Sunday, December 25, 2016

I'm So Glad You Are Home

~ By John Shea

If you had stayed
tightfisted in the sky
and watched us thrash
with all the patience of a pipe smoker,
I would pray like a golden bullet
aimed at your heart.

But the story says you cried
and so heavy was the tear
you fell with it to earth
where like a baritone in a bar
it is never time to go home.

So you move among us
twisting every straight line into Picasso,
stealing kisses from pinched lips,
holding our hand in the dark.

So now when I pray
I sit and turn my mind like a television knob
till you are there with your large, open hands
spreading my life before me
like a Sunday tablecloth
and pulling up a chair for yourself
for by now
the secret is out.

You are home.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

What I Think About When I Run

Today I ran 19 miles. It took me a little under four hours of time all by myself.

Some people have asked me "What do you think about when you are out running for hours at a time?"

Sometimes I listen to music, a podcast, or an audiobook. But other times I focus on becoming aware of my self -- I am practicing being 'self-conscious' in a good way. It is another angle on my perspective of 'running into my self'. In those times, I just let myself think whatever comes into my head, and play around with those thoughts.

Sometimes the thoughts are 'good' (read: creative and hopeful and positive) and I dwell there and see where they take me. I get energized and excited and uplifted by these trains of thought.

Other times the thoughts are 'bad' (read: destructive, defeatist/fatalistic, and negative/hurtful)...and like with 'good thoughts' I also dwell there, and see where they take me. I allow myself to dwell there for awhile in the hopes that I'll get to the root of those fears or angers, etc -- and by allowing myself to 'go there' I'll let those things out of me instead of keeping them bottled up inside me like I have done for so much of my life before now.

And sometimes after a train of thought (good or bad) finishes, I just. Stop. Thinking. For awhile. I like it when that happens too. My mind gets to rest so infrequently that I treasure it when it happens.

And recently, in that place of solitude and openness, I have begun to contemplate. Not just in the sense of turning an idea over in my head and looking at it from a variety of directions, but I mean 'contemplate' in a more spiritual sense.

Dr. Warren A. Kay, in his book "Running -- The Sacred Art" says
"Contemplation is the activity of self-consciously living in the presence of God."
And in "New Seeds of Contemplation", Thomas Merton says
" spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness, and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible and transcendent, and infinitely abundant Source. Contemplation is, above all, awareness of the reality of that Source. It knows the Source, obscurely, inexplicably, but with a certitude that goes both beyond reason and beyond simple faith."
When I am running contemplatively, I am learning to see things I might not otherwise see -- in nature, in others, and even in myself.

Today I saw an outcropping on a tree which seemed to point to the sun so I paused to express my own reverence.

I reflected that even in the midst of the fog‬, there is still a right direction‬ to head; a way forward even if the future is unclear. I just need to keep looking for the signs‬.

And later after I got home and reviewed my run I realized that outcropping in silhouette also looks like Rocky Balboa at the end of his epic run -- also very inspirational!

~ Keith

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Loving the Me I Used to Hate

