Archive for Men and Dads

To Be A Good Father…

Is a high aspiration for any man.

“Luke…I am your father.”
Recognize the line? Nothing drives a successful movie like strong characters in conflict. Back in 1977, when Star War first flashed onto the silver screen the message seemed obvious, conflicts are external…and real heroes never give up.
Imagine my chagrin then, as a father with two small children and a geologist with several degrees and ten years experience, when our little family experienced layoff and divorce. The financial hardship that followed was an external foe. I had plenty of training to deal with that kind of adversity. It was the fear and anxiety – the kind that creeps in day by day as we went broke in slow motion – where my coping skills failed.
I was still young. Young enough to start another career, law school perhaps, or maybe computers.
Still, I didn’t know what to do with the inner conflict: the one waged between the unfulfilled dreams and goals of the inner man, and the stoic outer man that I showed to the world every day. What eventually followed was a bout of acute depression and divorce.
During one particularly long night, I found myself at a turning point, something like the man in the Robert Frost poem – two roads diverging the woods. The Greek word for such events is Kairos. It means a time of destiny. The definition is apt because on that otherwise uneventful night, I stood on the tipping point of a fulcrum in time and met my own future. The next morning I made two significant commitments: First, to stop being a tired and broke single-dad, and second, to become a nurturing, providing, and protecting father.
It was a long time ago. Ronald Reagan was president. Those two small children are now grown and living their own lives. Why even bother to bore you with the details of this story? One reason is because the economics of the present, with yet another collapse of the oil and gas industry, seem eerily familiar. I foresee many young parents being compelled by circumstance to play out the same dramas that we did. Second, it has taken me this long to find my voice and tell the story.
To address the financial situation I enrolled in an evening law school program, coupled with a series of low pay, no-benefits jobs. After a few years without much sleep, I graduated. I was even offered a job, as a lawyer this time. After all the years of just getting by, I had naive hopes that this would be the answer to all our problems. Life wouldn’t be that simple.
Trying to balance the practice of law with raising children as a single dad soon demonstrated that I still had lots of grieving to do, lingering issues from the divorce and that last chapter of life in the oil patch. That’s when the depression came, several years after the actual layoff. I needed help … and not the sex, drugs, and rock and roll that some associate with the late 1980s. I’m talking about individual therapy and men’s groups. With that support, I recommitted myself and eventually thrived along the journey of fatherhood, on a personal quest for healing and hope.
And you’re right. It’s not rocket science. Nor is it an easy path to follow, day after day, month after month, and year after year. It’s the time element that raises the bar and keeps it there. That’s why I believe the commitment piece is so essential. As long as the kids were young enough to be under my roof, I was able to stay on that nurturing, providing, and protecting path. It was a commitment to a higher purpose, my own personal guidance and accountability partner.
It has been a long road. It’s taken a long time for me to find my voice and tell this story. I hope that by sharing it, the story serves as a demonstration to other parents, that: It’s OK to struggle, and it’s OK to ask for help. And especially for other, younger men; that to be a good father is a high aspiration for any man.

Great Abs & Ordinary Heroes

If you walk into any large retail bookstore and look around for the section on Men’s Studies or Men’s Work, it may not be easy to find.  If the store even has one, you’ll discover only a shelf or two in a seldom seen section, tucked away in the back somewhere.   By comparison the Women’s Studies section will be prominently featured, with colorful book spines in purples, pinks and red and take up many shelves covering a wide variety of topics and issues.

I make this observation not to whine about unfairness, but instead to make a couple of points about men and myth.  First, the commercial print acts as if very few men, dads or sons are reading about,  writing about or caring about what I call, being and becoming a whole man, inner and outer.  Thankfully there is some good writing  out here in the blogosphere.  Some of my favorites are listed on the right.   The second point, is that the men that do appear as heroic figures in popular print and film seem to fall into some very narrow roles:  its either swashbuckler, chronic alcoholic/drug abuser or serial killer/assassin.   They generally have great abs, but not much satisfaction.  (Thank you, Mick Jagger.)

