Father and Son

Opportunities arise that beg grasping.  Earlier in the year, Momma Suzanne mentioned that she planned to take a fly fishing trip in August with grandson The Warrior.  Vicar’s Dad would be alone for a week.  I had not been back home for over a year, and thought that a father-son weekend could be worked into the summer activities.  As often occurs in my line of work, while guiding clients through their therapy process, we have time to talk.  Conversations easily cover general topics, travel plans and family.  One older gentleman, whom I have been working with, knowing of my plans to spend the weekend with my father said, “You’re about my son’s age. I’m probably your father’s age.  Help me understand how you experience your relationship with your father”.

This may seem a bit up-front for someone to ask, but for this client such questions are typical.  We had a lively discussion about the differences in the generations, with elderly father’s being less concerned with the ambitions and expectations of the world, while middle-aged sons may be focused on careers and providing for their families.  We talked about personality similarities and differences, with sons tending to grow into their fathers, or possibly having completely different perspectives, values, and interests.  I summarized that over the years, I had shifted from protesting our differences to accepting that my father will be who he is, regardless of my railing.  Driving to the airport, Cat Steven’s song, Father and Son hummed in my memory.

It’s not time to make a change,
Just relax, take it easy.
You’re still young, that’s your fault,
There’s so much you have to know.
Find a girl, settle down,
If you want you can marry.
Look at me, I am old, but I’m happy.

Two characteristics that come to mind about my father are his devotion to family & people he knows, and his desire to better the lives of children, oh, let’s not forget his love of numbers.  Upon stepping on the descending escalator at San Jose International Airport, I spotted the Vicar looking up to me from near baggage claim.  I had not known whether he would be able to arrange visiting time with his other responsibilities, so to find that he and our father would have the rest of day together brought a smile.  Vicar’s Dad was circling the airport in his usual fashion, timing each lap at 4 minutes and 30 seconds.

We returned to Vicar’s Dad’s home, pulled together some salads to eat on the patio, then put up our feet for reading and naps (I had gotten up a 2 a.m. EST to drive to the airport, then fly across country; Vicar’s Dad naps faithfully each afternoon; Vicar would never pass on the opportunity for a siesta).  The evening event included the SAIL award dinner for the youth program of the Bayshore Christian Ministries in East Palo Alto.  Vicar’s Dad has been volunteering with this program for about 20 years, since his retirement.  I observed a glow of pride as he chatted with various friends at the dinner.

Now keep in mind that this was an outdoor BBQ with covered-dish meal with a hundred or so energetic children, teen and college age counselors, and dozens of parents and pastors from the area.  The Vicar and I were new to the scene and mostly greeted folks who expressed gratitude for my father’s service.  I happen to walk near the buffet tables that were arranged somewhat hap-hazardly, and overheard someone say, “All the counselors are inside getting the kids getting ready for the program.  There’s no one to serve the food.  It’ll be a mad rush…” It was already a mad rush, with children playing basketball, chasing each other around the tables, and burning up the energy the children need to return to the universe.  When the organizers were about to open the food lines and asked for volunteers, the Vicar and I were quick to find the plastic gloves and step up to hot dog, burger, and chip dispensing.  Maybe the urge to service and organization has genetic qualities.

I was once like you are now, and I know that it’s not easy,
To be calm when you’ve found something going on.
But take your time, think a lot,
Why, think of everything you’ve got.
For you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not.

When people inquire about how I get along with my family, living on opposite coasts, I like to reply, “We get along quite well… because we live on opposite coasts.”  We spend close and extended time on family trips, up to two to three weeks, but we do not share the day-to-day and week-to-week routines or hassles that might go with living a few miles away from each other.  Time zones, work, volunteering, and nap schedules make the windows of opportunity for phone calls limited.  E-mails and blog posts are probably our most consistent means of relating the events of the day.

On the second day our my visit, being on EST, I awoke at 3 a.m. PST, voided, had a glass of water and committed to staying in bed in the dark until 5 a.m.  Right.  4 a.m. found me setting up the computer, but not being able to log on to Google (which claimed that I already had a password for my e-mail address, but they would send me the password to my e-mail address, which I could not access because Google would not give me Wi-Fi access, which was what I was trying to do.  Bureaucratic logic morphs to technological logic of the only option is the one that we are preventing you from accessing).  No, worry.  I can draft blogs off line for a few hours, read yesterday’s paper or books until Vicar’s Dad’s wake up time at 7 a.m.

