I think I share this same photo every year for Father's Day because it captures the essence of my male / Gobble lineage so well--the body shape, the particular style, the smile & its corresponding vibe, the camaraderie, the white square that plagues our faces. My dad is in the dark brown jacket; my Uncle Cooter is the other feller. Has my dad been a perfect father? Of course not, no one is (& we must stop expecting people to be perfect!), but the most important lesson he taught me was learning from one's father's mistakes & continuing to grow as a human being no matter what. He saw the mistakes of his father--alcoholism, poor financial choices, & a lack of community--& went the opposite; he barely drank when I was growing up, emphasized buying things that provided positive activities, & he modeled having hobbies & a good circle of friends. As he got older, he made great strides in understanding & sympathizing with folks who were different from him, myself included, his mentally ill, weirdo poet son.
I, in turn, am working to not fall into the cultural & societal traps that were some of his shortcomings--fear-based decision-making, quick judgement, & an over-emphasis on job-related work. Thankful for all my father has taught me, gifted me, been beside me for. He is retired & living in North Carolina these days, for the first time in 35 years, just a golf cart ride away from his last surviving brother. I couldn't be happier for this chapter of his life. As for me, I got a redneck dad who was playful, kind, & not a Trump supporter. Lucky me!
On holidays like this, I think it is always important to acknowledge & send good vibes to those on the other side of celebrating, the ones with hot wires under the surface in regards to this particular F-word, "father." This is an important step in my journey to rewire my default setting, the one that insists I am the center of the universe, that my experience is the primary experience. On Father's Day, let us not forget the folks without fathers, the folks who can't be fathers, the folks who have been hurt by their fathers, the fathers who've lost a kiddo, the folks separated from their fathers.
I see the difficulty in moments like this, when the world is locked into a lane that one can't access, & I'm sorry that has happened to you. This year, I was sending good vibes to those folks, & I always hope they have the support needed & plenty of other things to celebrate, this & everyday. I say to them, "May you be happy, may you be comforted." In upcoming holidays & celebrations, I hope to be more proactive in reaching out to those othered by moments like this.
As for the fathers in my life, I did my best to reach out to all the good good ones out there, to give props to all y'all keeping it real. From my time as an educator & my outsider perspective, not just on this day, but every day, I hope to offer what I can in encouragement & inspiration. To keep playing with your kids. To keep improving yourself. To keep communicating your feelings & growing your passions. To keep modeling your values for the little ones.
When I was married, I'd often get asked why we didn't have kids or plans to pop some out. I usually mentioned the issue of overpopulation or the ethics of bringing someone into such a cruel world or our lack of a stable lifestyle, blah blah. I'd also throw in "not wanting to pass this along to a poor kiddo," making a crazy hand gesture encircling my head. Sure, I could talk my way outta those first reasons, but that latter answer had to be honored, unflinchingly.
Truth is, for the last decade-plus, even through true madness, misdiagnosis, & improper treatment, I knew enough to know that something was dangerously abnormal in my mind, causing me to have severe mood swings, impulse control issues, & even violent outbursts. I knew it was immoral to subject a kid to that, no matter how awesome I might be as a parent (& you best believe I'd be fun as hell & a grand supporter of curiosity & hands on learning). Yes, I'd love to have a little buddy to teach disc golf & read poems to at bedtime & have dance parties in the truck. But up till now & for the foreseeable future, I'm gonna have to put that energy into being a rad Uncle T-GOB.
As for the guys in my life thinking about becoming a father or already in that role, I always urge them to not forget to take care of themselves, holistically. I know many people, myself included, who were unnecessarily negatively affected or even traumatized by their father's simple lack of awareness about their psychology & how their behavior affects their children. Male mental health matters, for the father, for their partner, & especially for their kiddos.
As men, we are taught to hide our feelings, suppress natural urges to discuss what's going on, & put our energy into more "productive" or "masculine" activities. I say the exact opposite is true, especially in regards to giving our children a better life than we had, a goal I hope all fathers share. If one is modeling self-awareness, self-improvement, & self-care, the kiddos will see that & likely grow with that in their value system, thus hopefully leading more expansive & dynamic lives. What I'm saying is let's normalize men taking care of their mental health, okay.
Pete Holmes introduced me to a more mystical, humanist perspective on Heaven & Hell, one that I'm sure has a richer & deeper tradition than I am just preparing to explore. Instead of this silly & stody idea that Heaven & Hell are actual, physical places based on an opaque reward/punishment system, this other perspective suggests that they are more metaphorical, humanity-based concepts. Simply, if you've left a good legacy of people remembering you fondly, kindly, & often, then you're in Heaven after death. Oppositely, if you're remembered negatively, then you're in Hell. Of course, this isn't a literal understanding of how it works; taken literally, it'd be just as short-sighted & flawed as fundamentalism. However, it is very appealing as a story-focused mind frame, an opportunity to ground ethics in human-centered, practical modes.