For those (probably very very few of you) who have never struggled with body image, please watch this video and learn what it is like to feel fearful, shameful, and even unlovable in your own skin.
And for those of you who DO struggle with body image; especially those who may read my (seemingly constant) posts about running and fitness and perhaps get discouraged -- please watch this video and if you shed some tears know I shed some too when I watched it. And know you are not alone.
I have struggled with self-acceptance and body image for most of my life. It is only in the past 7 years that I have learned to be OK in my own body...and it is NOT because I am thin and run a lot. I don't love my body because I am a runner. I am a runner because I love my body. And it has taken me a lifetime to appreciate the important difference between those two perspectives.
When I was in grade school, I was called 'skinny' and it was a negative term. People (family and friends and classmates alike) laughed because my belts were always so long the end of them wrapped around to my back belt loops. They laughed in the locker room and swim class because you could see my ribs and my knees were bony.
The summer between 6th and 7th grade I went to a football camp and learned how to workout and eat. But I really wasn't very good at it, so I only played (read: sat on the bench a lot and watched the acceptable people play) my 7th grade season. In 8th grade I ran cross country and at every. single. race. I was either last place or 2nd to last. Running was not fun, but I was trying to be acceptable; trying to make my body do what others' bodies could do. But I couldn't. So that was my last active sports season. I stopped working out. But I still remembered how to eat.
By late 8th grade I was no longer the skinny kid. I was the chubby kid; the fat kid that the Jocks and the Socs and the Hoods laughed at (and bullied) in the locker room and at school assemblies, etc. And I stayed that way all through high school. Aged 17, at 5'9" I graduated high school at just under 200#. By that time I had learned deeply the lesson that I was fat, and laughable, and my body was not OK.
In the Navy, in my 8 weeks of basic training, I lost 35# and at 165# I had learned my body could do things I never thought it could. That skinny was OK, and certainly better than fat. Or so I thought. Family and friends I hugged said I was too skinny, that I was bony and it was not OK. I should gain some weight.
I learned there is a narrow window between "too fat" and "too skinny" and the size of that margin is arbitrary, in constant flux, and the bottom line is my body is never "OK" the way it is.
My weight went up again as I went to various naval schools. Then down again just before I got married. Then up again after I got married. Then down again when I went to Jenny Craig. Then up again when I stopped following someone else's predetermined meal plans. Then down a little, and up a little more, yo-yo-ing over the years. By 2002 after my mom died I was 230# and a few months later tipped the scales at 250#. I hated my body and hated that I couldn't change. And I hated that others seemed to be able to control what they ate, and have svelt bodies that were acceptable and sexy and lovable.
In the fall of 2004 I went through something of a crisis of faith and came out the other side with a perspective I had not had since I was a little kid: I realized that I not only loved myself, I actually LIKED myself. Just. The way. I was.
Over the next 2 years I grew to understand that my body was not as physically healthy as it could be, and that is when learning to love it enough to make changes to protect and heal it became a priority. I tried a few things but nothing 'stuck'.
But then in the spring of 2008 at age 42, weighing around 220#, something just clicked inside me and I decided to start taking care of myself. I looked into eating for hunger (instead of all the other emotional reasons there are to eat). And as I lost a little weight I started walking. And as I started walking I added a little running. And as I lost more weight I added more running and learned that if I run slow enough to stay within my breath, I may not win any races but hey -- I can actually *enjoy* running!
So fast forward to today. I am 49, and am still 5' 9". I weigh around 165# and while many people see me as 'skinny' or 'thin' or 'in good shape' etc, what they don't know is I have man boobs, and loose skin folds. These are leftovers from when my body was 85# heavier. And since these are not medically concerning, I have decided there is no need for me to seek surgery just to make my body look different.
My man boobs and loose skin in my abdomen will never really go away. And I see those in the mirror every. single. day.
Some of the time I am able to look past them and look myself in the eye and love myself for who I am today, loose skin and all, with faults on the inside as well as the outside.
And sometimes when I look in the mirror I still see 'the fat kid'. And sometimes I look beyond that and see 'the skinny kid'. Either way I see a kid who is not happy with himself and wishes he could be something else so people would like him; so he could like himself.
I wish I could say that when I see 'the fat kid' or 'the skinny kid' I choose to feel love for that kid; that I choose to embrace him wholeheartedly and in that place of love and acceptance allow him the space to be who he is and feel love right there. And sometimes I do feel those things, and it is healing and wonderful.
But sometimes I just see a fat kid who feels unlovable, and I feel like an unlovable fat man.
And sometimes I see a skinny kid who feels unlovable and I feel like an unlovable skinny man.
And sometimes it still really hurts to not be svelt and muscular and toned. And in those painful moments, the fact that I can run marathons and ultramarathons and am 49 but have the metabolic fitness of a 34 yr old doesn't mean a thing because all I see is that I am not (and will never be) that unreachable ideal that I think I need to be to become acceptable; to be lovable.
So if you struggle with those same things, please know you are not alone.
I may not have the courage or the creativity to stand half-naked in a public place and allow people to mark my body -- but I can write from the heart and tell my own story here on my own blog.
I can tell you that it IS possible to come to the place were you love yourself and even like yourself. And sometimes when that happens, your body does begin to change, but not all at once. And even if and when the number on the scale or the body you see in the mirror becomes a more physically fit and healthful body, you know what? The ideal body you were chasing stays fleeting. So please, please, please: just learn to love yourself right here and right now. And let the rest come (whatever it looks like), if and when it ever does.
And like the video linked above, and like this blog post, please spread the word in your own way to let the world know that when courageous vulnerability is met with compassion and acceptance, something amazing can happen. It is called love.
Love yourself people. And love others. It really is that simple.
~ Keith

