Words from a Father

Husband of One, Father of Four

Tag: essay

465. Essay: A Desire Fundamentally Wrong

The human heart is massively hungry, much more so than the stomach. Our longings are true and profound. Yet we have only been offered the shallow sense of momentary satisfaction instead of being given something that would truly sustain. In the absence of such an answer, most of us have bought into the futile pursuits of our society, and we are still utterly bored.

If our primary desire was material or physical only, it could somehow be satisfied physically. Pleasures and pursuits of an earthly nature cannot ultimately satisfy the human heart because our desire is not limited only to the physical realm.

The hunger doesn’t go away and the longing doesn’t disappear, it just finds new ways to resurface. With all the stimulation offered, it is easy to find a new thing each week until we are both overloaded and bored with life at the same time — overloaded with what’s available and bored with every last ounce of it.

Something is fundamentally wrong if you give yourself fully to something and it still leaves you wanting . . . or even worse, ashamed.

This is one reason why Jesus Christ is so intriguing: He is simultaneously too much and never enough, both inexhaustible and overwhelming, nearer than our very breath but categorically distinct from anything conceivable.

422. Essay: Morals, Ethics, and Laws at the World’s End

Morals, ethics, and laws are three different things.

Morals come from a divine source; they are foundational and, it could be argued, absolute regardless whether we agree with them and abide by them or not. Ethics are mankind’s way of codifying standards apart from a divine source, whether springing from a philosophy that is utilitarian, practical, altruistic, lack of purposeful harm, social contract, or what have you. Ethics are circumstantial. Laws are the details, whether coming straight from the undercurrent of moral absolutes via ethics, or coming from ethics without explicitly acknowledging moral codes. Either way, it’s a trickle down from the immovable to the detailed. Separating them this way helps me see them a bit clearer.

All ethical codes and laws are of temporal good, not eternal good; that’s the purpose moral absolutes serve. Ethical codes and laws will always eventually be shown futile because — and this is key — they do not change a person on the inside, but only recommend restraint of outward actions. True restraint, however, only comes from within, thus the emphasis on “internalizing” whatever ethical code one takes as their own. Think of all the laws passed in a city. Now imagine that city has suffered a cataclysm. No amount of signs reminding people not to steal will matter one bit; it’s every person for themselves. But no worry in imagining; it’ll happen again in just a little while. The world doesn’t go for too long in a state of meek stasis because we still haven’t been changed on the inside.

Now fast-forward to the end of the world as our solar system rips apart by colliding with another. If all is lost at that point, which laws matter and which do not? The correct answer from the anti-theist is that none of them do except as a form of control, a form of social etiquette. But when the earth’s mantle is caving in, etiquette matters not.

When did those laws cease to matter? A day before the cataclysm? A month? Five years or a thousand years before? There’s no clear time when they would be futile, so they shouldn’t matter now. It truly is just a matter of time. Let’s not begrudge a few moments here or there when the universe is winding down to its eventual heat death.

Laws are not an objective — immovable — standard. Whenever someone sees fit to break a law, they will and with little consequence. But breaking a moral injunction is akin to disemboweling your own conscience. The consequences are internal and they are grave, eventually spilling out over your stumbling feet. Without an objective moral standard, we tug at the fragile strings of what it means to be human, not realizing it is the cord holding back the hand with Dorian Gray’s dagger. Pull too hard and the youth dies in anguish with nothing but the remnants of a ruined life painted for all to see.

While each decade seems to display mankind’s increased ruination, keeping objective moral standards in place is our only saving grace. At the world’s end only an objective moral standard has enough impetus upon the human heart for right action, and that only comes from God, along with His promised strength to accomplish it.

408. Essay: One Shot

I only have one shot at raising you kids, only one chance to parent you. This time right now is never replayed — we can’t record it, rewind it, download it, or check out the source code of this time with you, and then change it in either my memory or yours. One shot and then it’s done.

I will father you for a little while and then you’ll go through a long transition where you begin to take real ownership of your decisions, become your own person, forge your own identity. That is when our relationship will change . . . you will decide to continue to be fathered by me or not. A lot of that will depend on how I have done until that point. It will depend on how I have stewarded our relationship thus far.

This transition will bring a new aspect into the parent–child relationship: friendship. You will move from being “just the kid” to being so much more. It will be friendship based on history and trust and lots more things I don’t understand. It’ll be a brand new era. But the decision you will someday make starts with the hour-by-hour interactions we have now, with the way I make you feel when you’re around me and how you feel when we’re apart.

