The Second Third, Week 30: Male Bonding

I’ve written a number of Second Third posts about the reasons I need to scale back my work hours and volunteer commitments, but this week drove it home, and gave me a new reason to seek better balance. The past few weeks have been intense at work — a number of major and important projects to bring to a close, a handful of goodbyes to colleagues leaving for new jobs in this time of transition, plus those of us accompanying my boss on his next adventure were supposed to be packing our offices for the move.

Add to that the start of soccer for two of our children, and of daily weightlifting for a third. Then layer on Albertville Friendly City Days this weekend — our KC council sponsors the softball tourney, the beer tent and the pedal-power tractor pull, and appears in the parade. (I have direct involvement with two of these events and at least some vested interest in the success of all of them.) Plus we are trying to organize the annual parish-wide weekend at Camp Lebanon and need to meet with our co-chairs. It’s no wonder I’ve come down with shingles (seriously).

I need to scale back for my family, for the new baby, for my bride, and for my future as a writer. And now I need to do it for my health. But last night, I realized I have yet another reason. I swung by a friend’s place to discuss the fact that I probably didn’t have time to hit the shooting range with him this weekend (and to ask if his family wanted to hand out candy in the parade). He was enjoying the Twins game in his garage, sipping a Summit India Pale Ale. He offered me one, but I was too tired already and had to be up early. We talked about shooting (no), retrieving a deer stand at his brother-in-law’s this weekend (maybe), and other things we ought to get on top of this summer. I told him something I’ve said many times over the past year: “We’re overcommitted. We’ve said ‘yes’ too much.”

“I know,” he said. “You do a lot. It’s good…and it’s bad.”

“It’s bad,” I said.

“You’re needed,” he said.

I don’t know for sure what he meant: needed by the people and organizations we work with and for, or needed by our friends we don’t see. But I know how I took it.

I’ve never had a lot of close male friends, because I’m not a sports nut or a partier; I don’t tell dirty jokes or golf; I don’t build much or have a motorcycle or anything. I love being married, dig my kids, and enjoy reading, writing, music, and faith.

Only now, living in “The Bubble,” I have men around be to whom I can relate, who are walking the same road with the same end in mind. And they like to hunt and fish and enjoy a good beer (and maybe even brew one). They love their wives and balance doting and discipline with their kids. I like these guys. And they deserve more than me swinging by their garage to say I can’t go shooting this weekend.

A while back, another friend was asked by a third if he had seen me around lately. “Nah, I haven’t seen him,” he said. “He’s probably at the church. They volunteer for everything.” That’s gotta change.

The Second Third, Week 3: Faith and Family

Blogger’s Note: The whole idea behind these “Second Third” posts can be found here. I’ve had multiple half-baked ideas for posts these past few weeks, but this one jumped to the forefront after reading Prairie Father’s latest post. Kudos, Father Tyler, for sparking this. The choice between two goods is the very definition of a dilemma, don’t you think?

Here at the beginning of my Second Third, I’ve gotten more comfortable with a me I never thought I’d be: a church guy. You know, a weekly worshipper, and more than that: a known quantity in the gathering space after Mass, a meet-n-greeter, a volunteer. One of those guys…

This is somewhat surprising. I was raised a good Catholic in every way except the church-on-Sunday way (so-called “old-fashioned” morals and values, but aside from a brief stint my late elementary years, no Mass or catechesis), then went on to study evolutionary anthropology, which was generally an atheist discipline. Thankfully I had just enough churching and manners to not drive Jodi away entirely when we first met. She brought me around.

The funny thing is, I got along with all sorts of people in school, but didn’t necessarily fit in anywhere. I was a poor athlete, and Coach asked me to help the first-stringers study for their exams. My bearded and be-hatted dad drove the mule to town now and again; that and my square tendencies caused even some of my closest friends to contemplate my Amish-ness. In college, too, I was square and old-fashioned, never an outcast, but never A-list. Friends were surprised when I went to South Dakota to sell western boots, and floored when I came back talking marriage and kids. These were not Ivy League aspirations — at least, not in the near-term.

Jodi brought this baptized Catholic back to the church. A number of good priests — good friends — inspired me and advised me to follow my doubts and questions. Even my dad, who does not share my faith, has never discouraged me from seeking and finding.

