my knowledge, none of our kids ever ‘spoiled’ Santa Claus for another kid, and we did have fun with the ‘game’ – we would label some portion of the presents every year as ‘from Santa’, etc, etc.

You might imagine that, in the kind of ‘serious’ Christian circles we were traveling in, different people took different approaches to the ‘Santa question’. One family we knew insisted on strict factual accuracy with their kids – they taught them the story of St. Nicholas of Myra, who left little bags of gold coins to provide dowries for the daughters of poor families, and so on, and how St. Nicholas had lived long ago, and wasn’t alive any more, but his legend had been passed down to the present day and, like a game of ‘Rumor’, had sort of morphed into Santa Claus. Which seemed to me like a lot of trouble to go to, but, hey, I could respect what they were doing. And, my ‘it’s a game’ approach worked just fine with those kids, too.

One year, when 1F was maybe six or seven, we took the kids to mass on Christmas morning. When mass had ended, our priest, who was Indian, was greeting parishioners in the back of the church. He mussed the hair of one boy, from the family I was describing above, and asked him if Santa Claus had been good to him.

The boy straightened himself to his full height, and, with a tone of righteous indignation, shouted, “SANTA CLAUS IS DEAD!” The poor priest was taken completely aback, and before he could even come up with anything to say, the boy continued. “HE LIVED A LONG TIME AGO, BUT NOW HE’S DEAD! HIS NAME WAS REALLY NICHOLAS, BUT NOW WE CALL HIM SANTA CLAUS!”

I don’t know if the priest or the parents were more flustered. Father was looking around for someone, anyone else to talk to, and the parents steered the boy toward the door, while the boy carried himself with a look of smug satisfaction – he had set Father straight, and given him the real story!

And, intermingled with stifled laughter, Molly and I congratulated each other for being one notch happier with the approach we had taken.


Friday, December 15, 2006

Behold, How Good and Pleasant It Is

When I started this blog, I never expected or intended to say much about the Christian community that Molly and I are part of. I didn't really mean for this to be a 'Christian' blog, although I certainly didn't intend to hide who I am or what my life is about. When I started, I mainly intended to talk about my family, and my marriage to Molly, and a little bit of married sex, just to keep you all interested. I didn't think that our community would be all that interesting to you all, and besides, it's a little hard to explain. But, in recent weeks, it has become clear to me (and probably to many of you) that I can't really tell you about myself without being pretty up-front and explicit about our community (and a few of you have asked me to tell more about it). So, here goes. . .

Back in September, I made this post, describing my spiritual journey, and it might be helpful if you read that before plowing ahead here. As I said, when I went to college, I was introduced to what, to my eyes, was a really cool prayer meeting.

In the late '60s and early '70s, Christian stuff was popping up all over the place - Jesus freaks and all that good stuff. This was a 'charismatic' prayer meeting (for a brief description of the charismatic movement, this isn't too bad). By the time I got there, in the fall of '73, it was a weekly prayer meeting with around 200 people in attendance. Of course, enthusiastic young Christian that I was, I was fairly blown away by it, and immediately made it part of my regular routine.

At the time that I arrived, there was quite a bit of ferment going on in the life of the prayer group. There was a growing conviction among many of the folks that, in order to 'go deeper' in the Christian life, we needed to have some kind of a 'life together'. In order to really grow in Christian life and character, we needed to have some more definite, structured way to support and encourage each other, and 'call each other on'. So, most of my freshman year, there was a series of meetings and presentations aimed at exploring what such a 'life together' would look like, and how it would work. At the end of the school year, about 80 people, my 18-year-old self among them, made a commitment to live in community together with each other, whatever that would mean. I went home to my parents for the summer.

When I returned the following fall, the life of the new community was underway. Most of the members had moved into households with each other, and those of us living on campus in the dorms arranged to live on the same floors in the same dorms with each other, so we could have enough direct contact with each other to actively support each other. We would pray together, a lot, and meet to discuss issues in our lives, and how we could more effectively live as Christians in the circumstances of our daily lives.

The community had a 'pastoral' structure, with each member having a 'pastoral head' with whom they met regularly (usually weekly, in those early days) to discuss their lives. In those early, 'formative' days, pastoral input was often direct, challenging, and, um, intense. Sometimes, the leadership crossed lines into some overly rigid and controlling stuff, and I suppose that I experienced some of that myself. I was usually able, though, to see the component of it that had my best interest in mind. Some folks quit the community because they felt overly manipulated and controlled; I can acknowledge what they experienced, while still saying that I experienced far more benefit than pain.

Words like 'cult' were occasionally thrown our way, but I can't say with any justice. No one ever tried to keep me from my family, or get me to sign away my paycheck. I've already told you the story of how Molly and I met and married; you can rest easy that no one 'arranged' it for us. I discussed 'major life decisions' with my leaders, but the decisions were mine alone.

I should be clear here that the community is voluntary, and intentional. We are also not a church - virtually all of our members belong to their own churches, and our community life is independent of our churches or parishes. We're also 'ecumenical' - our members belong to a whole range of churches - Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, and probably a few others that I can't think of right now. Catholics might best understand us as a kind of lay religious order, akin to the Third Order Franciscans or Opus Dei.

I graduated from college, and took a job that would allow me to maintain my involvement in the community. Once I was more or less 'established' in my job, I started looking for a wife; Molly and I began our 'courtship' that fall, and we were married the following summer.

In the early '80s, the community went through a period of major upheaval, prompted in part by some pretty extreme abuse of authority on the part of one of the 'senior' leaders. We went from a membership of around 500 to less than half that in the course of about a year.

But I also think that a large component of it was that community members were becoming 'grown-ups'. When we began in '74 with 80 or so members, there were five or six married couples, and one child; maybe two of our 'founding members' were over 30. In the late '70s and early '80s, dozens of community members (Molly and I among them) married each other, and by '82 or so, the character of the community had pretty completely changed over from a group of mainly young singles to a group of young married folks. And as we started having children and families, we started drawing more lines in terms of what we were available to do (looking back, I don't know how the families that joined us in the 'early days' managed to do it; the 'single-ness' of the community in those days was pretty clueless when it came to how families needed to work).

And, for the last 20 years, the life of our community has been more or less like that - couples and families, and young singles (we have maintained a campus 'outreach' all along), pursuing a Christian way of life together, mutually supporting and encouraging each other in that life.

I don't know if I've been able to do justice to the task of describing our community, but perhaps this will help you all understand what I've been talking about. If I've left something unclear to you, please don't hesitate to ask for clarification.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Workin' For a Living

Back when I finally graduated from college (I got to the end of my senior year, and wasn't ready to be done with school yet, so I stayed on for a Master's degree), I entertained a few good job offers, and I chose one in the same town where I'd gone to college, mainly so I could continue my involvement with the Christian community I'd become part of when I was in college. (I'm working on a post to 'flesh out' the life of our community more for you; as you can see, it has provided a major context for my life).

I enjoyed working for XYZ Corp., an automotive supplier company. My job was interesting and challenging, and I worked with good folks who became many of my friends. (Among my bosses were Alex and Ross, about whom I have blogged previously). I was an engineer, but of a particularly computer-geek variety (which is quite funny, because I'm no more than mildly 'tech-savvy').

I worked for XYZ for 17 years. While I worked there, I got married and begot (begat?) the first six of my children.

In the mid-90s, life for automotive suppliers became crushingly difficult, and in the fulness of time, XYZ ceased to exist. I was laid off (just before my 40th birthday) about a year before the final collapse, which actually worked in my favor, in terms of getting into the job market that much sooner.

With six kids, you can imagine that that was a pretty anxious time in Jones-world. But, within a couple weeks, I was already generating some good leads, and within six weeks, I had landed a new job with HugeMassive Company. I hoped to stay in the same town I was living in, and the guy that hired me at HMC promised me that, if I took a position at an office 45 minutes' drive from my home, that a position was about to open up back in OurTown. So I took the job, and started driving the 45 minutes.

And it was a darn good job. A company like HMC could offer me a much more interesting and challenging set of problems to work on than XYZ could. I had to learn some new methods, and use some different software than I'd had, but it didn't take long for me to come up to speed.

The 45 minute commute was kinda painful, after having been used to no more than a 10-minute drive to work, but I got used to it. I even managed to coach my sons' Little League team for two years, in spite of the commute. Besides, I was going to be moving back to OurTown in fairly short order, so I didn't mind.

Two years later, I finally got the call that the position in OurTown was opening up. On the same day, HMC announced that it was closing the OurTown engineering office in one year. So, I discussed the situation with my bosses, and arranged that I could work in OurTown for the one year, and then return to my current position. While I was in OurTown, HMC announced that the engineering office I was hoping to return to would also be closing, and my job would be moving to another office, over an hour's drive away. So, I had one peaceful year working in OurTown, and then I hit the road. Since 1999, I've been driving roughly 65 minutes one-way to work.

Molly and I seriously pondered the idea of moving closer to my job, but in the end I decided that, dug in as we were to relationships in our Christian community, parish, school, etc, that it was preferable for me to drive the miles rather than uproot our family from a stable and life-giving set of relationships.


And that's what our life has been like since 1999. I'd be lying if I told you I was real happy about it. It's workable, at best. But, I sorely feel the effect of having another 2+ hours taken out of my day just driving back and forth. I can 'make use' of the 'car time' - thank God for books on tape - but I'd much rather be home, and on hand for Molly and the kids.

