Through a Glass Darkly

July 27th, 2021

 “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” – 1 Corinthians 13:12

“The most difficult thing in life is to know yourself.” – Thales

“Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.” – Alan Watts

I got a text a couple days ago from my sister-in-law, Shawn. She wrote:

“You were in the Eagle yesterday.” (“The Eagle” is the local newspaper in College Station, Texas. That is where Shawn resides.)

She continued in her next text:

“A much edited version of what I had written on my blog.”

I wrote back to her, “That’s disturbing.”

I got a “LOL” back from her.

I did not know what she was talking about, so I asked her to send me a link to the article. Shawn writes a regular column in “The Eagle”. She generally writes about religion.

Shawn wrote about my interactions with members of various faith traditions. Everything she wrote was positive. However, reading the article made me uneasy. I kept thinking,

“Did I actually say that? Did I do that? Is this what I am like?”

It was like the feeling I get when I hear a recording of my own voice. It takes a moment for me to realize, “Oh yeah, that’s me.”

There is nothing in Shawn’s essay that struck me as being incorrect. I am certain that she was as accurate as she could be. It just felt weird to see myself through someone else’s eyes. I write about other people all the time (I’m doing it right now), and I assume that I am being objective.

Maybe I’m not.

I don’t really know other people very well. The fact is that I don’t myself very well either. As the Apostle Paul said, “We see through a glass darkly.” Maybe God knows me, but He doesn’t like to pass on that information.

The Buddhists insist that there is no “me” to know. The “I” that I think I know is simply an illusion, a mirage. Maybe they’re right.

Maybe my goal in life is discover who I really am.

I haven’t figured that out yet.

Here is her article. Read it if you want.

“Journey through other beliefs leads to better understanding of personal faith”

Sitting on cushions at a low table, enjoying shisha from a shared hookah, I have set out to interview Frank, my first late husband’s oldest brother, about his experiences of inter-religious dialogue.

Shawn Chapman

I have been reflecting on Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II document on the relationship of the Catholic Church with non-Christian religions. It seems to me that Frank is a living example of what respectful friendship between the faiths could look like if taken seriously and personally, lived out in individual relationships and respectful, curious overtures, even shared prayer.

Francis K. Pauc is a West Point graduate, Army veteran, father and volunteer. He is a recently retired dock foreman of a shipping company, a devout Catholic who is active in his parish, and he agreed to talk about his journey.

He is also the token Catholic at the Buddhist Sangha at Milwaukee Zen Center, frequent attendee of the Orthodox Jewish synagogue in his area, and he now and then hangs out at his local mosque. He is a regular visitor at the Sikh temple in his neighborhood.

Fortunately, his journey learning about other faiths is among his favorite subjects.

When did he first learn about other religions, I ask.

Frank says his first real look at another religion was learning about Islam in the Army, since he had to learn Arabic. Then he took a refresher course in Arabic, years later, at a Muslim culture center. He made friends there. They didn’t talk about faith all the time. They moved from learning Arabic to talking about their kids, their wives, their work, their daily lives.

After 9/11, Frank wanted to do something personal to cross the widening divide in our country between non-Muslim Americans and Muslim Americans. He ended up going by the mosque. He found the front locked so he went around back to the kitchen. “I thought you guys might need friends.”

“Are you Muslim?”

“No. I am a Catholic.”

Frank is the only person I know who would show up to an unfamiliar place of worship and ask, “Anybody want to talk about God?”

Years ago, Frank says, he became curious about the Sikh temple in his neighborhood. He smiles when he remembers his visits there. “They always feed you. You never leave without eating.”

The desire for contemplative prayer was what got Frank to visit the Zen Center in the first place. He had tried to find a place to learn forms of Christian contemplative prayer and practice in a group and had not found one. So he went and sat with the Buddhists. Frank became part of the life of the Sangha, even though there are some things that as a Catholic he can’t do.

He decided to learn more, and he loved hanging around. They appreciated his thoughts as a Christian. He liked sitting in silence with them.

Going to “Zen practice” regularly brought visible changes to Frank. He became more open, peaceful, even playful, less grumpy.

He says getting to know his friends at the Zen Center helped him delve into his own faith and prayer traditions all the more.

“It’s made me a better Catholic.”

He says learning about how other people love and understand God is an act of love.

