Belated Father's Day Letter

Dear children of the house of Blase,

You know I read a lot of Jim Harrison and he uses this line - only God knows how much I love you - in several of his novels. Harrison stole that line from Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who no doubt stole it from somebody else.  Anyway, only God knows how much I love you.  I'm proud of the three of you, I truly am.  You're sweet to kids younger than you and respectful to those old enough to be your grandparents.  I believe we as a people are known by how we treat the very young and the very old...based on that, you guys are battin'a' thousand.

I realize some evenings I fall asleep watching the first round of Wipeout.  I'm sorry.  I used to wonder why my grandfather did that of an evening, even my dad does that.  Well, I now know why - they were worn slap out from working all day trying to give me something they didn't have and I'm not just talking about stuff. Those men, from whose cloth I'm cut, worked a full day to provide food, clothes, shelter, opportunities, and love.  I believe they did it willingly, as do I, but it'll wear on you.  Some of that is no doubt due to that fig eating party in Eden...its a heavy curse.  Some days I'm strong, others I'm weak...just wipe the drool off my chin and get me the slanket.

I've been meaning to ask you this - do you think your dad is happy?  I so hope you experience me as a lover of life, but I'm not always sure...I can be a rather melancholy mule.  You are, however, the best judges of that, so your opinion counts big-time. I so want you to know, deep within your marrow, that its a wonderful life, that this cockeyed existence is pure gift and nothing else.  Yes, there's a lotta suffering and sin and death and dying, but there's just as many lilacs blooming outside your windowsill and babies coming crying into this world so fresh from God and Gordon Lightfoot singing about the Edmund Fitzgerald...sometimes you've gotta look for it, scratch hard, but the wonder is there, always, always, always.  I pray one of these days, when I'm dead and gone, that you'll sit around and say daddy sure loved this world, didn't he?  And one of you will reply God only knows how much.

Two quick things.  I've noticed you fighting with each other in the house lately.  It drives your mom plum batty, but I'm inclined to give you a little rein.  That's due to the fact that I've seen you stand up for each other out there, in the neighborhood.  I hope you'll always do that, stand up for each other that is.  You're family and that word means something.  It gets rather diluted in our current infatuation with all things global, but I want you to hang on to each other, come hell or high water.  If and when you're married with kids, or even if you're not, I want you to call each other.  I don't do that enough with my brother, your uncle Shawn, and it grieves my heart because only God knows how much I love him.  And while you're at it, call your parents don't have to talk long, just let us hear your glorious voices so we know you're alright because that's really what we, your parents, desire - that you're alright. AND remember, as Spiderman tells us, that with great power comes great responsibility.  I tend to equate power with, with great love comes great responsibility.  You've been born into a loving family...not everyone has that power.  Be gentle with people.  Not all, but most folks just want to be loved...maybe God only knows how much.



Smooth like butta...(cont.)

Colonel had read somewhere that the question running through all of Updike's novels was 'what is a good man?'  He liked that question, although he wasn’t sure anyone anywhere was asking it anymore. 

He tolerated the intro video at church two Sundays ago, Father’s Day, but its ripples remained.  Two kids on playground swings, a laughing little girl and a sad faced boy of matching age.  The boy asks is that your dad?  Little girl giggles yes, he makes silly faces as the scene cut to a Peter Pan in a lime green polo hanging on the jungle gym acting like a monkey.  The boy confesses my dad makes silly faces too and motions over his shoulder to a Men’s Warehouse model on a bench screaming into a cell phone while balancing a laptop on his knees.  Colonel noticed the singular reaction of several poster families sitting near him: husband puts arm around wife and draws her close; wife dabs corners of eyes with tissue then puts head on husband’s shoulder; kids sit hollow-eyed.

