Taking Time To Listen


Taking Time To Listen

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
― Winston S. Churchill

Yes, I learn more when I listen than when I speak.

If I admit to myself that I don’t know it all, that I don’t have to dominate the conversation, to show others how much I know, then I can really learn. In listening, there is evaluation, analysis, and, gasp, thinking.

I might even change my views, and look at the world, or at least a small part of it, in a different way.

And, in the listening, I will learn, gaining new wisdom to meet the challenges of life.

–Neal Lemery 1/12/2016

Really Listening


I listen to the quiet between the words. In that interval between the sounds of us talking, the true, deep meaning is to be found, if only I am gentle with myself, and the speaker, moving into the space of the depth of true understanding.

If I listen to myself and to you, truly listen, then I will hear your true voice, and mine. I will hear the message that I need to listen, deeply, intentionally, and with love and understanding. In that lies my intention. I will connect with the heart of our true conversation.

Yes, the words have meaning, and stories are told from the words, and then some. More. I listen to the sentences, the rhythm of the speaker, inflections, the rising and falling of the cadence of the words. I am led gently down the path of the storyteller, and shown the meaning of the words.

What is really being told here, I wonder. There is more, there is always more. My task is that of the explorer, the miner digging for the gold in the midst of the rubble, the ordinary chit-chat that often passes for conversation. Herein lies something even greater. So, truly listen.

Go deeper, I am sensing. There is more to this than just what I am hearing, what is being said.

Underneath this, there is more. I can feel it deep within me.
There are many layers to this tale, and I listen harder, taking in the silence, strewn among the spoken words, wanting everything that is revealed. I am seeking the message of the silence, exploring its vocabulary, its nuances. What are you really saying here? And, what am I being called to really hear?

We feel the silence now; the spoken words uttered. There is tension, the tension of the anticipated, the expected, the comforting patter of more words, more sounds.

I am on edge; we both are. This space between these words is new, irritating, literally dis-quieting. I find myself yearning for a word, a phrase, to keep the banter going. Part of me is reticent, to not really listen. Do I prefer banality? Being on the surface, and not going deep. Can’t I stay here, gliding on the mere surface of our conversation? Then, I won’t have to ponder the silences, and hear in my heart the real meaning of what your heart is saying.

Now I hear your breath, and mine. There are other sounds, too. Clothes, papers rustling, air moving, the ordinary background noises of whatever kind of place we are in, the place of normal, everyday conversations, the detritus of our daily lives.

Yet, when I go deeper, beyond this ordinary sound clutter, my mind literally opens up, expands, so that I can take in all that you are expressing to me, the stuff beyond conversation, beyond the plain words of everyday conversation.

My senses broaden — feeling, seeing, hearing, touching, and yes, even smelling all that you are offering me, in this near vacuum of experience between us. Yet, it is rich and full, and not vacuous, a contradiction. Or is it? This is rich territory, and, so often, new to me.

If I would only truly sense what you are offering me, I would understand so much more. You have so much information, so many ideas to express to me, if only I would be open to you, truly open. If I do this right, my senses, my intuition, the entirety of my entire array of sensory neurons would be on fire, overloaded with all that you are telling me.

You share with me in so many ways, ways that we both would agree would be of such enormity that neither of us would be deemed to be competent to assess, even measure.

Henri Nouwen wrote: “Somewhere, we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening, speaking no longer heals; that without distance, closeness cannot cure.

He calls us to visit that “somewhere”, which is beyond our daily, mundane experience, and open ourselves as far as we believe we can go, into new territory of our existence, our humanity.

He calls us to embrace the silence, and truly listen, to stake out that space between us, and let us be able to reach out to each other within that emptiness, and finally grow.

Now, I can’t reach any further out and listen harder, for the harder I work at this, the more difficult it becomes. Another conundrum. But isn’t that life?

The more I try, the less I succeed. No, I need to be now, just be, in all my humanity. I must listen more gently, easier, more fully with all of my senses, with all of my feelings, on the edges of my soul, my very being. On the rim of my existence, I must stretch further, letting the experience become in and of itself, beyond mere thought.

In that, I will truly listen to what you are telling me, and I will, at last, hear you, in all of your wonderful mystery and beauty.
–Neal Lemery
11/11/15

Friendship


Friendship is a wonderful gift. Being present, listening, truly listening to another person, is part of that gift. I focus on my intention to suspend judgment, and just accept my friend for who they are, where they are at, and where they are headed.

“Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” –Albert Camus.
I try to just be present with my friends. Show up, and connect. Nothing more is required of me, and I don’t ask anything more of my friends.

The rules of friendship aren’t complicated. Having a real friend is one of the simple joys of life, and I don’t take it for granted. We may not have each other for long, so every moment is precious, a treasure.

When I am with a friend, my task is to connect, to open my heart, hear what they are saying, and also speak my truth, and share what is troubling me. Oh, we talk about our joys, but we also talk about our sorrows. And, in the telling, we are able to see the beauty and wonder that life offers us, and celebrate our friendship and our lives.
–Neal Lemery, November 5, 2015

Fathering Time


 

Fathering occurs unexpectedly, often in the richest, most productive ways.
Undefined, unlimited by the clock and the calendar, those moments of rich, intense interaction suddenly come into our lives, without us often being aware until it comes upon us. In the moment, space opens up between us, and the energy, the love, flows.
Wisdom comes out of our heart and, often unspoken, shared. Emotions pass between us, and the gifts of the moment are exchanged.

The refrigerator calendar announces that Fathers’ Day is coming, but the fathering moments don’t pay attention to that, nor do these heart to heart conversations need to have a Hallmark card or a boxed up tie to get the juices flowing, to say what is deep inside of us, as we reach out to someone we love, and just be a dad.

This work we do, being the dad, a small moment of reaching out, giving a compliment, a hug, sharing a few words of wisdom, comes at unexpected moments. The phone rings, there is a welcoming silence in the car, or time to put your arm around someone and give a squeeze, and then, the moment is gone.

Life gets busy, and the daily to do list is calling. But, I try to find those moments to do my real work, the important work, of just being there, listening and speaking with my heart, just being a dad.

—Neal Lemery 6/16/2015

Healing, Listening, a Morning’s Task


“As healers we have to receive the story of our fellow human beings with a compassionate heart, a heart that does not judge or condemn but recognizes how the stranger’s story connects with our own…. Our most important question as healers is not, “What to say or to do?” but, “How to develop enough inner space where the story can be received?”
—Henri J. M. Nouwen

A Morning’s Task

He overflows, and I try to empty my self, making space,
opening to the geyser of his soul,
him sharing, his story, his
lifetime of pain, terror, loneliness,
now becoming words spoken,
feelings finally heard, honored
through his voice, my listening.

Listening, without judgement, without my views,
my biases, my edits, just
listening, letting him share his story,
and all its agonies, twists, and turns.

Him, finding his voice, now, sorting it out,
making some sense to it, seeing himself
the hero in this tale,
the good soul he really is
becoming.

An hour, then another, and into the third,
and he speaks on, now finding the words,
and the order in the telling, seeing his life
as his own story, of survival, achievement,
yes, even success and good coming from all that chaos and pain.

I listen, hard not to judge, not to be the commentator,
just simply being there, ears and heart
open
accepting, present in his life.

And, in that, a gift to him,
in my humanity, my soul’s journey, Everyman’s
need for someone to listen, to hear
for the very first time—
this becoming my gift to him, his first time
being heard, hearing his
truth.

—Neal Lemery, July, 2014

Gift Suggestions for Father’s Day, Gifts That Make A Difference


Father’s Day is coming, but I’ve already received my presents. And, I’ve given some, too. There’s no place in my life for ties. I’m not a golfer, and I don’t need cigars or fine whiskey. I don’t have dads around anymore to celebrate Father’s Day with, but I do have sons. Sons need gifts, too, and they need to be part of celebrating fatherhood.

“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.”
—Jim Valvano

“It is not flesh and blood but the heart which makes us fathers and sons.”

—Johann Friedrich von Schiller

There are a lot of sons in my life, young men I listen to, and talk with about their lives. My task is giving them what I hope are some good examples of how to live one’s life, and how to grow into healthy manhood.

I take time for them, listen to them, hear what is truly on their minds, their fears and their dreams.

My most important gift to them is a steady, sincere belief in all of their possibilities. If they sense my intention to completely and unconditionally support them in their struggles to be good sons, to be healthy, productive young men, then I have done my job as a friend and as a father in their lives.

I show up, and I am present in their lives. I listen, I try to understand, I am with them in a bit of their journey in life. Other men in their life, other fathers, aren’t around, and aren’t there for them, when their journey gets a bit tough, when they’re not sure of their way in the world.