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Becoming Robert

There was a time not so long ago, when I would have introduced myself to you as Bob and been perfectly comfortable with it.   Because my name was Bob for a very long time.  All through high school, college, career, marriage, children, lay off, divorce, another college, another career;  through all those transitions I stuck with  Bob.

Its a good name.  One that enjoyed a kind of iconic status during the last decade of the last century, triggered perhaps by two historic events.  First, was the construction of the 150 foot bridge across the Eagle River in a small Colorado town known for its skiing and named Avon.  After a local contest was held to name the bridge, in 1991 it was dedicated as “Bob” by official proclamation.  On its heals came the release of a popular movie “What About Bob.”  It was  the serendipitous convergence of two unremarkable events,  a less-than-perfect storm.

These dynamics produced a wave of bobophilia which grew into any number of Bob-festivals, Bob-B-Q’s, and a steady stream of pilgrims to Avon, to be photographed by the bridge named Bob.   This cultural phenomenon culminated in the animated world of cartoons with the creation of ‘Bob the Builder’ in 1998, and in 1999 by ‘Sponge Bob Square Pants.’

But it was not for me.  Something happened in 2001.  At that time I was a single dad with two kids, a cat and a dog, living in suburban Denver.  It was the year my oldest daughter graduated from high school.  The next year it would be the younger brother’s turn.  Each of them was, in their own way awkward, unsure and eager to test themselves by leaving.  The handwriting was on the wall and even I could see it, there were some dramatic changes ahead in my life as well.   And there was nothing I could do, or wanted to do, to alter that inexorable fact.

The habits and routines that life had become were no longer enough to sustain.  Why continue working at a job that no longer inspires, in order to make enough money to live in a house that I no longer needed, or perhaps wanted?  I remember one weekday evening that winter, coming home to a very dark house, a warm greeting by the dog and then finding a  catalogue for ‘Colorado Free University.’  I poured over it.  There were all kinds of offerings that interested me.   To try and make some sense out of it, I found a yellow sticky pad and began marking each page that had something of interest.  By the time I was finished, the margins of the catalogue were covered in sticky notes, marking far more classes than I could manage.  So I narrowed it down to the three standouts.   I still remember the names of those classes.  One was called Power versus Force.  It was some kind of comparison between Hitler and Ghandi.  The second was called Unleashing the Fire of Your Inner Writer, and the third was an exercise class called Cardio Salsa.

I attended all of them.  The first was a 2-hour lecture that met one time on a weekday evening.  I don’t remember anything about it.  The second class, ‘Unleashing the Fire . . .”, that one I remember very well.  The instructor was a motivational speaker and author who understood that anyone taking her class was the kind of person, that had already spent a number of their adult years repeating the same adage, “I think I have a book inside of me.”  And the presenter was very good at connecting with and  advocating for that artist’s voice  inside each one of us.

On the way home I bought a journal and began to write in it, early in the mornings, a couple of pages each day.  I’m an early riser anyway.  It was easy to make space for the writing.  The weeks became months, I filled up one journal and bought another.  Characters and stories began to emerge, and one day feeling very satisfied about the words, I signed my name at the bottom of the page;  not as Bob, but as Robert.

And then, there was the cardio salsa class.  That one was memorable too.  I enjoyed it so much that I repeated it, several times.  And then I bought a membership to the dance studio, because the classes went on every week.  There were usually about 10 to 20 people, nearly all women, many different ages, mostly dressed in tight polyester and   everyone moving in the same sweaty, syncopated rhythm.  There was one woman in the class that moved like no other.  Occasionally we would exchange a look or even a smile.  And one day when I was bold enough to make an introduction, I told her that my name was Robert.

Fast forward to 2004, Robert got married.  Fast forward again to 2008 and a novel came out.  And all this discussion gets to the point that the name changed when I was ready to become more.  It was a leap of faith into a stronger authenticity, several decades in the making.   And now I find myself trying on another one, Edgewater Dad, and taking the writing in a new direction.