He awoke and entered the morning right on schedule, at 7:02 and began his morning routine.  Sit quietly for a few minutes, take 3 deep breaths with inhaling and exhaling to the count of 3 each, take and record his blood pressure, determine whether he needs to take or hold his daily blood pressure medicine, take said and other medications, then wait an hour before eating breakfast.  I have consumed two cups of mystery teas from Momma Suzanna’s larder, had a bowl of fruit and yogurt, and work on cereal and milk in my hours since 4 a.m.

The morning continues, with Vicar’s Dad taking numbers from stock reports, opening solicitations for money and passing on the 4 pages of text leading up to, “Because you value American spirit, sign this petition and send $50…”, which I smile and nod to before slipping into a recycle paper envelop…  We have an appointment at 11:30 with one of my father’s financial advisors, with a departure time of 10 a.m.  From 7:02 until 10:09 a.m. our morning progresses as above.  I draft 3 blog posts, learn the access password for Google, check e-mails and send one off to Linda, and publish Blogger’s Statistics, Part 2. Except for a couple of exchanges, we have hardly spoken.  The distance that I felt in my youth, and find in living on opposite coasts, seems little changed when sitting in two connected rooms of the my father’s house.

How can I try to explain, when I do he turns away again.
It’s always been the same, same old story.
From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen.
Now there’s a way and I know that I have to go away.
I know I have to go.

As we walk to the car, to drive over the mountains from Mountain View to Santa Cruz for our appointment, I offer to drive.  I figure that this will reduce my father’s fatigue factor, and possibly promote conversation as he will not be concentrating on the curves, uphill’s and downhill’s of the highway 17.  After the morning of silence, all manner of conversation begins.  I rarely hear my father talk this much, when other family members are around.  His declining hearing makes ambient sounds and rapid interchanges mumbles.  One-on-one, without distractions, I experience a part of my father that I have infrequently known in our 50 years of relationship.  Of course, practical subjects with numbers dominate the trip over the mountains: investments, estate planning, educational trust funds for the grandchildren, family activities, etc.

After our meeting, Vicar’s Dad offers to take me out the lunch at the Crow’s Nest, overlooking the Santa Cruz harbor and Twin Lakes beach.  I think that this is the first, unprompted meal invitation that he has given me since the Promise Keeper’s rally on the National Mall that he brought the Vicar out for a dozen years ago.  (Metaphorically, that meal was at Generous George’s Pizza and when Vicar’s Dad tried to pay with his credit card, it was denied because it was his expired credit card.  The Vicar and I winked as we split the bill and knew that we were moving into the stage of life in which we would begin to pick up the tab.)  From our vantages points at the window, I watched the boats leave and enter the harbor.  My father looked over the bikini clad youth playing beach volley ball.  Was it any coincidence that we talked about women, early dating experiences, and marriage.  What is that verse in the Gospels, “It is better to marry than to burn”… or is that in one of Paul’s letters?

I learned of my father’s first social dance lessons in 6th grade, the year that he transferred from a one-room school house with only one girl in his grade, taller than he, to the big elementary school, with one girl shorter than he.  I learned about his deciding to never drink or marry when is aunt divorced her husband because he drank too much.  I learned about his first date at the junior prom because the one girl shorter than he was available the night before because her boyfriend was at college (safe date).  I learned about how Mamma Suzanne stepped up to ask him to a dance the year later (Saddie Hawken’s type of event).  I learned about how he played chess with a classmate who had some type of illness that prohibited him from getting up or attending school for a year.  Family devotion and helping children were traits established early.  We talked over lunch for more than an hour.  Rarely is my father the last to finish his meal.

It’s not time to make a change,
Just sit down, take it slowly.
You’re still young, that’s your fault,
There’s so much you have to go through.
Find a girl, settle down,
If you want you can marry.
Look at me, I am old, but I’m happy.
(Son– Away Away Away, I know I have to
Make this decision alone – no)

I drove back over the mountain and, as predicted, especially after lunch and over two hours of lively conversation, Vicar’s Dad dozed, off and on, during the trip.  The Vicar, his wife and daughter awaited us at my father’s home when we arrived.  The social dynamic was different, and thoroughly enjoyable.  They invited us to join them for their Saturday evening church service at Westgate Church.  We accepted, and Vicar’s Dad headed off to the cocoon of a real nap (dozing in the car is never really restful), while the rest of us exchanged stories and laughter, nearly to tears.

