The Activity of Making Sense

Photo Thanks to Glen Noble

Photo Thanks to Glen Noble

I am reading slowly The Evolving Self, a book by Robert Kegan, about the coming together of psychoanalytic theory and cognitive developmentalism. It’s heady and I’m being patient with myself, especially since the reading is deepening me and my theoretical basis for the more practical, and perhaps more intuitive, work I do.

Egan took a moment to reflect on his daughter’s development and his response thereto. I read this father’s recollection of when she was sounding out words and thought of recent experience with our firstborn, Bryce.

“Being in another person’s presence while she so honestly labors in an astonishingly intimate activity—the activity of making sense—is somehow very touching” (p. 16).

It is true in my experience as well. I was reading over words with Bryce the other week. And Dawn gave me a compliment about how I was with him, which is proof that human beings can grow!

Dawn is the better, more patient, nurturing teacher with Bryce. I’m the guy who cooks dinner while they do homework. It’s a more fitting use of our skills and temperament. Dawn with him, coaxing and instructing and illuminating, and me pulling pans and throwing together a nourishing meal. We get it done in our way.

On that particular night, I was reading with him before bed, and Dawn was feeding the new boy. I was to read two pages and then Bryce was to read a page. Little did I know that a page could take so long. I’ve since been carefully told by a teacher how to change this up, and I’ll post about that later.

Now, this boy knows his sounds, thanks to the good work we did with Riggs cards and good teaching last year at his preschool. He’s been “reading” and learning and growing all year in kindergarten. But to be honest, we’ve slipped a little.

Photo Thanks to Taylor Leopold

Photo Thanks to Taylor Leopold

We’ve let him be taken into the world of books he’s preferred to read rather than those slim volumes with encircled number 2 or 3 on the right hand corner. We’ve read to him. And he’s been at the work of reading, but he’s really been cheating when we haven’t supervised his reading. He’s looked at comic pictures, which, of course, is a good thing. But he hasn’t been reading.

And he forgets. A lot. He will forget a word that I rehearsed multiple times, and he’ll forget it in three minutes. Now, I have a degree in psychology. I have coursework, dusty it may be in learning and memory and other cognitive psychology courses. But those courses were not my strong areas. I did well if you count the As and honors I always got in psychology, but those As were different than the ones in the clinical/applied courses. So, when I meet with my son’s unique developmental milestones, it frustrates me.

It makes me question my competence. It reveals my anger at him and myself and it shows where my values are: in getting things quickly and in getting things done quickly. This is something he does too, at his six-year-old speed. And of course, when he rushes through something, I catch him and call him out. Even though he’s doing what I do. Even though at his age, he’s doing what I often model: going through the motions. My motions are tutored by what learning I have, and his is too. I just have more in my box than he does. We’re doing the same thing. I’m his model. It’s sobering.

So, seeing him read is an entirely destabilizing endeavor. It’s constructive. It’s good. But it’s disorienting. He’s where he “should be” if we look at him through the gauges people we don’t know have made for him. He’s on course if we take counsel in the collective wisdom of curriculum writers who tell parents what their kids ought to know when. I’m not worried about Bryce in that respect.

But I am worried about how this kid has a way of continually teaching me about me. He’s a teacher to me who exposes my hidden and implicit biases for movement and productivity and fast-gained knowledge and quick wit. Even if those things complicate the simplicity of being at one’s own, real, natural, splendid, unrushed pace.

That is the activity that makes sense. Slowing down makes you. Pacing yourself has a way of making the sense I need. It prevents me from having sense made for me. It’s the activity I need of in my life.

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Panama Jackson’s Letter to a Friend

Photo Thanks to Blake Verdoorn

Photo Thanks to Blake Verdoorn

Dear Homie,

If my math is correct, you’re set to become a father next month. Congratulations. There are few times in the life of a person more exciting (and nerve-racking) than the birth of your first child! As your friend and brother, I couldn’t be happier for you and the wife on this life-changing event. (it’s good to know how to use insurance terms, since in your case, the baby will be born during most open seasons—good timing!). I look forward to watching your daughter grow into the young woman she’ll become with the wisdom and guidance of her great parents.

And since I’ve been around that mountain a few times, I figured the least I could do was tell you a bit of what life is going to be like in the near term.