I've tried many different avenues for getting my job at least closer to OurTown, but nothing has panned out. It seems that the Universe has created a black hole for jobs of my sort within an hour's radius of OurTown. (sigh)

And, the friendships that I had with my co-workers at XYZ - well, let's just say that HMC mainly doesn't swing that way. The culture is much more 'upwardly-mobile', more competitive, more fast-paced. Most people don't sit still in one place long enough to form friendships, and besides, co-workers tend to be viewed more as competitors for the next promotion than as potential friends. I don't mean to whine about it; it's just the way it is, and it's very different from what I had for 17 years.

I wonder sometimes what God is up to with me - right when my family needs me to be on hand the most - right when my sons are teenagers - my ability to be on hand for them gets seriously curtailed. You can believe that, when the stuff of the two previous posts was playing out, that I wondered many times why I couldn't manage to come up with a better situation.

And that's about all I have to say about that.


Thursday, December 7, 2006

Family Dinner

Many years ago, when Molly and I were just newly embarked on the whole adventure of marriage and family, we read something that said that the most significant indicator of successful family life was how often the family had dinner together. If a family had dinner together four or more times a week, that had a strong correlation with all sorts of positive indicators of social and mental health. And so, we worked very hard to establish family dinnertimes as a rock-bottom feature of our family life together.

Now, you wouldn't be surprised if I told you that the theory and the practice haven't always corresponded as closely as we might have wished. Especially once our kids hit middle school, and started getting involved with sports teams (why is it that middle-school sports teams can't seem to practice at any other time than when our family is sitting down to dinner?), dinnertimes where the whole family was together around the table became increasingly hit-and-miss.

But, truth to tell, as our kids (and, I have to say, especially our boys) hit middle school, family dinners, even when we were all present and accounted for, became exercises in futility on an entirely different front - the capacity (or should I say, the incapacity) of the kids to maintain focus on anything like a coherent conversation. I really don't know how it happened, but at some point, our dinnertimes became an ongoing cacophony, with one child idly singing to herself, another idly tapping his plate with his silverware, two boys reciting extended dialogue from 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail', and various and sundry other random noises, assorted pokings of fingers into ear-holes and other available orifices, originating from various other children, all occurring simultaneously and without regard for anything else that might be going on at the time. Molly might ask one of the children how their day went at school, and before the poor child could answer, or, more likely, in the middle of their answer, prompted by something they said, Monty Python would spontaneously erupt from the other side of the table, and thus would end the conversation.

And nothing we did helped the situation. On many occasions, Molly or I would loudly interrupt the recitation; sometimes we would try to give the floor back to the child who was interrupted, and more often we would just launch into the standard rant about showing respect to our brothers and sisters, and dinnertime isn't about showing off our ability to recite movie dialogues, etc, etc. And, once we were finished, they'd start over, only this time reciting from 'Napoleon Dynamite'.

A couple times, the noise got so out of hand that Molly and I just looked at each other, grabbed our silverware, and started yelling and pounding along with the kids. Which actually brought a little humor to the situation, much preferable to the standard anger and frustration. But it still left us a long way from the kind of peaceful, respectful dinnertimes we aspired to and hoped for.

We never just gave in to the cacophony; we continued to try to establish some kind of order, but it always just seemed like an uphill struggle, and a losing one at that.


These days, we have five children living at home - 4M and everyone younger. Dinners are a bit more peaceful; 3M was our main 'comedian', and absent his instigation, things don't get out of hand quite so quickly, or so irretrievably. But 4M and 5M are both heavy into sports teams, which, inevitably (or so it seems) practice during the dinner hour, so most nights we have the three youngest kids around the table with Molly and me.

A couple weeks ago, though, we had all seven of us around the table at the same time. Without any instigation from Molly or me, 5M brought up a question that had come up in one of his classes. While Molly and I did double-takes, 4M chimed in with a similar question from one of his classes. Soon, we were engaged in a really rich discussion on an interesting question, with all of the kids, except maybe 8M, contributing. We touched on questions of theology, moral philosophy, science, mathematics, and all manner of things. We stayed at the table a good 20 minutes longer than we usually do, and nobody was clamoring to be excused. It was very cool.

When we finally ended, and were clearing the table afterward, 7M said to me, "This was a really good family dinner, Dad."

And, in the course of agreeing with him, I might have had to stifle a tear. . .


Monday, December 4, 2006


Ever since the Friday after Thanksgiving, we've been in the commercial season of 'Christmas', with the sales, the extended hours at the malls, special advertisements, etc., etc. It's what much, if not most, of our culture thinks of when they think of 'Christmastime', but less and less does it have any discernible connection with the actual content and meaning of Christmas.

One time I was visiting family in a large, midwestern city over Thanksgiving, and the following day, the local news had several reporters on site at various malls, doing interviews with shoppers. They asked one guy what the 'true meaning of Christmas' was, and he said, "We gotta get out here and spend money to keep the economy going strong." He actually said that.

I sometimes wish that they would come up with a different name for the year-end consumerist feeding-frenzy. Just leave Christmas out of it. Or, maybe we should come up with another name for the celebration of Christ's birth. Let 'em have 'Christmas' for the 'shopping season' - admit that we've lost it, and start over with a new name. (sigh)

Anyway, yesterday was the First Sunday of Advent - the beginning of the Christian season of spiritual preparation for Christmas. As I've gone along, I've come to really love Advent, imperfectly though I may observe it. In rough terms, Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter, just with not quite the same 'penitential' emphasis. Rightly done, Advent is a time of contemplation, a time to step back from the normal frenzy of daily life, take a few deep breaths, and prepare spiritually for the joy of Christmas. Advent is pretty much the polar opposite of 'consumer Christmas'. Pausing for contemplation is not a thing Americans are terribly inclined to do (perhaps I should say it's a thing that we're inclined to do terribly).

In the larger American culture, the 'Christmas season' runs from the Friday after Thanksgiving until Christmas Day, but in traditional Christian circles, the Christmas season begins on Christmas Day and runs until Epiphany (January 6) - thus, the 'Twelve Days of Christmas'. So, when most of our neighbors are finished with Christmas, we're just getting started. It always perplexes me just a bit to see all the Christmas trees out on the curb on the 26th; when Molly was a kid, Catholics didn't even put their trees up until Christmas Eve. And, just as I'm getting pumped to sing 'Joy to the World' and 'O Come, All Ye Faithful', most of my neighbors are sick of hearing them.

Maybe I should blame it on the Three Wise Men - they started the whole giving-gifts-at-Christmas thing. I doubt they had any clue how far it would get out-of-hand, though.

When it comes right down to it, though, I've got to admit that my spiritual preparation for Christmas is my own responsibility. It's not up to American culture to get me spiritually prepared. It might be nice if the culture were more supportive (or even just less disruptive) of what I'm trying to accomplish, but it is what it is.

So, we Joneses are setting out on Advent. If, over the next couple weeks, I seem a little reticent and low-key about Christmas, you'll understand, won't you? And then, if I'm getting all Christmas-y just when you're getting tired of it all, you'd be very kind to indulge me.

In the meantime, I'll be over here, singing 'O Come, O Come Emmanuel', in a minor key. .


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Residue of Divorce

I’ve mentioned previously that the effects of divorce on children are sadly all-too-well documented. There is a whole set of fears and neuroses that cluster around the category 'children of divorce'. And I can see some of them in myself.

For virtually all of my post-divorce childhood, and into my young adulthood, I didn't particularly 'feel' any effects of my parents' divorce - I didn't cry myself to sleep, and, once we settled into the routines of the 'new' family, life was busy and challenging and intense. I had an 'alpha male' contest to work out with my step-brother (I'll call him my 'step-brother' for blogging purposes, just because it's easier; in real life, I've only ever called him my 'brother'; just so you know), and, for the first time in my life, I had sisters, which introduced a whole interesting set of parameters to my life.

My 'first mother' pretty much just disappeared from the scene of our lives. In retrospect, I think it had more to do with a sense of shame than any kind of rejection of us (but she had clearly rejected my dad, and didn't particularly want to bump into him, if she could help it). For a couple years after she left, she sent my brother and me birthday cards, but then, even that stopped, and I wouldn't hear from her again for over 20 years. I can't say that I ever consciously 'missed her'; maybe I did, but I don't remember it.

To backtrack just a bit, for the year between when my mother left and when my dad got married again, we lived in a different house. We had moved 'up north' when I was seven, and our house was right on the shore of one of the Great Lakes, which is a pretty good working model of heaven - long walks on the beach, going swimming at the drop of a hat all summer long, and beautiful scenery out the back window all year long. So, the first casualty of my parents' divorce was living in heaven. Dad moved us into an old house 'in town', where we could be more easily cared for while he was at work.

I look back on that year with a kind of odd amusement. Dad certainly did well enough by my brother and me, but - well, he was a guy. Lots of mac-n-cheese for dinner, and he was as likely to open a can of kippers for dinner as anything else.

When Dad remarried, we moved again, into another house on the edge of town, at the isolated end of a dead-end street, with the yard surrounded on all sides by woods. And that was where we lived for the rest of my youth.