I’m there. I fill up their mug of coffee, and I look into their eyes. I’m open to hear about their lives, and I care.

Sometimes, there’s awkward silence, and sometimes, there is a torrent of stories and emotions. Sometimes, we just sip coffee and play cards, or talk about the weather, or what they are doing in school. But, even then, we’re reaching out to each other, learning how to do this fathering dance, and opening up their hearts.

These sons need someone to believe in them, to give them that sense of importance they need to find their place in the world, to be confident in who they are and where they are going.

I give them my heart, and I listen to their stories. I cheer them on, and am the quiet, steady voice in their corner, urging them forward, letting them know they matter.

I receive a lot of gifts back from these young men, these sons who are going out in the world, and making a difference in their lives, and making a difference in the world.

They are taking on the tough issues, and working hard to change their lives, moving ahead, and taking on the tough jobs to reorder and reshape their lives. They are in school, working in demanding jobs, having meaningful relationships based on love, mutual respect, and self actualization.

They are reshaping their lives, and helping others change, and become the person they want to be.

They’ve learned to ask the tough questions, and to reform their attitudes and their ambitions, growing into healthy young men, and truly being productive.

They are believing in themselves, and seeing all of their possibilities. They take on their struggles, their self doubts, and they are learning to not listen to those voices in the past that told them they were failures, that they weren’t good enough. Instead, they are the believers and the preachers of love and compassion, the builders of a healthier family and a healthier community.

These are the gifts that matter. These are the gifts on my list for Fathers’ Day.

—Neal Lemery, June 10, 2014

Go Change the World Today


How do I make a difference? How do I change the world?

At my age, I’ve figured out it’s not by leading the white horse into battle, leading my armies into the fray and conquering Europe.

But, then again, it is. I just lead my troops and fight my battles in a different way.

I am an instrument of social change. I have a voice, and I have a presence, and I talk with other people all the time.

I make my changes one person, one conversation at a time. It may be in the line at the grocery store, or at the coffee shop, or visiting with one person for a while, just the two of us, talking about life, and talking about choices. It might be by giving a book, sending a poem, or a note of encouragement, showing someone they matter, that they are important, valued, and yes, even loved.

It is the power of listening, really listening. Listening with your judgment and your ego parked at the door, listening with your heart, and simply offering to love people for who they are, deep inside.

Labels don’t mean much to me, nor does the style of someone’s hair or the fashion of their clothes. I like to look deeper than that, deep into someone’s heart, and to hear what is really on their mind, what is really going on in their soul.

The town I live in isn’t rocked by a huge earthquake when I have those quiet little conversations, when I open my heart to someone and really listen, and really have a conversation about the things that matter to them, and matter to us all. Buildings still stand and volcanoes don’t spew lava and smoke when we talk, but lives change.

Real change comes from a change in attitude, having a sense that I can change myself, my thinking, and that what I do in this world, that how I treat myself and how I treat others really does matter.

What I decide to do today, and how I will approach the problems and issues of the day, really does matter. I am the one in charge, what I feel and what I value is truly important.

Oh, I know that there are millions of other people in the state where I live, and hundreds of millions more in my country, and about six billion people around the world. Those are numbers I can’t really comprehend, and its pretty darned hard to have coffee with each one of them.

But, I can have that deep one on one conversation with myself, and with someone else. That’s manageable, that fits in my calendar, my to do list for the day. I can take the time to open my heart and really listen to someone, really hear what they are saying, and to value them for who they are, to weigh their soul against all the gold and jewels in the world, to really say that I value them for who they are, and for who they are becoming.

It is all about my intention, what I seek in that conversation, in that time together, one person with one person.

“You can do it,” are the magic words. “I believe in you.”

“I care about you,” said with love, and often, said simply by your presence at the table with them, showing up and being part of their lives, listening with your whole, loving heart.

Does this win the Battle of Gettysburg, or turn the tide at Waterloo? Do I ride my white horse up the steps of the royal palace and claim victory for the people?

I don’t need to win those kinds of battles. But, I do need to empower myself to truly live my values, and to help others see the potential they have to live decent, meaningful lives, free of the demons and darkness that often clouds their souls.

“Yes, you can,” is my battle cry, my shout for leading the revolution and winning the war.

