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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Fathers' Day

My dad was not a Fathers' Day dad. While he always appreciated gestures of love and kindness, he really kind of liked them to happen organically and not because the calendar said it was Fathers' Day, or his birthday, or Christmas. Last year on Fathers' Day, I stressed because I really didn't have the money to drive down to visit him (last summer was tough), and he said, "Don't worry, really. I know you love me!" and that was that. I don't even know what he did that day. Since my brother lives in town and has his own three young children, I assume they spent time hanging out together. It's nice. I didn't think twice about it, because my dad had given up guilt trips years ago. I thought maybe this year things would be different, I could take that Sunday off work and go hang out with my dad.

And now I don't have a dad to hang out with.

The typical, expected things trip me up, of course. Sunday's looming and I work retail (all weekend, in fact). Fathers' Day stuff is everywhere. My mother moved out of our family's home and into one she had built herself just yesterday. I thought about how I'd never stand in the same spots as my father now that another family is living in that house, and I did break down for a few minutes. I was alone, and it was okay. (Crying makes people uncomfortable, even people who love you very much, and I understand the discomfort.) But I'm not as sad as I thought I would be at this point. In August, I was certain the world was going to stop, at least for a couple of days. Now it's just Our Lives, minus Dad.

I've been trying to think of what to do on Fathers' Day this year. My kids will be with their own dad, and I'm sure my spouse and father-in-law will try to take some time together. Now it turns out I'm working that evening, and I think the time between church (which I might skip because reasons) and work will be spent doing things around the house and not thinking about not having a dad. I should call my brother up and tell him Happy Fathers' Day. He is such a loving father to his three kids. I might even tell my ex-husband Happy Fathers' Day since, even though we disagree on a lot, he is also a loving father to our kids, giving them new experiences in the outdoors and ensuring they have a good relationship with their Taiwanese grandparents.

I'm so grateful I had my dad for thirty-six-and-a-half years. I think the only thing worse than missing a parent is having had one who wasn't worth missing. A lot of my adolescence was spent with us yelling and misunderstanding one another, but I spent the 21 years I lived in my parents' home waking up and falling asleep in the knowledge that they loved me just as I was.

If you're estranged from a loved one, no matter who you think is at "fault," I promise you that there is no day like today to bridge the distance. You might not get the response you want. But as the cliche goes, we are not promised tomorrow. Being right isn't always important. When it comes to a parent, child, sibling, or dear friend who might not be what we want them to be, our convictions don't matter nearly as much as being sure they feel our love above all other things. And if you have a dad, tell him you love him...even if he says he doesn't care about Fathers' Day!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Summer Reading Log: Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America

I just finished Jeff Chu's Does Jesus Really Love Me? last night.

I enjoyed the book, but not without reservation. I found myself getting angry at him for playing devil's advocate with the Phelps family of Westboro (but I also learned a lot about them that I didn't know). I felt he was taking the easy way out with some of his questions, but then I came to his interviews with Ted Haggard and Jennifer Knapp.

Those two sections alone are worth picking up the book.

Ted Haggard (I'm not even going to try to link to him, so many horrible things were said about the man that you might not find a worthy link) speaks so humbly about grace and acceptance and forgiveness. I found myself tearing up. While he may still be in denial about a couple of things regarding his own sexuality, he absolutely has opened the door to community and grace for anyone. I was expecting a hardened, inflexible wooden man, but Chu paints him in a beautiful light.

Jennifer Knapp is open, intelligent, and wants to help the hurting. Her heart for those who have been cast out, or who fear they may be, is burning brightly. She talks of her coming to faith in college and then her desire to be able to live a full and open life as a Christian and a lesbian.

Chu also interviews a lot of people who, after coming out within the church, eventually left not only church but faith all together. I'm not convinced it is related to one's sexual identity but has more to do with the way people are treated in what are supposed to be "safe spaces." Plenty of fervent believers eventually leave Christianity and move on to something else, or to nothing at all.

 The conclusion is of course Jesus loves you. But church is human, and humans fail. I feel Chu's book should make my fellow Christians strive more for love and acceptance, and return repentance to its proper PRIVATE place.

Summer Reading Log: Stories from Jonestown

As a kid, I had some strange and varied obsessions (my children have followed in my footsteps): ghost stories, urban legends, the supernatural, and Jonestown and the Peoples' Temple. When we finally had cable, I was able to indulge not only in books about my favorite subjects but made-for-television movies. I watched Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones every time it came on television. Powers Boothe captivated me as the charismatic leader, and I would wonder in my head if I would ever possibly find myself following someone like that. The members of the Peoples' Temple seemed like smart people. I was a smart person. How did smart people get in situations like that?

Leigh Fondakowski and her partners do a great job capturing stories of people who are survivors of Jonestown, either because they left or because they were in Georgetown the night of the mass killing, or because they are family members who watched daughters, sons, grandchildren, sisters, and brothers leave for Jonestown. They are the ones left behind to tell stories.

The format is a bit dry but works well for telling these tragic stories. Fondakowski is a great reporter and journalist. She worked on The Laramie Project.Survivors share repeatedly how demeaning it is to say the members of the Peoples' Temple were "brainwashed," and how they cringe when someone uses the careless phrase "drank the Kool-Aid." You'll find that many believed in the utopian, Marxist society Jones said he was trying to build. Remember this started in an era of racial turmoil, in Indianapolis, which was known for its racism.

Interviews with Jones' children are especially enlightening.

If you're interested in getting beyond the sensationalism of Jim Jones' charisma, drug abuse, and sexual conquests, and instead want to read heartbreaking and hopeful stories from survivors of his society, Stories from Jonestown is a good place to start.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Summer Reading Log: The Dangerous Animals Club

I read the first half of Stephen Tobolowsky's Dangerous Animals Club in the waiting room of a Firestone store in Pelham, Alabama. We got there at 6:55 for a 7 am brake appointment and had the pleasure of staying until 9:45. Surrounded by Men's Men (too old to be Dudes), my spouse passed the time listening to my sometimes-nearly-uncontrollable laughter.

Stephen Tobolowsky is funny. You've seen him in things.

Dangerous Animals Club is full of funny. Life is funny. Hopefully, you laugh a lot at things that happen to you now, or you can at least look back and laugh at things that happened to you Back In The Day. Tobolowsky tells lovely stories from early childhood (he had a happy childhood in Texas, a loving family, and stable relationships, and STILL somehow manages to be funny). But he doesn't spare us the uglier side of his early days in Los Angeles, including drug use and accidentally speaking inappropriate Spanish in a children's theatre production.

Chronicled heavily is his relationship with playwright Beth Henley, which lasted for fourteen years. He also talks a lot about his wife Ann and their two sons. Something that piqued my curiosity is that he mentions the first time he married his wife. I didn't see any other details about that, but it was intriguing to me. Hopefully he'll write another memoir and talk about how he and Ann met.

Some moments caught me off guard with their emotional candor. I enjoy a funny book peppered with sweet and somber moments. It's so reflective of life, isn't it?

Perhaps the best thing about this book is that you do not have to read it in sequence. I'm glad I did, but the chapters are arranged in such a way that while the previous information may be useful, it's not necessary to get joy out of the story. My attention span is often so spotty that I need to keep more books like this on hand.

You'll get a picture of this wonderful character actor as a whole child, a clumsy but talented adult, loving partner/spouse/parent, and curious Jew. You'll get some neat little Hollywood stories that aren't sycophantic but instead inspiring.