A Change in Direction: Part VI – Vacation!

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MarathonDear Readers,

First, thank you for your wonderful “likes” of my last post.

For all bloggers and writers in general, you probably know that some posts come easily while others can present a worthwhile struggle. My last post came easily, although I had thought about it for two weeks before I started typing. Maybe waiting helped!

Second, thank you for bearing with me as  I explore the theme of A Change in Direction. Now that I have been blogging for nearly two years, I have noticed that I have become attached to themes. I love symbolism.

Third, technically I’ve been on vacation since last Friday at 3 p.m., but it’s hard for me!

I have wanted to make sure I was reasonably caught up with all my work, including for next week, when I am on vacation for most of the week. I’ve been creating documents and newsletters for next week. I’ve been cleaning my home like a madman! I’ve been helping my young daughter with her writing. I’ve been striving to relax. I’ve made my peace with deadlines that I have striven to meet ahead of time.

A kind, smart mentor wrote me today, “Do your best to let go.”

I’m trying!

I’m including the picture from my last post because another wonderful friend said to me  a few years ago she loved it. She was one of the first people I met in Hawaii. She moved to New York more than two years ago. I miss her terribly. Posting this picture keeps the distance shorter because I think of her and her generosity of spirit. She said this picture expressed joy.

I may be like one of those fish who never sleep.

I love swimming, usually without stopping. But I’m ready to take a break!

 

 

 

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A Change in Direction: Part V – The Middle of Nowhere

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marathonRecently, on an early morning in Hawaii in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, I read a photo essay about The Middle of Nowhere.

Being a hopeless romantic, I was immediately fascinated with the theme: unspoiled terrain crossed by trailblazers who breathe solitude and seek freedom, who yearn to be far from the madding crowd.

So how do I find The Middle of Nowhere?

I have found it often finds you!

Even when I’ve taken part in marathons with thousands of runners, I’ve always traveled to a couple quiet miles where I feel like I’m the only person on the course. I talk more easily with angels who are helping me finish.

When I lived in a monastery, the monks were fond of saying that we arose at 4 a.m. so that the angels could hear our prayers more clearly!

This summer I’ll run a marathon on the eastern end of O‘ahu with probably only 50 others on the course. With far fewer participants than many marathons, I get to know the other runners and we all celebrate that feeling of being alone but still with each other.

Isn’t a marathon a kind of guided course? And isn’t life?

When I was a young teenager, I visited Germany for the first time, was separated from other students in my high school exchange program, and was lost. I walked eight miles back to my host family not knowing where I was.

But maybe I did.

A few years later I learned that the path I chose was a pilgrimage route traveled by my foremothers and forefathers since the 1300s.

The Middle of Nowhere also finds me when I write poems and wonder what direction they will take, if I’m struggling as a parent, if I move out of an uncomfortable interaction with someone knowing that I may not have been perfect but gave it my best effort.

Where this all leads me is to a place of gratitude and acceptance, to know The Middle of Nowhere can be a bit daunting, but that the courage to embrace it is always a way to learn and keep going another mile.

 

A Change in Direction: Part IV

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This may be my shortest post ever, but I’m on full-time, solo Papa duty this weekend.

How is this for a change in direction?

Tiger Woods has called for the Professional Golfers Association to allow for competitors to wear shorts!

All right then. It’s good to know that professional golfers are finally catching up in this regard with their tennis peers — 80 years later is better than never! Just Google topflight tennis players in the ’30s and then in the ’40s and ’50s. Google Jack Kramer. Could you imagine Jack Nicklaus in shorts?

It’s nice to give mindless thought to these changes, especially when another headline I read this morning stated the chief occupant of the White House is rapidly changing constitutional principles.

To keep my spirits up this weekend, I’d much rather think about my daughter, and the professional tennis and golf tours than Trump’s constant attack on fundamental human rights, or even worse, than imagining Trump in golf shorts!