The service is of the contemporary style, which we know Vicar’s Dad tolerates out of loyalty, but not appreciation.  No hearing aides used.  But even then the volume brings out little other than, “They sure were loud”.  I recalled an e-mail that the Vicar sent a while back, when he pointed out to our father the Psalm reference about playing various instruments joyfully, to which Vicar’s Dad retorted, “But, it doesn’t say you have to play them all at once!”.  During the Peace (Episcopal reference, as I do not recall what the music minister, the guy with the guitar and microphone, called it) was accompanied by boom-boom-boom hip hop sound track that made me think that I was in a bar mixer handing out business cards, which is hardly where the Hermit would find himself.  During a more contemplative moment, the music minister asked all to write a psalm of thanksgiving.  I wrote a poem, and I noticed Vicar’s Dad write something, but could not get him to share it with me later.  Mabye it was a reminder to check stock tips later.  The Teaching was on Christ’s prayer in John 17.  Blur was the title.  Being “in” the world, but not “of” the world was a major theme.  A family dinner at an Italian restaurant across the street ended the evening.

All the times that I cried, keeping all the things I knew inside,
It’s hard, but it’s harder to ignore it.
If they were right, I’d agree, but it’s them They know not me.
Now there’s a way and I know that I have to go away.
I know I have to go.
(Father– Stay Stay Stay, Why must you go and
Make this decision alone?)

Sunday, 3 a.m. arrived on time (7 a.m. EST, and nearly an hour later than I usually am up), and I pursued my usually early a.m. routine, returning to bed for another 2 hours of dozing.  5 a.m. had me at the kitchen table composing a draft of my blog on The Covenant and Joshua (just tempting you to return at read it later).  I had not mentioned that in the hours of silence Saturday, I read through all 24 chapters of the Book of Joshua.  Vicar’s Dad began his Sunday morning routine at 6 a.m., with departure for The Bridges Community Church at 8:10 am.

The Bridges Church used to be the First Baptist Church of Los Altos, where I attended in my youth.  The leadership has changed over several times in the 30 years since I left.  I have listened to the stories of its dwindling congregation over the decades, and it’s recent revival under a new minister who balances between the “Give me That Old Time Religion” members, and it’s “Make the Message Real for Me” generations.  I’ll just leave it at my observation that the transformation from my last visit was impressively noticeable.

My father’s devotion to his church, its members, and role in “shepherding” his Life Group were obvious.  As frail as he may appear at times to me, he was rather spry and in his element, giving announcements and leading the hymn, When the Role is Called Up Yonder, which is right up with The Old Rugged Cross in terms of tunes that I have not heard since…  The sermon in the Praise Service (aka traditional service. Have all the traditions be re-branded with new phrases?  Well, this is Silicon Valley, the land of 18 months product cycles.) was from John 7, in which Christ says “no” to doing miracles in Judah because “it is not yet time”.   The message in the Life Group (aka Sunday School class, see above rhetorical statement about re-branding) was about Salvation, Christ’s and our role in the process.

Look at me, I am old, but I’m happy

Monday, 4:30 a.m. we awake, wash up, gather the bags, and head to the airport.  Vicar’s Dad drove in the pre-rush hour traffic.  He related a story that he recalled of my first attendance at communion one Sunday when I was about 5.  We were visiting Vicar’s Dad’s Dad, my grandfather Oscar.  He related that I wanted to follow everyone else with the bread and wine (well, probably grape juice), but he tried to explain to me that this tradition was for those who understood its meaning.  This is also one of my earliest memories of church.  He told me that I retorted, wise guy that I have always been, “I’m a Christian.”  I recall sitting outside Vicar’s Dad’s Dad kitchen, making as much of an argument.  My father has always considered guiding his sons’ souls to the truth that he understands an expression of his devotion of family and his caring for children.  I will probably never reciprocate in a way that he understands, but I’m sure the Vicar can read between the lines of what I write.

Now there’s a way and I know that I have to go away.
I know I have to go.

I ended my conversation with my client by making a personal observation: my father and I are very much alike.  I cannot change who we are, though I can be aware of how I develop these attributes.  When joining Vicar’s Dad Praise service and Life Group, I received the anticipated greetings from names 30 years distant in my memory.  The vote was unanimous: “You look just like your father”.  May I grow into the devotion to others and the love of children that he has, while directing the impulse to routine and rigidity of thought that we are prone toward displaying.

