Candidacy and Fatherhood (2 of 2)

Photo Thanks to Leeroy

Photo Thanks to Leeroy

I messaged Dawn after the initial interview. Then we talked. She was feeling fine and was headed to a planned prenatal appointment. I breathed as if for the first time.

We spoke about the interview but I couldn’t put more language out of my mouth. I had talked for more than hour and didn’t have the energy to rehearse much about it. An hour later she texted that she was having contractions. She was calling the midwife she had seen earlier. I was waiting for the report to come back at that time, waiting to hear if I passed.

After I passed and told her, we strategized and, for my part, to quell my fears. Then I got in the car to return home. I called her an hour later and couldn’t get her. I called back and she said she was going to the hospital which was 2 blocks away from her job. I was still fine, I was speeding by then in Wisconsin where they love out of state plates. Still, the hospital is there for that reason.

I had already told my coworkers that I might need them to intercept her and wheel her down the street. I had already asked Uncle David to be on notice in case I needed him. I actually introduced Dawn to hospital security for this very reason. I was going to have some notice, though, in my original vision. Dawn decided to pass by all that; she walked alone. Both of us, in two different places, getting ready for what was next.

I called her later and she was in the middle of a contraction and couldn’t speak. I drove faster, feeling an opening of possibility that I couldn’t be with her for the labor. She texted from triage. I was still too far. I called her mother and asked her to get to the hospital. Traffic stopped just outside of O’Hare. Literally stopped. Still, I end up beating my mother-in-law there.

That morning I had gone around, deliberating and then exhibiting how I am when the unplanned happens. That was a feature of my committee appearance. I talked about how nothing in pastoral practice is truly known ahead of time. I remember thinking about a practice of faith. True pastoral ministry is usually unpredictable. That truth was actually happening that morning and it was happening as Dawn walked to the hospital and while I sped to meet her.

I arrived at 4:50PM. I smelled of sweat from the whole day of meeting and waiting and driving and hoping. As soon as I walked in, Dawn says, she felt an intense contraction. She said that our baby knew it was safe to come. I looked at the clock and got to her side as she called to me.

She was laboring and had been. The posture felt familiar but it was different than with Bryce. It was bright outside this time, daytime. With Bryce I was there from the early signs and throughout. Labor started at night. I remember everything going very slowly. This time things moved swiftly, intensely.

Dawn held my hand, and I remember thinking that breaking all those laws to get back was redeemed in that moment. Especially if I would make it out of there with my hand bones intact. Our second son, Brooks, came at 5:37PM, and as you can imagine we were thrilled. It was the predominant feeling in the room.

I wasn’t thinking about the day when he came. Of course, being a part of a quick laboring process doesn’t afford you the space to reflect. That’s why I’m writing this now. Holding those two “moments” of preparing for and getting through candidacy, on the one hand, and returning to Dawn and being a part of the welcoming committee for our son, on the other.

They sit near each other as mirrors in a way. Two events full of potential and promise. Two events full of fear and hope. Two events with people who are involved to bring someone new forward. Two events that are, in different ways, destabilizing, constructive, constitutive, and reforming.

Candidacy and fatherhood are words that belong together. Of course, they speak to each other’s tentativeness and humility. They return to the other the truths of vulnerability and preparation and work and tirelessness and tiredness. They sit intently together, those words, like two brothers enjoying each other’s company.

Candidacy and Fatherhood (1 of 2)

Photo Thanks to Benjamin Child

Photo Thanks to Benjamin Child

The morning of April 1st I woke up at 3:30. It was one of those moments like years ago when, as a seminarian and pastor, I got out of bed at 2:30 and knew I wouldn’t return to sleep.

So, like back then, I got up and got ready for the day. Before I actually went to the church. It was a payroll week and I started going through the file and reviewing some other accounting material.

This time, I had planned to wake by 4:30 because of the drive to a Wisconsin meeting. I was scheduled for a 9am committee appearance to discuss my application to become an ACPE Supervisory Candidate.

A second step in the supervisory education process–the first being readiness–candidacy is the designation that students have after exhibiting in written materials and during an in-person consultation that you 1) are a clinically competent spiritual caregiver and 2) that you are increasingly ready to take on the potential of supervisory practice.

After a successful appearance, candidates are able to provide supervision of students, under supervision of your training supervisor, but without that supervisor being in the room.