A Change in Direction: Part III

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Ruckmann-by Kubota!I can’t believe I’m approaching nearly two full years of writing this blog. As my followers know in the first year I posted every day except weekends and holidays. In the second year, I’ve written every Wednesday and on weekends. The results have been surprising, almost always in good ways:

  1. I realized a few months into my first year that I had started writing more poetry again! It was like finding a familiar friend I had grown up with but whom I lately had only seen infrequently. I used to write poems nearly every day when I was a teenager. It was a great way to escape the constant taunting about being gay even though I was years away from coming out of the closet. Truth be told, I didn’t know what coming out of the closet meant! But writing poetry gave me some measure of pride — by the time I graduated from high school, I had won 12 national writing awards — and control when I often felt at a loss about not being able to change who I was. Decades later, I’m glad I didn’t. I would tell most young people: celebrate who you are even if every day people mock you for being you. Be open. Be kind even if others are not. Give them time. They may come around. Easier said (or written) than done!
  2. With the blog, I was able to thank the dozens of friends and relatives who helped me along the way. Some, like my aunts and my mother and grandmother, were (and are) constant wellsprings of love and encouragement. Others I knew far fewer years, but they all were like the volunteers at marathons who offer water, comfort, and inspiration for runners wanting to make it through another mile!
  3. By writing, I’ve come face to face with how I want to and can be a better father, husband, son, and friend. It’s never too late to tweak and grow!
  4. I believe my readers have a better understanding about what it was like to grow up gay in the ’70s and ’80s and now, as a middle-aged man, to raise a child born with an extra chromosome. And I shouldn’t forget tennis! I’ve had a few readers write that they had never watched a match until they started reading my blog.

So where I am going with all this?

I thought two years writing a blog would be more than enough and I could move on to other goals, like making sure my daughter has a stellar year in third grade, training for more marathons even though my legs, like tires, are showing the miles! I even want to play the bassoon again!

But I would miss the blog, the community of wonderful bloggers I am honored to have joined, and my readers who have been amazing!

So on July 1, the beginning of the third year of this blog, I will be writing a poem once a week for my posts. The themes I have covered in this blog will surely be covered in the poems.

What do you think, Dear Readers? Do you like the idea?

A Change in Direction: Part II

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Dear Readers,

It’s been an intense weekend, and my last post was pretty heavy-duty, so I’ll continue my theme about changes in direction but hold back from too much intensity.

About three years ago, after life had thrown me a few major curveballs — within a five-month stretch my husband and mother both had strokes and my father discovered he had terminal cancer — I went into a barbershop to have all the hair on my head shaved off.

My husband, who recovered pretty well from his stroke, asked me never to do that again! My mother, who also recovered, agreed. I made the decision partly out of solidarity with my father. I later learned that he refused treatment and kept a full head of hair.

I’m still glad I honored my dad. But I hadn’t realized a few downsides to having very little hair on top:

    1. Sunburns on the scalp happen a lot more quickly!
    2. For un homme d’un certain age — or a man of a certain age (doesn’t the French language always make phrases sound a lot better!), having a shaven head isn’t always flattering!
    3. Water from a shower on a bare scalp, while it can feel great, best not be too cold nor hot!

So I started growing my hair again, until a friend said maybe it didn’t look professional enough after a certain length. I followed her advice, but lately I’ve been contemplating a new look to celebrate living and working in Hawaii for 4 years, training for my 22nd marathon, 16 years of marriage through thick and thin, my daughter turning 8, and, well, growing it while I still can! Many friends have told me to go for it!

What do you think?

wenig-haarerudiger_r_annapolisThe picture on the left is me with my family during that difficult summer. The guy with longer hair is me years ago with my hair the longest it’s ever been (and in the best running shape I’ll ever be in!).

For a Quaker, this post is truly light and a bit silly even though what happens to many of us can become pretty serious pretty quickly as I found out three summers ago.

It makes me realize more than ever:

  1. Appreciate, always, what I have and what I’ve gone through.
  2. Try to have fun while running life’s marathons!

A Change in Direction: Part I

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Ellen - BabyOn the last day that I will probably ever be in Germany in this lifetime, I grabbed a German magazine about parenting that had caught my eye for several weeks when I would go to the grocery market.

For the first time since I had graduated from college, I had stopped working.

Or so I thought.

For years I had yearned to be a parent, and I couldn’t wait to be a stay-at-home dad.

Or so I thought.

A natural parent I was not.

Endless hours spent alone with our daughter in our apartment in Bonn, Germany, while my husband was teaching were lonelier and harder than I ever imagined. Our gorgeous girl has always slept beautifully, and I used much of that time to savor books and magazines before I would wake up, try to smile, warm bottles, feed our baby, read and sing to her, take her for walks, sing and read more, once in a while visit a friend in our home, and wait for the hours when Ben could be with Ellen so I could train for a marathon, buy groceries, or go to church with the family on Sundays.

My appreciation for gifted parents rose exponentially.

