On Raising A Boy

There is a little monster inside men. It rages and hungers for violence, in a constant pitched battle with those other elements inside who speak clarion calls for righteousness and protection and peace. 

That rage is evident from the first screams out of mother’s womb. Will it molest my boy, my son? Will he be consumed by the monster inherent within each of our kind, given over to vice and frustration and the death sentence that silence truly is? Stoicism, they used to call it. In reality it is loneliness, cruel and isolating. Today, in the avarice of our culture, we are busy enough to make glib excuses for boys who become men who act like boys. He’s a playboy. Man-child (a comedy!). Finding his way. But inner demons is more to the mark. 

My job, so far as I can fathom, as a father, is to temper the beast within my son. Not to crush or eliminate it … no, he will need to call upon that devil deep down from time to time, open the vault a crack and let some of that ill, sulfuric vapor to waft out, when infernal things must be done. In defense. In justice. In war. But it cannot leech into his heart or embed its barbed claws in the otherwise tranquil and fertile grounds of his soul, that eternal mirror of conscience. The boy, and hopefully I, must reserve that basin to be filled with love, humility, and empathy. His soul is his reserve from which to draw on as a human being who builds and carries, one with less striking but more listening. It is the well he must dwell into in times of crises and doubt, and I want that reflection staring back at him to be one of integrity he can be proud to see.

When I look at the boy, as he yells insults at me because I am for now the force that prevents his id from absolute reign, I see the towering teenager he will become, lean and handsome, burning with the embers of all of life’s many desires and urges and emotional, urgent, eternal possibilities, and I know a fist now will come back then. Maybe not to me, but to another, lesser creature. Another boy. A woman. Any weaker, less defensible person. Or even someone more than his equal, who answers with the unthinkable outcome. My lessons must be moderation, kindness, grace.

How does one dispense grace to a sniveling brat with snot running from one nostril and emphatic horrors flying from his mouth at full pitch after slamming down the object you bought as a gift, the waves of anger passing over across your dignity, your principles, buffeting against your unfettered capacity to one handedly knock his body into the ground until he begs for mercy?

A pinch, a slap, a gentle wrestle down are as far as I have dared to push into this dark room, the sign hanging crookedly over the door reading, “He that spareth the rod hatheth his son.” Indeed. I recall my childhood beatings, administered by my single mother from the family breadboard with the thin leather hand strap. Did I act in accord out of fear of punishment? Or was it, rather, out of love for my mother and a deep desire to make her happy? Because what is love between a son and his parent, if only fear? God how I wanted my mother to be happy. 

My son rages against me, swinging wildly. I step to the side and slightly encourage with his forward momentum and he collapses down in a tumble and then the rage monster flees him and the tears take hold, the sobbing, heaving body of a bony six year old who needs hugs.

Behind the Closed Door

We’ve all seen it, we’ve all been there. That spot on the path leading up to an arched doorway. We tried the handle, turned the knob, pushed on the panel and found it locked to us.

I don’t mean the door to the bathroom at 7:30AM when you just woke up and your little sister is on the other side combing hair for her collection of dolls to get them ready for the day. I mean that big, mean, monster door that lies smack dab in the middle of the metaphorical path in life you have been traveling, and it put all your progress along that road to a halt. You’re not getting through.

You can bang on the door all you want. You can get clever and try to pick the lock, burn it down, knock it in. Beg, plead, and sit in a hump of tears. But you are not getting through. Maybe it is a timed lock like in the Maze Runner and it’ll open later if you wait around long enough. Maybe it is a sign of something else. Maybe a sign that you’ve reached the end of this road, even if you don’t think so or aren’t ready to take another path.

I only wish there were real doors we could come across as we undertake our life’s journey. Without one, it is sometimes so difficult to understand when we are banging our heads against a wall, or a closed door, and need to figure out a new way. There are so many messages available for us to tune into, if we choose, that tell us what we might want to hear instead of describing reality. The door will open soon if you just persevere. The door is a test. It’s the door’s fault for being closed in the first place. Or … there is no door, it’s just your imagination.

