Monday, December 15, 2014

Open letter to my brother-in-law upon the birth of his daughter

October 27, 2014

Dear Brandon,

On the afternoon of Eliza’s birthday, as I visited you and your girls in the delivery room, you made a request. You said, “Remind us in six weeks how excited we are right now.” I’m writing this for December 1st, when Eliza will be six weeks old.

I suspect that the six week mark won’t be as trying for you and Olivia as it was with Clive. Way back then, you were brand new parents, blindsided by exhaustion and adjustment. But I’d be happy to remind you of what I observed on October 20th; just a little dose of that happiness will make up for sleep loss.  
  • Eliza’s tiny head, topped with dark, feather-like hair, fit in your hand. You cradled her carefully as she stuck out her strawberry-red tongue and made hungry noises. Her face was completely round: chubby cheeks and barely a chin to be seen. She pursed her lips as if she was expecting all her kisses. The blond fur on her cheeks made her look like a ripe peach. You announced, “She’s so much cuter than Clive when he was born!”
  • You sang Edelweiss to her in the delivery room, completely uninhibited in front of the hospital staff. It seemed especially fitting to hear you sing “blossom of snow may you bloom and grow” as you gently held her in a little blanket-bundle. Olivia and I wiped away tears, but you didn’t even notice. You couldn’t take your eyes off Eliza. Nurse Monica said, “I sang that to all my kids, too! That’s my favorite song.”
  • You cooed “Daughter” with amazement and called her “My baby girl.”
  • You continued to interact with Eliza while the doctor examined her. When he checked her heart beat with a stethoscope you tickled her feet. When he removed her diaper you touched her nose with your nose. I caught myself wanting to look away, a little embarrassed by the public display of affection. It was like seeing teenagers in love, flaunting their mutual fascination. No one else existed but the two of you.
  • The doctor commented, “Her fingers are so long!” You silently held up a hand to show him your fingers. He said, “Well that explains it!” To Eliza he said, “You’re going to be good at baseball or piano.” As if he needed an answer right then you replied wistfully, “Whichever she wants.” You were already defending her individuality at only an hour old.
  • Olivia asked for your help with swaddling; she was out of practice and said you were the pro. She commented to me (out of your earshot) what a difference there was between your reaction to baby #1 and baby #2. “I don’t know if it’s because number two is a girl, or because he knows what he’s doing this time around, but it has been insta-bond!” She grinned.
I know you’ll see photos of yourself holding Eliza that afternoon, but you might not notice what everyone else can see. You are totally smitten. Your posture in every picture reveals that she has your full attention. Your face glows in every shot. The fact that you are clearly exhausted just betrays your happiness – the simultaneous tired eyes and cheek-cramping smile are a dead giveaway.

Fatherhood suits you.

As you learned with Clive, the novelty of a newborn wears off. But after that you have the privilege of getting acquainted with this tiny person every day. In the same way that you loved Eliza before you could see her, the way you were enamored before knowing her temperament, it just gets better as time goes on.

Enjoy your girl, fatigue and all.


Auntie Em

Monday, June 9, 2014

Fellow first borns, relax

I found this note to self dated 9/17/2012. A good reminder; glad I wrote it down.

You’ll always be first born among your siblings, but you are no longer responsible for their welfare. There was a time when you were responsible: when you babysat your brothers and sister you locked all the doors and windows. On family outings, you periodically counted heads just like your parents did. You were afraid of being separated in elevators (seven people is a lot to cross the threshold of automatic sliding doors, especially when four of them are younger than you and might not be paying attention). You come by your hyper vigilance honestly.

But those days are long gone. You get to relax. When family members are in the same room, you don’t have to direct traffic, conduct the orchestra, rally the troops, or rouse the sports fans. You’re all adults now. Nobody’s well-being depends on you except your own. Don’t have hurt feelings about it, enjoy it.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Encouraging Words for the Hoodwinked

My dad recently posted the following essay to an online forum for parents involved in the same fundamentalist group we were a part of. With his permission, I'm happy to share it with you.  

With recent revelations that fundamentalist homeschooling guru Bill Gothard has resigned from the Institute in Basic Life Principles over allegations of sexual abuse I ask myself, "How in the world did I ever become one of his biggest fans?" I attended his seminars every year from 1973 to 1996, my wife and I used Gothard curriculum to home educate our kids, and as a pastor I clung to every word this man said regarding running a church.  I feel like those husbands and wives I talk to in counseling who discover their partner has been cheating on them--stupid, deceived, and hoodwinked. While my upset is minuscule compared to the women who've been damaged, here are the messages I give to myself to weather this scandal.
1. I don't feel guilty for not being omniscient. The reason charlatans, magicians, and liars get away with deception is because they're good at what they do. With a variety of tricks--seductive grooming, sleight of hand, misdirection--audience members get snookered. Yes, gullibility and naiveté often play a part, but not 100%. I don't feel guilty for trusting Gothard. He was convincing.

2. I don't regret our decision to home school, read IBLP materials, or attend those seminars. Yes, we embraced some of the wonkier aspects of his ministry--dresses on our daughters, vetoing pop culture for our sons, thinking public schools were like the cantina on Mos Eisely in Star Wars, "You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy." At the same time we found much of Gothard's teachings helpful. What I do regret is not being more curious in 1980 when Gothard resigned from his leadership role amid what then was to me a vague and unimportant news item in Christianity Today. I regret not listening to my friends who warned me about this guy. I regret the sense of superiority I felt following a guy who fasted, meditated, and got answers to prayer. I regret the years of conflict I created in several churches for mentioning my black and white (Gothardish) aversion to divorce, rock, debt, birth control, television, dating, youth groups, and borrowing money. I regret waking my kids up at 5 AM to teach them Greek (although my 32 year old daughter did recently tell me that training helped her answer a clue in a crossword puzzle). 

3. I hope to learn from membership in my new group, "Those who've been hoodwinked."  The next time some guy who doodles on an overhead projector with outlines and flip charts, who does chalk talks, and who with few whistles and bells speaks with authority to packed stadiums on zillions of topics with Bible verse proof texts I will be wary. I hope to ransack my psyche to see what possible weakness would incline me to fall for such a guy. In 1973 I was a newly converted hippie with no moral compass, no clan to call my own, and no life purpose. Forty-one years later I trust I'm no longer easy pickings for charismatic gurus. But I'm not letting my guard down.
4. I hope to include in my life message a new chapter on spiritual discernment. Spiritual abuse is not only fodder for atheists and grievous to Christ. It's damaging to the preyed upon. My heart goes out to the young men and women entangled in what appears to be a movement rife with systemic dysfunction, a DNA of authoritarian control, and psychological abuse. Even if IBLP vanishes it is likely other groups will spring up which puts vulnerable young people at risk. I hope I and others who are recovering grace can stem the tide.

Me and my dad March 2014 - rule breakers