My relationship with my step-brother was interesting. I'd grown up pretty sheltered and bookish up to that point; he'd grown up on the street. He was much 'tougher' than I was, more street-wise, and generally 'hipper'. When he wanted to assert his dominance, he would just pound on my shoulder until I cried. But, as we got older, I stood up to him more and more. I recall one time when he was taunting me during a football game with a group of our friends, and I chased him around the field in a blind rage; I was sure that I saw fear in his eyes, and he treated me better after that. Over time, we arrived at a decently respectful relationship with each other.

He always had trouble with Dad, and when he was 16, he ran away from home. His life has been a lot harder than it needed to be, but at the time, I admired him for being able to live 'on his own', and I wondered if I could do that, when the time came.


Anyway - the effects of divorce. When Molly and I were dating, and I laid out the story of my life for her - adoption, divorce, etc, etc - she looked at me and asked, in the way that only Molly could, "How can you possibly be normal?" (She found out, heh, heh, heh)

I sometimes see in myself a kind of insecurity, a fear that the good things in my life won't last, or will be taken from me. Molly will tell you that, right up until our wedding day, I was anxious that something would go tragically wrong - she'd get run over by a truck, or she'd change her mind about getting married, or whatever. I even worried that we'd get in an accident on our honeymoon, and be killed before our life together could really get started.

Going back a bit further, I think that, with my girlfriends before Molly, I was a 'clingier-than-normal' boyfriend, which they eventually found kind of stifling.

I've been prone to depression most of my life. I've never taken medication for it, and it's never been debilitating, but, given the right day and the right set of bleak circumstances, life can seem pretty hopeless and dreary. That's the point at which having Molly for my wife really works in my favor - she's so sunny, so sanguine, that she just cheers me right up out of it. Most of the time, anyway.

So yeah - until ten or fifteen years ago, I'd have said that I was unaffected by my parents' divorce. I don't say that anymore. The effects haven't been crippling, and I've had a good life, even so. But the scars are there; they're 'deal-able with', but they are there.


Just as a kind of 'post-script', I did eventually get back in touch with my 'first mother'. 1F is very musical, and when she was five or so, we started her on piano lessons, and she took right off with them. I recalled that my 'first mother' had gotten me started on piano lessons, and had instilled in me a love of music (my dad can't carry a tune in a basket), which I then saw passing through to 1F, and I wanted to thank her for planting that seed in our lives. So, with that as the motivation, I decided to look for her. I was able to track her for a few years after she'd left my dad, but then the trail went cold, and I quit searching. Then over Thanksgiving - what, 18 years ago? - out of the blue, she called. Somebody I'd talked to had talked to somebody, who'd talked to somebody, who told her I was looking for her.

She'd gotten remarried four years after she left Dad, which corresponded to the time that the birthday cards stopped coming. She'd never told her new husband that she'd had kids, and the news that I was looking for her left her with some 'splainin' to do. (The 'adoptive' thing played into it, too - even when she was still with us, she didn't really, 'deep in her gut', think of herself as our 'real' mother; kinda sad, when I think about it).

Anyway, we've re-established our relationship, and she's happy to know us and our kids. Ironic, on one level, that she and my dad are both still living, well into their 80s; they'd have celebrated their 59th anniversary a few weeks ago, if they'd stayed married.


But, I don't have any 'yearnings' to go back and have the life we had before. As I hope I've conveyed, for all the bumps in the road, we wound up with a good family, one which gave life to its inhabitants. But sometimes I look back and just marvel at all the twists and turns that have brought my life to where it is today.

La-la, how the life goes on. . .


Monday, November 27, 2006

Yours, Mine and Ours

Up to now, I haven’t told you all very much about my ‘family of origin’, and I really should, as that’s been a pretty formative influence in my life.

I’ve told you that I was adopted. My parents also adopted another boy, my brother, 2-1/2 years younger than me. And, for all intents and purposes, that was our family.

Until I was nine, when my mother left my dad. To this day, I don’t really know why she left him. My dad is a solid man, the best man I’ve ever known. But he can be stubborn and hard to live with. Knowing what I do now about my mother, she was sensitive and fairly insecure, and I think she just decided one day that she didn’t want to deal with it anymore. So she left. And for all intents and purposes, that was the last I saw of her for more than 20 years.

That summer when I was nine, Dad started seeing a woman, herself divorced, with three kids (a boy and two girls) roughly the same ages as my brother and me. They were married the following winter, and suddenly, we had five kids in our family, spanning less than three years. Within a year, my stepmother (I’ve never called her anything but ‘Mom’) gave birth to a baby boy, and four years after that, she had another boy, so we ended with seven kids in a ‘yours-mine-and-ours’ blended family.

Everything I’ve read about ‘blended’ families emphasizes how difficult they are to pull off – how few of them succeed, and how many of them end in disaster. It didn’t work that way for us. We had lots of challenges, to be sure. My stepbrother and I were almost exactly the same age, and a fairly nasty struggle ensued over who was going to be the ‘alpha male’ of the litter. He won that struggle in the short run, but I think I won it in the long run.

My parents worked real hard to forge a new family identity for us. There was never any real distinction made as to who had come to the family from which direction, or which kids ‘belonged’ to which parent. And it must have worked – none of us has ever referred to each other as ‘step-brother’ or ‘step-sister’. As far as I remember, we’ve always just thought of each other as ‘brothers and sisters’. Partly just as a kind of short-hand, I suppose, but we really did come to think of each other that way. It probably also helped when the two younger boys came along, to sort of provide a ‘focal point’ that we all had in common.

It probably also helped that both of the ‘ex-es’ basically disappeared from the scene. There were no ‘sharing’ arrangements, no ‘weekends at Mom’s house’, or anything like that. The focus just shifted to the new family, and life went on.

Our family wasn’t perfect, by a long shot. But, as I look back on it, the more I think about it, the more impressed I am at the job my parents did of building a new family out of the ashes of two broken ones. On my own behalf, I can say that their marriage, and the family they built together, probably saved my life; and I think any of my brothers and sisters could say the same.

My folks celebrated their 40th anniversary last winter, and it was a great opportunity for all of us to celebrate the life that they built together, and the ways in which we’ve all benefited from it.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Giving Thanks

Over the years, the conviction has grown within me that gratitude is, on a very fundamental level, the most appropriate response we can make for our lives. Gratitude to God, yes, certainly, and fundamentally so. But, even on a more mundane level, gratitude to our parents; to our teachers, coaches, and mentors; to our brothers and sisters, and our friends.

Existence itself is a gratuitous gift, for which there is no appropriate response except gratitude. Loving relationships; food, clothing, and shelter; all the mundane, daily circumstances that, individually and collectively, bring joy to our lives.

Every one of us has his/her own set of things to be thankful for, and people to be thankful to. Rather than riff off into my own 'list', I'll just encourage all my friends in Blog-space to, however briefly, give some thought to what you're grateful for, and to whom. . .


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Only My Love Does It Good To Me

There are times when I’m simply overwhelmed by the wonderful-ness of my wife. Times when I just look at her and ask myself, “How is it that the most amazing woman in the universe threw her life in with me?” And I’m just in awe of my good fortune.

There might be a few women in the world (stress on ‘might’ and ‘few’) who are physically more beautiful than Molly, but when I consider the strength of her character, the beauty of her soul and spirit, she blows them all away. I’ll say it again – she is the most amazing woman in the universe. I almost feel bad for the rest of you guys that she’s my wife. Almost.

And the thing is, I’m well aware that I did nothing in particular to deserve her. I’m still not real sure why, all those years ago, she brought that rubber ball to me, when it seems like there must have been lots of more desirable guys than me available to her. But I’m glad she did. I’ve described previously how we knew each other pretty well before we ever got to the point of courtship. And that’s what’s most amazing of all to me – she’s told me many times how God told her, before I even proposed to her, “What you see is what you get with him.” She had a pretty good, sober assessment of my character. AND SHE STILL MARRIED ME! That blows me away, and I’m grateful for it every single day I’m married to her.

And even now, after 26 years, I’m still blown away. She knows me way better now than she did back then, and she still throws her life in with mine. For all the clear-eyed, sober appraisal of my character she had when we were courting, there are lots of things, not all of them good, that she’s only learned from living with me for 26 years. And she still stays married to me. Amazing!

“Somewhere in my wicked, miserable past, I must have done something good.”

Simply flat-out amazing.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Here, Girl!

All new parents go through a kind of 'break-in' period, during which they slowly figure out the real ways in which being parents is different from how they were before. For Molly and me, this lasted quite a while - even past 1F's first birthday, we were still discovering unanticipated ways in which our lives would never be the same.

Once, the three of us went out to dinner at a restaurant which the childless Molly and me would have counted very 'family friendly', and in fairness, it probably was, as long as none of the children were younger than five or so. 1F was about a year old on the evening in question, though, and by the time we finished our dinner, there was a circle about five feet in diameter, centered on 1F's high chair, littered with an assortment of food fragments, torn napkins, pieces of silverware, and other miscellaneous items. I left a very large tip, and we realized that taking 1F to a 'nice' restaurant with us was not going to be a live option for a while.