Basically, you’re going to miss a lot of it because of sleep deprivation. I mean, you’ll be there, but you won’t be there sometimes. Once, when #YoungPanamontana was an infant, I literally had a dream that I rolled over on her on the couch and woke up terrified that I’d killed my child, only to realize that she was upstairs asleep with her mother. Do you understand what I’m saying? I was so tired that I dreamed I was asleep, except I committed murder in my sleep WITH MY SLEEP. Which gets to where I’m going with this.

There are probably countless people who have told you to get all of your sleep now. And though you can’t, it’s one of those things that scientists should be working on: a sleep bank. Right now you can go to sleep at, say, midnight, and wake up at 8 a.m. after a night of uninterrupted sleep—assuming the wife allows you to sleep all night, since I’m sure she’s super uncomfortable right now.

But let’s say she does. Yeah, that’s going out the window the DAY young Homie-ette is born. See, babies, they have to eat every two hours for the first few days (weeks) of their lives. You don’t have to do the math to realize that means that at least 12 times a day—maybe less if she’s doing 2.5 hours—your child will be awake seeking sustenance and attention. Many of those hours come at times when you’d normally be asleep.

I don’t know what you all are going to do regarding breast-feeding (if your wife decides to breast-feed, it saves a FORTUNE on formula; if not, price matching and Amazon.com are your friends). But if she is going to, she’ll be up all night after short naps, only to arise to continue giving life to this person you two created.

Trust me on this one, fam: Wake up, too. Just be awake. Stare at the ceiling fan. Cut your toenails. Hold her boob. Do something so that she knows she isn’t up by herself. There’s a good chance she’ll be scowling at you even if you are helping, but it gets better. And if you’re asleep, there’s a great chance that she’s going to wake you up. I promise.

Read the rest of the letter here at the Root.

Fathers in Varied Stages (5 of 5)

I’m thinking over materials I’ve been reading, namely stuff about human development, faith development, and theological perspective. I’m bouncing around suggestions, mostly for myself since I’m trying to keep good notes on things I read that are worth keeping.

Photo Thanks to Pixababy

Photo Thanks to Pixababy

Here is a list of suggestions for fathers (and the people who love them), particularly those above 70 years:

  1. Call your children, biological or not. Even if they’re busy, put a call in. Make sure they know the sound of your (aging) voice. It’ll connect you with you and you with them. In other words, find a way to connect with them. Resist the temptation to “wait for them to call me” or to believe they’re too busy for you to call. Be a parent to them now. They need you so don’t talk yourself out of that truth.
  2. Tell your story in every possible way. We suffer when we’re robbed of our individual and corporate stories. And we’re blessed immeasurably when we tell them. People need to know you and your story. Write it. Record it. Podcast it. Whatever. You need to tell as much as others need to hear it.
  3. Make a friend for each decade behind you. I swiped this from someone, probably Dan Radakovich. I think he told me that he has a friend for each decade. He told me that we need to connect with people as friends who are younger. And we can make 7 new friends in a year. Of course, Dan makes that many friends in a week.
  4. Start a project for which you’ll never see the result. There’s something to be said for starting projects when you’re old. It reminds us all that old folks are able folks. Beyond that, it’s an effort in making a contribution in faith that that contribution will end well. In doing so, you honor that life continues beyond you. So give yourself wholly to a cause, at this stage in your life, because you aren’t so stuck on the ending. The process will nurture your spirit.
  5. Mentor one or two fathers. You need to keep in touch with parenting. You need to give, even if you’ve broken ties with your kids or if they’ve died or if you’re far away from family. Go to a church or an organization and find a father who’s open to learning. Find a newly married husband who’s mentioned wanting to learn. Teach.
  6. Stay faithful to your best values. Name what matters to you, and stay with those things. In a way, everything else fades as you age. What remains is what will remain. Those stubborn qualities are what has brought us “thus far on the way.” Those are our best values. They’re usually things like love and justice and hope. When all else fades, when sickness comes and memory goes, those things stay.
  7. Be intentional about spiritual growth. I am a pastor and chaplain, so this suggestion is no surprise. But not everybody believes what I do. Whatever your beliefs, take them as seriously as possible. In doing that, in taking your beliefs seriously, you’ll exemplify fidelity. Believe with all that you have, and in this stage, you have a lot. That’s an essentially spiritual undertaking. Stay with it.

What would you add?