But sometimes, regardless of fault or perspiration or talent, there is a door and it is closed and it is not going to open for us and we won’t probably ever even know why. It is just the reality we need to deal with.

So how will you deal with your door being closed? Will you fall into a heap and sob? Will you bang tirelessly in a fury on the wooden plates? Will you shout at the sky in blame and accusation? Or will you inquire what it means to you that the path you thought was the only way is closed, consider the alternate routes, examine a new way to approach your goals?

In the end, we will all have a door closed to us in life, and yes, even in the morning when we expect to use the bathroom. the challenge to each of us is what do we do with our predicament so that we keep moving forward instead of losing our momentum. What will you do when you come across that closed door?

Wanting an Impossible Burger

A year ago, my wife brought home a packet of Beyond Meat burgers. These are the plant-based protein patties that have been engineered to replicated ground beef, but contain no beef in them. They even go so far as to include runny red beet juice to simulate bleeding rare beef. I know, you’re saying “eww gross” but, I mean, isn’t that what the meat we’ve all grown up eating is?

I threw them on the grill and was instantly overwhelmed by a horrible odor that clung to me for the duration of the cooking process. I could not shake the smell and it really ruined the experience – I couldn’t taste the product for what it was, I was just stung by that nasty smell that stuck to me the entire time. Even now, a year later, my skin shakes a bit just recalling it.

I read this morning about the Impossible Burger, which uses not beet juice but soy heme – the stuff that makes our blood red – to duplicate that substantive maw of eating animal flesh. And hey, the tasters say it works! The protein patties are rolling out to White Castles and Burger King’s nation wide. Suddenly, it looks like we have a legitimate product hitting the market that folks can opt for that isn’t beef.

Why char grilled sandwich lovers want to do that? Because (we’ve all heard this a dozen times by now) making consumable protein from cows is terribly inefficient. It takes a relatively outsized portion of water, grain, land, and oil to churn out those industrialized red meat patties. And nothing says yum like knowing a corporate owned, robot-filled factory is slicing up fifteen hundred pound animals and mechanically reducing them into vats of an ammonium-treated slurry, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. When the marketing materials tells me to support my local cattle rancher, it is tugging on sentimental vestiges of a reality that no longer exists.

Industrialized meat processing is a victim of its own brutal efficiency. The endless production and processing of beef, poultry, and pork is a natural wonder in its own right. Unfortunately, there are negative repercussions related to the required massive consumption of clean water, grain and soy, oil, and grazing land. Not to mention the brutal economics pressuring those in animal husbandry to produce bigger, faster products more frequently, chaining them to a corporate process that has only one goal in sight: more, sooner.

People have been reacting against the consumption of animal protein for ecological reasons – because the planet simply can’t continue producing most of its grain to be used to feed the cows who are grown to make weekend barbque meat. In the US, more than 67% of crops are grown for animal feed. Worldwide, it is 36%. Some people react for safety reasons – people do not want to eat meat that was so full of bacteria that ammonia gas had to be injected into it to be safe to eat. And some react for humanitarian reasons – the more capable we are of creating fast, clean sources alternate protein consumables, the better chance we stand of addressing looming crises of trying to feed everyone as the world edges closer to topping 10 billion souls.

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/foodfeatures/feeding-9-billion/

The least I can do while all of this invisibly unfolds in the world around me is to give that impossible burger a shot. Fork over my $14 bucks the next time I am at a burger joint for the plant-based option and see what it tastes like. My guess is it will taste like the jalepenos, sriracha mayo, pickles, greens, and fried egg I lay on top. And if a few bucks of that goes back to the companies trying to tackle some of the world’s global issues, it’ll be that much more savory to me.

What Happened with the 80s?

I was thinking about the incredible boom happening in the craft liquor and spirits and beer industries. Gin producers are now foraging the herbs and roots that flavor their products.  The hippening of unique brandy flavors is on the horizon. The “high-end premium” market is propelling overall growth. The once standard clear glass bottle is now transformed into sizes and shapes rivaling what used to be seen only at the apothecary. Producers are seeking creative ways to heighten “consumer engagement and leveraging it to fortify authenticity.” Holy smokes!