I've always been a bit of a gadget buff, but I really like gadgets that have a certain simplicity about them, and Kid-world is rife with elegantly simple, practical gadgets. When 1F was a baby, the little seats that you can sort of hang off the edge of the table were new, and we got one of those right away. Suddenly, we could eat at friends' houses, or church potlucks, or at a picnic table in a park, without having to pack a full-blown high chair with us. A very cool, simple contraption.

Around the same time, we met a couple who were visiting from Germany, whose daughter was just a bit older than 1F. They had a little leather harness that they put on their daughter when they took her to a crowded public place; they would clip a short tether to the harness, and they could keep the child close to them, without all the bad posture that goes along with holding her hand, to say nothing of the struggles that invariably occur when the child in question decides that she doesn't want to have her hand held anymore.

I loved it - so elegant, so simple, so practical. And all the moreso, because the child actually had a lot more freedom of movement - a lot more freedom to go where she wanted to, within a much larger radius, than she would if her hand were being held. We were so taken by this little item that we asked our German friends to send us one, since they hadn't appeared in the US market yet.

A few weeks later, we received a package in the mail from a German address. We opened it eagerly, and put it to use at our first opportunity. It worked really well, and we were pleased - 1F could roam about more freely, engage her curiosity more freely, and we hardly had to exert any effort to keep track of her. In fact, we were so taken with it that we decided to make a modest improvement - in place of the short tether, we used a 25-foot retractable leash, so 1F could have even more freedom of movement.

The Fourth of July was coming up soon, and the harness setup seemed perfect for such an occasion - a large crowd in an open public place. 1F could wander to her heart's content within a 25-foot radius, and, as long as we kept hold of the leash, Molly and I didn't need to worry about where she was.

Our first inkling that this would work out just a bit less than perfectly came as we walked into the park. We were walking alongside another young family like us, with the toddler being carried on his father's shoulders. They were looking intently at the harness/leash setup we had 1F in. I smiled, knowing that they were appreciating the ingenuity, the elegance, the simplicity, the practicality of it, and preparing to tell them how we had friends in Germany, and this was all the rage among European parents, and how they could get one for themselves. Instead, the dad sort of sneered and said, "Kind of a sick joke, man."

What?!? Sick joke? What the heck does he mean by that? Ah, well; obviously a philistine who doesn't appreciate ingenious gadgets when he sees them. We found a spot suitable to our liking to settle at, and we spread our blanket. Molly and I sat down on the blanket, while 1F wandered around on the end of the leash. When she reached the limit, she would just turn around, and poke around in a different direction, checking for bugs in the grass, or whatever else captured her eye. We were enjoying ourselves immensely, just watching her exploring her expansive little piece of turf.

While we were sitting there, a woman approached us to talk. I smiled in friendly greeting, but she immediately ripped into us. "How could you?!" she shrieked. What the hell? "Treating your child like an animal!"

No, wait, you don't understand - see, she's so much more free to roam about. . .
But the woman would have none of it. See, this was a leash, and leashes are for dogs, and that was that. At the very best, in her mind, this was an inappropriate transfer of technology; at worst, it was slam-dunk evidence of depraved child abuse. And nothing I could say would dissuade her.

Before the night was over, and all the fireworks had flashed, two or three other folks wandered by to very helpfully read us the riot act and call us colorful names.

We were more circumspect about taking the harness out in public after that, and we eventually decided that the elegance, simplicity, and practicality didn't quite outweigh the grief we had to endure from well-meaning idiots fellow-citizens.

So you see, a thing can be wonderfully practical, elegantly designed, and a vast improvement on the existing technology. But, if you don't take account of public reaction, you can still wind up with a marketplace failure. . .


Friday, November 10, 2006

You Want It When?

Years ago, at my previous job, my boss was a guy named Ross. Good guy; we had several interests in common, and it wasn't uncommon for me to sit in his office telling stories for a few minutes at the start of the day.

One morning, just before Thanksgiving, I was sitting in his office doing just that, when the Vice President of Engineering came in with a large stack of papers. "Sorry to spring this on you like this," he said, "but I need all this information by twelve-fifteen."

It was already almost nine o'clock, and there was way more than three hours' worth of normally-paced work in that stack. I offered to help, and he gave me a couple items that I could handle for him. It didn't take me all that long to find what he needed, and I returned the papers to him, filled out with the necessary information.

I found him in his office working feverishly, the phone tucked between his ear and his shoulder, as he frantically gathered information for the VP. I offered to pick up more of the load, but there really wasn't anything else that I could be all that helpful with, so I returned to my 'normal' duties.

But all the rest of that morning, and into the afternoon, I saw Ross running all through the building, tracking down this or that or another item for the VP's pile of papers.

Finally, about 1:30 or so, I met him in the hall, with the papers all filled out, heading up to the VP's office. "I hope he's not too mad, but this is as soon as I could pull it all together." I wished him luck, and he went on his way.


I saw Ross later that afternoon, and I asked him how it had gone with the VP. He got an odd look on his face.

"I went into his office," he began, "and he seemed surprised to see me. That was odd, since I was more than an hour late with information that he had asked me for just this morning."

"Anyway, I apologized - 'Sorry I'm so late with this, but I just couldn't get this all together any sooner' - and I handed him the stack of papers. He was looking through them, and finally he said, 'This is great, but why did you put yourself out so much? I don't need it until the middle of next month!'

'You said you needed it by 12:15; it's already 1:30'

A wry smile crossed the VP's face: 'Not 12:15 on the clock; 12/15 on the calendar - December 15th.'"

And at that point, there was nothing left to say, except for both of us to break down laughing. . .


Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Election Day - Jones Family Version

Yesterday was Election Day. In recent years, that has come to have a different kind of significance in the Jones family. A few years back, the company I work for started giving its employees Election Day as a paid holiday (I think the union negotiated it so that union members could be free to 'get out the vote', but that's a story for another time and place). It's not like I needed the extra eight hours to fit voting into my day, but hey, a day off is a day off.

For the last few years, Molly, while basically a stay-at-home mom, has been taking on little odd, part-time gigs here, there, and everywhere, to bring in a little supplemental income. Mostly, she proctors state licensing exams a few days a month - if a plumber, say, wants his journeyman's license, he needs to pass a state exam, and Molly is one of the folks wandering up and down the aisles, making sure nobody cheats. She really appreciates the 'quiet time' in the exam room.

Anyway, a few years back, Molly got the idea of working elections. It actually pays pretty well for a one-day gig, and it's a ton of hours (usually 15-16). But - it means that, on my newly-minted paid holiday, I'm playing Mr. Mom all day. Which isn't all that big a deal - it's not like I'm phobic of looking after my kids, or anything. It's just that I don't do it very often in such a, um, all-encompassing way. I can put a meal together, but I don't know where everything is, so I'm a bit slower and clumsier than I'd like to be; in general, Molly is well-dialed-in to running the household on a daily basis, and I'm a poor substitute at best. But, for the extra couple hundred bucks, I'll soldier through.

Yesterday, Molly got up early - she had to be at the polling place by 6AM. I got up and got breakfast for the school kids, and saw them out the door. One of the kids opened the box of cheerios from the bottom, so the box was 'upside-down' as it sat on the table; but if you worry about stuff like that, you'll never make it in the parent biz.

So, it was just 8M and me at home. And he was still in bed. So far, so good. And I got 8M off to his pre-school mid-morning, so that left me with a few hours to catch up on my reading. This Mr. Mom thing was going really smoothly; I was congratulating myself for the confident, competent manner in which I was pulling it all off.

I should interject here that Molly had spent the weekend canning applesauce - about 50 quarts' worth. My wife is an incredibly hard-working woman (for those of you who read the Bible, Proverbs 31 gives a striking description of Molly). But, with the election taking her out of the house, there was still a fair bit of cleanup left to be done - the kitchen floor, in particular, was a sticky, grungy mess, and I promised that I would mop the kitchen floor for her.

Anyway, I got suitably caught up on my reading before the kids came home from school; I was feeling relaxed and on top of the situation.

Both 4M and 5M had flat tires on their bikes, and Molly wanted me to press them to repair their bikes. When you have a big family, you really need your kids to be as independent as they can manage; having their bikes in working order means they can get to their friend a mile-and-a-half away without hitting Mom up for a ride. Well, the bikes had suffered from benign neglect a bit more than just flat tires, so I wound up spending 45 minutes or so sweating and cussing over the irritating little maintenance items that we hadn't planned on. But the upshot was, that we got a couple working bikes where we'd had none.

I left the bikes, and went back to start mopping the kitchen, but when I got there, the dining room floor was covered with cheerios, while 6F and 7M sat at the dining-room table, reading and having their after-school snack. "Why are there cheerios all over the floor?" I asked. A reasonable question, it seemed to me.

"Oh - 8M spilled them."

And you just left them? You didn't bother to clean them up?

"I didn't make the mess."

I'm exasperated by that whole line of thinking, but, see, now I've got a situation. Where's 8M?

8M, why did you dump cheerios all over the floor?

"I just picked up the box and they fell out."

6F and 7M at this point helpfully point out that the box was opened at the wrong end, so 8M thought he was turning it right-side-up, whereupon all the contents of the box fell out on the floor. I'm starting to get exasperated, but I haven't lost it yet; still clinging to a degree of control.

