Tech Dilemmas

For a variety of reasons, I’ve lately had the need to rethink my technological footprint. Over the past five months or so my job has taken a few left turns that now have me working on projects that were not contemplated when I was originally hired. Many of these find me making treks back and forth between my offices on the U of A campus. In turn, I’ve felt the pull to travel lighter, and to pair down my tech footprint to only the essentials.

Enter Apple’s new iPad Air (or iPad Air 3).

As any good technophile knows, the decision was not one easily made. I had five key criteria in seeking a new tablet:

  • Portability
  • Digital Note-Taking
  • Laptop Replacement
  • Processing Power
  • Word Processing Capability

I’ll explain each below.

Portability. As mentioned, my new job obligations see me schlepping across resort-like U of A on a fairly regular basis now (I’m clearly not biased toward my alma mater at all). By way of explanation, the University of Arizona is in the midst of developing programs that involve a major commitment to Native American Advancement at the institution, and I’m grateful to be a part of the team that’s seeing some of these initiatives through. But the changed reality for me is that I’m no longer tethered to a desk at any particular location, on any given day. This means that much of my work was being done on my MacBook laptop circa 2016.

To be fair, my MacBook is still a fine machine. It has ample storage and I’ve yet to run into a processing task (or series of processing tasks) that it can’t handle. Even so, having replaced the keyboard twice, it was quickly becoming less portable and more a computing station in my home office. The wear and tear of trips across campus would not have served its longevity very well, and I’m not overly eager to spend upwards of $2k USD on a replacement. I could probably have made the arrangement work for another year or two, but the hinge of the screen and top case had become gradually more flexible (loose), and the screen itself was beginning to show faint signs of degradation in the coating of its Retina display. Not something uncommon after a usage-intensive three year run, but clearly happenstances that would not bode well over the long-term.

Thus, my need for a newer, portable replacement.

Note: The iPad was not an obvious choice for me. I had considered getting a new laptop altogether. The price point of the MacBook line is still pretty good and some of the internal hardware has been upgraded overtime. But in my three year break from the iPad, some quick research told me that the internal processing, app selections and software upgrades had all made the iPad a much more formidable player in the productivity space. (I had an ailing iPad Air 2 that hadn’t really seen much use since my, then, toddler son scraped up the back of it while playing on a less-than-sparkling wood floor). Given the price difference between a tablet and a laptop in the Apple ecosystem, a tablet replacement for my laptop seemed like a good option for what I envisioned.

Digital Note-Taking. Another key component of my job involves taking copious amounts of notes. Formerly, I had done most of these by hand and then manually transcribed them word-for-word on my work computer. In a laptop replacement, I wanted to avoid this if at all possible and find a combination of hardware and software that would transcribe my abysmal scrawl into usable text that I could edit and modify as needed without the need to transcribe. On this score, the Apple Pencil seemed like a nice alternative. So, whatever iPad I bought would need to be compatible with this function of the Apple Pencil.

I should probably mention that I’m not an artist by any means. Some users seek out the Apple Pencil purely for sketching and drawing – and nearly any iPad available today has this function and capability. But given how atrocious my handwriting is, despite Mrs. Gensman’s best efforts during Senior year of High School, I needed something with the power and ability to do the impossible: make my handwriting legible, recognize it (something my Mother still can’t do), and transform it into digital text like you’re seeing now.

Laptop Replacement. Above all, the replacement had to wield the ability to take the place of my laptop in my technological day-to-day existence. This may seem an obvious point but I reckon it’s an important distinction. Some tablets are great at providing options to consume media. One can use a Kindle to read voluminous amounts of books. The iPads of yore, even, were great vehicles for watching movies and streaming videos on YouTube and Netflix.

But whatever I opted to purchase needed not only to handle both reading books and watching movies (flights are long after all), but also help me stay atop the steady and increasing workload that is now coming in. In sum, I needed a machine that would both allow me to consume media, and be productive. (This narrowed the options considerably but more on this later).

Processing Power. