Tag Archives: parenthood

Deciding What’s Best When You’re Faced with Endless Rabbit Holes

To my incredible, observant, kind-hearted, sensitive daughter, on your 15th birthday:

“I believe in you my soul…the other I am must not abase itself to you, And you must not be abased to the other.”

– Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

Being a parent means every day I get to think about not just what I’m doing, but what you’re going to do today. Will you face challenging decisions? And how will you decide what to do? This crazy-making love inside my soul says any super challenging decisions you face are probably just plain evil, so I want to tell you to forget school and stay here safe with me forever, never leave, and don’t grow up ever. Because I said so, that’s why.

But yes, I know there’s a reason “evil” is just “live” spelled backward. And you don’t need to remind me again.

The heater broke this weekend so it’s a bit nippy in the home office today. That’s not “evil” either, it’s just life. But the fact that the heater repairman can’t come until tomorrow and this little space heater can’t contend with old man winter slipping through these old walls certainly feels evil.

I could go down the rabbit hole of trying to diagnose and fix it myself. Or I could preserve my time for other matters. If I didn’t have a clear idea of where I’m needed today and why that’s a rabbit hole for me, I might try to level up in my handyman game. But on a Monday morning, that would be a clear violation of my saner self and my knowledge of my core operating instructions.

Ask anyone who studies or writes about these things and they’ll tell you these rabbit holes are proliferating. Like rabbits. And with cell phones, video games, Youtube, and the myriad entertainments, our new national pastime is quickly becoming a global pandemic.

Why are we so desperate for diversions? We seem to crave being distracted. It begs the question of whether there’s anything more intriguing than a rabbit hole. I mean, we know Lewis Carroll didn’t think so.

When you were little, you had a mobile. I had one when I was a baby too. I think it was rabbits chasing carrots or something, but it was a long time ago. The genius behind mobiles lies in distracting a baby and occupying their mind just enough to get them to fall asleep, sleep being the Holy Grail of all new parents. Simple, repetitive movement combined with a calming lullaby helped the fatigue from all that growing catch up with you.

Seems like everything these days is a potential rabbit hole. And maybe that’s always been true. But the attraction is greater–both the need and the distractions are stronger. I think there are good reasons for this, but maybe chiefly, our existential anxiety has never been stronger.

Believe what you like about the course of human progress, but as much as things continually get better, they also get worse. Much of the trade-off it seems happens between the exterior and the interior worlds. Maybe it’s our wiring, but our experience is dictated by this relationship between the physical and the conceptual. And the balancing of the two occupies a huge portion of life, whether we ever recognize it or not.

Every time you find a rabbit hole, there’s the experience of it, and there’s your thinking about and feeling your experience of it. Your experience of the world gets paused every night, but your thoughts and feelings never sleep. Clearly, one is more important than the other, given the amount of time we spend experiencing reality versus thinking, feeling, and processing experiences.

This, too, could be a rabbit hole. Nothing’s technically “wrong,” but it could be, potentially. Impulses and cravings themselves aren’t evil. They arise from the depths, like baby rabbits blinking in the sunlight. And what you do with them, how you decide to direct them is what you have to figure out–both before they arise, and then rabbit by rabbit.

Sorry, it’s sort of a thematic metaphor, I guess.

Last night as I was chopping kindling and feeling manly, I took a too-long piece to snap against my thigh and this morning it took me a few seconds to realize why my leg’s sore. At the time, I barely noticed. It felt like living. But today it feels evil. I don’t know, maybe it’s both.

What you do will come from what you decide is best, and like Whitman says, you can’t “abase” your life or your experience of it. Both simply are, and naming them something else like “evil” does no good. What you decide to do about them, that’s where moral codes come in. And that’s where you have to realize everything but everything is a rabbit hole, and all your thoughts and feelings are baby rabbits.

And if you want to do what’s right for them, you’ve first got to decide to love them and want what’s best for all of them. They’re worth it and they’ll guide you. You’re their parent, like I’m yours and God is ours, so their safety and purpose are secure.

And all you’ve got to do is decide what’s helpful. But no one, even a parent who loves you, can decide for you. So don’t let anything distract you from doing what you must.

I love you, I’m with you, and you’ve got this because of who’s got you.

All things are lawfulbut not all things are helpful.” 

– The Apostle Paul (1 Cor 10:23)

For the higher purpose,

Dad

The Stories That Come to Know You: Hunting with Dad

It isn't solely my truth to hand you, of course, but I believe a story is built of the same dynamic force as relationship. In relating, it expresses and exchanges the same basic electric magnetism, the attractive-repellant force between any two things.  

A boy learns about this force at an early age, though he'll never fully understand it, even if he felt it warm as daylight as a nine-year-old… 

forest in fog

My father wakes me so early I’m not sure I’ve slept, though I must have since I don’t remember him getting up.
 
“Time to go,” he says and I hope he isn’t serious. It’s dark. Where is he? “Your shoes are here.” I sit up listening to his boots walking away toward the truck to prepare the rifles.
 
My arm’s wet from the condensation inside the warm tent. Are we going to eat first? I won’t ask, not because I’m not hungry but because I don’t want to give away that I’m only trying to delay.
 
Do I know why we’re here, what this really is, this weekend I’ll become a man? He’s surely noticed how my once-bold mimicry has gone subterranean, how time’s shrinking.
 
Strange, these things you come to know in the stories that come to know you. These well-worn weapons polished to amber….
 
The glow and crackle of barely-light, perfumed with coffee and pine and damp earth. The cheap thrill of watering any tree you like but working quickly to avoid blood-suckers. You learn to think ahead, to already be where the deer will show up when they’re hungry.
 
Sometimes hunters don’t tell you the why of things because they know the most important lessons are never spoken. They must be apprehended through observation.
 
You want mature ones with antlers that have grown many points with each winter survived. You walk against the wind so they won’t smell you coming. You look for cloven prints and droppings though you don’t actually taste the dark pellets he pretends to chew, a mock native, a deer whisperer. He coaxes my reluctant smile, maybe noticed it growing more reluctant as the darkness waned sometime during our quiet steps through the undergrowth.
 
Even with his gaze on the dark space between the distant trees he’s undistracted, sensing. On another day not far off I will encourage this same heightened awareness while exploring with my own kids.
 
You’re looking for a depression down a ridge that affords an ample view. You follow the position of the sun so it won’t be in your eyes once it comes up through the canopy lining the sloping horizon of the ridgeline.
 
You find your protected spot and you begin to wait. And silent hours pass.
 
Expectancy is a wonder. You can wait so long you forget your legs and the tingling. You may even drift off only to realize in sudden shock that everything has changed. Or it hasn’t yet but it could. Because everything and always is buzzing with it.
 
But the longer that passes the less likely it seems anything will happen, even right up to the moment in the story that will be recounted often over the years, each time becoming somehow both rounder and more solid.
 
A foursome of deer, slow, watchful, not 100 yards off, parades into the clearing from the thicket. And a big buck leads them, carrying in on his large twin forks what suddenly flickers to my awareness as the shiny weapon rises quick, fluid, and I straighten my thin arm and plead a whisper.
 
“Don’t shoot him, Dad!”
 
He doesn’t flinch. Doesn’t look at me. The deer continue their halting steps.
 
He doesn’t argue. Just lowers the gun.
 
Greater love has no man than this, that he should lay down his gun for his son. 

I’m so disparate, so wholly other, I should repel, but my father, compassion unfailing, his mercies are new every morning. The unlikely moment of all our effort has come and passed by and may never come again and I've mangled it. I'm Fern crying over Wilbur the pig; I'm the ridiculous old woman in The Fox and the Hound.

I've become the wrong character in the stories–and he's surely sorry he's let me read them now. And I know what's in the Happy Meals.

But for that force he felt, a power held but not grasped, in appreciation of something else, something otherwise unrelated, I may not have learned this lesson until much later–the reverence due for that fragile charge between two things.

Life brings endless opportunities to trade relationships. The test of a true hunter is in how well he listens.

Let scientists discover why relationships build intelligence and compassion. Let others sing “It’s love that makes the world go around.” I have seen this fearsome force and it is wholly mystery, pure and clear.
 
I know the power in a story. And I will work to write it on hearts all my life.
 
It’s easily forgotten, carrying your familiar stories with you every day, but it's an affective spark that could breathe new life into existence.

Because not everyone hears it, but we all sense it's there, the question–what is this attraction to what so repels? 

Is the answer in the question, there in that spark of recognition?

Is this why a story is always ultimately about hope?

Wait expectantly, dear hunter. Find your stories, these captured sparks arcing through all his created wonders.