Then 5M comes wandering through the dining room, blithely crunching through the cheerios strewn across the floor. Which wouldn't have been as bad as all that, except that cheerio dust is stickier than you might think - it clings to the bottom of shoes. Which meant that, once 5M's feet hit the living-room carpet, they left a trail of cheerio-dust footprints. In fact, it was then that I noticed a whole set of cheerio-dust footprints crossing the living-room, and also heading down the hall in the opposite direction.

You guys just tracked crushed cheerios all through the house!

"Oh - sorry."

I have to say that I'm proud of myself. A younger, less mature me would have erupted like Krakatoa. Instead, I simply told the kids to go outside and play for a few minutes. While I collected myself and swept up the dining room. Then I called them back in and handed them the vacuum-cleaner to tend to the carpet (I could accept that the original dumping of the cheerios had been an accident, and, at any rate, 8M isn't quite up to the task of sweeping the floor just yet; but walking through the mess and tracking it onto the carpet - that was culpable, people, and you're gonna clean it up).

Which they did, and, in due time, order was restored. I mopped the kitchen floor, got dinner (fortunately, we had a good crop of leftovers in the fridge), and got the kids to bed. So that, when Molly finally got home about 10PM, I was quietly reading, the very portrait of paternal competence.

"Wow - the kids are in bed?"


"Any problems?"

Oh, nothing I couldn't handle (ahem).

"Wow - and you even mopped the floor!"


"I'm impressed! What say we head to bed?" she says, with a distinct twinkle in her eye.

Sounds good to me, dear. What did you have in mind? . . .


Monday, November 6, 2006


One summer day when I was 12 years old, my dad, passing by me in the hallway, stopped, grabbed hold of me, and stared intently at my face. Then he moistened his thumb with his tongue and rubbed it against my upper lip. “Nope,” he said, “it’s not dirt. Come with me.”

He dragged me down the hall to the bathroom, standing me in front of the mirror. He rummaged around in the bathroom closet until he found a can of shaving cream, which he tossed to me.

“Shake the can,” he commanded. I did as he ordered.

“Now put some in your hand.” Again, I obeyed.

“Rub it on your face.”

When I had done all that, he handed me a razor – one of the single-blade injector types which were what passed for ‘high-tech’ in those days.

“Now scrape the shaving cream off your face.” I made a few tentative strokes. “You’ve got to press hard enough to actually get it off your face,” he pointed out, helpfully. I scraped more vigorously. “But not so hard that you cut your face to ribbons.” Okay, I could see that there was a fine line to be walked here, between ‘hard enough’ and ‘not too hard’. Anyway, I managed to finish my first shave without too many self-inflicted lacerations, and the shadow on my upper lip was gone.

And, boy, did my chest stick out after that! I had crossed the threshold, and I was now to be counted among the elite corps of Shavers. Not a little boy any more, not this fella! No, sirree! I was so excited, I took a whole hard-earned dollar down to the store and purchased a bottle of some cheap aftershave that I’d seen advertised during a baseball game. And I used that bottle up in about my first five shaves – you couldn’t leave something so important as letting the world know that you were Shaving, to chance.


I was recalling this story from my own life this weekend. I was sitting at the dining room table with the newspaper spread out in front of me, and Molly was in the kitchen, when 6F, who is eleven, came roaring through the house.

“I can shave now!”

What the heck is that about, I wondered.

She ran right past me to Molly in the kitchen. “You said I couldn’t shave until I had hair in my armpits!” she declared. Whereupon, she peeled back her shirtsleeve to show Molly her armpit. “See!” she declared triumphantly. “I’ve got hair in my armpits! So now I can shave!”

Molly leaned in for a closer look. “Well, so you do!” she said, admiringly.

6F began to bounce excitedly up and down. “So I can shave?”

“I guess you can,” Molly said, and she whisked her down the hall to the bathroom for some pit-shaving lessons. . .


Friday, November 3, 2006

My Old Flame

I got a phone call last week. From my first girlfriend (call her GF1; clever pseudonyms are not my strong suit), telling me of the death of a mutual friend's mother. Aside from the sad news, I was glad to hear from her. I hadn't heard from her in 10 years, and it had been more than 20 years before that since I'd had any contact with her.

I met GF1 at the same Christian summer camp I mentioned in this post, the summer before my senior year of high school. She was outgoing and fun, and we connected almost immediately. Looking back, high school summer camps are virtual hothouses of teenage romances - we were away from home and the normal 'authorities' in our lives (ie, our parents); it was summer, the weather was beautiful, and we had lots of free time. Much of which we spent on the beach, um, fairly scantily clad. And, as I said, we hit it off pretty quickly. By mid-week, we were an 'item'.

I had never had a girlfriend before. Not that I never wanted one, you understand; but between my own adolescent male awkwardness and certain adverse appraisals of my desirability on the part of the young women of my hometown, such a relationship had not yet materialized.

But none of those constraints applied with GF1. I didn't have a reputation as a 'nerd' with her, and her social status wasn't threatened by association with me. Just being in her presence, knowing that she liked me, was like a powerful drug.

Toward the end of the week of camp, we had an 'outing', I think to a play in the nearby town. GF1 and I worked out to ride in the same car, and we used the opportunity to, uh, get to know each other better. I was lost in a blissful fog - she liked me, she really liked me!

The last couple days of camp, we snuck off together whenever we could, until finally the day came when camp ended and she went back to her town and I went back to mine.

Her town was a few hours' drive from mine, so we really couldn't get together during the school year. Or even call each other; in those days, long-distance phone calls were expensive enough that my parents weren't about to allow even a few minutes a month for me to call her. So we sent letters back and forth, professing our undying love, and scheming for any way that we could possibly get together. There was a camp reunion over Christmas break, and we both went, so we could be together again for a day or two.

When I graduated the following spring, she managed to get the use of her parents' car to drive over for my commencement. I really relished being able to show her off to my friends, and to all the girls who had never deemed me worthy of their romantic attention.

My family moved to another town that summer, so I was sort of adrift, trying to get a summer job in a new town, and not having much success. My college orientation was in the early part of the summer, and my dad and I hit upon the idea of finding a job and staying the summer in the college town. Lo and behold, I found a job, and a place to stay (a little seedier than I was used to, but I didn't know any better).

That whole summer, then, when I got out of work on Friday, I'd throw all my possessions into a backpack and hitch-hike from the college town to GF1's town. She arranged for me to stay with the family of a mutual friend (the same one whose mother died last week), and we would spend weekends together all that summer.

I went off to college in the fall, but GF1, a year younger than I was, was still in high school. I hitch-hiked over to see her for a weekend in the fall, but she was oddly evasive toward me. Finally, she told me that it wasn't going to work with me being in college and her still home in high school, and we needed to break up. I was stunned, and crestfallen, but I suppose that, somewhere in the depths of my brain, I could admit that it was better this way. Still - she was my first serious love; I can remember my friend's mom (the woman who died last week) consoling me, and telling me that, whatever happened, I would always remember GF1 fondly just because she was my first love. And I can say that that has been the case.

After that, GF1 and I lost track of each other. She dropped in to say hello once when I was in college, and she was visiting a friend at the same school, but she spent the whole time talking to my roommate, and never said a word to me. Pretty strange.


Fast forward to 10 years ago. Molly and I are planning a getaway weekend, and I propose a bed-and-breakfast in a small town near to GF1's hometown. It's a beautiful area, on Lake Michigan, and I could show Molly around a bit, for having spent so many weekends there way back when.

At one point, we stopped at a grocery store, and there was a small group of people talking in the parking lot, near where we were parked. One woman was talking more than the others in the group, and there was something very familiar about her voice. I studied her face, but if this woman was GF1, she had put on quite a bit of weight, so it was hard to tell (well, so had I; besides which, my hair was a lot shorter than she'd have remembered me). Finally, I interrupted, saying that she reminded me of someone I knew long ago, and sure enough, it was her. We spent a few minutes catching up, then we both had to be about our business, so we traded addresses and promised to get back in touch.

Molly has mostly forgiven me now, but she has never let me live down the irony that I got back in touch with my old girlfriend when my wife and I were on a 'romantic getaway weekend'. (sigh) Sorry, sweetheart; I promise you, it wasn't intentional.

GF1 and I tried a few times to get together after that. Once, she had some business in our town, and we planned to meet for lunch, but a freak snowstorm blew in, and she wound up not coming. We traded Christmas cards for a few years, but then we lost track of each other again. Until she called last week.


edit - I really should tell you 'The Rest of the Story'; I couldn't figure out at first how to fold it into the main story without changing the focus of the story. It's not all that crucial to the story, but I think if I just laid it out there, it would wind up being distracting. And yet, telling this part of the story adds some texture; so, I'll make it a 'footnote'. . .

GF1 is black. I don't say that to impress anyone, or to shock anyone, or to elicit any particular response from anyone. It's a fact, is all - it is what it is.

And yet, the world we live in being what it is, it can hardly help but elicit a certain range of responses. My Dad was not pleased; he and I had some of the nastiest arguments we ever had over my relationship with her. When GF1 came to my school for my commencement, it created a minor stir. Some people were uncomfortable just because she was there, and my relationship with a black girl upset them. Some of my friends were eager to meet 'The Black Girl', as if merely being in her aura would confer some grace on them. And everything in between. Some folks just wanted to touch her hair (this was waayy Up North; some of my classmates had never seen a real, live black person). . .