Saturday, May 09, 2015

I'm Still Just Me, Even After 'After'.

Recently an acquaintance gestured toward me and said to someone I was with: "Look at him, he's so fit! I hate him!" and we all laughed.
...but it made me think, and ponder. And then my courageous friend Darcy put this blog post on Facebook. It is a wonderful snapshot into the life of a young woman whose weight loss experience has brought her to a new perspective. I can totally relate.
I used to think "I hate myself, because I'm fat." but then somewhere along the way I realized I had it backwards. I was overweight because I used food as a comfort...because somewhere deep inside I was unhappy with who I was as a person; considered myself of no value to the people or world around me; of no significance. (cue pity party theme music and clips of George Bailey stumbling through town.)
And once I realized that I really could like myself, even love myself -- not just in spite of my flaws, but BECAUSE of my flaws (the strongest reasons for needing to experience love and acceptance from others and from myself!), then the weight began to come off, and I began to exercise and even discovered I liked that too, for various reasons.
And today, being at a healthy weight is sometimes a really scary thing for me, since my identity as a "fat guy" and even a "guy who used to be fat but who is now losing weight" took up so much of my life that to be "the guy who is not overweight" is frighteningly new sometimes and I don't know HOW to be 'that guy'. That guy who is " fit!" that someone else says (there's often a little truth in every jest) "I hate him!"
Yeah, me too, sometimes.
Because while it is true that as I lost weight and have kept it off, the use of food as a comfort and a run-from-the-internal-pain-of-the-moment tactic has sometimes been easier to avoid, sometimes it has been monstrously difficult.
Some days I experience freedom and I can just sit. And just. Be. With myself. And I look in the mirror and see past weight and height and body image stuff, and I can look directly into my own eyes without shame or judgment or guilt or condemnation. I see the work I've done to get free, while also acknowledging the inadequacy to have done it on my own. Creator and those placed around me have upheld me in this and so much more. And I feel connected and alive and vibrant and strong.
Other days I look in the mirror and I see the fat guy inside the thin guy. I may not have as much excess skin as the courageous Matt Diaz but I have enough 'sharpei skin' to make taking my shirt off in public an embarrassing thing still, sometimes. So that extra stuff is what I see. The stuff that will never come off; the 'hard lard'. And in that place of guilt and shame and condemnation and self-judgment, I sometimes experience a return to the slavery from which I was set free, and I eat without thinking and without really being present, and then I feel shame and guilt so I want to eat more, and then I feel worse, and so then I... Well, you know.
Vicious cycle.
These days instead of running away from myself I most often run into myself, and I do the work of digging deep and praying and asking hard questions of God and Cathy and close friends and even paying a professional counselor from time to time. And I do the even harder work of actually receiving their love for me. I allow them to love me when I can't love me, and in that space I allow them to teach me how to love myself in healthy ways. Because here's a little nugget for you to chew on:
Healthy self-love is sometimes just as elusive at a healthy weight as it is at a morbidly obese weight -- harder even, since there are no outward signs that I or anyone else can point to (like a big gut, or a number on a scale) and say "See!?!?!? UN-LOVABLE!!!! ...because of THAT!"
And I'm learning to move past the fears and the doubts and I can see so much love and hope. And I love to eat good food, especially when I am really present to the sensory experience and enjoyment of it at each bite. And with each bite I try to remember how it used to be, and be grateful for who I am today. Who I *AM*, not how I look, or what I weigh. I may be grateful for those too, but that is ironicaly immaterial.
Today I weigh 170 and my goal weight is 158. But whether I'm 158 or 170 or 258 or 370, I am still me, and I am still worth loving, and I'm the only me I can be -- so I am me, unapologetically, flaws and all. In process, yes; always. But I don't think I'll ever reach "After".
As the blogger in the linked article so eloquently says:
"There’s no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of weight loss because the rainbow has no end.
There is today. There is now. There is during. There is life."
Today, I'm living life.
~ Keith