I only get one shot at it. So my philosophy is that, at any given point, I want you to feel love. Whether I’m feeding you, teaching you something new, disciplining you, playing hide and seek with you, dancing, singing, talking, or running around the house with you, I want you to feel love.

I only get one shot, so I’ll take my chances with love.

362. Essay: Axiomatic Things

An axiom is something that is self-evidently true.

There are several things I believe are axiomatic: love, justice, humility, mercy, forgiveness, and hope. These qualities have no equal in the animal kingdom, they hint at more than biological processes, they are beyond simplistic facts or emotions, and the fact that they even exist seems mystical. On the negative side, selfishness, guilt, and — at times — worry seem axiomatic as well, especially due to their internality and when set in context to the six concepts above.

Love

Love has a singularity to it; it is focused on only one person, not on the many or all. Even for all our attempts at defining and expressing love, it still retains its mystique and majesty. It is experienced but still not understood. It moves the strong and the weak, yet is aloof from explanation. It makes kings fall and raises paupers in the experience of grandeur. It captures the masses but finds its expression only in the singularity of relationship. Love is mystical in that it is the one-in-a-million lightning strike that happens every minute of every day. Love is common alchemy.

Justice

Justice is simply not attainable in this world. Yes, thieves are caught and murderers serve their time, but how often do the guilty go free and the innocent receive punishment undeserved? To be true justice, it must inherently have many necessary components. It must firstly be exhaustive — in its knowledge of the people involved, what makes them who they are, the beliefs they hold as true, the background of the situation, the cultural milieu, their psychological and biochemical state, their intentions, their actions, their emotional dullness, and much more.

Justice must also be perfect. It must be correct in its assigning of blame and innocence. It therefore is not mathematical, but intensely personal. The act of administering justice is not by rote, but by intervention and distinction and intuition. Justice uses something outside of itself while reaching within the complexity of humanness to judge. Humans are able to distinguish between facts, but justice is more than factual distinction. However you want to phrase this, justice is completely moral, or righteous, or pure. It is right and never wrong. Justice is also imbued with impartiality. It shows no favoritism and employs no emotion even while penetrating the heart — the core — the essence — of who that person is. This is the paradoxical part of justice, the non-emotional part that reaches within the emotions of a human to satisfy this great longing of every person.

What about the personal part of justice? Not the part that holds to a justice out there somewhere, but the part that has experienced a tragic wrong. The part that says, “I was wronged and it needs to be put right.” In that situation, our heart cries out for payback. This again demands a person able to step into our situation, feel our devastation, know all the external issues, and move swiftly on our behalf. This kind of justice is partially a move to satisfy our heart and restore peace within us. But how would anything impersonal know us within? Neither a rock nor a dog can know the internal workings of a grasshopper. A gorilla does not intuit what it would be like to be a hummingbird, but we humans do. We can even imagine what a gorilla would think being a hummingbird would be like. Personhood is the only thing that can open this kind of knowledge for investigation, and justice is intensely personal and interior.

Have you noticed that children, in their innocence, have a distinct love of and desire for justice?

I say justice is axiomatic because there is nothing so pure, so wise, so exhaustive in its understanding of mankind, and yet so unsentimental as true justice. And this, to me, is what makes justice an expression of a person.

Humility

We are by nature self-centered hoarders. Humility is the only thing standing in the way of our nature; humility is undeniably the hinderance to what makes us human. Achieving is no longer about being the best at something, but about having the most. Interior qualities — what was called character in bygone times — have been replaced with fleeting stratosphere-bound counts. It’s now the most gold medals rather than the best match; the most world records rather than the best attitude and form; the most money rather than best life; the most sponsorships rather than the best product; the most readers rather than the best content; the most votes rather than the best plan. It’s now about having rather than being.

Children are the generational reminder of our selfishness. Their perpetual clutching is interrupted only by outwardly congenial play contrived to gain more, and by fleeting bouts of tears over what is not clutched, their intention to clutch more, and who stole what from their clutches. Selfishness is to humanness what air is to breathing — necessary, pervasive, interior, and insatiable.

So then why teach humility? Humility is not an impulse we have, and “to deny our own impulses is to deny the very thing that makes us human.” Humility makes us weak, takes away our resolve, and leads us to unnecessary self-sacrifice at times. There is nothing so devastating to our own nature as humility, so there is no applicable reason to encourage its existence.