The thing is, to me, her blackness was just a personal fact about her, not some huge determinative marker. She wasn't 'my black girlfriend', she was just my girlfriend. She was a very cool person just for who she was, not because she was black (or, as some would have it, in spite of it).

Her race (or mine) didn't have anything to do with why we broke up, but if we had continued on together, we would sooner or later have had to deal with the racial issue (or, more precisely, the inter-racial issue), just because the world around us wouldn't have let us ignore it, try as we might have.


So now, I can tell you that Molly tried to dissuade me from approaching her - "If you're wrong, it'll be, 'oh, they all just look alike.'"

And, once we established that we were who we thought we were (or however you say that), she turned to the rest of her group and said, "This is that white guy I told you all about!"


Wednesday, November 1, 2006

All Saints' Day

On the traditional Christian calendar, today is All Saints' Day. For Catholics in the United States, it is a 'Holy Day of Obligation', and mass attendance is mandatory. It is one of my favorite Holy Days, evoking memories of all the godly, holy, heroic men and women who have gone before me in the faith. It is a day for all the un-named 'saints', the 'every-Christians' who lived the Christian life faithfully and sometimes heroically - grandparents, neighbors, friends, whoever - who never captured popular attention so as to be canonized, but who yet were faithful and godly Christians. So, I have always loved All Saints' Day.


In recent years, though, the day has taken on a darker significance in Molly's family. Today is also the second anniversary of Molly's sister's suicide.

G and Molly were barely a year apart in age, but temperamentally as different as two sisters could be. Molly is bright, cheerful and sanguine; G was brooding, angry and rebellious. Being as close in age as they were, the two girls developed an intense sibling rivalry. Molly tended to be more favored by her parents; G was more popular at school. She ran away from home when she was 16 (to California; where else?).

In the course of time, she married her English professor and bore four children by him. She seemed to settle down into wifedom and motherhood, and her relationships with the rest of the family improved, either due to her forming her own separate identity, or to her living far away and only seeing us seldom, or both.

A few years ago, though, she called to tell us that she had left her husband. She seemed very eager to get Molly's approval for it. But Molly could only, in good conscience, tell her, "You're my sister and I love you," stopping short of fully accepting what G had done. And that caused some friction between the two of them. G's children grew up and left home, and she lived an increasingly carefree (or maybe aimless?) life as she passed through her middle-, and into her late-40s. It came as a shock when we heard she had ended her life.

In retrospect, I suppose we can see the seeds of it - her children were grown, she had left her husband; she was getting old enough that the young and exciting men were looking elsewhere than at her, and I'm sure that, on the most visceral level, she was lonely.

And yet, there was always something stubborn in G, to the effect that, 'if the world isn't going to be the way I want it to be, then too bad for the world'. It is entirely possible to see her suicide as the grand, final 'Screw You' to the Universe.

And, there seems to be something significant to the fact that she chose All Saints' Day for the end of her life. She and her husband had often traveled in Mexico, and she was very fond of Mexican culture; in Mexico, tomorrow, All Souls' Day, is called 'Dia del Muerte' - the Day of the Dead.

I don't really know why I'm so reflective on G's death this year; life goes on, and I never really knew her all that well. But I liked her, hard as she tried to make herself unlikable; she was sort of like Molly's 'dark twin' - alike, and so very different. I wish she could have been happier; I wish she were still here today. She should still be here today. And that's the tragedy.

I still love All Saints' Day, and all that it means in the Christian context. But it will never be quite the same. . .


Monday, October 30, 2006

Love Languages

Emily posted recently about Love Languages, specifically referencing Gary Chapman’s book. In recent years, I’ve had numerous conversations with Molly on that topic, and also several e-mail conversations, with FTN among others, in recent months.

Molly and I were discussing it the other night, and we came to an interesting conclusion, I think. As with all communication, there is both the sending and the receiving of messages in our ‘love-languages’. Thus, the wise lover needs to know his spouse’s love-language in both its sending and receiving modes.

That is, he needs to know what his spouse’s love-language is, (a) so he can speak it to her, but also (b) so that, when she speaks it to him, he can recognize and understand what she’s ‘saying’ to him. If I speak English, say, and Molly speaks Chinese (a not-entirely-inapt comparison), I need to understand Chinese so I can speak it to Molly, but also so that, when she speaks Chinese to me, I can understand what she’s saying. If I can speak Chinese to her, but can't understand when she speaks it to me, my understanding of Chinese is incomplete, at best.

Many years ago, there was a joint space mission between the US and the Soviet Union; in order to solve the 'communications problem', whenever the two crews were together, the Americans spoke Russian, and the Soviets spoke English. That kept things on a simple enough level; by placing the burden on the 'speakers', the strategy biased things in favor of the 'hearers' of the message. And, I suppose, that is similar to what we want to be doing with 'love-languages' - sending our love-messages in a language that we ourselves might speak imperfectly, but which the 'receivers' of our messages will easily understand. .

Alas, egocentric creatures that we are, we all tend to operate out of our own love-languages in both the sending and receiving modes. My love-language is ‘physical touch’; Molly’s is ‘acts of service’. Thus, my tendency is to express my love for Molly in lots of physical affection, but she’s inclined to receive love more easily if I give it to her by, say, sweeping the kitchen floor. Likewise, she shows her love for me by cooking for me and doing my laundry, whereas I would most easily recognize her love if she would initiate some steamy sex. So both of us have a ‘double-challenge’ – I need to learn how to give her ‘acts of service’, realizing that that’s how she’ll most easily receive the message, “I love you” from me, but it’s also extremely helpful if I understand that the cooking, cleaning, etc, that she does for me is directly expressing her love for me. Conversely, Molly needs to learn to give me the ‘physical’ messages that I easily understand, but it’s also helpful for her to recognize that the ‘physical’ messages I send her are a way that I show my love to her. We need to be sort of ‘bi-directionally bilingual’.

We can fail to communicate love in either way – by failing (or refusing) to ‘send’ messages to our spouse in the language they understand, or by failing to understand the messages our spouse sends us in their own language.

We have two friend-couples who illustrate the two sides of this. In Couple A, the husband’s ‘love-language’ is ‘words of affirmation’, but his wife is a fairly reticent woman, who, when she and her husband went through the book and he told her how he’d like her to treat him, said, “I can’t do that; it’s not natural for me.” So, she fails (refuses, really) to send her love-messages to her husband, because she won’t learn to speak his ‘language’. In Couple B, the husband loves to give his wife gifts – throw her elaborate parties, take her on exotic vacations, etc – but his wife wants no part of it, and is vocally critical of the waste of time, money, etc. So, while he is sending out love-messages in his own ‘love-language’, he might as well be speaking Swahili, because she doesn’t ‘get it’. (Now, I’m not meaning to imply here that these ‘failures to communicate’ are always the wife’s fault; those are just the two examples that came up in our conversation. I’m sure that the failures are sufficiently reciprocal; or, if anything, that men are more clueless than women – that would hardly be surprising, would it?)

So, at the end of the day, my point is this: when we learn about the concept of ‘love-languages’, it’s easy to complain that “my spouse can’t/won’t speak my love-language”; but we can mitigate the problem, at least to some extent, by recognizing our spouse’s love-language when they speak it to us. Even if it’s not the ‘language’ we prefer to hear. It’s nice to hear “I love you” in Italian or French, but if our spouse says it to us in German or Russian, it helps if we can understand what she’s saying.

And even Germans and Russians can figure out how to be happily married, can't they?


And, in a couple days, I'm sure I'll be able to step back and appreciate the wonderful season my Tigers had. But, for cryin' out loud - HOW FREAKIN' HARD IS IT TO THROW THE DAMN BALL TO THIRD BASE?!?

OK, I'm better now. . . I think. . .check back with me in a couple days. . .


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

If I Had a Hammer

When he was little, our son 4M (now 16) was into ‘working man stuff’ – tools and machinery. One summer, the city re-worked our sewers, which meant that the street was torn up all summer, and a whole menagerie of heavy equipment passed in front of our porch the whole time. 4M was in juvenile testosterone heaven.

Hammers, in particular, held a kind of ‘Jungian archetypal’ fascination for him. A hammer was like a symbol of power for him – “I hammer, therefore I am”. Molly bought him a little tack-hammer, and he carried that hammer around with him like it was the Mighty Hammer of Thor. Of course, this also got us into the realms of parental nonsense – “I gave you this hammer, but don’t hammer anything.” I eventually gave him a little 2-foot chunk of a two-by-four, and a little box of nails, so he could hammer away to his heart's content.

One time I was working on some minor maintenance project, which required the use of my hammer. I brought 4M along with me, thinking that I could give him a few small hammering jobs where he could actually be helpful, and he was. But he also noticed that Dad’s hammer was bigger than his, which made perfect sense to his four-year-old cosmology – Dad was bigger and more powerful than he was, so it only stood to reason that Dad would have a bigger hammer. And it was hard to miss the vaguely (or maybe not-so-vaguely) phallic aspect of it.

That year, for Christmas, we went to my parents’ house for the holidays. One day while we were there, the wheels got to turning in 4M’s head – if Grandpa is Dad’s dad, then. . . He went to my dad and asked, “Grandpa, how big is your hammer?” My dad didn’t understand, and asked him to repeat the question.

“How big is your hammer, Grandpa?”

