Of Babies and Bathwater

The recent stream of women standing up against sexual harassment and sexual criminal activity has once again brought to the fore the idea of heroes and perfection.  Something I said I was done talking about, but the subject I guess is just an intriguing one to me and thought I’d share a few more thoughts.  I’d like to extend this discussion beyond those accused of sexual harassment or other sex crimes in general, but to a discussion of flaws and the severity of those flaws.

I’ve been listening and reading discussions about where do we draw the line and forgive someone’s acts?  I’ve wrote a piece about Bill Cosby some time ago, and I think most people agree that given he is a serial rapist it’s hard to ever watch him again.  But some feel differently about Louis CK or Al Franken.  Now some might say this is because politics are playing a role, like in the case of Franken, or because you are just such a big fan of their comedy in the case Louis CK.  It’s hard to say that’s not the case, but I do think it’s more than that.

As I try to learn about human behavior there are two things that seem clear to me.  We are all morally inconsistent to varying degrees, and we all draw lines that cannot be crossed and those lines are different for different people.  As I’ve written before, I think we have this ability to elevate celebrities, leaders, and historical figures to unrealistic expectations of perfection.  With historical figures of course we might be applying today’s moral standards to those people and unfairly judge them, but I don’t always think that doesn’t have value.  We don’t have to judge, but I think there is value in looking at the flaws and inconsistencies in their thinking so that we can avoid those same pitfalls of character today.  Gandhi was someone I idolized, and still do to a certain extent, but more reading into his character has revealed his racism against black people, and his misogyny. Should I throw away Gandhi as someone who is a waste of my time to even try to appreciate now that I know?  I don’t think so, but I certainly see how he could have been more than he was, and can take those good parts, acknowledge (without judgment) the bad parts and move forward.

But what of those people who we find to be less than perfect today?  People who we deem should know better.  It’s a tricky business.  There might be an average moral perspective, and that perspective might even be backed by empirical data that shows it is a more moral behavior, but culture varies widely, and even when we see the overwhelming benefits of something like gender equality it seems very hard to get everybody on board.  If we investigate the most common set of moral values of people in a white evangelical community in the South, we’d find many differences between them and a community in Boulder, Colorado.  And the difference may even deviate greater as we go beyond the borders of our country.  What seems to be the prevailing moral view of our times is heavily biased by the culture we are currently in.  It could be we are in the minority.  And even if we are right about what is a more moral actions, and we are right to push those views on to society, it may be difficult for others to agree with our perspective.  Of course it’s also true that any one moral perspective is not all that we care about in this world.  We all have sets of moral values, and while it would be nice to think that anybody who is a feminist must automatically be also pro-environment, pro marriage equality, or against racism, the dots don’t always connect, nor do I think we should expect them to.  If we can have a head of the human genome project also be an evangelical Christian, I think that we should expect that any human is able to hold as true, two widely disparate views on how the universe works.

But where does that leave the rest of us.  It seems that it’s human nature to be constantly looking for people that we can look up to, that we can celebrate and that we can strive to be like.  It maybe isn’t surprising that we should do this.  Seeing something we value, embodied by another human being makes us feel like it’s possible for us to be that way to.  Such people can also make us care about things we didn’t before, or care about things in a deep way we never thought possible.  And when we find out their flaws there is a feeling of betrayal that feels personal even if we didn’t know them personally.  But I think that on a deeper level what we really worry about is what it says about us.  “This person I admired is not who I thought, so am I not who I thought as well?”  I certainly had these thoughts growing up with an alcoholic father.  My dad went from superhero to an extremely flawed individual, and I wondered how I might be flawed and how I would even recognize it?  And to be honest I still do sometimes.

I’ve tried to incorporate the best of my dad into who I am, because there is no changing the past.  I was born with dad I had, and there is no getting around that.  I can be a better dad myself going forward and that’s all I can do.  I’m not for burning people to the ground because of their flaws.  Even with Bill Cosby I can acknowledge the skill in which he told jokes and stories, and his passion for education and I can say that these are good things and are meaningful.  Maybe I can’t watch him anymore, but there was at least some goodness in him.  I feel similarly for Scott Orson Card who wrote an incredibly beautiful science fiction story and won a well-deserved Hugo award.  He is now a strong anti-gay activist in the Mormon community.  But the ideas and themes in his story are worth preserving and even celebrating.  I don’t want to turn those ideas to dust just because there is now a side of him I fundamentally disagree with.  When I think of heroes in my personal life right now, there are 3 ladies that are supervisors for the program I do volunteer work for helping neglected and abused children.  They work long hours, train volunteers, do fundraisers, and deeply care about the welfare of the most vulnerable members of our society.  What if I found out that one of them donated money to a pro-life organization, or was racist?  Does this invalidate all that they are?  Have they still not made the lives better for 100s if not 1000s of children?  At what point does the line get crossed?  Perhaps if I found out they have abuse their own children.  I in no way imagine that’s possible, but maybe given that we are walking paradoxes I should accept that such things are possible.