To distill the trend (oh yeah, I said it) you could summarize by focusing on two words: small batch. People want custom, uber-meaningful, top notch experiences. And that’s just when they are looking for a buzz! I wonder what we are demanding for dessert?

It made me think, unfortunately, of the 1980’s, when a bar had three beer taps: Bud, Coors, and the cheap beer (Schlitz, The Beast aka Milwaukee’s Best, or maybe a Busch). There was also the abomination in bottles that was light beer versions of local pilsners. IC Light was our regional brew.

There was nothing hoppy, nothing dark and chocolatey, nothing with strawberry or grapefruit. Nothing curated, nothing charred oak-inspired, infused, nitro cured, or osmosis blended. Nothing with hints of coffee or cupcake or honey. It was just pilsner and light pilsner. And Guiness, if you were at a fancy metropolitan sort of place. And wine: red or white. And they had vodka, rum, gin, scotch, and whiskey. They tasted like vodka, rum, gin, scotch, and whiskey, and whatever Galliono or blue curacao or fake corporate sours the part-time house painter behind the bar poured into them.

How, in some thirty-odd years, did consumers become so sophisticated? And is it OK that, while people in some of America’s finest cities struggle to get lead-free drinking water, we have the bandwidth to honestly care about the back story of the fiercely dedicated artisan barkeep who picked the berries that made the brew that became my $16, 3.5oz gin cocktail?

What was going on in the 80’s when bars were much simpler places, and corporate beers and spirits seemed to make a lot of sense, and inspire brand allegiance? When “I’ll have a whiskey” meant grab that one brand of whiskey you have there and pour it in a shot glass, not as a pretext for “Which of our thirty varieties, and would you like it neat, on the rocks, or blended with water?”

Barman flaring behind bar counter. Restaurant shelves with alcoholic drinks bottles on background
Barman flaring behind bar counter. Restaurant shelves with alcoholic drinks bottles on background

I am all for choice, and I do rejoice in the current bounty of selections. I just wonder how it all came about, so fully, so relatively quickly, and with such precision and skill. Imagine if we got this good this quickly at sewing or dog walking or Frisbee. It could be a whole different society we’d be living in.

Channeling Anger

“You can’t organize a group of victims. If people only see themselves that way, there’s no sense of agency, no sense of power. But when you tell them that we’re fighting an injustice or an offense to their dignity, they become angry and involved.”

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/01/charles-duhigg-american-anger/576424/

As Americans, we really feel righteous in anger. We’ve been played by the entertainment industry into thinking that being enraged is equivalent to being informed, and we’ve become too comfortable with laughing at snipes over hearing what is going on around us.

We also have being hypersensitive to slights against us. I am not sure where all our thick-skinned ruggedness went, but it is gone. The perception of disrespect, intentional or not, means the actors go right to the endgame. No middle ground. Full assault.

It is social media that has enabled this in us, given us license to be so snarky, so concerned with thumbing out our own blaring klaxons instead of being thoughtful in reading and listening to the voices who would differ from our own. That psuedo anonymity of the web, or the digital screen separating us from those who have wronged us, it liberates the inner bumptiousness that we all harbor.

Maybe late night “news” comedy shows are a little to blame, as well. They make it so easy to pick apart politicians or celebrity foibles with confident laughs. They tell us how to feel, what to think. Who is good and who is not. Are they correct in their character assisinations? Sure why not. Do we need a late night laugh? Yes, laughter does our souls good. But the delivery, the one liners, the zingers, they propagate that culture of snarkiness that feeds our inner righteousness, momentarily soothes our anger at the helplessness we feel before such incompetence from our leadership. It’s the delivery system, the routine of it becoming familiar and informing our own way of communicating and thinking. See injustice? Something making you angry? Disagree with someone? A one liner that makes other people laugh will shut them up, break them down, and reinforce your righteous way of seeing the world.

Where are our masses being shown dialogue between differing parties? Where are we seeing two parties negotiate complicated issues civilly? Who is displaying an alternate method to the hyper prolific “win-lose” culture that is flooding our shores?