I asked him what drew him to visit the Orthodox synagogue in particular. He said it was because that was the closest synagogue to his house. “What made you want to learn more about Judaism?” One of his more rare expressions crosses his face; an innocent, child-like look. “Because I wanted to understand.”

He says he became close with the rabbi there and began to take Hebrew lessons. He was often invited to dinner at the rabbi’s house, and even to Passover. He says he doesn’t think anyone can have the fullest appreciation for their Christianity if they don’t get to know Judaism. He said attending their liturgies changed him as a lector at his parish. He grew in his appreciation of the Scripture and reading the Old Testament at Mass was a more profound experience after seeing the solemn and reverent way it is read in the synagogue.

He still likes going to the synagogue regularly.

Frank says Jesus was a good Jew, and that he thinks of Jesus as his older brother. I smile, remembering that is what John Paul II said about the Jewish people. They are our older brother.

I say that it strikes me that his inter-religious ministry and journey seem to be about making personal connections, about being a friend. He agrees with that, though he says he is less conscious of that than just wanting to understand others and share with them. He feels compelled about this.

He says he is most impressed by the people who are deeply and “completely sold” on their religion. He respects those who have “their faith woven into the fabric of their everyday life. When it’s just who they are.” Those are the people it’s easiest to talk to, and who return the interest he gives to them about their faith.

At times he has wondered if he should stop hanging around Buddhists and the Orthodox Jews. They were quick to say they needed him around and enjoyed what he had to say. They felt spiritually uplifted by him.

At one time in his life, following a series of crises, he struggled with his faith. It was his friends at the Zen Center and the synagogue who said, “Whatever you do, don’t leave the Catholic church.” They cared more than anyone else, he said.

(Bryan resident Shawn Manning Chapman, a twice-widowed mom of two daughters, is a Secular Discalced)

An Open Book

July 24th, 2021

“Privacy is dead. We live in a world of instantaneous, globalized gossip. The idea that there is a ‘private’ sphere and a ‘public’ sphere for world leaders, politicians or anyone in the public eye is slowly disintegrating. The death of privacy will have a profound effect on who our leaders will be in the future.”

Gavin Esler

“Yeah, I’m an open book.” – Amy Winehouse

Are the Internet and social media destroying the whole idea of privacy? Maybe. Maybe not. They did not begin the process. The erosion of privacy started long before these things existed. The forces of our digital age have simply accelerated the trend. It requires very little effort to learn something about almost any person living on this planet. A few well placed clicks can tell you whatever you want to know about someone. People could be anonymous a generation ago, if they wanted to be. No more.

There is no place to hide.

In 1975 I applied to go to West Point. The U.S Army put together a rather extensive file about me before the military ever agreed to let me join up. This was back in the days of rotary phones, typewriters, and filing cabinets. God only knows what the government can do now.

Is there any information about a person that is sacrosanct? Is there anything that is still considered personal and private?

I’m not sure. I doubt it.

I taught a citizenship class for several years. Immigrants came to me to study for the interview with USCIS. They usually had already filled out their application for U.S. citizenship, the N-400. The N-400 was (and is) a tremendously complicated document. The U.S. government wants to know everything about the prospective citizen: arrests and convictions, work history, names and status of any children, travel to foreign countries, etc. The government even wants to know personal information about the applicant’s ex-spouse(s). Who keeps track of their ex-spouse’s current address? If you want to become a U.S. citizen, you do.

Does the government really need all of this data? Who knows? The Department of Homeland Security can justify asking damn near any question in the name of national security. In any case, the Feds already know most of this information, because the applicant had to supply it when he or she got their green card to live in this country as a permanent resident.

When immigrants would ask me for advice about what to put on the application (if they had not already completed it), I would just suggest to them to tell the truth and to omit nothing. I encouraged them to assume the government already knows the facts, or can easily find them. The Feds look for fraud on the applications. If an applicant lies on the N-400, they’re done. Game over.

The applicant for U.S. citizenship has no privacy, and has no alternatives. The person seeking to become an American has to tell the bureaucrats in the U.S. government everything they want to know, no matter how intrusive. If the applicant balks at this requirement, they do not become a citizen. It’s that simple.

I have a similar situation with the State of Wisconsin. I am applying for certification as a foster parent. The state wants this more than I do, but I understand that I need to be certified in order to care for a small child. The state’s vetting process is at least as thorough as that of the Feds. I had to fill out two “safety surveys”, forms which ask intimate questions about my life from my earliest childhood until the present moment. Then I had to participate in an interview to go over my answers in more depth. The interview was like a warm and fuzzy interrogation. I talked to the licensing specialist for over two and a half hours about things in my past that I didn’t even want to remember, much less discuss with a stranger. The session was extremely stressful for me. I felt emotionally naked by the end of it.