In the end maybe we all at least share some of the blame for the expectations we place on people, who can never be perfect.  Perhaps the reason I think about “heroes” so much is because with an alcoholic father these are questions I’ve been asking all my life.  What I’ve tried to do is to understand human behavior and accept the imperfections we all have.  I’ve also tried to place value on growth.  Knowing we all do things or have done things that are bad, what’s most important is that we accept responsibility, have true remorse and try to do better.  I think the exposure of these imperfections is helpful to all of us in this respect, and even when it is sometimes hard to hear (or read) I am thankful to see the cracks in perfection.  I actually prefer such a world, because it simply feels truer.  It feels like there is somewhere to go.  And it is a reminder to be humble, for we all have our cracks and flaws.  It’s easy to push the famous people and the historical figures away, because they really aren’t part of our everyday life, but that line we draw can become real hard to draw when it’s someone who is actually close to us.  So I think it’s always important to recognize that complexity, the dynamic nature, and the shades of gray in humans.  Maybe it’s significant that the devil was only made by being cast down to the very depths of hell.  Maybe we can make our stands and still find ways to love.

Advertisements

Ouroboros

Wandering through neural mazes,
I am always lost when I find you,
Your pose is casual, blocking the path,
Like you were waiting for me,
Knowing I’d be there even when I didn’t,
Reminding me of memories I never made.

In the waning days of summer,
There is a scar that I am thankful for,
And yet find it so hard to forgive,
It pulses along with my pulse, counting time,
I ache as the trees do, as the leaves fall,
Still I smile at the splendor of colors.

The things that you are so frightened of,
Are the things I love the most,
I held my face to you like a mirror,
A mere, still in a deep forest,
And you ran like a hunted hart,
Avoiding refreshing pools as your thirst swelled.

I am now bound to chase with no quarry,
As I watch you run with no pursuer,
Participants in a game that must be played,
Do I choose to play, or is fate unescapable,
I’ve clawed and surrendered, and of the two,
One felt right, while the other felt… good.

Lost in Thought

I thought of you and it was like a day dream,
One that you choose to get lost in,
There you were in the distance,
It’s a long bench,
But I can tell you’re getting closer,
There are sparks, oh yes,
But they’re far away,
So they don’t look like individual sparks,
Kind of a blur,
But it’s nice because there’s still a light,
Just about to burst into bright,
I’ll be honest, I can’t tell, it’s far away,
And just like that I pop out into the street,
Just another person out walking,
Ambling over to my favorite coffee shop
Tapping my fingers to an unknown tune,
And sometimes you’d appear,
In a glance, out of the corner of my eye.
Like a memory in a different lifetime.

The Understudy

He always liked to make people smile,
It was the way his daddy looked,
When he wasn’t smiling he was stressed,
Worried and wasn’t all there
And when he’d make his daddy laugh,
It all went away,
And so he tried to be funny all his days,
It became a craft and an art,
Something to fail at from time to time.

He always knew real beauty,
He liked to be around it,
Like wanting to be close to the fire,
On a chilly winter’s dark
The occasional dive,
As the smoke curls around the room,
But the romance was in his mind,
And love was in his eyes,
But never figured out how to make it work,
Not being mechanically inclined

He always had a gift for language,
He liked the way it moved and folded,
Slipping off the tongue,
Only to wonder if he should have held back,
And that was a way to move people,
But he never quite had the passion,
It wasn’t easy to express excitement,
When you’re too busy being amazed
If you can get him to be quiet,
He’d love to hear your voice

Scuttling along the sand,
He looks a bit odd
But I assure you he’s quite harmless,
It’s just an occasional tickle

