jimowenswrites

Reflections on Life, Leadership, Mindfulness, Change, and other Important Stuff

Tag: father

Vigil

Through tired eyes

a glimmer still,

his furrowed brow,

his iron will.

 

I watch his chest

both rise and fall,

his expansive world,

becoming small.

 

We share some laughs

of days gone by,

I see him grin,

and wonder why.

 

Those blinking lights,

the greens and blues,

all dancing ’round

in shadowed hues;

 

What lies before

And what’s far past,

now matter not,

it went too fast.

 

All’s been said

What needed so,

when bells toll,

I’ll let him go.

 

His tender hand

now held in mine,

his gentle touch,

like sips of wine.

 

In weary watch,

my mind so clear,

I wipe my cheek

a trailing tear.

 

All that matters,

Is our now,

I’ll be alright,

he’s shown me how.

Her Laugh

sometimes

it’s a startling thing,

like fireworks

exploding before me on a quiet fall morning;

sometimes

it’s a quiet, muted thing,

choked back by the child

who once sat beside

me on the garnet cushioned pews—

the ones with the cold and impossibly hard backs;

sometimes

it starts deep within her,

and rises like the swelling emerald sea

driving a wave

high into the sky,

then higher,

and higher,

then,

roaring with delight,

it crashes onto itself,

with all it’s joyous fury washing ashore;

sometimes

it flashes like lightening,

a spectacular display of light,

pouring over the landscape of my heart,

igniting my soul with magic,

reassuring me that all is well and

that there is nothing so large I should fear;

there’s something about a daughter’s laugh.

Voices: The Unusual Case of Eliza James–Part IV

Author’s note:  Be sure to check the prior blog entries to see Liza’s full story.

 

“I don’t really remember him,” said Liza.

“Yeah.  Me either.  Not much.  There are things I remember.  His voice.  It was really deep.  Or at least that’s how I remember him.  I remember how he smelled too.  He always wore Aramis aftershave.  He used to let me stand on a chair and let me watch him shave,” Jason said, a touch of sadness in his voice.  “He was a good man, I think.”

“I was only two or three years old, right?”

“You were three when he died.  I was five.  I do remember that night, though. It was terrible.”

Their father had died in a freak accident.  Ben Jackson had been a man’s man—the kind of man others called if something went wrong. When one of the men at the plant was having trouble with the two-ton crane, Ben had gone to offer his assistance.  No one was quite sure how it had happened, but when Ben was inspecting the jammed gearing, the motor suddenly engaged.  The die carried by the crane had struck him in the chest—but just barely.  Whether it was a result of him losing his balance or just being startled, the fall had ended with sound of skull hitting concrete.  Ben had made it to the hospital and through the most of the night.

“Momma wouldn’t talk about it.  But some of his friends told me it was probably for the best.  If he’d survived the fall he would have never been the same.  Momma sure wasn’t.”

Their mother had remained single for a respectable time after their father died.  In her grief, she had turned to the church.  There she met a man named Jeremiah Goddard, whom she married after a brief courtship.  And if their father, Ben, had been loving and kind, their mother’s new husband had been nothing of the sort.  On the day of his marriage to Angela he had made it clear that his word was law—just like God intended—and that children were to be seen and not heard.

***

Liza didn’t hear the key sliding into the lock.  Nor did she hear the door open.  When the orderly said “time to go” she almost leapt from the bed.

“Jeezus!” she blurted.

She looked at the man dressed in white pants, white shirt, and white work shoes.  He looked like he had been stuffed into a shirt that was two sizes too small.  His shoulders strained at the seams.  His biceps were so large the sleeves were bunched up above them.  The veins in his forearms looked as if they would explode from his skin at any moment.  Later, Liza would begin referring to him as Mr. Clean.

“Sorry,” he said.

“Sorry, my ass,” she said.  “Is your job here to try to scare the hell out of people?”

Liza knew she was overreacting.  It wasn’t the fact the man seemed to creep into her room unnoticed.  It was the sound of his voice that made her heart race faster than it should have.  For a moment, she was sure it was them—the voices.  Worse.  It was that one voice.  And the words he had used.  “Time to go.” Shit.  That had been too much.

“I’m sorry, Miss Jackson.  The doctor is ready for you now.”