The video presentation was followed by soft piano music and an invitation for the congregation to stand and pray silently for the men of our land.  Colonel gingerly stepped into the aisle and headed for the men’s room.  Head-usher-poster-family-dad Tim Winn winked at Colonel and whispered gotta go, huh?  Colonel feigned a smile thinking you have no idea

He spent an inordinate amount of time in the second stall, pondering the two ends-of-the-spectrum men in the video.  He had zero affection for the connected 24/7 male but knew the tousle-haired metrosexual wouldn’t be worth a damn in a fight.  And chances were good mr. monkey was up at 2am watching online porn while business suit was across town unable to sleep beneath the weight of providing.  The slick video avoided the middle in favor of the ends, completely sidestepping ‘what is a good man?’ to pit man against man.  As Colonel exited the stall, Tim Winn shook and zipped at the urinal like a zealot.  The men met at the sinks.  Tim adjusted his tie, winked at Colonel, and walked out.  Colonel strongly believed a good man washes his hands.        

Smooth like butta...

Smooth like butta.  That’s what the kid’s t-shirt read.  The shirt looked twenty years old, the boy couldn’t have been more than ten.  He stood before Colonel for a moment as his bleach blonde mother asked Jesus three times for help in squeezing her carry-on in the overhead.  Jesus finally heard her humble cry.  Butta and his mutta – the phrase immediately came to Colonel’s mind. 

“Jesus, I don’t know how they expect people to fit in these seats!”  She looked all around the plane, Goldilocks searching for something else, something just right.

“Darling, the sooner you sit, the sooner we’ll git.”  The airline attendant’s voice swept from the rear of the plane, deep South, endearing.  Colonel looked up expecting to see a magnolia from the cast of Designing Women. Instead, he saw Anna – that’s what her nametag read.  Anna’s face and frame were an exact copy of that monster’s, Carol, from Where The Wild Things Are.  The woman rolled her eyes at Anna, then directed her boy toward the window while she took the aisle, directly across from Colonel – 12 A and B.  The flight was scheduled to be two and half hours to Memphis, a breeze.   Colonel wasn’t superstitious, but he wondered if the boy’s t-shirt wasn’t some kind of omen.

Colonel’s given name was Percy, taken from his father’s appreciation for the elegant arrangements of Percy Faith’s orchestra, particularly the “Theme from A Summer Place.”  His father, Richard, taught history, drank martinis, and wore turtleneck sweaters.  But Richard ran off when Percy was eight, on July 4th, Independence Day.  The gossip in town said he was in love with a man.  All Percy really knew is his mother took the entire Faith vinyl collection, doused it with gasoline, and watched it burn in the backyard charcoal grill.  People said you could see the smoke for miles.  In less than two weeks his mother took up with the antithesis of his father.  Carl was the head butcher at the A&P, listened to Waylon Jennings, and drank Miller beer.  By August, Carl had moved in.

Percy’s surname was Sanders.  Carl immediately started calling him Colonel, the intent was to rib, joke, woo Percy to him.  This did not work.  Percy considered protest, but such a move would have aligned him with his father, his homosexual father.   So, caught between a gay and simple place, he just let it go.  He’s been called Colonel Sanders ever since.

Colonel had watched two episodes of LOST, at the urging of the college minister from church - “It’s a testament for our times.”  The goateed boy had preached a series on the series, every Sunday evening for nine weeks.  Colonel thought he could have learned Spanish or something useful in nine weeks.  The first DVD episode was completely confusing but Colonel wanted to give it a chance, so he watched one more.  Two was enough.  Still, having seen just a couple caused him to evaluate everyone in his immediate vicinity on Delta 1668 to Memphis.  The show had planted the seed of possibility in his mind that he could be stranded somewhere in the Texas panhandle with them for god knows how long.  His potential co-stars were –
Butta and his mutta
Anna, a.k.a., Carol Where the Wild Things Are
M&M lady
Yarmulke/Harry Potter
Don’t Mess with Texas
Shirley MacLaine
Mr. Bose
and Tatoo…


Holy Lost

'In the middle of my life I awoke in the dark wood where the true way was wholly lost...'
-Dante Alighieri

I'm of a certain age to retire 'round ten.
Midnight or two a.m.
are chimes in youth's green,
not the dark wood.
Tomorrow comes early.