Restringing


Together, we tear open the packages of new strings, gingerly remove the old strings, and replace them with new ones, all shiny and bright. The new strings don’t come with directions, and folks who buy violin strings are probably presumed to know what they are doing. Trial and error become reliable teachers, and our first experience in restringing a violin soon brings results.

He tightens each string, checking the tuning, a smile creeping over his face as he realizes his violin now has a clearer, brand new tone. Yes, he can do this. He can restring his violin, a new task is learned, and a big accomplishment is made.

The violin has been a good teacher these last few months, offering challenges, and stretching his fingers and his fascination with making music with a bow, strings, and a centuries old design. My friend, “Jim”, is finding his voice with this violin, a place to put his emotions, and his fears. He’s getting out of prison in eight months, and there’s a lot of fear in him now, about how to live, and how to be a man on the “outside”, for the first time in his young life. Six years is a long time behind bars, especially when you are twenty three.

His grandfather’s gift of the violin has brought him some genuine excitement, and a place for his emotions, his love for creating something beautiful. He is finding a voice for his soul to spread its wings and soar.

We work quietly, offering each other suggestions, each contributing a finger to hold a string, or add a bit of tension, only a word here and there to solve a problem of a reluctant tip of a wire string, or finding the correct direction to turn a tuning peg, the right groove for that particular string.

He retunes and retightens, again and again, as the new strings stretch, now becoming part of the violin, part of the whole of what he tenderly holds in his arms and under his chin, his bow finding its place, creating new notes, clean and bright.

We were supposed to work on our weekly task, reading comprehension and vocabulary for his college entrance tests. He kept failing the tests on the computer, and was getting frustrated. He’d seen me helping other young men here with their studies, and had finally screwed up his courage enough to ask me for some help.

In the past two months, we’d been faithful to our task, making progress, but today was different. As soon as I walked into the multi-purpose room for the prison camp, and its eclectic chaos of books, videos, craft supplies, a few beat up guitars, and “Jim”’s violin, he talked excitedly about everything but our work. He was a tea kettle getting ready to boil.

Our stringing task complete, I’m thinking we could get our studying done. But, the water’s still hot and “Jim” is ready to unload on something else. We move on to a new topic, and soon he is showing me photos of his family, and telling me their stories, and the stories of his young life, stories he’s never shared with me.

There’s the grandfather who sent him the violin, smiling, picking his guitar.

“He’s real proud of me, for working so hard on the violin,” he says. “I got to talk to him on the phone the other day, first time in a year.”

As he flips through the album, he lets me deeper into his life, sharing some more sad stories, some of his pain, his worries about people he loves, and who he really might be, inside.

And, finally, the last page of the album, the real reason he’s emotional today. He lets me inside of his heart, and shares a deep, sad story, so intense and personal that the details, the intimacy, aren’t to be shared with anyone else. Yet, he trusts me to listen, to hear his story, and why he is so sad, and on edge today.

I want to find a corner and cry my eyes out, the pain in “Jim”’s voice filling me with sorrow. But, I have to keep listening, No one else is.

It’s a matter of fact tale, just part of his young life, just what he has had to experience. I lean in, and listen hard, my few questions telling him I’m really listening, really paying attention to him, and his Divine Comedy, taking me deeper and colder than Dante’s version of the deepest part of Hell.

We’ve gone so far today, from mentor and prisoner, to tutor and student, to amateur violin restringer and tuner, to spiritual surgeons, working on a broken heart. My job now becomes the listener, the friend, the other human being in the room who gives a damn about this young man and his pain.

He tells his story, letting me hear his pain, and his deep love for what he had in his arms, and then lost, and how he has gained from all of that, and become a loving, good man, at peace with God, and content in his life. Oh, there is still some bitterness and some righteous anger, but instead of poisoning his soul, he uses all that to feed his soul, and nurture his gentle, peaceful spirit, and give himself guidance and purpose in his life.

There are angels in this room now, surrounding us, and filling this space with love and a sense of serenity and comfort. I think “Jim” senses them, too, and his shoulders drop, and he is, at last, becoming at peace with his story he has just shared. In the telling, he has found some acceptance, and compassion, some support in his journey. He is not alone, now, in that story, that part of his life that nearly pulled his heart out of his chest.

I grab him and hold him close, and he holds me tight, and sobs, at last. Together, we grieve, the soothing words we both need now not spoken, but filling the room, and healing his heart, resounding loudly in our souls. What I try to give to him now comes not from me, as much as it comes from the angels in our midst, the air heavy with the unconditional love of the universe.