It had been planned for a while. I had submitted my materials to my presenter, the person who would introduce me formally to the committee through a written report, and to the committee itself. Each gets a different set of materials about a month before the committee appearance.

We had known that my appointment was a week prior to the due date that we expected our second son to be born. All along I told him that he could come at any point after 5pm on Friday. “Preferably Sunday,” I told him, “but after time after 5pm Friday is fine.”

That morning I got up, checked on Dawn as the plan called for, and she gave me the “I’m not in labor” sign. I left the house at 4:15, drove to Wisconsin, and watched the sun rise shortly after crossing the state line. I spoke to my supervisor as I drove up to the site a touch more than an hour before my meeting.

We talked about the presenter’s report. He spoke to my anxieties and clarified ways to think about one of the five main questions the presenter suggested as conversation starters. The plan was for me to sleep for a spell before things started.

Photo Thanks to Sam Solomon

Photo Thanks to Sam Solomon

The interview lasted for one hour and fifteen minutes. By custom, the committee started with the basic wrangling over the facts in the report, got my corrections, and began to discuss my materials. Then they asked me where I wanted to go with things. That’s a rough summary. Each was its own series of exchanges.

For the entire time, I was working, going back and forth, following five people’s logical questions about my practice of pastoral care, my self-understanding, my ways of grieving, my pastoral identity, and my ways of relating to God. It was thrilling and unsettling and opening and revitalizing. It was an open invitation to explore what I’d do with students in clinical pastoral education.

With my training supervisor silent behind me, I disclosed things about myself and my history. I laughed with them. I felt tears in my eyes. I thought about my relationship with God and how it’s changed. I went around and around as people added questions to previous questions. I clarified and felt stuck and re-worked and paused. We listened to each other, but mostly those folks worked me over in order to gauge my competence as a pastor.

It was a presentation of myself in a room of pastoral educators, and it felt like a room full of being heard, understood, and accepted. I wasn’t defensive but free. I remember liking that feeling and wanting to pass it on to the other arenas in my life. I remember thinking that being in this process so far has given me the desire to be free.

The purpose of the committee was to exhibit pastoral competency. I did that. I thanked them. I was grateful and tired. I hadn’t slept those minutes beforehand because I saw people and talked.

I passed. They brought me back after almost an hour of discussion where they prepared their official findings. They read the committee action report to me, answered questions as I raised them, and congratulated me. They also consulted with my supervisor for forty-five minutes without me being in the room. That process is in place for anyone meeting candidacy committee. Four of my colleagues went through the same process that day. We all passed.

 

Estimates of Your Leadership

Skitter PhotoLast month I had the opportunity to visit my mentor and father-friend, Dr. Johnathan Alvarado, on the occasion of his 50th birthday. His wife, Dr. Toni Alvarado, invited a collection of colleagues, parishioners, friends, and extended family to a party. I stayed for the full weekend as we celebrated him. I had the chance to represent those who JEA have mentored over the years—in my case, nearly 25 years.

The weekend and the writing of my reflection ahead of it gave me an opportunity to bring to mind all the things which he’s been to me, to my marriage, and to my family. His (and their) exemplary ethic in the practice of wise, enduring, faithful, intellectually responsive, and Spirit-led ministry mark me in my attempts to do similarly. I’m part of the fruit of his life. I’m part of the estimate of his leadership.

Bishop Alvarado shares me with other people who’ve mentored me. He and they are regular parts of my growth. As I described his impact upon me, I couldn’t help but visit my own ministry, teaching, and service to the world. I couldn’t help but question my own family life when I heard his daughter (their youngest) speaking so lovingly about her dad.

Bishop Alvarado esteems others well, and to participate in a public affirmation of his life was splendid. To review–even in my own life–how his life mattered and how his effort provided a currency for our own development as a person was of double benefit. It underlined my sincere appreciation that he is alive.

Listening to earned tributes has that impact on a person. You hear and you want to emulate what you hear. I want the estimates of my leadership to sound and look and feel like those did in December. I want to be the husband, father, leader, pastor, educator, caregiver, and writer who loves well and is loved well. I want to see the estimates of my leadership as I lead and to count them worthy.

