Thoughts on Fatherhood.

The moment had arrived. My wife was ready, after three location changes and over a day of waiting and hospital care, to deliver our first child. I look over at the first doctor on the scene and rather sheepishly ask, “Do I have time to go to the bathroom?” I did and I did. Less than 30 minutes later I was a father.

I’ll be frank about this entry. It is more for me than for others. My first child was born just under two weeks ago and I simply want to remember everything. The memories I write here may seem a bit all over the map and disjointed but they are glimpses of the monumental experience we had in four days at a hospital in Boston.

We went to the hospital Tuesday morning, a day I completely thought I would go to work.    Instead we spent the morning in sort of a holding room as we began the process of inducing a pregnancy. Within the first two hours of sitting there two women were wheeled out for C-sections and than wheeled back in, babies in their hands. There unseen cries made me impatient. I was ready to meet our little one!

A brief aside about my in-laws. They are fantastically intentional and supportive of their kids. They showed up at 8:30AM that first morning and were there until the moment of birth the following afternoon. They spent that first night in the hospital in incredibly awful chairs in our delivery room. In retrospect, they could have gone home that night, but my wife told me she needed them and so they stayed. I’m so grateful they were there but also grateful that they happened to have a vacation planned for a few days later!

I confess to having felt fairly sheepish in the hospital. I know I was the impending father and had an official visitors sticker and totally belonged there but I couldn’t walk through the Labor and Delivery unit without feeling completely in the way. I really didn’t want to bump into a doctor or nurse who were about to bring a life into the world as I was fetching more water for my wife. This is a good time to give a shoutout to our hospital and how good our experience was. Nurses are unsung heroes, full stop. They do so much, work 12-hour shifts and not once did I percieve that they were tired. I feel very fortunate that we live near Boston and were able to deliver at such a well-regarded hospital.

It’s hard to express how I felt those first moments as the delivery process began. I ran competitively in college and have run in countless road races, long and short. I’ve traveled overseas and got married four years ago. None of those experiences came close to the pure rush of adrenaline that flowed through me as I put my hand on my wife’s forehead and waited to meet our daughter.

I did not know the gender of our baby until birth. My wife did but was able to resist telling me for months. I know that this provokes a lot of questions and interest but I’ll just say this: From the start I was going to be ecstatic with either a boy or girl. It did not matter to me what they were as long as he/she was healthy. And so in the minutes after her birth I went over to where doctors were cleaning our baby off and had to identify the gender. With all the emotion and adrenaline of the moment it was a significantly more difficult task than I might of thought. I focused really hard, looked at our child and made the announcement: we had a baby girl. Her name was Eleanor Joy.

She was pink, and crying, and healthy. She was perfect. After two hectic days in the hospital we were able to go home as scheduled. I won’t go into all the details here but this was a miracle baby. I couldn’t have expected how perfect she is and yet knew it all the same. The amount of prayer and support that brought this little girl into the world is too numerous to mention but know that it mattered and know that we are so grateful for you all. It gave us so much comfort and even confidence as we prepared to welcome our little one.

There is so much left to say but I’ll finish with this. We are home, adjusting to life with our little one. She is eating, and growing, and crying, and that other thing babies do. It is tiring but awesome. It’s still hard to believe but I’m a dad now. I’m grateful for almost a month at home before returning to work and the many visitors and gifts that have graced our address. I’m mindful that many do not have the support or resources we have enjoyed. Thank you to everyone who have supported us so well. I’m just starting this journey but I can’t wait to continue.

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Four years in.

One of the most surprising things about adulthood is the number of things you experience for the first time and than you feel like you have become an expert on. You knew absolutely NOTHING about something and then suddenly you are able to carry on a conversation for a solid 20 minutes about it. If I can find someone else with the same experience? Well this introvert just became a Nobel Prize winning orator. Mortgages, sump pumps, or lawn mowers? Please let me regale you with my knowledge.

The topic that most exemplifies this trend though in my life is my marriage. Being married is still something that pervades our society with expectations and advice even as many are uncertain about and delaying the experience. While I realize that people get many messages about marriage from their family and society it’s funny how blind you can go into it. It’s hard to envision exactly what it will look like to commit your life to someone and then make good on it. Despite the inherent difficulty here, it’s my fourth anniversary on Thursday so I thought I would offer a few thoughts based on my experience.