Our time is up, now, and I have to go. We’ve worked on our vocabulary, the words that really matter today, and we’ve restrung a violin, giving both “Jim” and his violin a new, brighter voice. We’ve put in some new heart strings, too, giving me a chance to love this young man a little harder, a little deeper today, giving him some space to play his songs, and be loved.

—Neal Lemery
4/10/2014

The Power of Listening


The Power of Listening

“Concern for others is the best form of self interest.”

—Desmond Tutu

I talk a lot. I’m pretty opinionated, and I usually have something to say.

Yet, this week, I learned, once again, the magic of being quiet, of listening to others, and just being there, so that they could say what was on their mind. In doing that, I learned a lot, about them, and also about myself.

I had lunch with a man I’ve known for quite a while. I don’t think we were friends, but now we are. He needed some help in his life, some advice, some direction. He needed a bit of my time.

We talked, or rather, he talked, and I asked a few questions along the way. He had quite the story to tell, and needed some direction. Not many people had been listening to him lately, and life had gotten out of hand. He was living in chaos and things that needed attention weren’t getting his focus. He was overwhelmed.

The more I listened, the more I realized he really needed some medical care. That wasn’t on his pretty long list of the crises and dilemmas in his life, but, the more I heard him talk, the more I realized that the solutions were to be found in him getting some medical help.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), he’d just been accepted into the Oregon Health Plan. For the first time in about fifteen years, he had health insurance, and didn’t need to rely on the emergency room as his only source of health care.

Up until this year, he hadn’t been able to afford to go to the emergency room, and so, when his thumb got cut pretty deep, he sewed it up himself. He showed me his thumb, and the decent job he did. I winced at the thought of his pain, and his determination, to take care of himself, no matter what he suffered.

He wanted me to wave my magic legal wand and solve his legal problems. Yet, the real issues were rooted in his health. If he could become healthy, and address his medical issues, then he could manage and resolve the things he said were troubling him. Soon, he’ll need a lawyer, but today, he needed a doctor.

I drove him to the health clinic and made an appointment. A few days later, we met there, again, and we filled out the long questionnaire about his medical history, and a survey on depression. Bingo, he self scored a 100% on the depression survey. I admired his honesty in answering all the questions with an open heart. It’s tough for anyone to be brutally honest with themselves when it comes to your health, and that challenge is doubled or tripled when it comes to looking in the mirror and saying the word “depression”.

We met with two amazing, compassionate staff members of the clinic. In a few minutes, they were doing tests, asking more questions, and engaging my friend in a frank and respectful conversation about his health. He could see the entire picture, and the collision in his life of genetics, diet, exercise, addictions, and the stress of his life.

We talked about remedies, and new choices to be made. More tests were scheduled, and a follow up visit was set, to check on how he’s doing on his depression medication, and to begin work on some of his other long term problems. They offered him hope and professional competence. More importantly, they offered him respect.

It was a hard day for him, hard to show up for the appointment, hard to have a real conversation about the realities of his life, and hard for him to accept the help he’s needed. Everyone in the room was concerned about him, him as a person, as a human being. There wasn’t a word of judgment, a word of criticism of his choices and the way he’s chosen to self medicate.

At last, he could get the medical care he needed, and to gain the tools he needs to move on with his life, and regain his health.

Our country is having a big discussion about medical insurance and health care. A lot of folks grump about the costs of medical care, and the pros and cons of subsidized health insurance for people in poverty, and the working poor. I’m overwhelmed with all the statistics, plans, and arguments on all sides of the discussion.

All that quickly gets intellectually confusing, with lots of rhetoric and politics, and, I suspect, a lot of propaganda. There’s money to be made, and lots of self interest, and self serving posturing going on.

Yet, for all that talk, I sat with my friend, seeing him get first class health care, seeing him get the services he’s needed, and to be able to work on restoring his health. Soon, he’ll be able to work, he’ll be able to get out of bed and feel good about himself, and to be the kind of father he needs to be to his kids, and be an active, healthy member of the community. If there’s a price for that, I think we’d all think that would be a pretty good investment, especially if you could see the tears of relief and validation that flowed down his cheek, as we sat in that exam room, and he realized he’s on the road to getting well, and he had hope for his life.