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Running (Further) Into My Self

Here's a link to the run I went on today:

The hills were pretty difficult at times, but overall it was a good run and I tried to just enjoy myself and not think about pace.

As I was out there, I thought about a friend who is a new runner. I've been running about 6 1/2 years, and she's been running about 3-6 months. She'd asked me recently when I started trying to get faster; how long had I been into running before I started trying to increase my speed (note I said 'increase', not 'improve' -- my high school English teacher would've called that foreshadowing). =)

It has been a week or so since she asked me, and I've waited awhile to respond since it is something of a lengthy and complex answer -- and so I pondered that today as I ran.

The short answer is: It was probably around 6 months or 1 year into running, maybe 18 months -- whenever I ran my first bibbed race and wondered if I could do it faster.

And now, here is the long answer.

I had this impression that as I got more fit, my speed would naturally increase. And it did. I set PR after PR after PR and it was intoxicating. And while I knew at some point to 'get faster' would mean more work and cross training and etc etc, I somehow thought that if when I started a 90% effort gave me a PR then over time, that same 90% effort would simply yield more and more speed. In essence I thought I'd get faster without 'feeling' like I was working any harder. And that was true for a time.

I've hit a peak now, though, where I don't know that I can get any faster. I mean, if I think about it, it makes sense: If I started at a 12:00/mile pace and then later for the same effort I was running an 11:00/mile pace and then 10:00/mile pace etc... at some point there *has* to be a limit, right? If I just keep running and working harder, can I hit an 8 pace for a 10k? a 7 pace for a 5k? -- then a 7 pace for a 10k and a 6:30 pace for a 5k? Will I ever run a 5:00 mile? Where's my lower limit?

And for a few years, I had no idea where that limit was, so when it started to get harder to go faster; and PRs started to get less and less common, I just worked harder. I tried new training plans and different stretches and speed drills and different shoes and different fueling techniques. And sometimes it paid off. I saw a few more PRs and that was fun. 

But now I realize that the increased work and effort and stress to eek out a 2-3 sec/mile gain is just not worth it. In reaching for the prize of a reduced time on my watch, I paid the price of losing the joy of just being out there reveling in the movement and sights and experience of running just for the sake of running.

And couple that with this: seeing someone who has been running less time than I have, who is older than me, run faster than me! That's one of the main reasons I stopped reading RunnersWorld magazine. There's a section called "What does it take to..." and it is meant to be motivational, I suppose. This section has a few mini articles, with catchy headings like "What does it take to run a marathon on one leg?" and will tell the story about a soldier who has a prosthetic leg and ran his first marathon, for charity. "Yea! How inspiring! If he can do it so can I!!!"  But there's also the ones like "Jeff McSpeedy had a heart attack at age 54, weighed in at 285#, and started running 6 months ago. Today he weighs 152# and he just ran his very first marathon in 3:15, qualifying for Boston next year!!!" and those would actually DE-motivate me. I'd see person after person on those pages who was improving WAY faster and WAY more than I was. "What does it take to...?" Apparently, it takes a hell of a lot more than I have inside me.

