Learning to Live with Myself

In July of 2019, our family caravanned with friends from Michigan out to Glacier National Park to camp and hike and see the sites. It was a wonderful trip, and for the first time, Brendan’s fiancée (now wife) Becky joined us as well.

One of the characteristics of our family that Becky had to adjust to is the constant crackle of wordplay, sarcasm, and verbal violence dealt out among our members. I remember distinctly the first shot I fired across her bow at the dinner table during one of our first few visits with her. She took it well, with a wry smile and a very deliberate “Wow.”—as in, “Okay, so it’s like that now.”

This is not about that, however. This is about the first real shot she fired back.

We were standing around the firepit at the campground at Glacier, and Brendan was complimenting something he had eaten with Becky’s family: venison meat sticks, I think. I was standing just behind Becky, and as Brendan gushed, I stooped to rest my chin on Becky’s shoulder and gave her my best sideways puppy-dog eyes to indicate how much her future father-in-law would appreciate such delicacies.

She took evasive action, as one might in such a circumstance, and with the same wry smile, said, “You know, you’re basically Bruno in human form.”

I opened my mouth to reply, then closed it again.

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Book Break: Technopoly

Now for something completely different: I haven’t been writing nearly enough and am way behind on books I’ve read and would like to share. Most of the books I share are fiction, spiritual, or both. Technopoly by Neil Postman is neither.

This book came to me as an unexpected Christmas gift from our son Brendan’s friend Nick, who was his roommate at University of Mary and is now a seminarian for the Diocese of Milwaukee. Brendan has always been a curmudgeon and skeptic regarding technology; Nick, not so much, until he started reading more deeply on the subject. Then, he started spreading the word, including by giving our family a lightly used paperback copy of Technopoly.

One of the concepts that intrigued me as a young anthropology major was the idea that, at a certain point, our ancestors began to compete technologically rather than biologically, meaning that, at a certain point, our ancestors crossed a threshhold and were no longer strictly beholden to their biology to survive—the fittest was not necessarily the fastest or strongest hominid, but may be the cleverest one, with the best tools.

I’m certain that, soon afterward, our ancestors saw another defining characteristic of our species: Our solutions to problems often cause other, unforeseen problems. Indeed we can see this in the anthropological record, with evidence of hominids using “tools” to club each other to death beginning nearly half a million years ago.

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Father to Five, Married to One…for 25 Years

Time is a strange phenomenon. We’ve all experienced that sensation in which the days seem long and weeks short; where the whole summer stretches out in front of us for sunlit miles…and then suddenly it’s Christmas. Marriage is like that, too. On a hot summer’s day on the South Dakota plains—August 17, 1996—in a little Spanish-style stucco church named for a German bishop, St. Liborius, two kids got hitched. The tall, slim, cleancut groom in white tails was me: book-smart and big-hearted, a little awkward and a lot emotional, with an insecure streak, a dose of self-righteousness, and a professed agnosticism that bore little resemblence to the faithfulness I was prepared to promise to this girl.

And what a girl! Jodi was, then as now, beautiful: dark wavy hair, eyes that went from brown to hazel to green and back, quick to laugh, solid and peaceful, steadfast in her Catholic faith, and willingly to pour herself out entirely for those she loved. She was a fountain flowing; I, a bottomless bucket.

One of us cried at our wedding—the one who saw too well that he was getting the better end of this deal. How could I ever love her enough?

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Stretching Toward Heaven

This is my father-of-the-groom speech from Brendan and Becky’s wedding on December 28, 2019. I finally got to see this video (and actually hear what I said) for the first time yesterday, and this is one of my favorite things I’ve “written.”

A little context for what you are about to hear:

  • I had just taken our youngest daughter, who fell asleep during the wedding and was not feeling well, up to my parents’ room in the hotel. The dance had not yet started, and my dad had already turned in for the night. This was a long day for both of them!
  • There was a blizzard this weekend, so many people didn’t make it to the wedding—especially those from out of state, like Grandma and Grandpa Venjohn.
  • Gabe had given his Best Man speech just before this, in which he had joked that he felt loved by his big brother Brendan, even though none of our kids have the capacity to express love. (Our kids are often ribbed for their lack of expressed affection toward each other and their parents.)
  • I had detailed notes in my pocket, but because I was caught off-guard and was thinking about Lily, I never took them out. I had written something like this the day before, while cooking chili for the rehearsal supper in the church kitchen. We had cooked a massive amount of chili at home, then failed to get it cooled quickly for transportation and were worried about giving the entire wedding party and both families food poisoning, so we remade it in Moorhead.

I’m sure that just after this recording cuts out, I said proposed an actual toast. But the speech is what I want to share today, so my dad and Jodi’s folks can finally hear it.

“Things change…”

Baby, Brother

Nearly a month ago now, on October 6, our eldest son and his bride welcomed their first child into the world. The birth of a child is an everyday occurrence; all across the globe, fathers fret as mothers labor to bring wriggling, helpless, little humans into this world, as we have for thousands of years. Medicine and technology have improved to the point that many—even the majority—of these children survive past infancy and on to adulthood, so that sometimes we forget how miraculous this is. Sometimes fathers and mothers even think they are primarily responsible for creating the new life they hold in their arms.

They are not.

Biologically speaking, we parents are certainly involved in the earthier aspects of the miracle, and in our better moments, we may even desire, will and proactively seek to bring a child into the world. But no amount of wishing or willing can create a child or bring him or her to term. God does the hard work and invites us along for the ride. So it was for Jodi and me, when we welcomed each of our five children into the world—and in another, profound way, when we lost our little Jude. And so it is for Brendan and Becky.

His name is Augustine James Thorp.* I’m a dziadzi.**

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