The warmth of the doctor’s office stood in stark contrast to the hallways of the clinic.  His desk was piled with manila folders that bulged with papers.  There were two worn leather wing back chairs sitting opposite the desk, one of which the doctor was already sitting in.  Steam rose from porcelain mug on which was emblazoned “#1 Dad.”

After explaining to Liza that he was her friend, that he thought he could help and that he hoped she would trust him, Doctor Venable asked her if she would mind telling him why she thought she was there at the clinic.

“I’m either crazy.  Or possessed.  My mother wants to know which,” she said.

Venable sipping his coffee when Liza answered and he almost spewed a mouthful onto the freshly cleaned carpet.  Somehow, he managed to swallow, but not without some effort.  When he regained his composure, he smiled.  Then he burst into laughter.

“That about sums it up, Liza.  I won’t bullshit you.  I mean that’s why you’re here, so to speak.  So maybe you can tell me what you think.  Are you crazy?  Or are you possessed?

Liza looked at the doctor solemnly.  A smile inched across her mouth.  Maybe this wouldn’t be as bad as she had expected.

We are one, you and I

I remember how you sobbed sometimes,

your body convulsing from learning just how hard the world can be,

I remember your tears and sadness and

how they were mine, and how somehow we were two,

you and I, and yet one;

 

I remember how I searched for you,

calling your name over and over and over,

pressing down the panic that made me tremble inside

when you played your trick, and

how I feared some terrible thing had befallen you,

and I remember my relief resolving into anger, when I finally

heard you move in your small, dark hiding place, and I found you,

silly child;

 

I remember how you were afraid

to come out from your hiding place and

how I held you and told you not to do that any more and not to be afraid,

and how tightly I squeezed you and how

I told you I wasn’t really mad,

Just scared;

 

When I watched you from the kitchen window,

tromping about in the woods, the dogs following you and

you wearing those black rubber boots that came up almost to your knees and

that little blue and green sundress, I remember thinking you didn’t know I was watching,

how I always watched over you, begging God or the Universe or just Fate

to keep you free from harm when I wasn’t there to protect you;

 

I still do, begging pauper that I am, even though you don’t realize it,

or maybe even want me to, but I do. I can’t help it.

We are separate, us two, or so you might believe,

but I think we will always be one, somehow;

 

Time and distance and life,

the choices we’ve made, you and I,

they keep us apart, for now, and sometimes,

when it is late, or I am exhausted, or when I have had too much coffee, or

I just can’t settle down to sleep,

I feel the cold, piercing, wonderful dagger in my heart

That reminds me we are one,

you and I;

 

Most of the time the sweet pain is just a dull ache,

like the white noise of traffic that you don’t even really notice any more,

because it’s just always there, but when I do notice,

I try to let it remind me of how much you’ve been through,

how much you must ache and I wonder if you

feel the same stabbing blade of separation;

 

And I remember that we are one,

you and I.

 

Of Bubble Wrap and Cage Fighting: An Homage to Mom and Dad

Did you get my message?” she asked.

 

I had turned off the ringer on my digital leash—phone, I mean—so I hadn’t realized she had called.

 

“Everything is okay, but…”

 

We’ve all felt the ache in our stomach and racing of our hearts when the phone rings late at night.  If you’ve raised a child, worried about an ill family member, or have someone you love going through a challenge, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

 

I’ve had calls like that from my daughter,” I’m okay but, I’ve had a wreck.”

 

And from my son, “I’m okay but there’s someone pounding on my door.

 

But when you get that kind of call from your Mother, knowing that she and your Dad live an hour and a half away, well, it kind of makes your mouth go dry.

 

This time my 83-year-old father had attempted a full gainer off the high dive—no that’s not right—wait.  It was his night at Fight Club.  Nope.  Not that’s not right either.   Ah, it doesn’t matter.  The bottom line is that a quick trip to the ER and about 30 stitches later, he was raring to go again.  Well, maybe not raring.

 

When he called me from the car, doing his best Indian accent, he told me he was wearing his turban; a gauze bandage wrapped around his head.  I told him I was going to buy him a helmet and some shoulder pads.  He laughed, told me he was pretty banged up, but was gonna live.  But I digress.