But who can deny the position of greatness that humility holds within the human experience? Becoming a good cook has its roots in who we are: we need food to survive as a species. There’s an obvious connection there. Humility, however, is categorically alien to humanness. There is no precursor within our nature or our needs. I say humility is axiomatic because there is little else so admired while emerging out of nothing mankind finds within their nature.

Mercy

Mercy is the desire of all who encounter true justice. Mercy is the human request when faced with our undeniable self. Our known guilt — that internal neon sign with the blazing letters, Wrong Way — drives us to beg for mercy. We want what we don’t deserve. “I admit I did wrong, but please do not hold me accountable for what I did. Please do not hold me to the standard.” The request for mercy does not lie or color the situation favorably, it simply asks, “Please. Please don’t.” Mercy relies on the fact of a personality who has the power and the will to make just such a decision. Mercy cannot be acquired from a force or an automaton. It claims that there is something beyond the right and the wrong and it asks to be judged on a scale of intangibles. It is an appeal to a standard beyond and above justice itself. From a being who is perfect, mercy asks nothing short of a miracle. And without mercy, mankind becomes something it was not intended to be.

But where is mercy in nature? The cyclone shows no mercy to the land or its inhabitants, neither does the earthquake or tidal wave. The prey does not beg for another chance; the predator would never give it. It is not just that nature has not produced mercy of a sort, but it could not ever even imagine it.

Have you ever noticed that we, being not children anymore and knowing the depth of our wickedness, naturally desire mercy? When the police pull us over, all we really want is mercy, the precise thing we don’t deserve at that moment. And when someone has crashed into us, all we really want is to withhold the exact thing they don’t deserve as well. Since we can choose to request, to grant, and to withhold mercy in the face of guilt, and since we do all this while minding the scales of justice — none of which is observed in the elements or among the animals — I say mercy is axiomatic.

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is the sister of mercy. Mercy chooses not to act; forgiveness chooses not to keep record. Forgiveness wipes away what was done. Without forgiveness, our indebtedness for carrying out our nature in selfish acts would be insurmountable. Mercy without forgiveness would also breed a kind of contempt — the kind that chooses to not seek justice, but despises being continually wronged and has vowed to keep an account.

Forgiveness is the bridge between mercy and hope. Without the hope that things can change, that situations can get better, and that people can improve, forgiveness is futile. Said in reverse, because we have positive hope, we can choose to not keep record (forgive) and extend the hand of peace to those who have wronged us (mercy).

Forgiveness is not seen amongst the animal kingdom. No cheetah bumps into another during a sprint and genuflects, “Pardon me.” A bird accidentally pecking up the wrong morning food gives not the slightest apology for his absentmindedness to his unintended prey, but we offer an “Oops” with a nervous laugh if we grab the wrong cup of coffee from the prepared orders. Animals find no need to make something right because they have no standard of right and wrong. The utter lack of oughtness in nature makes ours all the more distinct, and therefore sets forgiveness in the category of an axiom.

Hope

Hope seeks more. Trust is inherent in hope. Better is inherent in hope.

Hope is not seen in nature; where it is hinted at, it is being superimposed by us. Winter is boundaried by the turning of spring, but this is not hope. The animal world and the insect population and the non-evergreen foliage do not wait in hope of spring, they simply travel the course of their instinct or according to nature’s seasons. Plants do not hope for a more lush location, do not seek out greener pastures, do not long for equality or fight for rights. Animals do not hold out hope that next year’s harvest will be better, that humans will be more humane, or that they may be represented fairly amongst their predators. And when predators do strike, there is no protest of fair warning or accusations of cheating the system. Nature has no hope of better and does not experience trust issues. There’s no job market for “Fawn and Foliage Counseling Services.” Nature is comprised much of instinct; hope, however, is definitely not instinctual.

Humanness and Beyond

On one hand, we humans are such selfish beings that we must invent ways to deal with the entailing guilt. “I want” and “Mine” do not need to be taught. We want to enjoy drinking soft drinks but despise the calories, so we buy a diet drink. If we don’t want caffeine, we choose a caffeine-free diet drink. And if we don’t want a manufactured sweetener, we can get an all-natural caffeine-free diet soft drink. In almost any flavor, natural or unnatural. Putting ourself first comes natural; assuaging our guilt, an imminent second place.

