Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Fathers Hands

Dad was a strong man.  His physical presents was one of strength and power.  He was large and thick.  Dad had broad shoulders and massive legs.  His skin was permanently tanned and leathery.  He was a ‘macho man’, easy to anger and short on patience.  But what amazed me most were his hands.  They characterized him well as they were powerful and forceful extensions of his personality.  They could do many amazing things: build houses, buildings and swimming pools; wield large tools with both  precision construction and destruction.  Yet Dad’s hands could have the gentleness and caring of anyone I knew.

When I was young, Dad would squeeze our pinkie finger in half at the joint to see how long we could stand the pain-- sort of endurance tests.  These tests of our endurance always drew me to the power of his hands. Most of the time we would end up in tears because it hurt so much.  This is one of the ways he built our “characters”.  I think he thought that through enduring pain, we would learn that the world is a painful place and we should build endurance against it.  Sadly, I experience little of the love that I knew Dad’s hands were capable of.  Their strength came from a lifetime of physical labor, but their power came from someplace else.

There is a picture of my father and me when I was eight years old.  It is a portrait of my First Communion, standing on the front lawn of the home I grew up.  I remember the picture because how it shows both truth and false.  The truth of the picture shows the pride I had by standing next to my father and having his hand on my shoulder.  It shows the world that my he loved me.  I believe that he was proud of me on that day.  You can see the strength in his hands but also gentle qualities.

My relationship with my father was always hard.  Hard for me to understand my perceived rejection of me, hard for him to understand what was different about me.  I don’t think he ever thought of me as a bad kid, but he obviously sensed something in me that kept him from getting too close. He provided our family with a physical environment that was safe and secure. But what Dad failed to understand, at least until the last weeks of his life, was that being a good father meant far more than buying groceries and paying the mortgage.  I loved my father with all of my heart and I believe he loved me.  But he was either lost or blind to know how to show his love and feared to seek out this knowledge.

I can’t help but begin to see that Dad’s illnesses were a manifestations of his inability to deal with his own life.  He had a massive heart attack at 52 (a year older than I am now) followed by a cardiac triple bypass, followed in five years with another “near death” coronary.  He died at the age of 62, not from complications of the heart but from lung cancer.  Would my father have lived a longer life if he had taken the risk of being the person he was during that last week of his life?   My instincts tell me he would have.   I believe that the physical body pays the price for the starvation of the soul.

During his life, I could not have imagined telling Dad I was gay nor fathom his reaction.  In any scenario, I was left with frightful and shameful images that only result in nausea and despair. I can imagine telling him today, but 22 years have passes since he died- there is no way to know what would have been different had he lived longer. The irony is that I am sure that my being gay was what kept us far apart. He sensed something in me. Neither of us had words or understanding of it. I feared it. I was ashamed of it. I am certain that Dad’s death gave me the freedom I needed to begin the process of coming out.  Four months after my father’s death, I told the first living human being that I was gay.  I admitted it out loud to myself and to another person. It was no coincidence.

Dad was a strong man.  But his biggest weaknesses was fear. To see him would to deny he had any weakness. He was fearless! But I believe the one thing that he feared most was his love of his children. I think he feared that his children would grow and change beyond his capability to understand them.  He brought us up to be independent.  Yet it was that very independence that scared him the most.  He expressed his fear through the one emotion he allowed himself, anger. As we grew up and he no long scared us, his frustration grew into rage and defiance.  I’m not sure he ever learnt that he had no cause to fear us. 

I dreamt about Dad last night. I was one of the best dreams I’ve had of him. In the dream, he was discharged from the hospital so he could die at home. However, in the dreamworld, he appeared perfectly healthy, largely the way I remember him in reality. But we all knew he would die soon. In the dream I hugged him, told him I loved him and didn’t want him to go. He told me he loved me and was proud of me.

We are all flawed. Life is about struggling with those flaws and learning from them. Hopefully, Dad learned what he needed to in the life I shared with him. His hands symbolize the strength one has to live life as well as the ability to care for it. As I get older, the Dad in my dream becomes more prominent. His life gave me mine and I continue to learned from it. 