Fathers in Varied Stages (4 of 5)

I’m thinking over materials I’ve been reading, namely stuff about human development, faith development, and theological perspective. I’m bouncing around suggestions, mostly for myself since I’m trying to keep good notes on things I read that are worth keeping.

Photo Thanks to Alex Holt

Photo Thanks to Alex Holt

Here is a list of suggestions for fathers (and the people who love them), particularly those between the ages of 60 and 69:

  1. Move your body. Keep exercising rather than slowing down until you stop moving altogether. The longer you sit, the harder it is to reengage. It’s true if you’re in a chair or if you’ve checked out of life after retirement. Take that intellectually, emotionally, physically. Locate the things that capture you and keep going.
  2. Consider things well. Inspect your life’s fruit. Evaluate your choices. And make changes to adjust yourself so that this next phase of your life is as consistent with your hopes as possible. How will you align yourself so that what you wanted and couldn’t have before this phase is within your reach? If there are cracks in your relationships, they’ll be on display. Consider what you see.
  3. Grieve what needs to be grieved. You are growing older. You’re not only that, but certainly at this stage, you are aging. You notice it because it’s unavoidable. Where you have lost things, begin accepting those losses, grieving them if you haven’t, and embracing a new relationship with what’s passed on. If you couldn’t have the relationship you desired, create the one you can have.
  4. Build something. Be creative. You are the result of the creative genius of a God who loves you, and some of that creative ability from God is in you. Tap it and explore all the things you can make. What do you have in you that is a hidden gift that needs to be offered? How can you turn what’s in you now into a contribution worth giving? Locate it, build with it.
  5. Give. Related to the above, rather than waiting, be purposeful about giving. Experiment with giving to your significant others while you can see what they’ll do. Share with people, not because you don’t want things but because you’re generous. In a sense, be generous. It’ll make you more joyful. Spend time in the rooms and buildings that are reflective of your values. Give your time and wit.
  6. Revisit major decisions. Have conversations with relatives about your wishes for yourself; complete advance directives around your medical care; and make sure your life policies are updated and current. These are expressions and gestures of care for the people who you’ll eventually leave. It’s not morbid to do these; it’s loving. It’s an extension of your selflessness and care to think through such things.
  7. Worship. Connect with God in some way. People have many ways to do that, but find one that represents the inner voice in you. No one chooses that for you. That inner voice–in my words–is God speaking to God’s self within you, and you can grow increasingly comfortable with that God. Acknowledge God’s love for you at this time, in this stage, of your life.

What would you add?

Fathers in Varied Stages (3 of 5)

I’m thinking over materials I’ve been reading, namely stuff about human development, faith development, and theological perspective. I’m bouncing around suggestions, mostly for myself since I’m trying to keep good notes on things I read that are worth keeping.

Photo Thanks to Olu Eletu

Photo Thanks to Olu Eletu

Here is a list of suggestions for fathers (and the people who love them), particularly those between the ages of 40 and 59:

  1. Consider reasons to stay. I have a friend whose propensity is to leave. I once said this friend what I mean here. We need to find reasons to stay. As life changes in us, being a great father needs to remain a high priority.
  2. See a spiritual director. Spiritual directors aren’t counselors. They’re spiritual friends who listen to what’s happening in you. They don’t consider themselves problem solvers and may be uncomfortable with the label “guide”. They hear you, and as a man you need someone in your life whose role is to hear you well.
  3. Take your health seriously. If you need to modify your diet, do so. Make and keep an annual appointment with a physician. Do it because you want to be around as long as possible and be as strong as possible.
  4. Concentrate on touching. Men need three times more intimate touch than women. And we don’t get it or give it. Our bodies don’t sense that physical communion because we focus on other things. Change the focus. Concentrate on good touch for your children, good touch for your spouse. Let your children touch your face, smash your ears, feel the wrinkles on your forehead.
  5. Speed up or slow down. If you’ve stretched out adolescence, speed up and get beyond that childish time, but if you’re super driven, you may need to take counsel in Sabbath. Don’t go into cardiac arrest because of a goal you’re driven to meet. Instead, meet a different goal: being around for the length of it.
  6. Renegotiate relationships. Your friendships need attention because you’re likely feeling stress from parents who are sick and dying, children who need more, and your own personal decline, how ever slowly you notice it. You will probably sense some notion of the divine under the surface of your busyness. Create quality relationships that enrich your mental, emotional, and spiritual life.
  7. Say “thank you” and “I love you” more often. Gratitude is a gift to those who have it and give it away and to those who receive it. And so are the rest of our emotions. As we age, we need to express all our feelings because that expression makes us more human. It, in other words, keeps us human. It also teaches our children how to be appreciative of all their gifts and how to acknowledge their feelings.