And it is not just in magazines. A personal friend is about a decade younger than me. He was not overweight, but also not very active. He was a pretty aggressive hiker, but did not have a chance to go do that regularly. He said I inspired him to start running. Yea! I felt special! Until, 
after 3-4 months of running, he ran his first around a 7:30/mile pace. Now, after 1-2 years or so, he runs 10 mile training runs at a 7:15 pace just on a routine day. And yes it's not all sour grapes. I'm happy for him, I really am! But somewhere inside, my heart whispers: "How come I can't do that?" and that points me back to the gaping hole inside me with a neon sign that blares out "NOT ENOUGH! NOT ENOUGH! NOT ENOUGH!" over and over and over.

So between the 'motivational' articles in magazines, & the real-life stories of people I know, suddenly I was no longer as special as I thought. At least not on paper, looking at numbers.
I was just a below-average-improvement-rate guy facing the fact that I was never going to be as fast as "that person". And yeah, maybe someone else will never be as "fast" as I am, but somehow that doesn't ease the pain of knowing I've plateaued and the goals I once thought were realistic (a 4:00 marathon, or a 1:45 Half, etc) may be unattainable. Or the work I'd have to put in would not be worth the result. Especially since once I hit *that* goal, there would be yet another carrot out in front of me and it would be a never-ending procession of trying and failing...and that became hurtful to me.

And it all came to a head this January when I ran my favorite half-marathon, for the 5th year in a row. I had my sights set on a PR, and was well on my way at the 6.5 mile turn-around. Then at the 9 mile point I was hanging on...and around mile 11 "the wheels fell off" as we say, and while I finished faster than some people, I didn't finish as fast as I had hoped, despite hard efforts. I was demoralized, demotivated, and depressed.

So I had a choice.

So now instead of being upset by that, I've given myself grace. We are, all of us, faster than someone else, and slower than someone else. And instead of trying to be someone I'm not, I'm trying to just be who I am -- knowing some days I'll set a PR that will feel really good, and other days (MOST other days) I won't. And while I understand the value of always trying to 'be a better me' I now understand that speed or distance are much less important to me than they once were.

"Better" means something new to me now.

I've entered a new phase of my running where I set my super-fancy GPS watch to just tell me total time. I have no idea how far or how fast I'm going. I have to have a general idea, so I know when to turn around and come home, etc -- but I resist the temptation to do the math in my head of figuring out "Well, I know from my house to here it's about x miles and if my watch says I've been running Y minutes, then I must be averaging Z minutes/mile"

Instead, I really just try to just stay within my breath, and take in the experience; enjoy the time. Some days I put out a little more effort and some days I take it real easy. I vary things to spice it up a bit and play around. And when I get home and synch my watch, it'll tell me the data. Some days I'm faster than I thought I was -- and some days I'm slower, and while the former is still quite fun, the latter is no longer as upsetting as it used to be. 

Some day I may 'try for more' again, but I hope if that happens I'll be more gentle with myself.

So if you are reading this and are new to running or have been running for ages and are at a plateau, I encourage you to do the same. If there is a 'biggest' mistake I've made along the way ('cause there've been a few!) it's the above.

The most amazing aspect of becoming a runner is this: I get to spend time "Running Into Myself" over and over again. I now know that no matter how deep I dig, there's always a little bit more inside. There's always more inside me than I think there is: more muck to clean out, and more goodness and light to reveal and share. And that translates into every other aspect of my life and has given me confidence and courage in many ways.

But I've focused too much on the rush of the "I'm getting faster/thinner/stronger/etc!" aspect of the "I had more inside me than I ever thought I did" feelings. And each of those has a limit.

Now, I am trying to stay in the realm of "I have more inside me than I ever thought I did" but from the perspective of "Let's see how many minutes of this run today I can spend actually *enjoying* myself and spending time with God and creation and whatever I'm listening to, whether it is my thoughts or an audio book or music or whatever."

No matter what my time or distance, letting running stay "funning" is what will keep me getting out there again and again and again.

That simple joy is where it is at.

And there is no limit to that joy.

~ Keith

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Strike, Shadow, Strike!