Four years in it is my conviction that my decision to make a lifelong commitment to my wife in marriage is the best I have ever made. Endless caveats could be made here before I continue but I’ll just throw out a few that feel more obvious to me. Plenty of people get married who probably should not. Plenty get married but for the wrong reasons. Many single people may feel the need and desire to get married but in fact being single is perfectly OK for the time-being or perhaps their life. My goal here is not to encourage anyone to get or stay married who should not but simply to relay a brief slice of my experience.

Four years in my wife and I know each other really well. We have learned our likes and dislikes. We have established routines. We find ways to compromise on many things. We even fight better than we used too. My wife especially has made it a huge value to establish ways to grow our relationship and communicate that have allowed us to love each other while avoiding lasting resentments. If I had one piece of advice in this entry it would be that communication is absolutely critical. There are a million reasons your partner might not realize something they are doing grates at you. Talk to them about it. Over time, I think good communication breeds countless dividends.

Four years in we support each other (and get support from others) in countless ways. We look out for each other. We cook for each other. We comfort each other. We pay for things for each other. We worry about each other. As a relatively not anxious person this has been one of the most ridiculous things to happen to me in marriage. One moment I am bingeing on Netflix blissfully unaware of anything and then, suddenly, my wife hasn’t texted me enough during the day and so she must be in a ditch on the side of the road somewhere. Just as we support each other, our commitment has also brought together a incredible network of family, friends, and church folks who love us so well. So many examples could be said here but I’ll simply say I’m grateful and thankful for all of you.

Four years in I’m writing this in a hospital awaiting the birth of our first child. Children don’t fix marriages and it will certainly make ours more complex but damn am I excited for us to be parents. There are a wide array of families in society today and all have value but I am so grateful and fortunate to have my wife by my side as we start this new adventure. Marriage is not a panacea for the unhappy or a goal for all but, four years in, I can’t imagine doing life any other way than what has happened so far.

Grasping at Straws in Times of Grief.

School is a very strange thing when you get down to it, especially as a teacher. You see these kids for 45-50+ minutes a day, for 180 days. They populate your mind extensively for these 180 days. You spend many hours thinking about where they should sit, how they might respond to a certain lesson, and grading their work. The bells rings, and they come in. The bell rings and as stressful as the class may have been, they disappear again. The days go by, the seasons change, and June (Finally!) arrives. And they disappear for one final time. They may or may not come by to say hello again but the massive investment that you had in their life for 10 months is done. In my case they move on (in 1-2 years) to high school, out of my building. As memorable as many students have been it always surprises me how quickly I forget many of their names.

I write all the above because last week a former student of mine unexpectedly passed away. He was 16. I got an email from my department head saying there had been a death at the high school and she could not make meetings today. Twenty minutes later in the middle of first period our principal emails the news with his name.

I read the email, paused in bewilderment, and had to go back to teaching my class.

I taught him two years ago and confess to not knowing him all that well. He was a quiet student. He did his work (usually) and kept to himself. He was a strong athlete and seemed well-liked and popular. He was not the type of student who would ever come back to the Middle School to say hello. I wouldn’t either when I was a kid.

Usually before I write a blog entry I have a plan, a spine, a piece of inspiration. I know what I want to say, I just need to get the words down in the right order. This is not an entry like that. I have no idea what to say or think. He simultaneously feels very close and very far away all at the same time.

I went to his wake on Sunday. I waited in a line for 2+ hours to pay my respects and hug his family members. I’m grateful for the former students I saw and that his mom remembered me.

I suppose this entry is just a fleeting attempt to try to honor him and his memory. He may be gone but he was my student and he mattered. I hope he is at peace now and I hope his family, in the awful months ahead, can find little glimpses of peace and even joy as they remember him. I also hope for all my students: past, present, and future that they can find the support they need to have a good life long after they disappear from my classroom.

 

 

Speaking Up

Two summers ago I went on vacation to Colonial Williamsburg with my wife’s family. As a history teacher I was excited. The sites of the Battle of Yorktown, Jamestown, and  (a fictional rebuilding) of Williamsburg itself are all in close proximity to each other. While this popular area has been built up considerably for the tourist sector I had a great week exploring history.