So I’ve searched and searched for people like me. Michigan to Connecticut to South Dakota to Michigan again, and finally to St. Michael Catholic Church in St. Michael, Minnesota. I have family in Michigan, family I miss terribly. But I have brothers and sisters here, too, and each week, each Sunday, it gets harder to imagine living anyplace else.

In early October, I had the opportunity to meet my dad on the Tahquamenon River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to fish on our old houseboat. I could get just Friday and Monday off from work: drive all day Friday, sleep Friday night, and head up the river at first light on Saturday to the fishing hole. The boat landing was a couple hours downstream from our fishing hole, and the closest Catholic church was 40 minutes from the landing, and offered just two Masses: 5 p.m. Saturday or 9 a.m. Sunday.

Either we’d have to pull up our anchor after lunch on Saturday, go to church, and sleep ashore again, then resume fishing mid-morning Sunday, or we’d have to pull anchor a couple hours before sundown on Saturday, sleep ashore at the landing, then drive into church Sunday morning. We’d get back to the fishing hole in early afternoon and get a couple hours of fishing in before we needed to head back to landing, since I’d need to leave first thing Monday to make it home.

I prayed on it, talked to a friends, and decided it was important to spend this time with Dad, even if it meant missing Mass. I further resolved to spend time Sunday praying the rosary and reading scripture — and to receive the sacrament of Confession before Mass the following Sunday.

I had a great weekend with Dad, a great Sunday, and honestly never felt far from God. But all weekend, when I thought about missing Mass, a little pang would shoot through my chest. For the first time, it wasn’t so much guilt for missing Mass…it was missing Mass. Longing for it.

How weird is that? I thought.

I did go to Confession the following Saturday, and another good priest told me he thought it was important that I spend time with my dad, but reminded me that if I truly believe, then I must also understand that attending and actually praying the Mass is the most powerful thing I can do for anyone I love. More food for thought.

In Matthew Chapter 12 is a passage that used to trouble me. Jesus is with his disciples, and he is told that his mother and brothers wish to speak with him: But he said in reply to the one who told him, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” — Mt 12:48-50

I think I’m beginning to understand. So in my Second Third, I’m embracing my inner Church guy, and working to balance our family by blood and our family in the Body. I can love both — and I should if I am to love either one well.

Welcome to Littlefield

Feeling crummy today, except for one thing: this evening I wrote the first of what I hope will be many truth stories (read: semifictitious accounts of true life stories) on a new blog called Littlefield.

What do I mean by semifictitious? Well, some of you know my dad caught a 22-pound flathead catfish this summer, right? OK, so that’s a true story, and I’ve set it in an earlier time to drive home what it was like to grow up where and when I did.

I’m still trying to get the tone right, and I’m hoping no real people take exception, but mostly, I hope you all laugh a little. And please share your feedback. Hope to see you there.

Update Sorta Thing …

Sorry about the long layoff. Just back from Michigan and way behind. Great trip. Much to tell. No time.

Can I just say: 22-pound flathead catfish. Life and death, love and family. Serious squirt guns. Numerous dogs. A ’68 Airstream. A new blog(gish) project.

More soon!

Summer Vacation, Day 72: Gang’s All Here (Belated)

Been sleeping on the houseboat with the full moon for a night light. Jill and her kids (plus her boxer) came up to the lake, too, and the boys (minus Trevvy) went fishing. Lots of too-small walleye.

Then Brendan finally hooked something. The pole bent double. The drag whined as line was pulled out against the reel’s wishes Dziadzi was ready with the net, and Gabe and Kyle were cheering him on … and it spit the hook. Oof. We all felt terrible, and Dziadzi shouted something it’s best I don’t repeat here.

Brendan took it in stride. He imagines a massive fish and tells a good story. Dziadzi tells him his great-grandpa caught few fish, but always caught the biggest. He sees himself in that light.

Gabe suspects the fish was “Old Mocker” – the fish who’s been jumping on all sides of the houseboat this entire trip. Gabe imagines a wise and clever fish who, like Moby Dick, can show up in one place and then somewhere else entirely nearly simultaneously.

He called the fish “Old Mocker,” of course, because it continued to mock us each time we set out …