Once I knelt and prayed the sinner's prayer
and I was saved, found.
But now, as a middler,
I rise to scatter Eliot's ashes -
'Teach us not to care.'

She says there's a lot of grey in your beard.
I say yes, there is.
He asks would you consider yourself a poet?
I take a deep breath and look away,
ticks of a man holy lost.


Have you ever gotten really tired of yourself?  When I say 'yourself' I'm talking about that self or face you present to the world each day which may not truthfully reflect you - the inside you, the real you, the you you want to be.  Have you ever gotten really tired of that self, when you feel your life as weight, burden, a weary load you'd like to lay down by the riverside?

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,

The poet David Whyte talks of developing a sort of allergic reaction to that self, that false persona, that facade.  This is not clean and easy, something you might accomplish in a weekend seminar or via seven steps. And it is almost always challenged by those around you, those closest to you.

though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice - 
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!
each voice cried...
their melancholy
was terrible.

Yes, their melancholy can be terrible, so much so that we doubt the whispers of our own voice, recant, and take our place once again in the herd of quiet desperation.  Shaming accusations of 'you don't love me!' or 'that's not orthodox!' can put the proverbial fear of god in you.  I intentionally used a lower case 'g'...false gods are legion, many of our own creation, most not worthy of the capital.  But if you can determine and endure, if you can gradually stand against the maddening crowd, and human history indicates you can, that it is possible to daily pray 'the hell with it', then there may just be something or someone waiting for you...possibly yourself.

But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do - 
determined to save
the only life you could save.  

The italicized words are from the poem 'The Journey' by Mary Oliver.  This poem and these thoughts have been haunting as of late, chasing, hounding.  I am trying to slow and stop and heed...and practice a roar.



You have been given the most sacred of gifts/
You must be fearless now...
Dan Fogelberg, Icarus Ascending

The older two of our three will be heading to camp next week.  It'll be the first time they've been away for that many days, that much time.  They're excited.  I am too.  I'm also sad, because it'll be the first time they've been away that many days...maybe summer camps are also for parents, to help us start getting used to when that time will come...when those days will arrive...

And so, here in a minute I'm going to say Hey, why don't we go out tonight to that little pizza place we all like, you know the one downtown?  I'm going to say that because I love those older two, as I love their younger sister who is ecstatic that next week she'll be an only child and doted on as such.  I'm going to say that because I also love their mother, my girlfriend, and I can only imagine she is filled with the same excitement...and sadness.  And so, lord willing, we'll go later today and sit in the little place with the wood burning oven and diner-like-downtown-chatter...and as glasses clink and dusk eases upon us, we'll talk and wait and pass the time as a family, all together, all five, for now, for this day, for this much time...

Quite often the words happy or unhappy are too small for what I'm experiencing...the intensity of what I feel is best described by a phrase from Yeats - a fierce, terrible beauty...when the sheer presence of those around me leaves me a man undone.  That is what's going on inside me this day.  In moments like these there is always the temptation to hoard and stay indoors and worship safety's illusion...trying to hold on to what I have, save time in a bottle.  But that is fear, not courage.

And so I'll pitch the pizza idea sorta like that pitcher pitched his game earlier this week, knowing that someone or something can always step in with a bad call and derail my desires of a perfect evening. To pitch, to father, to husband, to write, to live, to love...fearless.

Yes, Ernest, the world is a fine place and is worth the fight...and pizza helps.    


Old Harrison believes God's in everything;
the earth and its mountains are part of his body,
rivers and creeks are like blood vessels.
Young theologians dismiss such talk
with a wave of their bony forearms.

Ted Haggard believes today is his resurrection day;
that God wants him to start a new church,
the broken helping the broken.
Reporters dance around him like children
held in a piper's note.

BP's been ejaculating now for over forty days and nights,
staining the blue blood of God.
All the Queen's men peer the glass darkly,
arguing with black thunder.
The young and foolish speak of resurrection before death.