In applying for the foster parent certification, I gave my entire life story to the State of Wisconsin. There are now people working for the government who know as much about me as my wife does. I am not happy with this situation, but I did what I had to do. Like the immigrant seeking citizenship, I had no privacy and no alternatives.

I have been railing against the government here, but it is not the only institution invading our privacy. Corporations do it all the time. I saw that every time I applied for a job.

I give up.

I am an open book.

Speed Queen

July 23rd, 2021

As far as I am concerned, there is really only one place in Milwaukee to go for barbecue. That place would be Speed Queen. Speed Queen has been in business on the north side of town since 1956. It’s current location is on the corner of 12th and Walnut, just west of I-43. The restaurant is easy to miss. It is a rundown building in a rundown neighborhood. The customer base mostly comes from the local Black community. I think there is a sign, but I don’t know where it is. To find Speed Queen, you already need to know where it is. Even then, you could easily drive right past it. I did.

Speed Queen used to have a microscopic dining area. I don’t know why they bothered with that. I don’t recall ever seeing anyone sitting in there. Speed Queen has always been primarily a place to get take out. You order your meal, pay for it, and leave. If you’re an old white guy, you leave quickly.

Speed Queen is peculiar in a number of ways. For instance, they only take cash. They used to have a thick plexiglass window in front of the check out counter. You slid your money under the glass, and they slid your steaming plate of heaven back out to you. Now, since COVID, the restaurant only has a drive thru. It hardly makes any difference. The process is the same.

Speed Queen has an extensive menu. You can get ribs, tips, shoulder, beef slices, chicken, or catfish. They have a variety of side dishes: collards, mixed greens, coleslaw, yams, black eyed peas, etc. You can mix it up.

I generally go for a big pan of ribs. A pan of anything usually costs about $50. That’s a little pricey, but then you get what you pay for. A pan contains a lot of food. Their ribs are excellent. The meat just about falls off the bone, and the sauce has a sharp, tangy flavor that is addictive.

I went to Speed Queen yesterday afternoon, after I visited my friend, Ken, who I know from the synagogue. Speed Queen is kind on my way home from Ken’s house. Ken has never been to Speed Queen, probably because there is absolutely nothing there that would qualify as kosher. Ken prefers to go to a vegan BBQ place that he knows. Vegan BBQ is a strange concept, but I’ve tried it, and it’s really good.

I got to Speed Queen at about 3:30. It wasn’t busy yet. Later in the afternoon, the line of cars in the drive thru is long, very long. I ordered the ribs and slowly moved forward with the other cars. The check out window is like a cylinder. You put your cash into the window, and the window gets turned 180 degrees. A minute later, it gets rotated to its original position, and magically there is a brown paper bag full love covered with BBQ sauce. The aroma from the bag stung my nostrils as I grabbed it. It was hard to leave it closed until I got home.

I gave our son, Stefan, half of the ribs. He picked them up after his shift was done. He truly enjoys Speed Queen food.

We still have a few ribs left in the fridge.

I hear them calling me.

Sleep Like a Baby

July 22nd, 2021

Asher is taking a nap. He is lying on his back, his mouth open, and his cheeks rosy. His breathing is steady. From a distance I can see the gentle rise and fall of his chest (and his big belly). The chubby fingers of his right hand clutch the edge of his blanket. Asher’s body is near to me, but his mind is far away.

It fascinates me to watch Asher sleep. If I look closely, I notice many things. Occasionally, he will cry out in his sleep, and then relax again. Sometimes, he flashes a smile that fades away almost immediately. He is generally on his back with his arms spread out wide. That position makes him appear like Christ on the Cross. If I am near to him at the right time, I can see the movement of his eyes as they dart back and forth beneath his eyelids.

What do babies dream about?

Karin gets Asher to sleep by holding him in his arms. I lay him down on the bed and put a pacifier into his mouth. Both techniques work.

Asher fights sleep. He struggles to stay awake, even though he’s tired and whiny. When I have him in bed, he kicks his legs and sucks ferociously on his pacifier. He hangs on to a bib or a the edge of a blanket. Asher grasps two fingers on my right hand, and holds them tightly. his hands are remarkably strong.