 

When we swapped texts last night, he told me he appreciated me coming down to check on him.  He told me that he loved me and knew how much I care about him and Mom that he would be okay. He told me Mom was taking good care of him.  He told me not to worry.  And I thought how about how much both of them inspire me.

 

Life takes courage.  It takes determination.  It takes a sense of humor.  And the people I call Mom and Dad are full of all three.  Lord, they raised me.  Just feeding me and keeping me in shoes that fit took all three.  And it has taken them all for both of them as they have dealt with the unexpected challenges and opportunities of life; moving across country, career changes, family stuff, and some bad news from the doctor from time to time.  Plus, there was the whole Jimmy Carter Presidency.  But they keep going.  They keep laughing.  They keep staring into the face of difficult things and smiling.  As my Mother says, “you just do what you gotta do.”

 

I’m sure they’ve had their moments of fear, those moments in the middle of the night when you wonder how things are going to turn out.  I’m sure they’ve shed some tears I’ll never know about.  And I’m sure they worry about me more than they worry about themselves.  They are indeed made of stern stuff.  I hope I’m made of some of that too.

 

Now lest I end this little tome a maudlin note, you should know I’ve given up on the notion of a helmet and shoulder pads. I told Dad bubble wrap would be easier and cheaper so the next time he rides his skateboard, he’ll be ready.  And that scar over his left eye is just gonna make him even sexier with the eye patch and the pirate hat he’s getting for Father’s Day.  He’ll probably wear them while he’s running the chain saw I gave him a few years ago.

 

And Mom, if you’re reading this don’t cry.

 

 

Father and Son: A Brief Fiction

“I don’t know what else to do,” Grayson said.

 

He looked at the face of the man to whom he had always turned in times like this, waiting for reassurance. The deep furrows of life, plowed by both joy and sorrow, stretched across the man’s forehead, fading into wisps of thinning gray hair.  Grayson’s father had always been a man of few words, always pausing before he spoke, as if he were listening for some metaphysical prompting.

 

Though most of his father’s eyesight had been stolen by time, the man’s vision was still piercing.  And though his work had robbed him of most of his hearing, the man often claimed it was the best thing that had ever happened to him.  “Turn these damn hearing aids off and the noise and distractions of life fade into a kind of white noise that will let a man think.”

 

Grayson waited as long as he could and finally prompted his father.  “What do you think I should do, Dad?”

 

Jack Johnson had always been a man of action.  A man who set goals and made lists and achieved things that had seemed effortless to his son and just about everyone else.  His insights were keen, his solutions pragmatic.  So when he finally spoke, Grayson felt like he was getting very bad news from his doctor.

 

“There’s nothing to more to be done.”

 

Grayson was desperate. Aching.  Even angry.  He wanted answers.  He needed answers.  There had to be some way to fix this, bend things to his own will, some path out of this wilderness.  Now he was even more bewildered, thought maybe if he just explained the situation better his father would understand and then offer some morsel of wisdom that would set his world right again.  But before he could speak his father continued.

 

“Sometimes, you’ve just done all you can do.  And you have to let go.  You have to stop striving to fix everything.  You gotta realize you can actually make things worse if you don’t.  Doesn’t mean you won’t be hurt, or angry, or confused about it still.  It just means you accept things as they are.  Even accept the fact that you’re hurt or angry or confused sometimes.  That’s where the peace is.”

 

Grayson’s shoulders sagged and he blew out a long deep breath, thick with exhaustion.

 

“People have a lot of buts in their lives when they should have more ands.”

 

“What the hell does that mean, Dad?”

 

“It means that its possible to feel two things at the same time.  You can let something go and be hurt.  You can be disappointed, even be betrayed, and still let it go. You can’t always hurry peace.  You have to keep acknowledging the pain, make friends with it,  to really let it go.”

 

Grayson thought he was beginning to understand.  A little.

 

“When your Momma got sick, I was angry.  Scared.  Wondered how I would live without her.  She knew she was going to die and so did I.  There was nothing to be done.  We could have chosen anger and argued, but she took care of herself or, but it’s not fair.  Truth is, we did some of that.  Somehow we figured out all that we needed to say was she was sick and we were hurt; and scared and that somehow we were going to live while she was dying.  We let go of struggling to keep her alive.  There were times when we were good at it and there were times when we weren’t.  Struggling against the reality of things just made things more difficult.”

