Fathers Day & The Long Arc Among Men

Yesterday was Fathers Day in North America.

When I was a kid growing up in Edmonton, Alberta, Fathers Day meant getting the whole gang together for a BBQ on Sunday. My Grandpa Gould, Aunts and Uncles. Cousins. My Parents. There’d be 15-20 of us. A few presents. Dads reading cards out loud together as we gathered round, inside for rainy days, and outside for sunny days. I loved being able to be with family.

My father died when I was 14. It’s a loss that deeply impacted my life. With wound, and yet, with strength also.

Yesterday, Fathers Day meant giving myself a gift of some slow pace. In the morning, really to just tend to my home a bit. Pull some weeds from the yard. Replace some ant traps near the back door. Laundry. Cleaning bathrooms. Enjoying a coffee. It’s sounds boring, but was really quite satisfying.

One of the things I did in my slow pace yesterday was to think about the ring of men that I’m connected to with a bit of fathering energy. I’m not even sure why. I think I mostly wanted to invoke the broader circle in my mind and heart, a few of the men in the long arc of being kind men together.

There was my dad and my step father.
There was my grandfathers and great grandfathers.
There were my former fathers inlaw.
There were my former grandfathers inlaw.
There were my uncles.
There were friends.
There were future fathers — my sons, son inlaw, my nephew.
There was me.

This circle in mind and heart over coffee, was 30 men. I journaled about them, a bit. I wrote their names on a piece of paper and placed them into a circle so that I could see them, and so that I could feel just a bit of the broader story together, this fraternal connection.

My kids came later in the day. We made dinner together, thanks in particular to my daughter. We ate. We laughed. We teased. I got a few presents that I’m super happy to have. When my 13 year-old was leaving at the end of the evening to go to his Mom’s place, he had closed my bedroom door. He told me not to go in until after he had left. So, I got to it later in the evening. I was greeted by the pillow above. It’s one of those sequin covers that you can “write on” by reversing the sequin to it’s opposite direction and a different color.

It’s good to be touched, isn’t it. In the heart. In the mind. With lovely people. In the long arc among men.


On Identity in Self Organization

I’ve just returned from a few days with family. My adult son. My 11 year-old son. His sixth grade friend. My parents. My aunt and uncle that were so key in my pre-teens, teens, and early adult life. These few days were a lot of fun. Playing cards and games. Enjoying food together. Lots of laughter. Lots of sunshine through the palms of Palm Springs, California.

Family is a key point of identity for me. For many of us. It has defined who I am. Where I belong. There is something in me that relaxes when I enter the space of family. That feels at ease. That feels a joy of what I’ve come to know as inherent belonging. Yes to all of the values and stories and shared experience. There is deep psychology and spirituality at play here. But, mostly, it’s good to feel part of a pack.

Family, as such key identity, also creates a baseline for differentiation and departure. I’m not a carbon copy of my parents, nor should I be. They wouldn’t advise this. A little “chip off the old block” maybe — a grounding in identity — but difference is healthy. Curiosity in that difference and being able to engage it is really healthy — health spa and organic food healthy.

In my early learnings with self-organization in the 1990s, Margaret Wheatley and Myron Rogers taught about three domains of self-organization. Identity was one of them. There must be a “self” around which attraction occurs and boundaries are created. Self-organization is an alternative story to how life organizes and how people in them organize. It’s an essential contrast to a still hanging on mechanistic paradigm that often portrays merely linear connection and cogs in wheels.

In humans and human systems, identity can get really interesting. The self, the identity, can have many appearances. A quality (tenacious, kind, funny). A role (a dad, an accountant, a baker). A commitment (curiosity, edge-pushing, enduring). A collective (team, community, ecosystem). All of these are good. My point today isn’t to challenge the merits of a particular role or identity. But rather, to call attention to some of these key aspects of identity. I suppose some parts of our identity stay the same — I will always be that boy that grew up in Edmonton. But some parts of our identity change, and should — I’m a dad with kids on the move whose “home” most likely won’t be a fixed place in the way it was for my parents, aunts and uncles.

Life can’t help but organize itself. Similarities. Essential differences and diversity. In the book I’m reading, Spontaneous Evolution, there is great description about the evolution from “no life” to “single cells” to “multi-cellular life” to “communities.” Self-organization, irrepressible self-organization, is biology.

When I apply this irrepressible organizing to the self that is the “cell of an ideology” or the “multiple cells that are a quality like curiosity,” I’m filled with wow. It’s a bit hard to articulate, but, with some level of consciousness, we humans can choose identity — and set in motion irrepressible organizing around that choice of identity.

For me, this doesn’t point to a grand, scaled plan for old stories of command and control. It is an awe, and wonder about the paramount attention and importance of being aware of identity, the self. It is an awe and appreciation of being with my boys and feeling myself sandwiched in three generations of family that bring out both a comfort and difference, and awareness of how identity shapes me — shapes what I long for and what I long to change as part of being alive.

Goodbye Son

A poem I wrote earlier this year, from a tender moment of saying goodbye.

“Goodbye Son.”
That’s what I said to him,
holding back my tears,
when he went south to begin college.

He left with one of my old frying pans
and a wooden spatula I’d been given recently.
And a new crockpot I bought for him,
like one that my grandparents gave to me
when I moved away.

I wished I could have given him more.

“I’m proud of you.
You have a good heart.
A good mind.
Do some good.”

We hugged.
Two softened men.
He held it a little extra,
which was tender to me,
and which was what I wanted to do.

“I wish for him everything
that I would wish for myself.”
That’s what I said to the stars
as he drove away that night.

“Good friends.
Good teachers.
Opening up in his soul.
People who love him.
People who can see him
and know immediately
how absolutely stunning he is
just as he is.”