Pumpkin at ScoutsBen is a natural father. I am not. Ben is the reason why our daughter, born with an extra chromosome, is more than holding her own with her age peers. She is a gifted reader of two languages. She has a working knowledge of Hawaiian. She speaks and writes well. Her penmanship and math skills could use some improvement, but when I step back and think about all she has accomplished as a student fully integrated in her public school, as an athlete (she loves to climb walls at the YMCA), Girl Scout, young Buddhist in Dharma School, hula dancer, and loyal friend to a half a dozen kids, I realize how lucky we are as parents.

I think back to my last day in Germany.

One of the feature stories in the magazine I gave myself as a farewell present was about a family with a young daughter born with Down Syndrome. The mother had decided to start a blog about the family’s experience. (I should write her some day because she is one of the many people who inspired me to start my blog.) She also expressed her fears openly about how her daughter would gain any kind of decent schooling in Germany, be accepted by others, and lead an independent life.

Her fears were the main reason we left Germany: to give our daughter more opportunities in the Land of Opportunity. The clincher for me in Germany came one day when a mother in a baby group we had joined actually asked when we would have our daughter sterilized.

To say I was shocked and horrified would be a major understatement. I later learned she had been checking in for months with other parents (but not us directly) about why we had joined the group.

After I caught my breath, I said to her, in my most polite German, that I thought we were living in the year 2010, not 1942. The other parents were silent. One hugged me as I got up to leave. She and I later became lifelong friends.

I never went back to the baby group.

I’ve always been proud of my German heritage, my family traditions, and, although a citizen of the United States, keeping the language of my grandfather and his parents and siblings, but I knew I wanted to leave the country as soon as we found a home back in the States.

HulaTo keep a long blog post from getting longer, I’ll just write what many followers of this blog may already know. We settled in a Quaker learning community in Iowa before we moved to Hawaii permanently four years ago. My husband and I both work in a wonderful school. Our daughter is thriving.

I have a horrific fear of flying, so I likely will never make it back to Europe, or for that matter even the Continental United States. If I ever did go back to Germany, though, I would take my daughter to the mother whom I never saw again and say, “Look at our beautiful children. Aren’t they all remarkable and give us hope?”

Mother’s Day

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SwissmontMuttiAll week I’ve been trying to call my mother.

Yes, it’s Mother’s Day today, but my “Mutti,” as I’ve called her for decades, usually laughs about this holiday.

Yes, relatives from my mother’s side of the family actually visited us in Hawaii this week! Before we had dinner with them, I was hoping to receive my mother’s insights since I had not seen this cousin (I have hundreds) for more than 20 years nor met his wife until they joined us for our daughter’s birthday dinner. My mother, in her no-nonsense way, would have given me facts about my cousin that could have been conversation starters, but I was not able to reach her. (We sure had a wonderful time anyway. As I said to my cousin’s wife, cousins on my mother’s side are always good friends with each other even if years and oceans have separated them for a while.)

The reasons why I really hoped to talk to my mother were not earth-shattering. All I wanted was to hear her wisdom about life in general — be it the appalling treatment of Senator John McCain by the White House, or my daughter — her youngest grandchild — celebrating her eighth birthday. I wanted to ask her again how she has dealt with the highs and lows in her long, successful career as a teacher, as a parent, and as matriarch of a vast family, a role she took on after my grandmother died.

I sheepishly wanted to share with my mother my recent little life victories: that I have finally become better at setting boundaries and standing up for myself with confidence even if I’m not bursting internally with it, that I was reelected an officer for the Hawaii Chapter of an organization I care deeply about: the Fulbright Association which promotes international educational, cultural exchange and mutual understanding among the peoples of the world.

For the Fulbright sharing, I did not want to boast to my mother. I only wanted to let her know what she already knows: that in spite of being a difficult teenager growing up gay in an era when that was pretty rough, especially if you lived, as we did, on the edge of Appalachia, that I’ve stayed loyal to poetry, tennis, running, my marriage for 16 years to a great man, to the Fulbright program, to trying to be a better writer, to learning from my mistakes, that I’ve learned the invaluable value of humility, and to cut myself a break once in a while and not always be so serious or earnest!

If I had gone too far into any of this, my mother would have reminded me that I was being, to use one of her favorite words, too “verbose.” And she would be right!

What has changed, though, over the years, is that my mother and I say “I love you” a little more frequently to each other than we used to.

Happy Birthday to my Gorgeous Daughter!

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Ellen ist acht Jahre alt!Alles Gute zum Geburtstag, liebe Tochter!

Although you have made my hair grayer, I am thrilled that you are healthy, smart, stubborn, fun, tenacious, and brave. Just show a smidge more gratitude and keep taking supplements your dads urge you to and you will be fine!

I love you more than life!

Scouts

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This week I’ve learned more about two slow-moving eruptions.