 

Grayson always felt comforted by his father’s words.  They had always been a calm harbor in the rough seas of life.  He felt better for having told the man about his struggle, but was still longing for a solution.

 

“I’m gonna have to think about this, Dad.  I think I see what you mean.  But I’m still confused.”

 

His father smiled.

 

“You mean you think you see what I mean and you’re still confused.  They’re both true, son.  Nothing wrong with that, just the way things are sometimes.”

 

 

 

Big Man. Small World.

In 1988, he could still skip a day of shaving. He was a 185 pounds of bone and skin, stretched over a six foot six frame, and full of world changing ambition.   When the young man walked through the steel door, the Special Agent welcomed him with surprising warmth.

 

“Welcome to the FBI,” he said.  “Let me show you around.”

 

The office was quiet.  The furniture looked uncomfortable.  There was no receptionist.

 

“So, what makes you want to join the Bureau?”

 

The young man cleared his throat and tried to sound capable.

 

“My Dad,” answered the young man.  “He’s spent his career working for Treasury, working to make the world a better place.  I’d like to make a difference.”

 

I had just turned 27, had a young family, and the thought of becoming a G-Man was intriguing.  A few months at Quantico, then off to work in a major metropolitan area and I would be wearing Ray Bans, carrying a weapon and tracking down bad guys.  Cool.

 

Except, I chose a different path.

 

I stayed in banking.  I’ve had a good run.  I’m not done yet.

 

My career has taken me places, given me the opportunity to do things, and meet people, I could never have foreseen.  Just as I couldn’t have foreseen running in to the same FBI Agent who interviewed 28 years ago in Birmingham at a Writer’s Conference in Huntsville, Alabama today. He didn’t recognize me, but he had a name I couldn’t forget.  His name badge gave him away. Out of respect, I won’t share his real name.

 

Let’s just call him, Hoover.

 

I tapped Hoover on the shoulder and asked if he was a retired FBI Special Agent. He smiled and confirmed my suspicions.  It wasn’t long before we were laughing, sharing stories, finding out we had more in common than either of us would have expected.  He’s published a memoir.  I need advice about an FBI agent in a novel I’m writing.  Hoover was just as warm and he had been when Reagan was President. He said he would be glad for me to give him a call.

 

While Hoover and I were talking, I knew the look he was giving me.  I’ve seen it before.  People always want to ask it.  Little kids always do.  They gaze up at me and something like, “Man, how tall are you?”  Hoover wanted to ask, but we got distracted with the moderator calling us back to our seats. 

 I’m no longer 185 pounds. Now, I tip the scales at about 240—a big man in a small world.  Still hoping I made a difference.

We Had A Bad Fight

We had a bad fight,

You and me,

All my sins,

You clearly see;

 

I know you’re hurt,

In such great pain,

But will you let,

My love remain?

 

You said those things,

In cold dismay,

And what I said,

I had to say;

 

Though I’m still lost,

In  this cold grief,

Some day soon,

I’ll find relief;

 

Won’t hold you hostage,

Or in angry chains,

Someday you’ll see,

My love remains;

 

When all my penance,

Someday I’ve done,

My hope is always,

Just to love you, son;

 

My life of late,

So full of sorrow,

With hopes that you,

Return tomorrow;

 

So I’ll just watch,

Accept my fate,

Until one day,

Your pain abates;

 

I held you often,

And wiped your tears,

Stood beside you,

Through all your fears;

 

Nothing I gave,

Shall I regret,

Nor will your pain,

I ‘ere forget;

 

The storm we ride,

In battered craft,

Was made so well,

‘twas built to last;

 

Oh yes, my son,

One thing is true,

Nothing will end,

My love for you.

Storm Warning

The still grey sky hung above him.

 

“Storm’s coming,” he said.

 

Sitting there, alone on the deck, as he did every morning, Lex wondered if he should call his mother and tell her to check the forecast.  She was doing okay since Dad died, but he had always been the one to pay attention to such things and god knows Mike paid scant attention to Mom’s welfare.  He was too busy “being Mike,” as Dad had always said.