My dad gave a little chuckle, got up from where he was sitting, and went down into the basement, calling over his shoulder as he went, “I’ll be right back.”

A minute later, he returned, carrying a 12-pound sledge-hammer. 4M’s eyes bulged out of their sockets. “Oh, Grandpa – you’ve got a BIIIIIG hammer.”

“That’s right,” my dad told him. “And don’t you forget it!”

While we all rolled on the floor laughing.


Monday, October 23, 2006

Dueling Selfishness

I've been blogging here for about five months now, all told, and I've told you several great stories from Molly's and my lives. In the course of 26+ years of marriage together, we've really come a long way, and I've enjoyed sharing with you all some of what we've learned over the years.

But we're not this wonderfully saintly couple living in a faint glow of unearthly light. We can be as petty and selfish as anybody else; probably the biggest thing we've learned over the years is how to repent and apologize sooner than we used to.

From the beginning years of our marriage, our most persistent, uh, 'challenge' has been what I call 'Dueling Selfishness', or, as Molly puts it, 'My Needs; No, My Needs'. For various reasons, I think we both grew up being fairly accustomed to getting our own way. Which meant that we were ripe for some real choice ego-clashes when we were married. "Of course, you can easily see that I need thus-and-such, so you should just step aside and let me have my way." "But, it's even more obvious that you should defer to my needs, isn't it?" And so it went.

Over time, we got tired of the endless circle of 'My needs; no, my needs', and started learning to deal constructively with the situation. Sometimes, it meant one or the other of us had to defer to the other; sometimes it meant finding an agreeable compromise. But the most fundamental change was to our attitudes.

The biblical epistle to the Romans says, "Outdo one another in showing honor," and that was a real straightforward challenge to us. We had been outdoing one another in asserting our will, and here the apostle was urging us to outdo one another in looking after each other's good, rather than our own. And what a fundamental transformation that brought. Rather than trying to manipulate Molly so that I got what I wanted, I needed to simply look after her good; and likewise, she needed to look after mine before her own. And the result was that both our needs got met, without all the bickering and anxiety.

Of course, this entails a pretty significant 'leap of faith' - that, if I give up worrying about my own needs being met so as to look after Molly's, my needs will indeed be covered. And likewise for her. I honestly don't remember if one of us 'went first', hoping the other would 'catch on', or if it was something we worked out together, but in the fullness of time, the magic worked.

Someone has said that marriage is not a 50/50 proposition, it's a 100/100 proposition. That is, it's not about me giving half and Molly giving half; it's about both of us giving all we have - my life for hers, her life for mine. And it's not about 'keeping score' of who's putting in more or less than the other. We both just 'go all-in'.

And of course, we've learned this perfectly, and our marriage is a smoothly-running machine. . .

Uh, no - not really.

Just this past weekend, we had one of our classic 'Dueling Selfishness' quarrels. Molly got to feeling exhausted by the day-to-day work of running the Jones family household - shopping and cooking alone are a huge amount of work, especially the type of cooking she's doing to keep me in good health and (we hope) long life. So she got kind of cranky and snappy. . .

And I responded very sensitively and graciously, you can be sure - I told her that if having me alive and healthy was just too much for her, why I'd be happy to go back to 300 pounds and leave her a widow with kids at home. (See how helpful I was?).

And it went round and round like that for an hour or more, and both of us were feeling like the other had suddenly, inexplicably stopped caring about what happened to us. Until finally Molly stopped and said, "My needs; no, my needs".

The spell was broken, and we knew what we had to do. I had to shift my focus, and instead of making sure that I got what I wanted, I needed to think about what Molly needed, and how I could help that happen. And she needed to step back from ultimatums and assure me that I was worth it to her. And we both needed to apologize for the hurtful things we'd said.

And the thing is, those hurtful words don't just dissolve when the apology is made and accepted; they leave psychic wounds behind that take some time to heal. The 100/100 marriage takes a LOT of trust between spouses, and when trust is damaged, it isn't instantly built back up. But we're building some 'good history' with each other, and establishing a firm base of trust which we can stand on, even when some peripheral chunk of trust is damaged. Because we've got many years' worth of experience now that the other is looking out for our good, it's easier to treat specific instances of selfishness as aberrations.

So I want you to know that we aren't this perfect couple with a perfect marriage - I'm as selfish as anyone else, and I can be as petty and pissy as anyone else. But, by God's grace, we've learned how to be married in a good and life-giving way. . .


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Sexual Wisdom. . . From the Pope?

In recent years, Molly and I have made a fairly comprehensive study of the late pope’s Theology of the Body, and it has really enriched our marriage, especially our sexual relationship. Perhaps it seems counter-intuitive that theology (and perhaps Catholic theology all the moreso) could improve anyone’s sex life, but that has definitely been our experience.

I touched on the Theology of the Body in this previous post, and Molly gave her perspective in this post. Today, I wanted to give you all a fascinating quote from Love and Responsibility, the philosophical foundation for the Theology of the Body, which the late pope wrote in 1960, when he was the auxiliary bishop of Krakow, and still went by the name of Karol Wojtyla:

“Intercourse must not serve merely as a means of allowing sexual excitement to reach its climax in . . . the man alone, but climax must be reached in harmony, not at the expense of one partner, but with both partners fully involved. . . Love demands that the reactions of . . . the sexual ‘partner’ be fully taken into account. . .

“There exists a rhythm dictated by nature itself which both spouses must discover so that climax may be reached both by the man and by the woman, and as far as possible occur in both simultaneously. . .

“Non-observance of these teachings of sexology in the marital relationship is contrary to the good of the other partner to the marriage and the durability and cohesion of the marriage itself. . . There is a need for harmonization, which is impossible without good will, especially on the part of the man, who must carefully observe the reactions of the woman. If a woman does not obtain natural gratification from the sexual act there is a danger that her experience of it will be qualitatively inferior, will not involve her fully as a person. . . Frigidity. . . is usually the result of [selfishness] in the man, who failing to recognize the subjective desires of the woman, and the objective laws of the sexual process taking place in her, seeks merely his own satisfaction. . .”

The language is a tad ‘clinical’ and ‘high-falutin’, but bishop Wojtyla is telling men not to be sexually selfish, to be considerate of the sexual needs of their wives, and to work at seeing that she comes to climax; if not, your marriage will suffer. Not the sort of thing that one necessarily expects to encounter from a Catholic bishop, let alone the future pope, but there you have it.

And good advice, too, as far as it goes. . .


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

I've Looked at Adoption From Both Sides Now

Today I’m going to post a couple of shorter items that sort of coalesce around a theme of Adoption. . .

A couple weeks ago was the 17th anniversary of my reunion with my birth-mother. She called on the phone, just as she did 17 years ago, and we had a really warm conversation.

Once I decided to search for her, years ago, the actual search went surprisingly quickly. I had my birth name, from the adoption order my parents got from the court way back when (and which they were happy to give me). I contacted the agency that had handled my adoption, and they gave me a sheet of ‘non-identifying’ information (things like her parents’ and siblings ages at the time I was born, hair/eye color, what county the family had lived in, etc.). That basic information gave me enough to go on, and in two months’ time, I had found her.

I didn’t have the slightest idea if she would even want to hear from me, so I arranged for an intermediary to make the first contact – if she didn’t want to have contact with me, I wanted her to be able to say so without having contact with me in the process. But of course, she did want to have contact with me, and rather than wait for me to call her, she called me first. And the rest, as they say, is history.

About a month later, I flew off to meet her (she lives in a completely different part of the country from us, one that I would likely never visit if she weren't there), and since then, she has come for annual visits to our place.

I want to say something about ‘why’ – what motivated me to search? First, let me be as clear as I can possibly be that it was in no way related to any dissatisfaction with my adoptive family – our family wasn’t perfect, but it was ‘plenty good enough’. My parents did very well with some fairly challenging circumstances, and I feel nothing but love and gratitude toward them.

Mainly, I wanted something that they simply didn’t have to give me – my beginnings. I knew the history of our family, I knew I was adopted, but certain ‘big questions’ – where did I come from; who do I look like? – they simply couldn’t help me with. My knowledge of my life went back to the point at which I was adopted, but before that was a blank page. And on top of that, I was having children of my own – 1F was the first person I ever knew who was genetically related to me, and as I saw different characteristics of hers that had obviously ‘come from’ me, I wondered who I had gotten those things from.

Anyway, it’s been 17 years now. At first, our relationship was very emotional, very intense, but it’s long since settled down to a pretty ‘normal’ family relationship – kind of like an extra set of in-laws. But I’ve been surprised at the sense of solidity that it’s given me – what someone called ‘a sense of being rooted to the earth’. There’s a richness that I didn’t quite anticipate – and which I’m sure most people don’t even think about – in just being able to know where I came from.


Also a couple weeks ago, 1F and Molly and I went for a visit with 1F’s daughter (I’ll call her AG) and her adoptive parents (call them AM and AF). 1F has gone for several visits by herself, but this was the first time that Molly and I had seen her since the day she was born.

It was a nice visit. It was good to get a look at our grand-baby, now 9 months old, crawling and pulling herself up, and assure ourselves that our gene-pool is doing OK. I was actually more fascinated than I had expected to be, just watching her move around and play.