I love my Dad and always will.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


A path never draws along straight lines, especially those that are created in nature, or paths found in the woods and parks.  These paths of nature, drawn over time, often cross and intersect and join with one another.  Anyone walking down a path in the woods will notice other paths that they cross.  Isn’t it natural to ask where does that path lead?  You may even consider abandoning your current path to jump on another.  You at least hope that some day you’ll have time to go back and take that other path and discover where it leads.

People’s lives are like these paths in the woods.  I find it remarkable how separate and distinct individuals, heading toward their own destiny find any parallels in their journeys.  It is not only possible but probable that two such beings are meant to join and share parts of their journeys together.  Like all great adventures, they are not without fears and heavy burdens to carry.  Just like there can be no good without evil, any joy without sadness, there can be no journey without setbacks and delays.

Are God’s design for our lives beyond our understanding?  Can we fathom His great design any more than we can fathom His creations?  We see with eyes that are blocked from the vision that lies beyond –but only partially.  We somehow are allowed to see our potential, but not actually know the process (or road) we should take to get there.  Vision for our own path is a gift that should not be squandered.  Being allowed to see our potential and then fearing to step toward it or even consciously denying it exists, is a dimension of evil.   Value these experiences you have with friends because their momentum gives you momentum, and your momentum feed theirs.  

A journey takes many different paths and trails, some marked, many more unmarked. The crossings of paths are no accident.  Do not think in terms of coincidences.  God provides the opportunity for us to meet and we effect each other forever.  Those of us that have the vision to see the opportunities and the courage to seize them will experience great joy that life has to offer.  Those that cannot or will not see those opportunities or worse, fear to act on them won’t experience that great joy and will live diminished lives.  Each one of our lives is a challenge that God presents to us and if we are willing to take the challenge our rewards will be great.

I hope my travel companions to reach their own personal destiny where they will find their own riches. Although traveling alone has a quality of freedom, sharing the experience bring its own power and its own pleasure. The power someone brings on the journey also propels me.  Someone moves and I am moved.  I share the step I take and I am also moved.  It is my most sincere belief that this great journey and the courage it takes to travel it, will reward us with the gift of self, the gift of wholeness and the gift of truth.  What more can we mere mortals ask?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Life's Riches

This past weekend, my new friend Michael took me to Easthampton to visit an art showing of two of his friends from the area. Well beyond the art, I experience something far more special. I was introduced to a group of people that all seem to share something. Their connections were like a tightly knitted quilt, all coming together to form something special and warm and comforting. To show how small the world really is, I connected to a woman who attended St. Joseph's School and Parish in Springfield MA, several years prior to my attendence. Her last name was a familiar name in the parish and I am sure she knew of either my parents, aunts or Grandparents.

After the show, about 15 of us went to dinner a chic restaurant nearby. Since I was the least known of the bunch and had the fortunate spot at one end of the table, I was able to observe the party. And what a party! It was only today, as I thought about the weekend did I realize how rich these people are. It was truly wonderful to witness the diversity of people from ages 40s, 50s and 60s+ celebrate their lives. I'd guess that maybe 50% of us were openly out gay, single and partnered and 50% single and married straight men and women. It was joyous to watch everyone celebrate themselves because of who they were. They celebrated the art of their friends' show. They celebrated the coming together of close friends who travel from far to simply greet one another. It made me wonder whether the generations of my own family would be so at ease. One of the married couples stayed for cocktails after dinner with some of "the gays". They reminded me easily of aunts and uncles of my own from NH. I found them as open and accepting (more even) than some gays and lesbians in "liberal" Boston. They even mentioned how rich their own lives became as they got to know the group more intimately.

The following morning we visited the couple, Ron and Judy Edwards, who had their art show the previous evening. They have been retired for some time and have a lovely home in Westfield. I was given a brief tour of their studio. The interior of their home smelled much like my own Memere's in NH when I was a kid. In fact, she had two pie crusts at the ready for filling. It was fascinating to listen to stories of the children and grandchildren and how their art is so personal.

A close friend of Michael, Dennis who was our gracious host for the evening, commented about whether his life in retirement is full or rich. I'd argue that his life is quite rich. Not because of anything monetary or physical but because of the amount of love that is shared among these friends. I was honored to have witnessed it and to have bathed in it, but for several hours.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I woke up this morning with a very strong awareness that March arrived. I've always loved March. It's my birth month and that of my brother, father and grandfather. My mother always loved to note that all the men in her life were born in March, all 5 days apart: her two sons, her husband and her father-- 15th, 20th, 25th and 30th. There is a nice synergy to that for my Mom.

