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ARTIST: Dar Williams
TITLE: The Christians and the Pagans
(from Gunther Anderson)

Amber called her uncle, said “We’re up here for the holiday
Jane and I were having Solstice, now we need a place to stay”
And her Christ-loving uncle watched his wife hang Mary on a tree
He watched his son hang candy canes all made with red dye number three
He told his niece, “It’s Christmas eve, I know our life is not your style”
She said, “Christmas is like Solstice, and we miss you and it’s been awhile”

/ G C Am D / / Em C Am D / / G C Am D / /

So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able
And just before the meal was served, hands were held and prayers were said
Sending hope for peace on earth to all their gods and goddesses

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the ancients believed that the earth was the back of an elephant that stood on a tortoise that swam in a bottomless sea. Of course, what held up the sea was another question. They did not know the answer.

The belief of the ancients was the result of imagination. It was a poetic and beautiful idea. Look at the way we see it today. Is that a dull idea? The world is a spinning ball, and people are held on it on all sides, some of them upside down. And we turn like a spit in front of a great fire. We whirl around the sun. That is more romantic, more exciting. And what holds us? The force of gravitation, which is not only a thing of the earth but is the thing that makes the earth round in the first place, holds the sun together and keeps us running around the sun in our perpetual attempt to stay away. This gravity holds its sway not only on the stars but between the stars; it holds them in the great galaxies for miles and miles in all directions.
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To Violet, on the first week of Advent

I
While you sleep, at long last, in what is hopefully a warm room,
the searchlight of a roving mind swings around, time after time.
In the car
on the way home
your mom and I make up a Death Cab for Cutie song:
“Another cold night in Cleveland
in my brown corduroy jacket
I drove alone”
And this is that through which we move, my love.
A mountain range, a peak of which we each are fast approaching,
and as Poincaré before me, I fire light across the distance,
trying to tell you the time.
.
II
1999. Two-by-fours in the barn, ready to go,
I sat with a piece of scratch paper, trying to figure this out:
A regular pentagon contains a rectangle and a triangle;
three-sixty plus one-eighty is … five-forty, which means…
and I couldn’t figure it out then; a little bit of shame in front of my grandfather.
Now, though, a better version of me:
five-forty divided by five is one-oh-eight,
and so each of the five exterior triangles is isosceles
and the paired angles then have angles of…
one-eighty minus one-oh-eight is seventy-two
(which divided by two is thirty-six) and there are
five pairs of those angles, which means that
those angles take up five times seventy-two
is three-sixty degrees of the total interior, which
means the total amount in the points is five-forty
minus that three-sixty,
which is one-eighty,
which you divide by five,
so that each point in a regular star
should have thirty-six degrees.
.

III

Lay me in a bed with amber glow filling the room,
and place the sound of fun outside, ready to start playing
at the moment I am to awake, so that I can lie there
and bathe in vicarious jubilation.
Place me in the back-right of a blue Ram van, driven by
my father, and let us stop at Great Bend or Clarks Summit.
Let me know when we see “Deer Crossing” signs,
so I can count down from ten.
Put me back again in the passenger seat,
with my head in my hands, not yet on paper half the man
I couldn’t quite convince myself to convince them
I would come out to be.
Sit me in the dark, illuminated by punctual flashes,
with you on my lap, and your mother’s warmth behind us,
and the lights of the tree. We bathed in our own jubilation
and you in the middle of us all.
So this one I just wrote. Happy Advent!

was a lot of fun. it’s always nice when the girls are having a good time and I don’t have to be bending over to pick them up or debating whether I should be intervening. Junebug’s still a little easier to deal with, physically, because she’s immobile, but V is definitely becoming willful–and it’s amazing,  because it’s expressed as a boundless curiosity and she’s a happy kid, upbeat and excited about things–but it’s still havoc on the lower back to chase, lift, re-aim, repeat.

All of which is totally the opposite tone from that which I meant to strike. I laid out a beach towel in the outfield at our local playground/rec center and put some cheerios out and Juniper sat in the grass and I lay back and watched the sky and Violet orbited like a spirograph, and they both thought that my lying down was just the funniest thing either of them had ever seen. Violet decided to tackle me repeatedly; I put my hat on Junebug and she spent five elated minutes trying to take it off again. Antics ensued…

Later in the day Violet saw real live ducks and that, as they say, was the cat’s pajamas.

It’s Women’s History Month, which seems totally well-meaning and ironically marginal. Today’s worship was put on entirely by women; all the songs were written, lyrically or musically, or both, by women; all the greeters and ushers and offering collectors were women.

I consider myself a feminist.

The feminist movement, as far as I can tell, has never been to keen on embracing its male members.