To My Son: Year 3

Dear Son,

1470670647167It’s such a cliché to say, “I can’t believe you are already 3 years old”.  It’s amazing to me how life can be boring and routine and pass so quickly, and that alternatively life can also feel full and eventful and do the same thing.   As I look back on this year with you the beautiful moments you have brought to my life seem innumerable and in that sea of amazingness I struggle to think of memories that really stand out.  Somehow it’s the totality of the change that strikes me this year.   Maybe it’s because there doesn’t seem to be as many “firsts”.  Well that’s not strictly true, but they seem different than ones in your first couple years.  It’s more like this year is about things you could already sort of do, but now you can do infinitely better.  It has been still a joy, of course, to watch you get so much stronger and agile, but it doesn’t stand out as strong in my heart.  However, maybe the problem is that your firsts this year are much more related to your cognitive abilities and it’s hard to pick out the exact moment it happened, because it seems to get stronger so incrementally, yet the moment when I really become cognitively aware of your development seems sudden.  For instance, this year you started making connections between objects and shapes and likened them to things you already knew.  Like seeing 4 upside-down plastic cups next to each other reminded you of Lego, a song that wasn’t Indian but had Indian drums made you connect it to Indian music, having intention in what you draw beyond just the fascination of making marks on paper.  The best part of this year is how your imagination has taken off.  The scenes you play out with your toys, doing different voices and scenarios.  I think I could listen to you play like that all day.  You also became completely bilingual this year.  Your English was first and we were worried about how much Polish you would be able to speak.  But eventually we could tell that you were recognizing the differences between the languages and who spoke them.  Then, what seemed out of the blue, you started speaking Polish while your great grandmother was here, and now I think you speak Polish better than an English.  It is truly a marvel for me to see because I find the grammar rules so hard to learn, and you simply show why children are superior at learning languages.  This past year has in many ways been the story of your voice, and your talking fills the air like music.

img-20160612-wa0000Ultimately what stands out the most is how much you’ve become a person.  Gone is this little human I loved on what just felt like a biological level, but I feel like I actually know you as a person now.  Your personality shines, and I can begin to define you as having certain personality traits.  And I think you can do the same for me.  You also know me, and what I’m like.  We are father and son, sure, but we are also people learning about each other and growing together, and I love that.  So what is that personality that you are developing?  Well you are sweet and loving.  You are kind and you like to share.  You show concern for others including the cats.  You don’t throw tantrums, and you don’t get mad when other kids take your toys.  You just sort of stand there a bit stunned and wonder what is wrong with them. What’s most amazing about you is the humor you’ve developed.  You love to make people laugh, and you do a pretty good job of jokes for a kid your age.   A large part of you seems to be built on silliness.  Almost too much sometimes, because you can get unfocused from the task at hand.  It’s hard for us to not laugh sometimes, even though you are misbehaving, because we know a laugh from us only encourages you to carry on with your silliness!  But if being too silly is the worst trait you have as a toddler than I think we are pretty lucky.

To share with you an example of your silliness you decided one day to call my lips, pimples.  You touch my lips and say “I likes your pimples”, and then I touch your lips back or tickle your ribs and say “I like your pimples”.  You respond back saying, “No, I like yours pimples!”  This goes on for far longer than it should.  It’s complete nonsense. But it’s also sweet because you started playing it I think just because you liked touching my lips.  You often just put your fingers on my lips when you come into our bed and are still sleepy, or just before you fall asleep at night.  As a father we generally don’t get those kind of attachments with a breastfeeding mother to choose from.  I don’t know, there is just something deeply personal when there is just some simple thing about you that brings such comfort to another human being.

Also I am really happy that you like Mr. Bean so much.  It will make me feel less guilty about indoctrinating you into British comedies.  Pretty much the only way I am freely willing to indoctrinate you. 🙂

1456361504503Part of the reason why I want to write you these letters is to also let you know who I am at this time in my life.  Of course as much I feel you are getting to know me, there is so much more to go.  This year has been a tough one for a lot of people, but mostly because of how it has ended. Poland has become extremely restrictive, full of prejudice, religious fervor, and heavy nationalism.  It is one of many countries that have and may go that direction yet.  But Poland is your mother’s country and where she still has friends and family.  So it’s personal.  And the country we live in has taken it’s turn in that direction as well.  As hard it is to let greed win, it is much harder to accept that the world seems like it’s about to get a lot unkinder.  And as a species, we haven’t been the kindest bunch even in the best of times.  This age of information and global activity, breeds a heightened level of awareness to all our species is capable of, and as a result quite a lot of fear.  As I said, we aren’t always the kindest.  I hope that this is all just a pull back on the elastic that propels us forward.  Of course change happens slowly, so it may be a long pull back before we go forward again.  As we are now able to look around this world even more than before, we are starting to realize that there is quite a bit of suffering and we haven’t been very good stewards of the planet that sustains us all.  It’s a heavy burden to bear.  People deal with it in different ways.  Some better than others.  I am not sure why this really is.  Maybe it’s just the willingness to admit mistakes and try something else.  Maybe ignorance really is just bliss.  But I’ve always felt that at some level reality slaps you in the face no matter what.   I’d always rather just address reality come to terms with it.  Perhaps I’ve just had a kinder reality than others, so what do I know?  The point is that your life may be a greater struggle than your parents had for most of their life.  What I can tell you though is that whatever the future holds, I will always show you the light that is in this universe, the wonder in your world, and what’s best about humanity.  I’m going to make sure that even when I’m not there, you will look out with your senses and know there is beauty there.  Even if it is small, hiding, muted, or repressed, you will find a way to bring it to others, and have good and pure moments of joy.  Even if they happen more sparsely than I have been fortunate enough to have in my life.