Interview with Dina Nayeri, Author of A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea

A Teaspoon of Earth and SeaWhat did it take from you to create A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea, and what are a couple things the creative process gave you?  In addition to an engaging book.  The process of writing this book gave me an entirely new perspective on my life and my purpose. I became a writer while creating this novel. I had other published projects before, but this was the first time I threw myself into a work completely, immersing myself in research, in my characters, and in the imagined world I wanted my readers to inhabit.  In some ways I lost myself in the process, spending days just listening to Iranian music, reading books on the region, watching videos.  I certainly let my personal life falter, and there were days when I barely did anything but work and drink espressos.  So this novel took a lot from me.  But it also made me who I am as a writer.  In addition, the process taught me to value rigor and brevity and detachment in my writing. It taught me to dig for the most important details and to present them concretely and imaginatively. These skills will always be valuable to me.

You describe yourself as an exile.  How has your exilic condition impacted your writing?  Mostly in the themes that capture my attention. I often write about home, about displacement, and fear. These are familiar topics for me because of my experiences as an exile. They are like obsessions. I can’t get away from them.

To quote Saba’s reflection, “This story is about fathers and daughters.”  As much as the novel is a large story between sisters and their mother, isn’t it as much about a father and daughter?  I think it’s even more about a father and daughter, because theirs is the only relationship that isn’t already dead. With the other members of her family, Saba has only memories and her imagination. She can turn those over in her mind, but she can’t have anything new.  With her father, she has a flesh and blood person who loves her and wants to be allowed into her world.

Part of my experience reading was in learning Saba’s opinions about the differences between American and Iranian men.  How might American fathers be different from Iranian fathers?  I think fathers are fathers. To love and protect your children are universal instincts. The cultural differences seem minor compared to that.

Talk about how Saba’s life became an echo of her twin sister’s.  Where did that come from in your writing process?  How did you connect with both Saba’s experience and Mahtab’s?  I consider their stories representations of the two ways that my own life might have gone.  I was raised in America and so the Mahtab stories mirror my own. But the Saba stories are the Iranian experiences I might have had, if I had stayed behind.  To parallel them seemed like a natural exercise, and something I took great pleasure in.

Where would Saba call “home”?  Cheshmeh, Iran

Dina NayeriThe novel returned to themes of desire, hunger, memory, and love.  Did you learn particular things about such themes in writing or revising?  Did you develop a love or appreciation, for instance, of your own family history?  Absolutely. The research alone gave me a great appreciation for the richness of my own history and roots.  But, obviously, I also used many of my own emotions and experiences in writing Saba and Mahtab’s stories. In doing so, I deepened my understanding of the themes you mention.

What are you reading these days?  “The Woman Destroyed” by Simone De Beauvoir.

How can readers connect with you and support your work?  You can like my Facebook fan page:  http://www.facebook.com/dinanayeri

And you can visit my website: http://www.dinanayeri.com

I Didn’t Realize He Was Leaving

On Wednesday evening, December 26, I was sitting next to Dawn and in front of Bryce in the B concourse of Midway airport.  We had successfully pressed through the security checkpoint, rearranged our clothes and shoes, and walked to our gate to wait for an hour before boarding a plane.  Bryce was eyeing some passenger’s ice cream, whispering to me about wanting some.  I told him to wait, to let me get settled.  I told him I had just sat down.  I told him to stop looking at the woman’s ice cream like that because he was scaring me and probably scaring her.

We were heading to Charlotte, North Carolina ultimately to complete our annual time with Grammie Joseph.  It would be a week where we would see the Gant museum, walk through the botanical gardens in Belmont, eat at Captain Steve’s, talk a lot, catch up, do nothing.  My aunt, Lynnie, called me while we were waiting to board.  I have a rule when certain people call my phone: I always answer.  I do not observe this rule for most people.  I’m a pastor so I cannot.  I meet with people and they say things to me, and when they say these things, it makes a lot of sense for me to stop the rest of the world as those people present their worlds to me.  So I’m “present” with them as they talk.  I ignore the phone.  I don’t hear rings in those moments.  But I make exceptions.  When my aunt calls, because my father has been in the nursing home in her city, I take her call, even if I need to ask if I can call right back.