This has always been complicated for me. One thing that irks me, and always has, is the idea that I have no authority to my voice in a given arena. This may well be typically white and male, but I do not brook limitation easily, nor do I recommend others do the same. I consider my insistence on the validity of my opinions regarding the experience of others very different from myself to be an open invitation for others to voice similarly valid opinions regarding my own experience and that of others like me–which is to say: I think the ultimate arbiter of the validity of an opinion should be the validity of the opinion, and neither the character nor characteristics of its holder.

This strikes me as entirely harmonious with advancing the interests of women and men the world over.

It irked me more today than it ever has, and now upon reflection, I find that I am frustrated with both the men and women who came before. First and foremost, with the men, for letting the problems of gender relations go untended for so long, for allowing oppression and subjugation to continue (and at what cost!), but also at women, and some feminists in particular, for (in my mind, at least) fucking it up when trying to delineate the conversational space in which we could engage with gender.

This may very well be the result of the naive sort of egalitarianism that comes with being a white male born into opportunity, if not the exact lap of luxury. I acknowledge that my stance of ahistoricity is probably unfair, given that history as benefited me and hurt others, and so calling history out of bounds and starting from the status quo will always benefit those currently benefiting.

Still, I find it personally very frustrating, and have always done so, but more so now than ever.

It comes down to a fundamental problem. Are gender biases, misogyny, and gender inequality (in the mind of practitioners) fundamental or circumstantial?  I hold that they are circumstantial–by which I mean that I believe there exists the possibility that children could be brought up in such a way that they would have no natural reason to exert or embrace gender biases.
I guess, in some sense, it comes down to an even more fundamental problem. Given an unpleasant past, should we shut the past out in order to cut off ties with it or should we remember it to ensure that it never happens again? My fear with the latter course is that an ignominious past carries with it ideas, the seeds of revolution, and as time passes, one can never be sure that there won’t come along those who will say it was better then, who will then revive the hatred and the anger, reactionaries who find power by fomenting hatred. My fear with the former is primarily the Santayana bromide: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” In truth, though, I disagree with Santayana–sometimes the memory of the past carries cautionary tales, and sometimes it entraps us.

This is not to say we should fail to honor the memory of those who struggled before us. Mostly, I suppose, this is to say that, to me, it seems that the best way to honor the memory of those who struggled is to set that struggle down, eventually. Our foremothers and -fathers did not turn soil by their industry so that we should have to again; instead, they did so, so that we might have greater freedom, a choice to make. Nor is this to say that I think the struggle is over, but again, I think some of the solution here is to dress for the job you want.

This is where the personal part comes in. I do not deny the advantages I had, nor can I deny the evidence before me. Where I grew up, half of my Calculus AP class was female, and many of my female friends went on to become engineers and doctors and lawyers and businesswomen. I lived on the edge of the bell curve.

I have a daughter, though, now, and while I do not want her to be bound by the limitations society might seek to place on her, nor do I want to have our relationship mediated by a society of women who claim that I cannot speak to her about gender, oppression, or a fight for freedom. There is no one in the world who can compete with me in my desire to see limits cease to be where she is concerned. I wish no chains upon her. I will teach her calculus and how to swim, how to code, how to choose colors and how to play guitar. Cheryl and I are good parents and she will be amazing, a force unleashed upon the world.

I wish nothing less for every woman in the world, and not just for the benefit of womankind, but for the benefit of everyone.
The service today was fantastic, by the way, but discussion of gender is not something that should be relegated to Women’s History Month, but something we should be talking about often–nor should it be limited to womanhood. Being a man is a complicated thing, and there’s very little community among men to figure out how to be a good one. Some talk in church about it would not go astray.

Finally, if there’s something I’d like to see in the feminist movement, it’s an invitation and appreciation for men to do their part in advancing the cause of women’s rights and equality. As Eileen McGann sang (from Journeys, which is a great freakin album):

Boys are brought up from the time they are small
to believe that they have to be tough
and they’re taught not to cry and they’re trained not to feel
for they’re told that it’s womanish stuff
but it’s only the wise that consider the cost
and only the brave who can change
until women and men join as allies and friends
and gain all of themselves in exchange, so

Here’s to the men with the vision to see
and the qualities everyone gains, oh
here’s to their courage and her truth
and their part in the breaking of chains, oh

….

————————

I had more to say; I can’t remember it all. I just want everyone to be better. I want gender not to matter so much. I don’t think the great message of Women’s History Month is that we should forget history–just that maybe we shouldn’t let it rule us, but we should be willing to set it down as history, like we do with Rome or might should with the bible.

Anyway, the title of the talk was “Well-behaved women seldom make history,” but I’m placing bets on the idea that friggin brilliant ones do.