Slowly he fades. His eyes close by degrees. His breathing becomes more regular. His legs grow still. He hangs on to one of my fingers until the very end. Even after he has fallen asleep, his tiny hand keeps a vicelike grip in the end of my pinkie. It is only when Asher has entered the deepest part of sleep that he finally, slowly, lets it go.

He needs my hand to feel safe. He needs to know that I am with him until the end.

Foster Parent Training

July 20th, 2021

I just finished watching the last of six online training modules that the State of Wisconsin requires me to view in order to become certified as a foster parent. CPS is adamant that new foster parents complete this minimum numbers of lessons before certification. I would like to say that these training modules were all useful to me. That, unfortunately, would be a lie.

Timing is important. The six modules are listed on the WCWPDS Caregivers website under the title of “Foster Parent Pre-Placement Training”. The key word here is “Pre-Placement”. The implication is that the prospective foster parent will watch these videos prior to receiving a child into their home. For my wife, Karin, and myself, that has not been the case. We took charge of our grandson, Asher, on February 2nd of this year. We found out about this training requirement on April 7th. I finally found the time to start watching these modules last week. It would have been helpful for us have been able to study these online lessons a bit earlier. However, Asher became our responsibility in an emergency situation, and we are still catching up on the training.

Asher is seven months old. He can be high maintenance. Since this is the case, Karin and I have struggled to find time to do the necessary online training to become certified. We have already raised three kids of our own, but that apparently does not count as training in the eyes of the state. Wisconsin, like the other 49 states, has certain rules that are peculiar to itself. The modules point these out, and give links to the pertinent laws and regulations. These regs are mostly to be found in the Wisconsin Administrative Code, Ch. DCF 56, a truly daunting document. Much of what is in the DCF 56 and the training lessons has little to do with raising the foster children. The material has everything to do with satisfying the state bureaucracy.

I think that these Pre-Placement lessons are designed for people who are seriously considering becoming foster parents, but have not made a firm decision about it. The modules give them things to ponder before they turn pro.

Karin and I did not wake up one morning and decide to spend the rest of our retirement years as foster parents. That was never our desire. The role of foster parent is being thrust upon us. It’s true that we could refuse this duty, but then who would care for Asher? Events caught us off guard and we are still trying to get our bearings. We are committed to caring for Asher as long as he needs us. For us, being a foster parent is not a career, it is a calling.

The first module is a course introduction. Most of it is innocuous, but there was one slide presentation that disturbed me. A veteran foster parent spoke about being “a working professional of 22 years in this business”. His use of the term “business” bothers me. “Business” is generally about profit, about making money. So, are Karin and I going to be part of this “business”? Is profit what this is all about? That seems to be the implication of the foster parent’s poor choice of words.

Module 2 is about what is expected of foster parents. I think foster parents are expected to possess superhuman powers. That’s what I got out of it. Module 3 is about how to care for foster children. Basically, you care for foster kids like you would care for own your kids. Most of material presented is just common sense.

Module 4 is about developing and maintaining family connections. This is an interesting section. The relationship between a foster parent and the biological parents is complicated. It is especially complicated if the foster parent and the biological parent are related by blood. Karin and I are in that particular situation with Asher’s mother. We have to be sensitive to the mom’s needs and feelings. There is often tension. There is a common history with its attendant emotional baggage. We all are walking through a minefield.

Module 5 is about foster family selfcare. That part made me laugh. There is all this emphasis about the foster parents keeping themselves healthy. When are we supposed to do that? We are busy with the baby 24/7. When are we going to do all this selfcare stuff? This module is full of advice, no doubt well-meant. I got to know about a lot of support groups that I will never contact. I learned about great websites that I will never visit. It’s kind of a pathetic joke.

There was information in the training that I did find valuable. There were a few “aha” moments. So, maybe it was worth the six hours of my life.

All I know for sure is that it was mandatory.

Purpose

July 17th, 2021

Karin and I have a friend in California who has a knack for asking perceptive and penetrating questions. She is our age (60’s), and she is considering the possibility of remarrying. She is wondering what the purpose of a marriage would be at this time of her life. With that in mind, she wrote to us and asked,

“How do you see your purpose as a married couple ?”

After I read the question, I gave her a one word answer:

“Asher.”