Because of my work as a Hospice Nurse I no longer recoil from death and dying as I once did. But so many people still do. A chief desire of mine is to help people overcome this fear and loathing. I want people to see past it; to look beneath it to see the humanity; the person. At that level, we can all relate and share a common understanding of just how precious life really is. This allows us to stop running away from ourselves and each other, and instead turn toward one another and really live; really love.

Recently I was struck by a quote from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, which really captures how I look at death these days.

Dickens sets the stage: Ebenezer Scrooge is with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. He has been taken to a room which was very dark
"...too dark to be observed with any accuracy, though Scrooge glanced round it in obedience to a secret impulse, anxious to know what kind of room it was. A pale light, rising in the outer air, fell straight upon the bed; and on it, plundered and bereft, unwatched, unwept, uncared for, was the body of this man.
Scrooge glanced towards the Phantom. Its steady hand was pointed to the head. The cover was so carelessly adjusted that the slightest raising of it, the motion of a finger upon Scrooge's part, would have disclosed the face. He thought of it, felt how easy it would be to do, and longed to do it; but had no more power to withdraw the veil than to dismiss the spectre at his side."
Here is Scrooge, unable to face death although he knew he wanted and needed to. And in that place of fear and hesitancy, he hears a voice. Dickens tells us "No voice pronounced these words in Scrooge's ears, and yet he heard them when he looked upon the bed."
"Oh cold, cold, rigid, dreadful Death, set up thine altar here, and dress it with such terrors as thou hast at thy command: for this is thy dominion!
But of the loved, revered, and honoured head, thou canst not turn one hair to thy dread purposes, or make one feature odious. It is not that the hand is heavy and will fall down when released; it is not that the heart and pulse are still; but that the hand was open, generous, and true; the heart brave, warm, and tender; and the pulse a man's.
Strike, Shadow, strike! And see his good deeds springing from the wound, to sow the world with life immortal!"
Dickens wisely reminds us that if we love one another, revere & honor one another, then even in death the faces of our loved ones will not be dreadful or horrible. I've seen people gaze in wonder and awe at the face of a family member who has just died. The true worth and value of that person somehow becomes more understandably real than it ever was when they were alive. Part of missing someone is the realization that they meant far more to you than you ever knew...until they were gone. And this is good for us, because (if we let it) this experience opens a new space inside us to love more fully than we had before.

When someone dies and all we have left is their memory, this becomes a story we tell to ourselves and to others, and the next generation then remembers as well. It is like a seed falling to the earth and being buried: only in this way can that seed bring forth new life. And we, in the very act of dying, become the story that is told and changes the world around us.

The holidays are a very difficult time for many who have lost loved ones. We feel their loss more keenly when we see and experience the warmth of family and friends. This year may we all remember fondly our loved ones who are gone from our sight. Tell lots of stories and share memories of the bad and the good times of life lived together. And, in so doing, like Dickens we can taunt death; revile its seeming theft by acknowledging the way new life always has a way of springing up to the eternal.

Life and Love do win, my friends.

In the end Life and Love will always win.

~ Keith

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Fatherless Man's Reflection on Manhood and Not Being a Father on Father's Day


Many women who are not moms (whether they wanted to be moms or not) have written about how it feels to be a "Woman who is not a mom" on Mother's Day. I empathize with them, and want to share a bit about my own feelings of being a man who is not a father, on Father's Day.

Over many years and with help from others I have come to truly appreciate both the fact of my maleness and the fullness of nuanced femininity within me which makes my personal gender expression less stereotypically masculine than most of the men I see around me in the world. I've wrestled through my own feelings and come through on the other side (solely by the grace of God) as a secure and (mainly) well-adjusted man.

I used to have poor boundaries and live an overly-transparent life. These days I rarely wear my heart fully on my sleeve in startlingly-public venues such as blogging and social media. But sometimes it feels more than just OK to share these feelings with a wider audience, sometimes it feels important to do so. Maybe someone else needs to hear this. Maybe someone else is going through a similar experience and needs to know they are not alone. Heck, maybe I need to know I am not alone.