I'm lucky to have a good-sized property for Ginny Bug (my six-year-old pitbull) to wander around on & even luckier to have a dog who will stay in the yard & who listens well. But I have been trying, a couple times a week, to take Ginny in town or to a park disc golf course for leashed walks. I think it reminds us both of our connection, our collaboration, our compromise.
I want to flirt with the world!
What's that they say about the difference between hearing & listening? It's a below-the-surface-level thing, how much processing & engaging are had & how that manifests a continued response. My new therapist, in our first session, threw me off because unlike recent professionals who listened & nodded, she was asking bold questions & making big connections. Even when off-base, it felt invigorating to be heard like that, met in the middle of a depth that's rare around here these days.
During therapy today (5/19), we pin-pointed the physiological underpinnings of my disorders (bipolar I & intermittent explosive disorder). It seems clear that these are both related to the unresolved trauma of my Uncle Ricky's death & my Grandma Tyner's death (age 8, both of which I had premonitions about), as well as the separation from my half-brother TG when I was 4. As both my therapist & Peter A. Levine in Waking The Tiger have pointed out, the aggressive outbursts, the on-the-edge feelings, & the depressive pitfalls are the leftover energy from that early trauma. It never got explored or resolved, so my whole brain has rewired to anticipate such calamity & maintain that intense on-guard reaction to my ongoing life.
There was this kid Jack (name obviously changed) at the park the other day when I took my little cousin. I knew Jack from when I worked at the school. He is probably eight now, but he's big & his parents already let him roam town. Every generation in Elwood has a couple of these kids--oversized, undersupervised, no emotional / social skills, very physical. He just terrorized the other kids--slapping them hard on the back for no reason, scaring them at the bottom of the curly slide, randomly yelling. It's easy to think "little shit," abut the real work comes in sympathizing with him for all the physiological, environmental, & genetic factors stacked against him.
I think I'm gonna quit drinking. It just feels like the right time. One part financial decision, one part physical lifestyle change, one part psychological necessity.
I had the pleasure of spending the Memorial Day weekend with a bunch of new-ish buds camping down in Red River Gorge. It was full of the usual joy--campfire jokes, time among the trees, dogs trying to navigate the unfamiliar. But what added to the wow of this weekend was the fact that I had zero behavioral incidents & the most minuscule of bipolar symptoms. If you've known me awhile, you know that trips & excursions are both my favorite thing & a load of dread for me. Let's just say I don't have the best track record as an adult when removed from my comfort zone & routine.
I grew up camping with my parents, first in tents as a toddler & then in campers through my late teens, but when my symptoms started to set in in my early twenties, primitive camping became often problematic. Right after graduating from college, I organized a camping trip for a group of buds, & it quickly came to an end, when a friend's drunken mouth met one of my psychotic rage attacks. I had a couple successful camping trips in Texas, but those usually only worked when I was alone. Most recently, I tried a solo trip last summer after my wife left, but ended up shoving the tent & all my belongings in the van at 3 a.m. as hallucinations overwhelmed me. As much as I love the outdoors & adventure, something about tent camping knocks me off my psychological balance.
Knowing the possibility for trouble, I communicated with the group my concerns about the trip, but after their understanding responses & noting my recent successes in managing my illness, I decided to join, making the three-&-a-half hour trek down to Kentucky. I knew being removed from routine & comfort can cause me to become moody & unstable. I knew poor sleeping & eating habits could affect my ability to be aware of my symptoms & make the proper adjustments. I knew, in the past, responsibility, such as planning a trip or being in charge of the camp, added more stress than I could handle while trying to manage my moods. Ultimately, I had to watch out for falling into the unregistered, unaware trap of my more animalistic feelings & behavior.
I've been re-reading Waking The Tiger: Healing Trauma by Peter A. Levine (with Ann Frederick) & it's been providing me much insight on that last key to understanding my mood episodes, the big boom we were avoiding. As Levine notes, "Sensations come from symptoms, and symptoms from compressed energy" (76). I've learned it's not just about being aware of the symptoms & sensations, as important as that is, but also about releasing that compressed energy in clear, intentional ways. During the day, I made sure to step away from the campsite, be it for a hike, a walk with the dog, or a solo round of disc golf; on the site, I made sure to take moments to check in with myself, like with a power nap or a session of Dr. Weil's breathing cycle. Any success I had on this trip, compared to others, was all about awareness & intentionality.