On the other hand, we seek so much of what we do not deserve, what is contrary to our own nature and to nature in general. But these undeserved things — love, justice, humility, mercy, forgiveness, and hope — are necessary for our existence. They are ideals made tangible in small glimmers. They are the sublime qualities seen in irregular pulsar bursts from another human’s actions.

We feel them, we know them, we need them, and — mark this — we are not human without them. Examples of the person who has removed one of these from their life are only found in two places. The first is in the self-imposed exile of despair, leading to bitterness, leading to aloneness. The second is in the volumes of tragic works produced by “artists” which crescendo in stunning sorrow. Without one of the six parts of our axiomatic humanness, we end up with either the masquerade of fiction or actual wretchedness. One makes for dramatic tension, the other for detestable company. We take part in one because it is “just a story,” the other is avoided because of its life-draining misery.

It seems clear to me that these six concepts are from something categorically different than nature or biological processes, mathematics or emotions, chance, or philosophy. They do not arise from anything lower than us or equal with us, but from something beyond us, from someone more pure and whole than we ever have been. They are eternal, personal, interior, and necessary, which when taken together serve as an introductory summation of God.

332. Essay: Love at First Sight (The Spark)

I don’t think “love at first sight” is a real thing because it beggars the understanding of what love truly is. I certainly understand the appeal of a meant-to-be fated romance, but that has not the depth that twenty or fifty years of loyal marriage contains. First-sighted love is shallow by comparison.

Maybe “spark at first sight” or “connection at first sight” is more accurate. But those phrases won’t catch on because they’re not romantic enough; they’re too factual and miss all the poetry of the feelings of the moment.

But isn’t that the point? Love isn’t a moment. It’s a million moments back to back. Love is the totality of what is looked back on, it’s the reminiscences by those who have always held that one relationship in higher regard than any other, even among myriad opportunities. Love is not fleeting, not temporary, not able to be had with whomever and whenever.

The spark is a welcomed and celebrated first step — an emotional doorway drug — along the path of love, but it is not love itself. The spark is the emotional high. It’s the manic part of the plot, the shallow scenes of the movie that are fun and easy to write but not where the depth of the characters is explored.

We can all recognize the universality of a story that highlights the spark, but we long to connect with the truth revealed in commitment’s depth. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is not a romance, but a tragedy — if for no other reason than that they never progress past manic emotionalism and into something more mature. The spark was all they had, and even that was quickly gone.

But compare that with the excellent prelude of the computer animated film Up. The spark between the couple sets the buoyant tone and we get the sense that great love has flourished between them. Their love has matured through life’s ebb and flow, through achievements and disappointments. The movie’s silent prelude leads us through the spark of their romance, the depth of their love, and the pain of losing the same. It is this arc that moves us emotionally and prepares us to suspend disbelief when, as an older man, the main character launches into his greatest journey, all borne from the depth of his commitment. (And notice from Shakespeare that irrational sacrifice is the outcome of the spark’s immaturity, while in Up we see that love puts correct emphasis on enthralled living.)

The spark certainly has its role. It convinces you to lower your defenses, take a risk, and then take responsibility for a real relationship. It’s an invitation into something greater. The spark is an emotional promise, “There is something greater than what you feel right now, something worth the time, worth your heart.” The spark can’t take responsibility for what comes after and how the relationship unfolds, but it is truthful in its promise to open the doorway to love.

The spark says, “Carpe diem,” this is the only moment that matters, the most important moment of your life. But what comes after convinces you that every moment since has mattered, has made your life what it is. This is much more than the spark could ever have given; this is love.

306. Essay: Love’s Singularity

Love has a singularity as its object that is not seen in other qualities. Unlike most other qualities, love is focused on one, not on many.

A diluted focus is seen in negative qualities such as selfishness and pride. The selfish “mine” feeling is against everyone else. Pride also is against the masses. It is the belief that you are better or greater than most others rather than just one other.

A diluted focus is seen on the positive side as well. Think of peace. It is not singular in its expression, but corporate. You may desire internal peace, but world peace seems a more noble idea. When we opine, “He is the most humble man I have ever met,” we are comparing the one against the many. Humility seems best recognized when compared against the backdrop of groups, not primarily in comparing two people. And trust is a quality an individual might have, but it is toward most things, not one thing. We trust gas stations to have the kind of fuel our vehicles need. We trust grocery stores to have the staples of diet. Though we may prefer one station or store over another, that does not affect the basic element of trust.

Love, though.