The first, and quite serious, is the lava flowing from Kilauea, a massive volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island, which is a little more than 200 miles from where my husband, daughter, and I live on O‘ahu. Several relatives and friends who like me before I moved here didn’t realize how far apart Hawai‘i’s islands are from each other understandably have been concerned and have wondered about my safety. I have reassured them that we are fine.

Fortunately, the lava flow is slow. But my heart is still going out to residents near the volcano who must be on edge. Many have already had their homes destroyed. More than 1,500 people in the area have needed to be evacuated. As a Quaker, I am holding them in the Light. Please join me.

On a much different note, I read that that Boy Scouts of America’s program for older youth will be changing its name to Scouts BSA.

I had to read this a few times to understand: the umbrella organization, Boy Scouts of America or BSA, retains its name. But Boy Scouts, which welcomes youths from 10 to 17, will become Scouts BSA.

Okay.

It took a while for Boy Scouts to be more inclusive. Until 2014, it had banned all “known or avowed homosexuals.” That policy remained in place for adult leaders until 2015. After that, the organization announced it would accept and register transgender youths.

But the latest news came like a mini earthquake rather than a slow lava flow. The name change follows Boy Scouts’ decision to accept young women, which has not thrilled Girl Scouts.

Both groups have been struggling with declining membership, but understandably Girl Scouts is reeling with girls wanting to join their brothers and male friends at Scouts BSA or just become a Scout who is not defined by gender.

I certainly have mixed feelings. I fully support the mission of Girl Scouts to build “girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.”

Pumpkin at ScoutsMy daughter, born with an extra chromosome, has been welcomed with open arms at Girl Scouts. Our chapter in Hawai‘i is one of the reasons why she is holding her own with her same-age peers. Her confidence has grown with each new badge she has earned. Our daughter’s parent leaders have been the kind of role models that my husband and I have wanted for her.

Never, growing up, would I have dreamt that I would actually have a husband, let alone join him for Girl Scout events with our daughter.

I’m pretty sure my husband never joined Boy Scouts. I was forced to. Even though I knew back then I was bisexual or homosexual, it’s a good thing I wasn’t “known or avowed.” Of course, in retrospect, so many people knew I was probably gay.

I simply stopped going to Boy Scouts, and my parents stopped forcing me to do so without asking why, once I realized I had crushes on some of the teenage leaders who were about five years older than I. Believe me, having heard plenty of “fag” whispers when I joined my troop for activities, I was terrified I would say or do something that might — gasp — reveal my true identity.

Fortunately, the world has grown up a bit. Since our daughter has two dads, I’d like her to be around women a bit more! We’re in no rush for her to join Scouts BSA, but if she would like to some day, we’ll help her find her way.

When Patience is Part of the Job

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This morning at 5 while I was in no-man’s land between being fully awake and hoping I might sleep a little longer, the most beautiful creature in the world startled me by crawling into my bed and saying, “Papa, I love being with you.”

HulaI put my arm around her. My daughter is still young enough that she wakes up excited to see me. It was the first of probably 20 or so moments today when I will be grateful I traveled to the land of parenthood eight years ago.

Two hours later, though, I had crossed the border into “I’ll need a couple hours before I miss you.”

My daughter, who had been playing beautifully on her own, had started to decorate one of her cabinets with a crayon. We all needed to leave for school in 20 minutes. I still had not taken my shower.

With all my middle-aged dad wisdom, I tried to keep my voice steady and calm, but frustration was creeping through like a bad weed about to good wild.

My daughter said, “I don’t like you.” I said, “You don’t have to, but I’m still your father.” She then asked that I not come to her birthday party in about 10 days when she will turn 8. Fortunately, I said nothing.

About five hours have passed now. I miss my daughter terribly like I do most days. I can’t wait to hear about her challenges and triumphs on this Wednesday.

Ellen - BabyMany people think children born with an extra chromosome are angels all the time. I had one misguided person tell me before my daughter was born how lucky I was because when adults with Down Syndrome pack her groceries, she always breaks out in one big smile.

Oh.

I calmly asked if maybe we should wait until my daughter was born, attended school and probably college if packing groceries would be her chosen (by her) career path. The person just looked at me. We haven’t stayed in touch.

My daughter is on a great education path. She’s bilingual and loves to read. I count my blessings. I know I’m lucky when she is stubborn and wants to hold her ground and then some. She’s strong and independent.

But to get through those times when my hair grows a little grayer, I look at a few pictures from my daughter’s past. Sure enough, I then cross back over into the country called “Grateful Parent.”