We would all do well to slow down our lives and breathe. Work to be better listeners and respectful of opinions that differ from ours. That means working to understand why others are different, what their context is, how they arrived at their conclusions. Respecting that. And understanding that truly winning means building things together, not breaking things apart. Not belittling or dehumanizing or glibly judging from our armchairs.

Get Sleep

“In the spring, when we lose one hour of sleep, there is a 24% increase in heart attacks the following day. In the autumn, we gain an hour of sleep opportunity, and there is a 21% reduction in heart attacks. “

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/feb/09/best-thing-you-can-do-for-your-health-sleep-well

It can be a challenge to try to get a solid eight hours of sleep on a regular basis. There are many things calling for our attention: kids, work, email, house chores, school work, pets, hobbies, fitness routines … by the end of the day, it is easy to feel justified in zoning out in front of the TV. Who hasn’t thought to themselves, I just need some downtime? There is nothing wrong with this but, for me, it can be a factor in staying up too late to really get that full eight hours of sleep. First step for me, then, is to make an effort to not turn on the TV on weekdays.

I feel lame for wanting to go to bed right after I put my kids to bed. Because I’m not in elementary school, I’m a grown up, right? I am not sure why I feel that, almost a shame, for going to be when the rest of my family does. I wake up two hours before them, what’s so bad about going to bed right when they do?

I found it helpful to agree to do two things at night:

  1. Agree to unplug from my cell phone after ten PM. Just try not to look at it after then. This is part of me recognizing that grabbing my cell ends with me mindlessly scrolling through news headlines or emails or text streams or articles. I’m tired, my brain zones out, and I’m just a click delivery system for some algorithm by nightfall. So I try to just leave it on the charger downstairs. That’s right – not even in the bedroom.
  2. I agree to allow myself to read a book at night. Not a textbook for school or an article on my laptop for work, but a regular old book for fun. There are many benefits. Making progress through the chapters over a week or so makes me feel a sense of accomplishment. Reading stories is a nice distraction from rigors of our duties as well as an informative pursuit to my curiosities. Reading books relaxes my mind and calms my body in preparation for sleep. I’m upstairs with my family all nearby with cozy thoughts, the house below all shut down for the night.

It is OK to sleep. It isn’t lazy or slothful. It’s being responsible to our body and its biological requirements. All nighters are over-rated. Prepare yourself for the new day. Don’t cram, crunch, and crash. To be refreshed and destressed, just sleep.

Hope for the Spring

Now that we’ve broken through the historic cold snap that hit most of the US last week, I feel like spring is already here. I know it is unreasonable to start looking for flowers and birds – it is still early February. But when I go outside, I hear birds and see daffodil flower tips popping up! So I obsessively monitor the long term forecast and predictions for variability in historic trends for local weather patterns. I know February is usually the dreaded month – that time in school when there are no breaks to look forward to, no community celebrations or bright spots, and for worker drones February is the time of year when you leave the house in the dark and come home in the dark with wet, slush-covered shoes. But it’s a short month, and the days are getting longer minute by minute. My pond ice is melting and in the morning, I feel like I am fighting to get my walk finished before the rising sun beats me home. All good signs we are heading to an early spring.

The Play Deficit

Some more reading on modern children and changes in their upbringing.

The golden rule of social play is not ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ Rather, it’s something much more difficult: ‘Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.’ To do that, you have to get into other people’s minds and see from their points of view. Children practise that all the time in social play. The equality of play is not the equality of sameness. Rather, it is the equality that comes from respecting individual differences and treating each person’s needs and wishes as equally important. That’s also, I think, the best interpretation of Thomas Jefferson’s line that all men are created equal. We’re not all equally strong, equally quick-witted, equally healthy; but we are all equally worthy of respect and of having our needs met.

Anthropologists report an almost complete lack of bullying or domineering behaviour in hunter-gatherer bands.

There is evidence that the young of other species also learn to regulate their anger and aggressiveness through social play.

To the degree that we take away play, we deprive children of the ability to practise adulthood, and we create people who will go through life with a sense of dependence and victimisation, a sense that there is some authority out there who is supposed to tell them what to do and solve their problems. That is not a healthy way to live.

https://aeon.co/essays/children-today-are-suffering-a-severe-deficit-of-play