We are caring for our little grandson, Asher, 24/7. We became his full time caregivers at the beginning of February of this year. The boy is seven months old. He’s a wonderful baby, but raising him is rather labor intensive. We do almost nothing in our lives now that is not Asher-related.

Our friend wrote back to us,

“I thought you would say just that. Your purpose is clear.”

It’s good to have a clear purpose in life. It doesn’t happen very often, at least not with me. It seems like I have spent most of my life floundering. I’ve met some individuals who apparently have always had a mission, or a calling. I don’t know many people who are like that. I think that most folks spend their entire lives trying to answer the question:

“Why am I here?”

The various religious traditions try to respond to that question, but without achieving any kind of consensus. Maybe it’s because they try to look only at the big picture. Buddhists look for enlightenment. Many Christians say the goal is to get to heaven. In a way, the cosmic answers don’t really help. I think the question of purpose should be reworked to ask:

“What am I supposed to do here and now?”

The Christian answer to that is: “Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

The Buddhist answer is similar but it doesn’t bring God into the equation. A Buddhist might say the purpose of his or her life is “to save all sentient beings”. It is the same general idea: We are in the world to serve others.

So, how do we love our neighbor? How do we save all sentient beings?

The specific answer to those questions is situational. It changes from moment to moment. In five minutes from now, the answer for me might be to change Asher’s diaper. Right now, the answer for Karin is to feed Asher some mashed bananas. Our purpose in life is often very obvious and very simple. We just need to open our eyes and see how we can help.

A Seven Month Old Kung-an

July 4th, 2021

“‎Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos…”
― The Joker – Heath Ledger

I started doing meditation back in 2005. Usually, it has involved sitting silently on a cushion for an extended period of time in the company of other Zen practitioners. COVID put an abrupt end to group meditation, and the arrival of Asher into my life put an end to sitting quietly in any kind of peaceful setting. Asher is our seven month old grandson, and my wife and I care for him 24/7. He is a wonderful little boy, but my time spent with him is not conducive to any of the standard meditation methods.

Asher is an agent of chaos, albeit a remarkably cute one.

So, have I given up on Zen practice? Actually, no. I just use Asher as my kung-an (koan).

A koan is defined as: “a paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment.” The classic example of a kung-an/koan is the question,

“What is the sound of one hand clapping?”

There is no logical answer to that question, and none is intended. I’ve never been any good with these verbal puzzles. Mostly, I don’t have the patience to work through them. After a short while, I just say “fuck this” and move on to other things.

Asher is koan that I can never solve, but I can never stop trying either.

Zen involves a few basic ideas. One of them is the necessity to be in the moment, to be right here right now. When sitting on the cushion, it is often easy for me to let my mind wander to far off places. However, the piercing cry of a baby is an extremely effective way to focus the mind on what is currently happening. A baby in distress brings me back to the present situation much better than the ringing of a bell or the slapping of a stick. With Asher, I am almost always in the here and now. I have to be in order to care for him.

Zen has the basic question: “How can I help?” Asher provides an answer to that question for me continually. Sometimes the answer is “Feed me”. Sometimes it is “Change my diaper”. Sometimes it is “Cuddle me”. Because Asher cannot yet speak, I have to guess at the answer to what he needs. I often guess incorrectly. An action that answers the question “How can I help?” one time may be totally wrong five minutes later. Asher is a constantly evolving riddle. Caring for him has no set solutions, no pat answers.

Zen is all about transience. Everything changes. Asher is always developing and growing. I never wake up in the morning to meet the same little boy. He literally changes before my very eyes. Whatever I know about this little guy is instantly outdated. He is a moving target for my mind. He doesn’t stop, so I can’t either.

Zen is about compassion. I feel nothing but compassion for Asher. He is inherently lovable, even when he is screaming like a police siren. When he suffers, I suffer.

Zen practice is designed to enable a person to know how to act without thinking. Asher teaches me that. I flounder a lot, but eventually I tune in to his wavelength. I now know his “hungry” cry, and his “wet diaper” cry, and his “I’m really tired, but I refuse to take a nap” cry. We can communicate without words.

I will never really understand Asher. That doesn’t matter. All that matters is that I love this little boy.

That I can do.

Father’s Day

June 26th, 2021

My youngest son, Stefan, took me out for lunch. He arrived at our house at 1:00 on Father’s Day. He immediately took off his sunglasses and handed them to me. He said,

“Here. You need these.”