As she always does, she asked me how I was.  There was static in the line.  Perhaps it wasn’t static.  Do cell towers allow for static?  It was choppy.  Whatever the interference, I couldn’t quite hear her clearly.  Some voice was droning about a passenger whose flight was leaving or some gate change.  There was Bryce switching to his mother and asking her for ice cream.  He’s been doing that more and more: shifting to her when I don’t answer the way he thinks I should.

Aunt Lynnie asked if I had gotten her message.  I pulled my phone from my ear and looked at it as if to ask it if it had rung without my hearing it.  Perhaps it sang while we were in the cab with the preacher cab driver who I talked theology with on the way to the airport.  “No,” I told her, “I didn’t.”  Then I thought—as she let out a long “Well,”—perhaps she called the house.  I heard her “Welling” and I had a flash of some indication of what was to come.  It was something spiritual, like and unlike the Welling in the black church, when people sometimes rock while they hear the preacher.  They say “Well” as they listen, and something about the “Well” makes what they hear stick.  My aunt’s well was different; she was stalling just for a moment, and auntie, in my experience, didn’t stall.  She breathed and she said it, quickly and clearly, without interference from cell towers or airport clutter.  My dad had passed an hour or so before that moment.

They were just arriving to the nursing home; the snow had prevented them from getting there sooner.  I knew Little Rock didn’t get snow.  I imagined my three Little Rock aunts, wrapped in coats, looking as lovely as always, dressed in care and concern and love and something familiar.  They were there, three of my father’s sisters, a group of faithful friends to him, and he was dead.  I asked her to repeat herself.  Actually, I said, “What?” I had heard her, but something in me got very cliche in that moment.  Or something in me needed to hear again.  Dawn heard me and she knew.  She had been down a path like this one when her father was snatched over six months after his stroke two years ago.  I felt Dawn turn to me.  I saw her take Bryce by the hand.  I was really surprised at that simple sentence from my aunt.  I wanted to turn to Dawn; I wanted to turn away.

I had just seen him.  This was my first thought: I had just seen him.  One week ago at the hospital in Searcy.  He hugged me twice.  I held him, walked with him.  I showed him pictures, something, I realize now, I did often on my trips to see him.  My second thought was: I just talked to him.  It was on Christmas Eve, two days before.  His voice was bright, brighter than usual even.  he talked to Bryce, asked about Dawn.  I thought he was getting better.  I didn’t realize he was leaving.

Events That Require Attention

My spiritual director told me, among many other precious things, that there are some events in life that require our attention.  She said that those events don’t necessarily care when they get attention just as long as they get what they deserve.  They interrupt us, sometimes an inconvenient times.  They vie for a spot in our field of vision.

We were discussing my father’s health and my recent visits to see him.  She had mentioned that her mother was ill for years before she died and that she too had some dementia.  Then, she said the most appropriate thing.  These things are in our peripheral vision.  They’re always present, though not always in front of us.  Whatever we do, they are present, waiting, and, often, off to the sides of our lives.

There are other things to pay attention to.  There is the work of ministry, work that seems to flow against common boundaries.  There is the immediate family, in my case a rambunctious two-year old and a wife who studies part-time in grad school.  There is the rest of me.

And the normal events trade places with the peripheral ones, and the pieces of my life dance around until I see what I need to see.  There are moments when what we’ve been changes because of who’s around us.  There are similar moments when we change because who isn’t.

And the event of my father’s health.  The series of moments I’m holding regarding what can only be seen as tentative progress and expected deterioration.  These moments are changing me.

I’ve never been the sporadic type.  I’ve never been impulsive.  I’m comfortable with slower rhythms, with taking care, with intention.  But the slow movement in front of me, and in front of my father, scratches at who I am.  And I’m left with a deepening knowing that, sometimes, attending to the needed things is dreadful.

My Son & Trayvon Martin

I posted this on my For Fathers blog, but the intersections between the mentioned events and my weak faith are undeniable.  I hope you can read where you should be prayerful for me and us…

Trayvon Martin, a 17-year old black child from Florida, was killed on February 26 by a 28-year old white man named George Zimmerman.  The killer has not been arrested, and a lot of people in and outside of Florida are calling for his arrest.  Many have spent days demanding, minimally, an investigation into Trayvon Martin’s death.  Almost as many are seeking some sensible understanding of the laws in Florida, and states like it, which allow for a gun-carrying questionable character like Zimmerman to follow a child with a pocket filled with skittles, harass him, and kill him.