 

Mike was the successful one.  He wore the tailored clothing and drove the BMW, drank the best wines, and made everyone laugh.  When they were boys everyone knew Mike would grow up to be someone important, maybe even start his own company (which he did) or run for Governor (which he was considering).  Mike read a lot of Tony Robbins and Zig Ziglar.  He did Crossfit and drank those god-awful green drinks.

 

Lex took a long pull on the Marlboro Light and blew it out slowly.  He knew he should quit.  One day he would, but on his own terms, not because Mike or anyone else gave him grief.  Dad had smoked for fifty years and was never sick a day in his life.  Until one day he got up, said he had a headache, and dropped to the ground with a sickening thud.  Mom wouldn’t subject him to an autopsy.  She didn’t need to know what killed him.  He was gone and that was that.  “No point in putting him through all that,” she had said as if the man was still alive.

 

Mom would talk to his father as if the man was still alive.  At first it bothered Lex, but then he realized she wasn’t losing her mind.  He really was still there.  The man drank scotch every night, just two glasses, ran through Marlboro Reds like buttered popcorn, and cursed Democrats and Republicans alike.  He was a hard man, tough as hell; started working in the mines when he was fifteen.  But he was as tender as a kitten with his family.  Men like that don’t die.  They make too big a mark in their small corner of the world to be swallowed up by something as trivial as death.

 

Lex knew he should get up and get dressed but he wanted another cigarette and some more coffee.  As he lit another smoke, he thought some more about his father and his brother and what kind of men they were.  There were times when Lex had been tempted see their version of manhood as better than his own, as if there was some kind of cosmic scorekeeper who kept track of such things.  Maybe there was and he was screwed.  Maybe not.  But somewhere along the way, Lex realized that he couldn’t be his father or his brother and that he would never have washboard abs or be able to talk intelligently about investment strategies and bond yields, or drink Scotch for that matter.  Lex was strictly a Bud Light kind of guy.

 

He had a good job and the money wasn’t bad.  It paid the bills.    And there was Jenny.  She knew he was broken and still loved him for reasons he really couldn’t comprehend. Some day they would have a kid and he would love the little guy and probably screw him up some.  Maybe they would have a girl and he could just stay out of the way and let her do the important stuff.  He just hoped he was kind and reliable, wanted to live a simple life, and not get too caught up by all the distractions that were out there.

 

When the first blast of thunder cracked he sloshed lukewarm coffee on his jeans. Lex thought he should probably go inside but wanted to stay just a little longer. He liked to watch the beginning of a storm.  There was a kind of terrible order to it. He liked to see the front come in over the horizon and the clouds swirling.  He liked hearing the first few drops of rain fall, then more and more until the sound of it hitting the roof became a roar; waters rushing, washing away the dust and pollen.  These were holy moments to Lex.  So he stood there and let the wind and rain blow over him for a little longer until he heard Jenny behind him.

 

“It’s storming babe.  Whatcha doin’?”

 

He crushed the last embers of the cigarette to his boot then dropped it into the trash.

 

“I dunno,” he said.  “Just prayin’, I guess.”

A Son at Midlife

When I was a younger man

So many things I knew;

My father’s wisdom wasted

Like the drying dew;

So confident and full

In my inner glow;

The younger man I was

Who had so much to show;

There was no need for him

To point the proper way;

For the path was mine

To climb each dawning day.

Now at midlife I find

There’s little to regret.

Though I sometimes wonder

How much I made him fret;

I’m certain that I did

Perhaps I caused him pain;

Yet he always loved me

Hoped for me just gain;

Whatever path I chose

He cheered me all along;

Helped me find the lessons

If ever I did wrong;

Listened to troubles

If to confess I dared;

He never failed to show me

Just how much he cared;

My mother there beside him

She did the same its true;

The day will come without them

Whatever will I do?

The gifts they’ve always given

Will never fade too far;

I’ll feel them with me ever

In the bright and wondrous star;

I’ll hear them in the wind

And in the birds of spring;

The smells of fresh cut grass

Will all their wisdom bring;

In smiles and hugs from friends

Who knew them both so well;

We’ll share them in the stories

That we all will tell;

When I was a younger man

So many things I knew;

Their memories and their words

Will ever ring so true.