I put them on and Stefan laughed,

“Oh, fuck yeah! Now you look like you should be flying Black Hawks again!”

sunglasses

That’s Stefan, the Iron Worker, in the picture behind me. I am holding our grandson, Asher, in my arms. Asher is a healthy lad. He’s almost seven months old, with the physique of a sumo wrestler.

Stefan wanted to go to the Centraal Grand Café in Bay View. It’s a restaurant that specializes in Belgian beers. I like beer, especially craft beers.

But Stefan doesn’t drink beer. This is not to say that he doesn’t drink alcohol. He does. He just can’t drink beer. He is allergic to gluten. He told me,

“Yeah, I got tested. My gut gets moderately irritated by the gluten in wheat, barley, and rye.”

That eliminates the vast majority of beers. A few gluten free ales exist. Sprecher Brewery makes a sorghum-based beer called Skakparo. Sprecher uses a West African recipe for it. That beer has a very strange flavor to it. It is at best an acquired taste. I am okay with Shakparo. Stefan would rather drink hand sanitizer.

Fortunately for Stefan, there are other beverage options available. He can have a hard cider (e.g. Angry Orchard), or a hard seltzer (e.g. White Claw). Stefan is quite fond of Old Fashioned cocktails. That surprised me a bit. My parents liked to drink Old Fashioneds. It always seemed like an old person’s drink to me. I guess I was wrong.

A brandy Old Fashioned is a quintessential Wisconsin drink. Most of the inhabitants of the known universe prefer to use whiskey in the cocktail, but not the folks in this state. We only use brandy. I have no idea why that is. I do know that a well-made Old Fashioned is an excellent mixed drink.

So, if Stefan can’t pick anything off of the extensive beer list, why go to Centraal?

Centraal has an eclectic food menu with numerous gluten free dishes. Stefan longs for a burger and fries. Most fast food places only have buns that contain gluten, so Stefan has been burger-less for quite a while. Centraal serves savory burgers on gluten free buns that actually taste good. Sometimes gluten free bakery has the flavor and texture of cardboard. Not this time. Both Stefan and I ordered burgers. They were excellent.

Stefan talked about an altercation he had recently. Apparently, some punk threatened Stefan’s girlfriend and some other young women. Stefan, along with some beefy help, confronted the young man. Stefan was frustrated with the results of the encounter. He said to me,

“That little fucker told that he was going to come over and pump four bullets in my head. What kind of shit is that? I don’t understand these young guys. I am sure that back in the day, when you were young, you guys settled stuff with your fists. Now, all these punks want to go get their gun and shoot you.”

I find it amusing that Stefan, who is all of twenty-seven years old, is complaining about “these young guys”. However, he does have a valid point. It appears that the members of the up and coming generation of men need to prove their virility by owning and using a firearm. It’s like the return of the Wild West.

Stefan continued, “I am going to get a gun for self-protection.”

“Really? what?”

“I’ll get a shotgun. Then if some fucker tries to bust into my place, I can use it after he comes through the door.”

“What about a pistol?”

“No. I don’t want to carry around a pistol. I like to go to bars. I don’t want to be carrying a gun if I’ve been drinking.”

Good idea. That shows some self-awareness and prudence.

I told Stefan about a funeral I attended. For some reason that set him off. He ranted about how fake funerals were. He commented that people go to those affairs and talk about how great the deceased was, even if he or she was a total asshole.

That’s true. It is rare that anyone ever complains about the dead person at a wake. Usually, if there is nothing good to say about the dearly departed individual, then they say exactly that: nothing. I have been to funerals where the attendees never once commented on the person lying in the box. Silence can be more of a damning condemnation than any words.

Stefan took me home. We had a good time, and I look forward to spending time with him again. I think he feels the same way.

I went back into the house, and helped Karin to care for little Asher.

Abortion

June 22nd, 2021

“When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” – John 8:7

Asher is lying next to me in his swing. I just fed him, and Karin just changed him. He is a happy baby now, with a full tummy and an empty diaper. My wife and I have been caring for Asher full time for over four months. We took him to the pediatrician last week for his six moth check up. The boy is strong and healthy.

And loved.

Asher’s mother wanted to have a baby. She was so excited when she found out that she was pregnant with her son. Asher was born nine weeks premature. He was in NICU for a month before he was able to come home. The young woman wanted nothing more than to hold her little boy.