One morning I found myself checking out a gun display in one of the Colonial Williamsburg museums. After I did this I sat down on a bench nearby and struck up a conversation with a retired teacher from Tennessee. As we learned we were both teachers we both enjoyed talking about the importance of history for a couple of minutes. She then said something quickly, almost in passing. I do not remember the exact quote but she noted that “some people want to get rid of our history. Some people where I am from are trying to get rid of statutes of General Forrest.”

She was referencing the trend for states and communities to take down statues of confederate war heroes. Even still, if I hadn’t read an article about General Forrest a few weeks prior I probably wouldn’t have known who he was. But I had. Let me tell you a couple things about Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

During the Civil War a group of soldiers he led was responsible for the Fort Pillow Massacre where an overpowered group of mostly African-American soldiers were brutally shot down even after the battle was won. These Confederate soldiers were not particularly happy for African-Americans to haven taken up arms against them, you see. After the War, Forrest was named as the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

This perfectly pleasant woman I was talking to was mistaken. Mr. Forrest deserves to be studied and remembered as an actor of hatred and a reminder of what the Civil War was fought over. But statutes and memorials to him all over the South? That is nonsense and deserves to be corrected.

Now I am a reasonably well spoken adult. Surely I could sort out how to tactfully and respectfully to explain to this women why her view was mistaken. I have a strong sense of justice and what’s right. So that’s what I did.

Except it’s not.

After a glimmer of recognition of who Forrest was in my mind I mumbled uncomfortably and said nothing. A few minutes later the conversation was over. Now there’s a lot of reasons I could use to excuse to explain my lack of action. I’m a shy introvert who does not love confrontation with people I know well, let alone people I just met. But those excuses would be just a smokescreen. I did not speak up that morning because of of my privilege.

In a great number of ways, my life is a textbook example of white privilege. I won’t go into all of the ways here but my point is this. I have NEVER spoken up much about current issues of race or racism in the past few years, either in conversation or on social media. It has felt too contentious and I have felt like taking sides would be too difficult. But mostly I haven’t spoken about these things because I haven’t had to.

My privilege insulates me from feeling strongly about these issues. It’s incredibly difficult for me to admit this but it’s true. I have opinions or thoughts about events of the past years but it does not feel near to me. Our society insures that it rarely will. Those who have lost family members or feel the reality of racism daily enjoy no such luxury.

I sincerely regret not speaking up that morning to the woman. I suspect that she was a perfectly nice and professional teacher during her career. But she harbors attitudes that allow protests like this past weekend to occur in Charlottesville. This does not mean we demonize each other. It does mean we recognize racist attitudes when we hear them and see them and call them out. I am a nerdy, WASPy, teacher with glasses. I won’t always get everything right. But I will commit to writing more and when I see racism I will do my best to speak up.

Moving

Many young people are now taking a gap year between high school and college.  A year to travel, work, do something worthwhile, or just take a breath before they decide what they want to pursue next. I took a gap year as well except mine came after college and stretched into 3 years being overseas and at home. After college I flirted with being a missionary because that was the only career I saw myself trying at that time. I was an intern for a year with a missions organization in South Africa and then followed that up with a year teaching English in the Czech Republic. Yes I know those are wildly different and yes I’ll be happy to explain why I went there if you ask dear reader.

Ultimately I decided to return home and get my teaching degree and license but I bring up those experiences to say I was basically constrained in having stuff those two years to what I could take onto a plane: two checked bags, a backpack, and my laptop. Of course I acquired goods overseas and even brought some home with me. What I remember at the end of those two years however was packing up my stuff, cleaning, sorting, and dumping things I no longer needed. I enjoyed that process and it was not that difficult.

And then I came back home. To America. And got married.

I’ve moved 3 times since I got married. First from my parents house to my wife’s apartment, second from that apartment to a new apartment, and mostly recently from that apartment to our new house. The first move was not that bad. Our first apartment was already furnished and she had being living there almost a year. I brought my clothes and a few other things and that was that.

The second move was…rough. We had to move it all in one day and that meant getting everything in boxes and ready to go beforehand. I confess to being a little clueless about how to pack up the entirety of a small apartment. My wife did the lion share of the packing and was amazing but on the day of it was just rough. Our new apartment was on the third floor which meant getting things up two flights of stairs. We had furniture at our parents houses which necessitated trips to both those places on the day. Our box-spring did not fit upstairs which meant we spent our first night on an air mattress surrounded by boxes. Did I mention we both dislike change? It was an overwhelming and exhausting experience.