At this point, the US Dept. of Justice has opened an investigation into the case.  The Martin family is struggling to find consolation and justice for their dead loved one.  Newspapers are reporting on how bright and cheerful and smart the young man was.

Bloggers and journalists are providing details about the killer’s background.  He likes calling the police to complain about black kids.  He said, the day he called 911 to complain about Trayvon Martin, that “they always get away.”  He was permitted to walk away after gunning down a child, with his 9 millimeter weapon.  He was not detained or arrested or charged.  Trayvon Martin is dead.  George Zimmerman is free.

My wife asked me if I was planning to blog about the situation.  I immediately said no.  It didn’t take two seconds to respond.  I didn’t want to think, much less write, about another kid getting killed.  I had heard about the case, seen it on television.  I tried to close my eyes to it because it was too much.

I didn’t want to think about Trayvon Martin or his family and how many tears they were shedding because their child was murdered by a guy who had hardly been questioned by the police after he was the last person to hear their child’s voice.  That murderer heard the child screaming, yelling for help that never came.

I didn’t want to think or write about how that long destructive history that doesn’t release people with skin like mine but that creeps and creeps and creeps until it opens up its big mouth and screams out loud because nothing and no amount of “coverage” can hide how hard it is to be black, to be a man, to be a father, to be a son.

I didn’t want to think or write about that place in my inner soul that keeps memories locked away in my heart.  Like the time a woman crossed the street when she saw me approaching her and like the shame I felt when I turned around after passing her only to see her cross back to the same street after I’d gotten beyond her and how downcast I felt because I was headed to a class in seminary where the story of my faith would remind me that I was called to love and serve people just like that woman who clutched her bag while passing a preacher on his way to being better.  If I were in Florida studying theology at that time; if I were in Florida carrying my briefcase with a Bible and a text on salvation-history and pastoral ministry; if I were in Florida with an essay on the elements of pastoral case most effective for families in today’s time, I could have lost my life.

I didn’t want to think about how similar Trayvon Martin is to the vision I have for my son.  He was a boy, enjoying life, getting good grades, collecting admiration from teachers; he was loved by his family, who over and over called the extremely deceptive police department when he had been missing for three days because his body was cooling on a medical examiner’s table and left like his parents didn’t want him when all they wanted was him.  That young child was so much like my child, the child in my imagination’s future.  He had a girl who liked him.  He ate candy.  He was wise in discerning when trouble showed up.  He called for help.

I didn’t want to believe one more time that a young child, approaching early adulthood, could be treated so terribly and that hatred and evil—whether because of racism or bigotry or power or other foolish sins—could continue to be so bold.  I didn’t want to think one more time that we had another example of criminal justice in the United States where the criminal was the only one who saw justice and when he saw it in the face of that sweet kid, he had to laugh in his blood-covered face.

I look at my son everyday.  I say things to him, things that I know don’t make sense to most people if they’re listening to my words.  Even Dawn laughs at the things I say.  And if I’m honest, there’s a strong dose of this current reality behind my instructions to my son.  His brain doesn’t get it when I’m just a bit too firm.  His brain doesn’t get that there is no difference between his father and the last black man who was walking down a street and mistaken for some other black guy.  Bryce’s mind doesn’t conceive that his daddy, the man who loves him, could be mistreated to the point of death for no other reason than he looked suspicious.  But my son’s father knows these things.  I know these things.  And I don’t want to think them, talk of them, or admit them.  The topics, taken together, form a gross compromise of morality and justice just to discuss them.  And yet I have to raise my son with these words in his ears.

I don’t want to look at my child, who is not even able to stand up at the toilet yet, and witness the closeness between his lovely face and the loveliness of another parent’s son in Florida.  The proximity between those two children is as long as a breath.  And I am aching with a lot of people about the assassination of promise and hope and joy in Trayvon Martin and in every other black loved one he has now joined on the other side of death.

In a strange way, I knew Trayvon Martin’s future.  In a strange way, I know the next son’s future.  Whether or not he is the image of the child who lives in my house, he will be my child.  And the worst fear in me these days is that I won’t be so gracious as the day I continued on to seminary class, that I won’t be loving when my next child, son or daughter, Florida or some other place, meets death in such a horrendous way.  After all, there is no difference between my son and Trayvon Martin.  And I don’t know if there is that much love in any world.