The next day, I visited a young man in prison. He’s asked that I come visit him, to mentor him a bit, and have some conversation. I’ve admired his art work, and some of my other buddies out at the prison thought it would be a good idea if I came to see him.

I brought some coffee and doughnuts, not sure what he would like to enjoy, as we got to know each other.

“You could have brought anything,” he said. “I haven’t had a visit in a year and a half, so, …anything’s fine with me.”

He gets out next year, and is working hard on the work crew, earning a bit of money so he’ll be able to find a place to live, and get settled into adult life. After seven years, it will be a big change, and he’s ready to make a fresh start in life.

He had a lot to say, once I asked him a few questions. I shut my mouth, and gave him the space to talk. His family only came once a year to visit, and now that they’ve got some serious health problems, they haven’t been able to see him for a year and a half.

He sees his younger brother going down the wrong path, and wants to be there for him, to help him turn the corner, and live a decent life. My buddy knows the drug and alcohol road, and the road of anger and not having a healthy father as a role model in his life. He’s done his work behind those walls, and is walking on the straight and narrow path now. And, he’s not afraid to share his wisdom.

I heard him tell the sad tales of his life, the struggles of his mom, raising kids on not much money but a whole lot of love. I heard him speak about his anger about his stepdad, and the hunger he’s had for some good role models, and some direction in his life. I heard him speak about the fights he’s started, and how being a gang member addressed his hunger in his life, until he realized that punching someone out and being angry at the world wasn’t doing much for himself. He wasn’t being the person he wanted to be, and he needed to change.

He showed me the violin his grandfather sent, and he grinned as he told me how he’s learning to play it, and how it gives him a voice for all that he feels in his heart, about who he was and who he is now, and where he wants to go.

He wanted to hear a little bit about me, who I am, what my life is like. And, sometime soon, we’ll have that conversation. But, yesterday was his turn, his opportunity to speak his mind, and tell his story. He needed someone to just listen, to take the time for him, to let him be the focus of a conversation for once.

His story is a sad story, but also a story about courage, and determination, and the power of a person to reach down deep inside of themselves, and realize that they need to make a change. It was a story of reaching out, of finding some resources, of seeing hope when you are at the very bottom of your life, and of deciding to climb out of that hole, and to move on, to seek the destiny of your precious, wonderful life.

These two men, these two encounters this week, are teaching me a lot about courage, and determination. They are teaching me that there is hope in this country for men deciding to summon their courage from deep inside of themselves, to face what they need to face, and then to step out, to move on, and change their lives.

—Neal Lemery, March 9, 2014

Finding The Right Fathers’ Day Card


I walk past the large display of Fathers’ Day cards in the store, not even stopping to browse, to find the perfect card to send to a father. A twinge of sadness stings my gut, bringing back that old feeling, a mixture of grief, loss, and an emptiness that can’t be filled.

The greeting card companies and the TV ads tell me I’m supposed to make Fathers’ Day a special day for my dad.. But, they’re missing the point, and they sure don’t understand my life and how I think about Fathers’ Day.

Dad has been gone for most of my life. And even when he was around and I got him a card, he’d just nod, barely saying the “thank you” I’d been craving. My step dad has been gone a long time, too. I knew he liked my cards. He’d smile and give me a hearty handshake. We knew where we stood with each other.We just didn’t say them. Talking about love and fathering wasn’t part of our conversations. But, we knew. And, that was enough for me.

My father in law liked my cards, too. He’s chuckle and laugh, and there’d be a twinkle in his eye. He got a lot of attention on Fathers’ Day, and he knew he was loved. He gave it back, too. In spades.

This is the second year without him, and the emptiness inside of me as I look at all the choices on the card rack gets a bit deeper with me.

I’m on the other side of the coin now. I have a bunch of sons. My step son and I are close, even though he’s about six hundred miles away. We can share our love easily, with just a smile, a joke, or something funny we e-mail to each other. We still joke with each other, still playing pranks on each other with a silly plastic lobster. A few weeks ago, I found Mr. Lobster, again, and he starred in my movie, the one I made on my iPad, and sent to my 42 year old son.

A few hours later, my son sends me an e-mail. He’s in hysterics over my three minute movie, and invites me to share it with the rest of the family. I’m not sure he thought I would, but I did, showing him I, too, can make my way around You Tube, and make some jokes again, with Mr. Lobster.