Father and Son

(P.S. Don’t tell Vicar’s Dad that Cat Steven converted to Islam)

About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
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15 Responses to Father and Son

  1. Barney says:

    Seems to me that I read Cat is back,mbut I could be wrong.

    This is an interesting post. Relationships between dads and sons are difficult most of the time, I think. I was well into my 40’s before my dad and I could be close. I believe most of the movement towards each other was done by me. Not because I did any sacrificial thing so much as I began to understand him and grew accepting. He was always the rock solid pillar who would do anything for his family, had a heart of gold, but just never knew how to communicate. Me, I was still learning true values from perceived ones. It was an interesting time, and rewarding time. I still miss my dad.

    Glad you had a good visit.

    And By the way: I still call it highway 17, although its been highway 880 for over 20 years!

    • hermitsdoor says:

      Maybe our tendency to view things the way we grew up with, such as Highway 17 rather than Highway 880, is why young generations view us as rigid when we grow older 🙂 Thanks for noticing a metaphor which I had missed.

  2. The Vicar says:

    If relationships were more predictable, engineers would be great at them. A lot of credit goes to those that keep trying (no this doesn’t fit the definition of insanity), because changes occur in each of us as individuals thoughout our lives, and this reconstitutes all of our relationships. Whether you are 5 minutes or 3,000 miles away, wanting to want to be in relationship makes progress possible.

    Thanks for your insights and wisdom. I do appreciate your friendship and the chance to participate in “verbal blogging” during your visits. It’s much like blogging …. without the misspelled words.

  3. dkzody says:

    I must return to this post as I did not have time to finish. I am curious to see how you and your dad make out on this visit. My daughter is a minister in San Mateo, just up the road a bit from your dad’s place. We are still wrestling with our relationship.

    • hermitsdoor says:

      Thanks for your persistence. My thoughts have never been easy to consolidate into a few paragraphs.

    • dkzody says:

      Came back this evening. Decided I must only plan to read your post from beginning to end. Although not as old as your dad, I am very much of his generation’s thinking when it comes to church. I go along with the changes in our inner city congregation because I know we must change, but I like the old hymns, the old way of doing things. God has kept us in this church for 37 years, and until He moves us on, we will continue to support and labor for His kingdom at this location.

      It’s funny, but my daughter tends to want things the same way as they once were. We had to remodel the 50 year old sanctuary as it no longer worked for what we wanted to do and in doing so, we had to make some major changes to a very beautiful, very traditional sanctuary. My daughter, long gone by that time, does not like the new look. Prefers the old sanctuary. She likes that the house we live in is where she came at age 2 and lived until 18 when she left for college and then seminary and then marriage. She claims to want to remodel it should she again live here, but she is happy it is the same as it was in 1980.

      Oh, I have prattled on too long. Your post is most enjoyable. I liked seeing how you and your dad were together. Thank you for sharing. I’ll stop by some time again.

      • hermitsdoor says:

        Frankly, give me a thousand year old cathedral and Gregorian Chant and I am content… I was interested in a generational development in by brother’s “contemporary” church, which is now well established with leadership in their 40’s & 50’s. There service has what I call the U2 feel. They are now working with the younger generation, in their 20’s and 30’s, to take a “home church” group to develop their own congregation. Maybe they are dealing with the same challenges of familiarity and modernity, just earlier on.

  4. poseyposse says:

    I came across your blog a little more than a month ago. I had no clue how similar our backgrounds are. I attended the sister church to FBLA in the same time frame. Enjoyed the post and the pics. of Crow’s Nest. Thanks.

    • hermitsdoor says:

      Wow! Small world. Glad you have enjoyed reading. With working extra days and recent travels, I have been neglecting my blogging friends. I hope to have some time soon to catch up. Out of curiosity, how did you come across my blog? Randomly? Via another blog which I visit? I’m interested in how these connections occur. Thanks for commenting.

      • poseyposse says:

        I suspect it was through another blog, but I don’t recall. I’m interested in several of the topics you list above including gardening and faith so that combination may have led me here. You mentioned several places I’m familiar with. It is a small world. Take Care.

  5. cindy knoke says:

    this song tends to get stuck in my head. excellent post!

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