Her parents are great people, and it was good to spend some time getting to know them a little bit. It would be very understandable for them to have some anxiety about AG’s relationship with her birth-family, but if they had it, they didn’t show it to us. And for our part, we are absolutely clear that they are AG’s parents; we know that we don’t have any claim on her, and we’re grateful to them for letting us have such relationship with her as we can.

It’s a new kind of thing for us – I never had a relationship with my birth-family until I was 33 years old, and my adoptive family never had to have anything to do with it, so we’re breaking some new ground here. But we’re committed to making it work, and so far, we’re as happy as we can be with how it’s going.


*edit October 13*

O272 and Emily had questions from the above post, and I want to answer them here, since they're really good questions and require more comprehensive answers than I wanted to leave in comment-space.

O asked: How did [1F] deal with putting her child up for adoption? It had to be a very difficult decision.

In a related vein, Emily asked: Was there a specific reason that [1F] didn't want to raise the baby herself?

From what I know of her decision process, her decision was both easy and wrenchingly difficult. Easy in the sense that, looking at her own life and circumstances, she simply didn't have the wherewithal to raise a baby, and she was clear on that virtually from the moment she knew she was pregnant. She didn't have a job, let alone one that would provide support for herself and a baby, and she hated the idea of making herself and the baby 'wards of the state' on welfare. She wanted to go back to college, but she needed time and money to do that, both of which would militate against her raising a baby. Her psychological state was (and really, still is) more fragile than a single mother's would need to be. But most fundamentally, she wanted her baby to have a family, and that would never be the case if she raised the baby herself.

The baby's father . . . how shall I say it . . . was a shithead and a loser of the first order. He essentially dropped her as soon as he found out she was pregnant, and after that, his entire role was to try to obstruct the adoption, so as to maintain some form of lasting 'control' in her life (it was not terribly unlike a dog pissing on a tree to 'mark' it as 'his turf'). He showed up at the adoption hearings with his new girlfriend in tow, herself now several months pregnant. Wonderful fellow, this guy. . .

In the context of giving a child up for adoption, nine months gestation can seem terribly cruel. She made her decision for all the right reasons, and really, pretty early on. But all the little signposts that are usually markers of impending joy - the first time she felt the baby kick, the first ultrasound picture, etc - were, for her, markers of impending sadness. She could have the greatest confidence in the decision she had made, and the firmest resolve to see it through, but the day-to-day reality of being pregnant ran smack against what her rational mind was telling her. On a very basic level, which for all intents and purposes she had no control over, she was bonding with her baby, whether she would end up raising her or not. And that was the wrenchingly hard part.

Childbirth was poignant, as you might expect. There was great joy at the arrival of a healthy baby girl, at finally being able to see and hold this little person who came from her. The adoptive parents were present for the birth (AM cut the cord), and their joy was very gratifying. If this was a difficult time for 1F, the pain was mitigated by the knowledge that something wonderfully good - a family was getting a daughter, and her baby was getting a family - was coming of it.

Emily asked about 1F's, and Molly's and my, relationships with the adoptive parents, and how they were 'chosen'.

1F chose the adoptive parents, although, for the adoption to be finalized, they had to be evaluated and approved by the agency which handled the adoption, and ultimately, by the court. She wanted her baby to be raised in a Christian community like the one she had been raised in, but she didn't really want her baby to be the same town as she lived in. So we made some inquiries among several other communities in the US, related to ours, and found a young couple in a community near ours (but not too near) who were childless after seven years of marriage. They were loose acquaintances of ours; although I couldn't say that we really knew them, we knew who they were.

The 'open' adoption arrangement that 1F has with AG's parents is purely informal - there are no legally binding 'agreements' in force. If the parents decided tomorrow that the arrangement wasn't working out and they wanted no further contact with 1F or with us, they would be within their rights, and we would have no legal recourse. That's just the rules of the game, and we all knew it going in.

But, as I said, they are good and gracious people, and, at least so far, they are happy to include us in the life of their daughter. And, as I said previously, we are completely clear that, in every meaningful way, they are her parents, and we are grateful to be included.

As an interesting aside, within a month of AG coming to live with them, AM was pregnant, and that baby is now due any day. . .

Emily was also impressed that Molly and I, as the 'birth-grandparents' are included in the 'open' arrangement. I actually hadn't thought of it as all that unusual, but I suppose it might be. I can say that, of all that has come into my own life as a result of being reunited with my birth-mother, the relationships we've formed with my extended 'birth-family' have been the most surprising. My own grandmother was sick and scant months from death when I appeared on the scene, but her reception of me was incredibly heart-warming; it hadn't occurred to me that other members of my 'birth-family' would have been all that strongly affected.

There is a kind of 'kinship' that is almost 'built-into' us genetically. I've been amazed, as I've met my own biological aunts and uncles and cousins for the first time, at the way that we're 'like each other' in some innate, undefinable way. With my adoptive family, there were differences that would crop up from time to time, and we mainly dealt with them with good humor. But with my 'birth-family' it was almost the opposite - we would discover unanticipated ways in which we were like each other, or just understood each other in some intuitive way.

So, ladies, I hope that this gives a helpful answer to your questions, or at least helps you understand the situation a little better. . .

(7/4 comments)

Monday, October 9, 2006

And Now For Something Completely Different. . .

I've generally organized this blog around the general themes of marriage and family life. But today, partly in the interest of full disclosure, and partly because I'm just so giddy about it, I'm going to do a 'sports post'. With apologies in advance to those of you who are wondering, "What the heck is up with that?"

Mr. Husbland has been posting in recent days about the Detroit Tigers and how exciting this baseball season has been in Tigertown (I've already told you all that I live in Michigan, so I don't suppose that I'm 'blowing my cover' by admitting this). But, I thought a more, uh, seasoned treatment of the subject might be helpful for you all (ie, I'm a whole lot older than he is).

I started following the Tigers when I was a little kid - we used to try to imitate Rocky Colavito's stretching exercises when we played pickup games. I was 12 when the Tigers won the World Series in '68, which I think is just about the perfect age to take on a passionate, lifelong commitment to a favorite sports team. Al Kaline was my boyhood hero, and I've come to learn that a boy could do a whole lot worse than emulating Al Kaline (in all sorts of ways). Willie Horton, Norm Cash, Bill Freehan, Mickey Lolich, Denny McLain (well, OK, a boy could do a whole lot better, but come on, he went 31-6 in '68) - these were the ballplayers who were at the very front of my youthful consciousness.

I was older (married, with one daughter and another 'in the oven') when the Tigers won in '84, but I had been a college classmate of Kirk Gibson, and that whole group of guys - Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Lance Parrish, Jack Morris - were all about my age, so I had a certain, more 'peer-ish' identification with them.

After the World Series that year, a buddy of mine came over to my house and handed me a baggie with a small hunk of sod in it. "Thought you might appreciate this," he said. I looked at it, thinking, what the heck? until it slowly dawned on me what it was - he had been down to the stadium for the final game of the Series, and afterward, had torn up a hunk of sod, which he divided into smaller chunks and gave them out to his buddies. And that little piece of sod - about three inches square - grows in my back yard to this day.

The thing that's so cool about this year's Tigers is how they just absolutely came out of nowhere. Three years ago, they set the American League record for losses (and ten guys from that season are still on the team!). We were hoping that this year they'd be better than they had been, but nobody expected them to be anywhere near this good. So it's been just an astounding baseball season. I've just been shaking my head all season - they can't really be this good, can they?

Saturday, I was with a group of 20 or so guys at a buddy's house, ostensibly to watch our alma mater play a football game against our hated in-state rival, but before the first quarter was over, we had switched over to the Tigers game. Jeremy Bonderman is getting a special place ready for himself in all-time Tigers lore (and, I'm not gonna lie - it was all the cooler for beating the Yankees). When the game ended, and the players were running along the stands, spraying champagne on the fans, it was one of the most incredible moments I've ever seen at a sporting event - you don't see players and fans bonding like that very much these days. It was very cool.

There is a cool, trans-generational thing that baseball has that none of the other sports can quite duplicate. I can talk about Al Kaline and Willie Horton, or Jack Morris and Kirk Gibson, and my kids can talk about Justin Verlander and Pudge Rodriguez, but my dad can also talk about Charley Gehringer and Tommy Bridges and Schoolboy Rowe, and you've got 70 years of Tigers history spanned by three generations of our family.

So, thanks for induging my bliss for the moment - I promise we'll get back to our 'normal' topics as soon as possible. And I do realize that we've still got to play the A's, whose pitching is just about as good as ours, and even if we beat the A's, then we have the World Series. But in the context of recent years, it's all a gratuitous gift.


Also, the other day Emily was asking for our favorite jokes, and this seemed a fitting time to tell my own personal favorite:

Two guys in the men's room do their business at the urinals. When they finish, one guy goes to the sink, while the other guy heads for the door.

The guy at the sink calls over his shoulder, "I see you went to Michigan State."

The guy at the door stops, and says, "Why, yes I did. How did you know?"

Sink-guy says (in telling the joke, it really helps if you can affect a Thurston-Howell-type accent at this point), "Well I went to the University of Michigan, and we were taught to always wash our hands after urinating."

Door-guy says, "Oh; that's a really good idea. But at Michigan State they taught us not to piss on our hands."

And with that, I will leave you until next time. . .