One of my foster sons flies his paraglider way up in the air, sending me videos once in a while, looking down at the far away ground, or a jet liner flying under him. He knows I’m scared of heights, and I worry about him jumping off cliffs and flying high in the air, turning summersaults and making loops. I know he’s laughing every time he sends me his latest aerial adventures. It’s his way of saying he loves me, that he’s doing just fine.

I have other sons now, too, the young guys I mentor in prison, and some of the other guys there, too. The young man who makes the coffee drinks at the prison canteen on visiting days knows my usual order, and gets it started the moment I walk in the door. Other guys show me their art work, or tell me about doing well on a test, or moving ahead in their treatment. I get a lot of “Hi, Neal”s when I show up on their special days, or sit in on one of their activities, being a dad in their lives.

Their own dads don’t show up much, if at all. So, I like to give them a smile and a handshake, just to say hi, just to say that they are important.

I don’t find the “sons” section in the Fathers’ Day cards. There are the golfing joke ones, the religious ones, the silly ones, even the stepdad ones now. But, there aren’t any cards that say what I want to say, “Good job, son. Thanks for being the son. Without the son, there’d be no Fathers’ Day.”

“I’m proud of who you are, what you’ve become.”

That’s what this day is really about, sons and daughters. The dad takes on the job of helping to raise the child, to teach, to listen, to wipe snotty noses and change dirty diapers, and help them with their homework. And, to listen and counsel, and show them, by example, how it is to be a man, to move along in the world, being healthy, and wise.

I don’t have daughters, but I know they’re watching their dads, too.
“How are you at this man stuff? How do I live with you? What kind of man do I want in my life? And, while you are at it, teach me about trust.”

It is the biggest job I’ve ever had. A lot of teaching of respect, and capability, and a lot of unconditional love.

We’re supposed to show them what love is all about. And, respect. And, compassion and learning about this crazy world.

Being a dad is really learning how to be a good example, to be watched, and judged.

“How ARE you doing as a man?”

“Show me. But, I expect you to do it right.”

No pressure there!

And, by the way, the manual on all this stuff is out of print, and I can’t find an old copy on Amazon.

We’re the guys that wait by the door at night, making sure they get home safe from that party, or that big date. We’re there to listen, to nod, to simply be there, keeping the porch light burning, to be the guy who cares that they do have a home to come back to, after a day of being a teenager in a harsh, often indifferent, cruel world.

We give the hugs, wipe the tears, and look them in the eye, quietly telling them we believe in them. All things are possible. And, they are loved.

Such simple things we do. But, when that simple stuff gets neglected, or no guy is behind the front door when they do come home late at night, then all hell can break loose, and their fragile ships at sea too often crash onto the reefs and sink in the storms.

And, we’re the guys that haul the laundry sack to the laundry room, when they come home for the weekend. And, we fire up the barbecue, and cook their favorite foods, letting them hang out with their old friends. We often take a back seat then, letting them visit and laugh with their friends, as we flip the burgers, and get more potato salad out of the frig.

There will come the time when they’ll sit down with us on the couch, after the party, and after a long day at the beach with their friends. Then, they’ll talk, a bit shy at first, then going deep, talking about the serious questions of life that a young man has, once they get out in the world, and have to deal with all of life’s adult problems and worries.
Then, we listen, and we listen hard. Sometimes, they ask for advice, but mainly, they just want to talk, to show you they are doing OK, that they learned a lot from you about life, that they are doing pretty good at it.

And, we let them know, right back at them, that they’re doing a good job, and they we believe in them, and take pride in who they are becoming.
It’s pretty easy to sit there and listen, and to nod, to say a few words of encouragement.

You see, fatherhood is a whole bunch of just showing up, just being present in someone’s life.

You don’t need to give them your DNA, but you do need to give them your time, and your love. That’s fatherhood. That’s being a real man.
The good work comes in just answering the phone, or texting something sweet back, in the middle of the night, letting them know you are around, that you care.

I get my thanks, then, for being the dad. I get that when they don’t call for a couple of weeks at a time. I know they are fine, they are making their way, needing their independence, flexing their big boy muscles and making their way through life.

Someday, Hallmark might figure it out, and start selling “I love my kids” cards for Fathers’ Day. But, until they do, I’ll just keep on doing what I do best, loving all my kids with all my heart, and telling them, every chance I get, that I love them.

–Neal Lemery
June 11, 2013