I've also felt connected to March because of some astrological, astronomical and psychological connection. Regardless of the calendar or the weather, for me it's is the start of Spring. I left for work this morning at 7:30 and decided to cut through the park for the first time this year. The air was crisp and the sky blue. Certainly no real sign of Spring but it felt good to take the "scenic route" once again. There is still crusty snow and ice here and there and I expect that Spring will take it's sweet time to arrive, but March has in fact arrived and there was certainly a spring in my step on my way to work.

I've never minded Winter and in general always enjoyed the power of winter weather. As with all things in life, this Winter noted both significant high notes and low. I celebrated my one year anniversary in my new home. And as I've done much work in getting my kitchen to a level of organization and well equipped, I've done more cooking in the past 3 months then ever before. Cooking has become very therapeutic and cathartic. The planning, shopping, chopping, searing, brazing, saucing, seasoning and tasting have all been a delight. It is the first time in my life where I have felt a certain nesting I've never experienced. It is also the first time since living with my family of origin that I feel a part of a larger family with my best friend living upstairs and my roomie sharing this apartment. Cooking for them and my other friends has brought me joy, peace and a sense of sharing I've never had.

I also enter the 10th year of my new profession this Spring. This Winter has been especially stressful and difficult professionally. I've had to face a particular ethical dilemma dealing with a client's disclosure of behaviors that are illegal, immoral and damaging to others. The dilemma has resolved itself but the client remains and my professional obligation to treat the client and hold the story shakes me emotionally. I remember well when entering this profession what a huge responsibility it was. And, that intervening into people's lives was a larger responsibility. These past several weeks have reminded me like nothing else how true that thought is.

So March marks the beginning of Spring for me- And Spring is the symbol of rebirth and new life. In March I enter my second century of life (how dramatic!) and my second decade of a profession I love. So it seems I would have figured "it" out by now. But I haven't. Last Friday I told a client that life is lived inside the struggle. And so I do.

Monday, February 28, 2011

A Beginning?

I've had the idea to write my own blog for several months now. My oldest sister inspired me to do this through reading her posts. (She inspires me in many ways in fact.) I've often thought about how I might use this space. Much of blogging is process in writing and that of sharing yourself to the world. I'm reminded of how much I loved to write in undergraduate and grad school. I did a lot journaling in the mid-late 1990's, while wrestling my own demons. That was largely replaced with more scholarly writing to get through college. I miss it really and I hope that this blog may replace some of the cathartic process writing can bring.

Not having read many blogs in general, I'll be learning the process of writing regularly, how to 'invite' readers, etc. The best way to learn is to do.

My first thoughts about the use of a blog would be write on those thoughts and feelings that effect me at any given time. Let me say, up front about my admitted biases. I have lived on this earth for 50 years... a half century! Yikes. I am a gay man and have largely lived my adult life alone. I have lived with roommates and house mates on occasion but have never been married or engaged or have had a long term relationship that was any longer than one year. I did not admit my sexual orientation until I was 30 which got me started late in life. I've had a successful career in information technology that I left behind in 2000. I trained and entered the world clinical social work in 2000 and now work as a psychotherapist for a clinic who's mission is devoted to the serving of gay, lesbians, and transsexuals. I truly love my work and the place that I work. After 50 years, I can truly say that I am a happy man. That said, I consider myself to be socially and politically liberal (my brother would sure to call me a bleeding heart, and I accept that without hesitation. I suspect future blogs to be devoted to why that is, so I will leave that for another day). I consider myself to be a spiritual man in that I believe in something larger than myself exists beyond this physical world. I don't however believe in religion. We are all responsible to answer to our own higher selves. We come into this world alone and we leave it alone. Organized religion has done far greater harm in this world's history than good. So I don't see the point.

While I think and feel mostly content with my life, I also continue to struggle. I do believe that life is lived inside the struggle. Life is meant to continue to be examined and re examined as new experiences and contexts filter our points of view. So I attempt to use this space as a place to muse and take positions and just process my feelings as filtered through my thoughts.