Less than three years later I was quietly dreading another move this time with more furniture, more stuff, and more reasons to feel angsty about the whole process.

The process is not quite complete but as I sit typing this in my new dining room I can say this move has been pretty amazing. Not perfect or without stress but it has gone really well. There’s a number of reasons for that. First we have been able to spread it out over two weeks because we still have our apartment till the end of the month. Annoying but ultimately helpful. This allowed us to bring stuff to the house by car for a week before doing one final big push this past Saturday to get our furniture and other remaining items. It also allowed us to clean and paint a bit before getting all our stuff in as well.

The other big reason was all the help we had. We had friends just kill it this past Saturday with packing, unpacking, and organizing our stuff. New church friends, old church friends, no church friends, and family all combined to make our move relatively quick and simple. It’s hard to express how good this move was compared to our last one. And it’s hard to express how grateful we are to all the people in our lives who gave up hours and days to help us start here well.

So cups up to friends and family! I think I need to go paint something.

First Principles

This past week my wife held a conversation using the app Meetup to bring folks together to discuss spirituality and religion. I went with her this week and the question we discussed was, “What is your guiding principle in life?” We had a diverse group of people with various backgrounds and experiences and unsurprisingly the question provoked an interesting and wide-ranging conversation. At first the question came off as a bit challenging for people to fully answer but no one objected to the topic. I think at some level we all want to feel we have clear life principles and goals.

I grew up in a Christian home and have attended church all my life. I was even essentially a missionary overseas for two years after college. I feel like I grew up being taught, and then taking as my own, very clear first principles that have guided my life. These principals include the centrality of a relationship with Jesus for salvation, reading the Bible and praying regularly, and loving others. To give you a landmark these principles could be described as conservative protestant evangelical.

I have been far from the perfect Christian in my life but my adherence to these principals has always been near the forefront of my life. In high school I got into fights about abortion more often than I discussed going out with friends. I developed a huge interest in Christian apologetics in high school in order to better defend my faith. I have always tried to be as best I can to be honest, respectful, and kind to others. Friends and others, even when they disagree with me, have noticed these qualities in me repeatedly. I have grown a lot in the last ten years and I see many pros and cons to these first principals of my life but overall I am grateful for the grounding they have provided me.

The reason I mention the above is I read an article a couple of weeks ago that put these first principles up for a debate that infuriated me. You can read the article here. The article discusses how Trump earned the wide-ranging support of white evangelicals. The same white evangelicals I have been a part of my entire life. The most damning quotation to me in the article reads,

“The clearest example of evangelical ethics bending to fit the Trump presidency is white evangelicals’ abandonment of their conviction that personal character matters for elected officials. In 2011 and again just ahead of the 2016 election, PRRI asked Americans whether a political leader who committed an immoral act in his or her private life could nonetheless behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public life. In 2011, consistent with the “values voter” brand and the traditional evangelical emphasis on the importance of personal character, only 30 percent of white evangelical Protestants agreed with this statement. But with Trump at the top of the Republican ticket in 2016, 72 percent of white evangelicals said they believed a candidate could build a kind of moral dike between his private and public life. In a head-spinning reversal, white evangelicals went from being the least likely to the most likely group to agree that a candidate’s personal immorality has no bearing on his performance in public office.”

Conservative evangelicals whether you agree or disagree typically have incredibly clear and strong first principals. They are rooted in scripture and, if you grow up in church, you hear them from cradle to grave. I do not think all these principals are good or helpful but I think many are. And until November 8th, 2016 I thought most evangelicals followed them. With the advent of the Trump candidacy and now presidency, it is evident that many conservative evangelicals have either rejected, or never had, many of the first principals I thought they did.

I realize, as I have said before, that many evangelicals did not vote for Trump. I also realize why politically, morally, or spiritually many felt they could not vote for Hillary Clinton. What I cannot wrap my head around is why people with the strong first principles that conservative evangelicals supposedly have could justify voting for a man like Trump. As I have written before, he is a leader with the opposite in character, temperament, and ability that any conservative evangelical would want. Or so I thought.