What would you add?

Fathers in Varied Stages (2 of 5)

I’m thinking over materials I’ve been reading, namely stuff about human development, faith development, and theological perspective. I’m bouncing around suggestions, mostly for myself since I’m trying to keep good notes on things I read that are worth keeping.

Photo Thanks to Jordan McQueen

Photo Thanks to Jordan McQueen

Here is a list of suggestions for fathers (and the people who love them), particularly those between the ages of 30 and 39:

  1. Investigate your weaknesses. Name them for what they are: areas where you’re not strong. Model the gesture of naming your frailties even while your children think you’re invincible. Be honest with yourself that you aren’t what you thought, hoped, or believed. Then you can turn to your strengths.
  2. Set growth goals as a father. You can grow while your children grow. You may as well plan for it. You may as well mark your own growth. What kind of person do you want to be because you’re a father? Get at it.
  3. Work and play. In this phase it makes sense to turn your energy and focus to work, but there’s more to life than work. Take care of your family and go to work in order to do so. And try to play. Keep at the balance and the tension or the dance.
  4. Listen to your child’s mother. Hear her as best you can, even if that doesn’t mean agreement. She’ll teach you and you’ll be different because of her. While you may be many other things to your child, let your child see, identify, and remember you as a listener to her/his mother.
  5. Relate to your own father. Whether alive or dead, you can relate to your father. Develop that relationship. Nurture it so that you can notice things about him which you didn’t before. Befriend the memories that are helpful. Re-imagine those that aren’t.
  6. Think ahead as much as you can. Decide what kind of child you want to raise, what kind of qualities you want her/him to have, and how you want people to talk about her/him when they do.
  7. Consider the big questions for yourself and your family. Every family has values, implicit or explicit. Find yours. Notice what you “go to bat for” and what you’d suffer for as a person or family. Ask, “Who do I want us to be?” and “Who would make us change our schedules?” and “What is fatherhood worth to me?”

What would you add?

Fathers in Varied Stages (1 of 5)

I’m thinking over materials I’ve been reading, namely stuff about human development, faith development, and theological perspective. I’m bouncing around suggestions, mostly for myself since I’m trying to trace good notes on things I read that are worth keeping.

I draw in these next posts thoughts together from recent readings of James Fowler and James Loder especially and from the good wisdom of people I’m watching in these various stages of parental development.

Photo Thanks to Ryan McGuire

Photo Thanks to Ryan McGuire

Here is a list of suggestions for fathers (and the people who love them), particularly those between the ages of 20 and 29:

  1. Go home everyday. There’s something wonderful about having your family take for granted that you’ll be home. It’s a discipline, may even be new to you, but it sets the course of what you’ll expect for yourself and what others expect from you. It starts from there.
  2. Take every responsibility you can. There’s nothing like being a custodial parent. I think doing everything related to my son’s care–being able to do everything–gave me opportunity to always have a credible opinion about my son’s care. I know what I’ve experienced with him because I’ve worked for this kid for free.
  3. Participate in the daily ritual. I’ve noticed over the last couple years that my energy toward the evening has waned. I do a good chunk of things in the mornings and by evening, I’m tired. But that daily work of parenting involves all those hours. It’s the mundane way I show that I love the boy.
  4. Read to your children. This is another way that we teach. Another way we model. At this point, Bryce is reading words with us, which makes reading better. But he’s learned to appreciate learning and imagining and taking time through reading.
  5. Tell them when you’re wrong. You’ll get good at pointing out their mistakes. Be as good, as willing, to admit your own wrongs. “I was wrong…” will open your child up to integrity and strength on display.
  6. Reconcile with the un-parented parts of yourself. My spiritual director said to me years ago that we can parent ourselves as we parent our children. That comment has stayed with me for five years because it’s true. Parenting isn’t quick. So don’t expect to parent the un-parented parts of yourself or your child in a night. It’s a long-term commitment.
  7. Give yourself to things you love. Not just the stuff you have to do, but the stuff you want to do. This will impact your feelings when you focus on your children. It’ll enable you to have joy outside of the parent/child relationship. It’ll add to your life. Your kid will love you for having one.

What would you add?