Part of being well-adjusted means telling the truth and sharing from my heart about stuff which is not all rosy and bubbly; acknowledging the pain that is still there so it can be dealt with. Sometimes that is shared only with people very close to me. Today it feels important, if a bit scary, to speak to this pain more publicly.

Brief disclaimer

After you read this, you may find yourself wanting to respond in some way, either in the comments on this blog or on Twitter and Facebook where this will end up being linked. You may perceive me to have some negative emotions (high marks for perceptivity) and therefore find yourself wanting to encourage me in some way. I welcome that, with the following caveat: I'm not writing this looking for sympathy. Empathy, however, is most welcome if you feel so moved. For a very brief, yet brilliant primer on the difference, and why empathy is so important I strongly encourage you to watch this 3 minute video before reading further.

And now, on to the post itself.

Father's Day Blues

Like many men in my generation, I had a father who was wasn't there for me and when he was he didn't know what to do with me. My dad was away a lot in the military until I was 4. After that he was away a lot at work. When he started his own business as a Court Reporter this just got worse. Even when he was physically present at home he was working so much he might as well have not been there. "Don't bug dad, he's working." From the time I was about 8 until I was a teenager, my bedroom was his office and I fell asleep to the sound of his typewriter or his voice doing dictation. It was confusing and maddening:  he was just a few feet away, yet so damn inaccessible. (Got a Harry Chapin song going through your head now? Yeah, me too).

And when he was physically present, dad was mainly emotionally absent much of them time, at least to me. My sisters can tell their own story but it seemed to me he was available more to them than he was to me. My sense was that he knew how to be with them, but not with me. I was somehow different and I picked up on that at an early age. I can remember some good times, sure -- who can't? But the overarching and lasting memory I have is that what emotions I did sense from him were disappointment and anger.

He came to every baseball game I lost (there were precious few wins) and watched from the sidelines at all the football games I spent on the bench (precious little time on the field). But I can't recall a single time he came to any choir concert or play I was in. Not one single time. The overall sense I had was that he felt frustrated because I was not the son he wanted me to be. And, since he was the adult, like so many kids my internal response at a deep level was to believe it must be a problem on my end. Something must be wrong with me.

I am the youngest of 5 kids and the only boy. So, with a mainly-absent dad, between my sisters and my mom I was influenced mainly by females in my early formative years. But I sensed from my sisters they did not know what to do with me either. I'm sure that, in part, this was just being the youngest. I was the new kid who made an already crowded social milieu that much more complex.

In addition, though, I sensed my stark difference from them all the more as I grew up. They all got certain kinds of clothes. Mine were different. They all were allowed to choose from a certain list of activities in and out of school. My choices were not the same. They all got certain emotional responses from mom and dad for certain behaviors. Mine were different. It's like they had a list of rules to live by that they knew but it was a girls-only secret. I could intuit and perceive some of them and even try to follow them...but it just didn't work. I was different and I did not know what to do with that any more than my father or my sisters did.

My mom tried to intervene where she could. She was the one person who at least seemed to somewhat understand me. When I did things they saw as peculiar, she'd tell them "He's just being a boy" (which served to reinforce and even normalize that "being a boy" means your family doesn't like you or know what to do with you when you behave "that way"). And mom would encourage my sisters to play with me, but they wouldn't always include me. When I was lonely and expressed that to her, my mom's stock response was "Well, I guess you'll just have to learn to play by yourself" (meta-message: "being a boy" means being lonely a lot of the time and just having to deal with that). Maybe she was at the end of her rope and didn't know what to do with me either. Maybe she was just trying to toughen me up and teach me to move past challenges. Whatever the motivation behind her comments, the main result was to reinforce the fact that I was different and no one knew what to do with me.

I did what I could to fit in. One year for Hallowe'en my costume was Pippy Longstocking (the female protagonist of some great children's adventure stories). I think a part of me figured if I could perhaps at least be a "tomboy" -- some sort of middle-ground between boy and girl -- then I could fit in.