This is not merely a political issue for me. If white evangelicals had gone for Cruz and Rubio I would not be writing this. This is not about a mostly republican base voting for a republican candidate. This is a about a group who promotes clear first principles reject them to vote for a chance at what they perceive as power.

I am beyond disappointed at how all this has gone down but ultimately I am not worried about myself. In spite of everything I will still attend church and believe that , at our best, Christians can do much good in the world. I do worry about our witness to the world though. What does it say to the world when our first principles have to be so soundly ignored and rejected to bring us to a man like Trump? What does it say to our young people? Why should a secular person care about the moral compass of a philosophy that explains away the incompetency and moral failings of our current president?

I do not write this to demean people who voted for Trump. Many did who are not, in fact, evangelicals. He was elected at a specific point in history, via an arcane electoral system. But it needs to be said, as a life-long evangelical, I feel betrayed and this cannot bode well for the church or its mission in the world.

A Journey in Nostalgia.

canaan summer 2017Teachers get the summer “off” which typically means taking classes or raising their families or working odd jobs to supplement their salaries. Off might be the wrong word but that’s a topic for another entry. I happen to be taking a class on Ancient Greece and to start the class they asked me to read the ambitiously titled, “The Complete World of Greek Mythology.” About halfway through there is a section on the Trojan War and of course the journey home of Odysseus. The author starts the section with a brief discussion of the etymology of the word “nostalgia.” In the typically flowery language of a lifelong academic he explains,

“The English word ‘nostalgia’ has acquired a romantic patina, but its Greek semantic roots have, in combination, a harsher edge: nostos means ‘return journey’, and algos means ‘pain.'”

Needless to say the book has been a bit of a slog. But that breakdown of the word nostalgia has stuck with me the past couple weeks. I have been in many ways nostalgic as I have thought back to memories and experiences from my life and childhood. I’ll just highlight a couple.

When I was a kid my family spent a week at what is today typically called ‘family camp.’ I do not think camp is a super accurate term because we stayed in hotel style rooms and had all our meals made for us but branding is not something I  have dedicated my life to. In any case I loved my week there each summer. There was always good food, good activities, and as I got older a great place to make friends. I went back there as an adult a number of years ago and just the smell of the hallways brought me back, in a wave of nostalgia, to the fun I had had as a kid.

This family camp actually ran an actual summer camp where my sisters and I started attending as kids. I later went through their training program and became a counselor and eventually leadership staff for 6+ summers. I have always thought of this camp as ‘old-school’ in the best possible way. No gimmicks or expensive nonsense here. Just plenty of food, awesome activities and games, and great staff. The camp worship songs we sung were always better sung at camp. This morning at church we sang an updated adaption of a song we sang at camp and the nostalgia nearly knocked me over. I was right back in the camp gym with 200 sweaty campers and staff, reverent and exhausted.

My last example is my families summer house in small town New Hampshire. My great-grandfather bought it in the 1950s as a place to spend his summers in retirement. He enjoyed 18 summers there but four more generations of his family have continued to return there, summer after summer. It’s very old now and it’s not in amazing shape. There is however a photograph of the house in the dining room from what is probably mid-century and it is glorious. The garden is filled with flowers, there’s a stylish car in the driveway. Everything, even in back and white, appears pristine. In moments of nostalgia I long to see the house as it once was, decades ago. I visited it last weekend, however, and sat on the porch on a beautiful afternoon and took a few pictures. The view has not changed much and for that I am incredibly grateful.

I love how the origins of the word nostalgia brought me back the last few weeks. I kind of hate it too. So many images and experiences are indelibly stamped into my consciousness and a smell, a song, a view can bring me right back to remember and experiences those things again with gratitude. But there is undeniably pain there too. A pain at realizing childhood is over, the glory days of that time and place are gone, that things can never quite be what they once were. I think ultimately the tension of the word nostalgia gives it its power. The joy of the memories increases the pain at not being able to go back. But I also think there is maturity in accepting nostalgia for what is it, for being thankful for the good things that have occurred in one’s life. Many have little to be nostalgic about. I hope that whatever we may or may not have nostalgia about we would be motivated to create such moments in the lives of others that they, one day, would have the same mix of feelings I am having this summer.