1475702319255I suppose that parents must often question themselves in how they are doing as a parent.  I know I certainly do.  The truth is that I still feel like I have trouble relating to you.  As you get older it is very aware how much you are watching, listening, and learning, and I feel like I should be teaching you more.  Maybe I’ve just spent too much of my life talking to college students, that trying to explain things to a toddler feels hard.  And often I just feel I’ve aged past the point of remembering how to access my own inner child.  Your mother does not have that problem and I am so thankful that you have that amazing woman in your life.  I just want you to know that I am trying and that at the very least I can say that you are getting no shortage of love and affection from me.  I love the hugs, the kisses, the holding you on my lap, and the cuddles when you crawl into our bed in the middle of the night.  By the way, maybe that’s the best part of you talking now is that you can say “I love you”.  I suppose one could say that you are bound to say such things after hearing it so many times.  But I can tell that you are also beginning to understand what love feels like and there is no dishonesty in your expression of love.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite. There is a purity in it that I think we adults lose sight of sometimes.  Not that the complexity of love isn’t wondrous as well, but sometimes I think we over think it, and let the fear of vulnerability override the freedom and joy our heart could be experiencing.  And while I still have no idea how I would manage if something were to happen to you, it is a fearless love I have for you, because I know that whatever turns life may have, there is no value in holding back the love I feel for you.

img_20160512_114307These past 3 years of your life have been amazing for me.  I wish I really had the words, but maybe there are just some things in life you have to experience and words simply hold no value.  My greatest hope for you is that you get to love someone as much as I love you.  Happy 3rd birthday my son.  Thank you for making me feel lucky, even in 2016.

Love,
Your Father

Two Lines

Two lines at a time,
That’s all I want to write.

The brilliance fades quickly,
Because I’ll be on to something else,
And those two lines,
They won’t make any sense.
But maybe they will again tomorrow,
I’ll remember what I wanted say,
And by the end of the week,
The month,
The year,
I’ll have written some poetry,
Something that will blow a soul away,
And you’d never tell,
That I didn’t just sit down and write it,
All in one gasping breath of inspiration,
The exaltation that moves me so much,
That I can only write two lines,
Without getting lost in the music,
Without getting thirsty,
Without needing sleep.

When Atlas has to set the world down,
There shall be a revelation in two lines.

Reason

I know that darkness won’t endure,
But sometimes it’s hard to see in the dark,
But I will not lose my reason,
My desire to understand the seasons,
Turning leaves reveal the truth,
Known to every pimpled youth,
There is no escaping that things change,
And so you can hold on
And squeeze the moment,
But it will eventually slip like sand,
And with time abrading your open fingers,
To make sure you learn lessons well,
To remind you, you’re avoiding the inevitable.

You can wallow in the quagmire of your beliefs,
You can even inspire with a clever tongue,
You can wipe clean all that science has found,
And it will come back and haunt you,
But humanity is no ghost,
It is curious and is happiest when it discovers,
Even though it risks its happiness,
Because somewhere in the maze of consciousness,
We know that without the risk there is no joy,
No success, no growth
We are not content to look through a pinhole,
While one eye looks at the dark, and the rest
Of our senses atrophy into putrid decay.

Each time that you hate and dehumanize,
You become less than you think you are,
Your victims more than you think they are.
And I will oppose you with heart, with teeth,
And you will fight on the battleground of reason,
Or risk endless cycles violence,
Ripping parents from children,
Casting yourself into an oblivion,
That you believe to be paradise,
All because you never knew,
How great a human you could become,
How so many pieces of existence,
Were waiting for you to know them.

And you will pay dearly for unwise choices,
And you will be forgiven,
Because the world has loss and pain,
But nobody really wants to destroy you but time,
And none of us have any say over that,
Make your meaning out of the indifferent universe,
And treat existence like a gift.
Because it is.