Between the sense I got from my dad that I was not what he wanted, and the sense of being so different from my sisters and mom, I wrestled a lot with gender roles. I saw movies like "Freaky Friday" where people wake up in a different body, and I lay awake some nights as a kid and wished/prayed I could wake up in the morning and just magically be a girl. Then I'd fit in. Then dad would like me. Then I would have power. Then the world would be an OK place. Then I would be OK.

But that never happened. And I grew up as a man still feeling not quite right somehow. It has taken my whole life thus far, in fact, to continue working through these feelings and internal senses of not fitting in.

As I mentioned in the preface, I appreciate both the fact of my maleness and the nuanced femininity within me. And I am fully secure in who I am. This security, however, does not mean it is not challenging still, at times, to be who I am. Feeling different still comes up. Here are a couple recent examples:

  • In an unrelated conversation, I mentioned to a coworker that I was the youngest of 5 kids and the only boy (in a home with an emotionally absent dad). She commented "Oh, wow, that makes total sense!" and when I asked her what she meant she said she now understands how I became a nurse and work so well in a mainly female environment. My heart was encouraged by this affirmation and at the same time part of what my heart heard was "Oh, that makes sense now. You're not a regular man, so of course you fit in better than you would if you were not so different"
  • I've posted a few things re: #YesAllWomen and #NotAllMen and a number of women have thanked me for restoring in them a level of trust and hope that some men do "get it". Hurray -- I felt connected and understood and accepted. Oh wait, except all that connection was with women. Not a single man has responded to those posts in a like-minded way or in person to even discuss it. I'm glad to not be "the scary snatcher-dude I have to be afraid of" to the women around me, but it is painfully obvious how different that makes me from most men. 

But I digress. At this point either you get it or you don't and me continuing to ramble on about it is not going to enhance the former nor change the latter.

Back to the conclusion of Father's Day Blues

Along the way I got married and for the past 25+ years Cathy and I have developed a wonderful life together. Early on in our marriage we discussed children -- even had a couple tentative names picked out. For a variety of reasons (which I won't go into here) we decided neither to have children, nor to adopt. For the sake of brevity suffice to say over the years we have experienced a number of people who don't know what to do with this. Or worse, they think there is something to do about this so they try to "fix" us, because we're, what's the word? Oh yeah: Different.

Over the years I have waxed and waned in my satisfaction with not being a dad. It is what it is, and we have no desire to adopt at this point. But still, I like to think I would have made a good dad. I see Father's Day commercials and sometimes I get misty-eyed wishing I'd had kids so that I could have at least taken the chance to try and be a different dad to my kids than my dad was to me. But that did not happen.

So here we are at Father's Day again. Heart-string-twanging commercials on TV, and Facebook posts about gifts of power tools and flannel shirts, goofy cards and meat-filled breakfasts made by little hands.

And I know some GREAT dads and have some pretty darn good memories of my own dad. So I celebrate with everyone who celebrates dads today. I even put cool pictures of my dad as my profile picture and cover photo on facebook -- not insincerely.

But I'm not a dad. And in general I did not have "a great dad".

And today when it seems like every other man out there is being celebrated for being a dad, or people are writing awesome stuff about how amazing their own dad is/was -- I am left out. Again.


And yes, I know all the things about being "a father figure" and all that. Yes, it is true and yet it is not the same. And we all know it is not the same.

So here I am, who I am -- a fatherless man who is not a father, on Father's Day -- feeling once again not-a-part-of-things.


~ Keith

PS / Epilogue: because "being secure" is not always 100%, and some of you will so badly want to silver-lining me, I will go ahead and mention here that in case you were wondering yes I have posted before on how awesome my dad and mom and sisters are. You can search my archives to read those posts which were honest and true. Before my dad died he and I talked about all of this some, and that was healing and good...and didn't change what was. And now that he is gone, I am again/still fatherless.

And I chose not to add anything about that up there in the body of this message because sometimes it is OK to just feel bad and to be sad and to not have to "find a balance" and "be fair" because those don't help in moments like these -- they just serve to invalidate the negative emotions and that is not productive or helpful. Don't believe me? Take 3 minutes and go watch this video.