Then she got sick, really sick. That happened at the beginning of February. She is getting better, but she still is not able to be here for Asher. Karin and I made an open ended commitment to care for Asher 24/7. The commitment is open ended because it is not certain that the young woman can get healthy and stay healthy. It is possible that we may become Asher’s foster parents, even though we are in our sixties.

Karin and I love Asher intensely, even when we are exhausted. He is a blessing to us. He is also a lot of work. We are in an enviable position in that we have the time, health, and money to care for Asher. Many people, especially single moms, do not have our resources. They struggle mightily. Some of them may have wondered about how they would ever be able to raise their child.

Abortion is back in the news. The U.S. Catholic bishops seem determined to deny Joe Biden the Eucharist because he supports abortion rights. I understand that the bishops have to be a prophetic voice in the world, and they need to call out sin when they see it. It is part of their job. Can they do it with compassion?

Whenever I listen to Asher speak to me in words that aren’t words, I know abortion is wrong. When he smiles at me, my heart melts. I love him even when I am changing one of his shitty diapers. I can’t imagine life without him.

I know abortion is wrong, but what is right?

I’m an old white guy. Most of the Catholic bishops are old white guys. The difference between them and me is that I have experience in raising a family. They don’t. I know how it feels to worry all night about a son or daughter. They don’t. We call them “Father”, but their actual understanding of parenthood is vicarious. They aren’t fathers. They have chosen not to be.

I wonder what one of these bishops might say to a troubled young woman who is considering abortion.

Would a bishop go to the woman and say, “It will be okay. I’ll help you care for your baby. I’ll raise your son or daughter if need be.”

I’ll take these guys more seriously when one of them does that.

By the way, I’m Catholic.

Interruptions

June 17th, 2021

Asher woke up at 4:20 AM. That is pretty standard for him. He doesn’t cry when he wakes up. He simply starts a quiet monologue of baby talk that eventually rouses Karin and myself.

Karin will usually turn to Asher and greet him in German,

“Guten Morgen, kleiner Mann. Hast du gut geschlafen?”

Asher generally makes no reply to that question. He just keeps babbling. Six month old boys tend to do that.

Karin changed the lad’s wet diaper. I took a piss, washed my face, threw on some jeans, and then started to warm up a bottle of formula. While the bottle was heating up, I let the dogs out. After five minutes the formula was ready, and I grabbed Asher.

Karin went back to bed. It was my shift now.

Asher was ravenous. When he is hungry, he wants to eat NOW. It is unwise to get between Asher and his food. I held the boy on my lap, and watched him inhale the contents of the bottle. After a couple ounces, he slowed down a bit, but he was still totally focused on his meal. He is nearly strong enough to hold the bottle on his own. He kept a tight grip on it until he was finished.

Once Asher was done eating, I sat him up on my lap so he could burp. That took a couple minutes. His burps are impressively loud. Occasionally, they are also wet and messy.

I laid him down after he burped. He grinned up at me. Then I noticed a smell. I got my nose close to his butt. Yep, he was stinky.

“C’mon little buddy. Let’s check out your diaper.”

I laid Asher on his changing table. I carefully opened up the diaper. There was a poop explosion in there. He was covered with feces from the base of his spine to his nut sack. It had the look, smell, and consistency of hummus that has gone rancid. I held up both of his chubby legs with my right hand while cleaning his behind with numerous baby wipes.

Asher gave me this little smile of Buddha-like serenity, as if to say,

“I’m fine. Just keep cleaning up my mess.”

I am stoic about changing Asher’s diapers. I figure that some years from now, when I am in a nursing home, somebody will be cleaning up my mess. Everything comes full circle.

The rest of the morning has been a series of interruptions. That’s just life with Asher. It is pointless for me to begin any task that requires longer than five minutes to complete. For instance, it is extremely unlikely that I will be able to finish this essay before Asher cry for my assistance.

(Note: Just now, as I was writing, Asher woke up from a nap. I went to him, comforted him, and got him back to sleep.)

CPS (Child Protection Service) wants Karin and me to have smoke detectors in every bedroom. I will never get them put up. We already bought the smoke detectors. The installation is not difficult. However, I know that as soon as I attempt to start this job, Asher will demand my immediate attention. I will have to get my son Stefan to install the detectors.

I took Asher outside earlier this morning. We sat on the porch together, and he looked with wonder at his world. I looked with him. I think I began to see things through his young eyes. Life is fascinating. He teaching me to remember that.

He’s up again. Gotta go.