It’s undeniably different. To say, “I love all cats or all cucumbers,” is misguided; no one has experience with every living cat or harvested vegetable. Saying love is aimed at a singular object or person seems pointless to even state. We intuitively understand the singular focus of love. Of course you love that person. How else could you love? Could you love all people? No, because love requires a deeper commitment, a more thorough understanding, and a greater connection to one than all others. That is love’s meaning.

Love carries a singularity within it. Just think: If your beloved were to pass from this life, would it suffice to replace them or to love all people now? Tell the parents who have lost a child that they can just have another. Will that work? Tell a seventeen-year-old whose father was killed by a drunk driver that there will be no difference during his high school graduation because his uncle will be there.

Replacements make love beggarly.

The singularity of love is so natural to us, I feel I have too much belabored the point.

296. Essay: My Theory on Recollection

Fill in these sentences with whatever phrases you want:

  • My time in high school was:
  • My relationship with my mother when I was in elementary school was:
  • My relationship with my father when I was in elementary school was:
  • The first sporting event I remember attending was:
  • What I remember about the first time I performed in front of others is:
  • I do or do not want to spend time with my parents because:

I haven’t seen this psychological theory out there anywhere, so I’m going to spell out my theory here. I believe our individual history is inscribed and recalled primarily in emotion rather than in fact.

When we think back over our life, it seems we can recall many facts, but not with absolute clarity or without bias. We collect various series of events, package them under a heading, and assign an emotional descriptor for them.

It strikes me that this is the opposite of a computer system. A computer requires a name for a folder, a photo, video, or file. You can tag it with facts: geolocation, year, name of the person in the picture, title or main subjects of the document. In human interactions, these facts are taken for granted. We can tell that picture was a night wedding with our daughter as the flower girl, this document is about current trends in whatever subject, this slideshow is for chapter 18. But we don’t take pictures to keep facts straight, we do it to relive the emotions of the event or those related to that person.

We name files by facts. When someone asks about the wedding or how our vacation was, we answer with an overall feeling: “It was beautiful . . . so much fun . . . the best vacation ever . . . the most romantic and joyous ceremony I’ve been to.” We are using emotion to recall how the expectation matched with the actual experience. Computers can’t determine whether something is funny, pitiable, wretched, fair, or inspiring. And neither can anything else in nature. Emotional recollection is one of the astounding things that makes us human.

This emotional recollection theory becomes even more clear when we think back over significant chunks of time in our life. Junior high, high school, college, those few years in the military or in that other state. What immediately comes out is an overarching feeling of that time in our life. “It was horrible . . . I had so much fun with all my friends in school . . . most embarrassing years of my life . . . exhilarating to see him play one of the best seasons of his career . . . I was lonely because I didn’t have many friends.”

What we’ve done is opened the file in our head for that time in our life — and we’ve felt it all over again. That’s the primary way we connect with our own history. We don’t list off facts as much as we recall how that time felt overall and then back it up with selected experiences correlating to that main feeling.

It’s easy to see how one reinforces the other, facts and feelings working in tandem to get a more complete picture of each significant season of our personal history. We go through a week and stamp an emotion on it: great week. The next week: great again. The next two weeks: also great. So that month goes in the “great” pile. A few more like that and we can check off those six months as a really good stretch. It works with negative seasons of life as well.

Overall, how were your interactions with me as your dad? If you felt loved, taken care of, special, the top on my list, secure or safe, and that you could trust me, then you will probably have a positive recollection of me. If you felt you were not loved, not worth spending time with, unsafe or insecure with me, or that you could not trust me, then you will probably have a negative recollection of me. And your emotional recollection of our past will determine how you interact with me right now. You may remember a few instances of things that did or did not happen, but it will largely be based on your feelings — those tangibly intangible guides of our actions.

So, that’s my theory: Our individual history is inscribed and recalled primarily in emotion rather than in fact, and those emotions guide our current and future interactions.

And this is sobering.

267. Choose Essay

If you have a choice between multiple choice or writing an essay, pick the essay. It is a different kind of work to formulate your thoughts into a strong, full-spectrum argument, but there’s more room to draw on resources to justify your position.

150. Quotes: Edgar Allen Poe on Punctuation

“It does not seem to be known that, even where the sense is perfectly clear, a sentence may be deprived of half its force — its spirit — its point — by improper punctuation.”

—Edgar Allen Poe, “Marginalia” essay in Graham’s Magazine, February 1848, Vol. 32, #2

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