As Levine remarks in his book, "The fundamental challenges we face today have come about relatively quickly, but our nervous system, but our nervous systems have been much slower to change
" (43). Partially removed from that modern grind, camping can be a jolt to that nervous system too, half-hung up on the quick-paced stress of modern life & well-exposed in the slowness of a weekend away. Looking back, wondering what was different this go-around, the core answer is simply that I'm taking better care of myself on a regular basis, having established some positive forward momentum--being well-medicated, developing a solid relationship with a new, trusted therapist, & following a daily routine balanced on meaningful work & reflective rest time. For the trip itself, the bookends were first being up front with the group & releasing myself of much responsibility pressure & allowing myself to pack & leave on my own internal schedule.
It is a weird thing to be proud of as a thirty-two-year-old, having a successful holiday weekend camping trip with buddies, but I can't help but smile looking back on all the good moments, knowing my bipolar disorder & I didn't ruin anyone's trip, MINE INCLUDED. I will always feel awful for the torment my rage attacks & mood episodes have caused, the fissure I've created among should-be peaceful time, often for some of my most beloved people. But with each successful trip out of the comfort zone, I have a better understanding of how to concoct such success, & I feel a little more confident in my ability to pull off such a task & prevent calamity in the future.
I noticed recently that a lot of people around here, even some that know me well, talk to me as if I believe exactly like them, especially when it comes to Christianity. Where I live (Elwood, IN), like much of the Midwest, is steeped in a conservative fundamentalism that treats god as some dictator sending down punishments & rewards in response to his subjects' behaviors. Many folks I know, even some more progressive or educated types, are bogged down & often seemingly confused by this antiquated system governing morality, & in interactions with others, because it is often the case, they assume the other has the same strange foundation.
I think that impulse, to assume your conversation partner believes parallel to you, is a natural default setting, but certainly one that could use some revisiting, a spitshine. Isn't a more productive & open-hearted method of approaching people one that leads with curiosity & diversity? I find much joy & growth opportunity in witnessing & unpacking, in collaboration, what others are thinking, experiencing, & witnessing in their own right. Unfortunately, our American society is on this fast track to conflict, where differences seem synonymous with antagonism.
To be clear, I am an atheist, have been since I was fourteen, but more importantly, I am continuing to grow as a secular humanist, believing humanity is both the key and the lock in regards to morality, ethics, & progress. While my journey to "there is not god" (or at least, not one that has been presented to the world thus far) was a short & obvious one, my understanding of humanity--what it is here for, how to interact with it, what to value, etc.--has been a rollercoaster, especially as I navigate the mood swings & anger attacks of my bipolar disorder, as well as the consequences of those mental health struggles, in my day-to-day life.
I say all of this not to chest-puff or initiate some conflict, but as a reminder to us all, myself included, that the folks we intersect daily are all carrying different belief systems & the baggage that comes with it. I, for one, want to learn from others & for others to learn from me, so that we might meet again with better mutual understanding & a more whittled set of impulses & reasons the next time around.
As someone who was married to a Episcopalian chaplain, who lived at a Christian seminary for three years, who has had the pleasure of knowing folks practicing many variations of faith, I have progressed from an angry atheist, a firm black/white viewer, to someone who is able to hold the "there is no god" belief while also remaining curious in others' perceptions of belief. I think what it has really done is to broaden my concern, leading me to ponder, "Why have people invested so much time, energy, & resources over the millenia into create hundreds of religions & thousands of gods?"
This is where we can all re-meet: the concerns of humanity. It goes back to the basic existential questions of life--How did we get here? What do we do while we're here? Where do we go when we're dead? The point of life for me is rooted in the well-being of conscious creatures, the end. I don't need a higher power to tell me to treat people well, not murder, take care of myself, etc. I don't need a religion to give me purpose or something to do.
There is this irrational concern in Christians about the possible moral chaos without god that I believe stems not from any actual interaction with god or the supposed teachings of a particular faith, but rather from a distrust & disconnect from both the self & from humanity at large. You see it in the questions I've been asked over & over again when Christians find out I'm an atheist: "How do you know what your purpose in life is?" "Where do you get your "rules" from?" "What keeps you from raping & murdering?"
Just because existence is "random" or finite doesn't inherently mean it is purposeless, boundary-less. Even without a ruler, we are governed by ourselves, the moral intuitions & proven concepts of ethics & reason. Like Ricky Gervais's quote above implies, that very fleetingness injects existence with real meaning & urgency. One might see that as discomforting at first, but I think it's one of the most enlivening aspects of being here, no raping or murdering necessary.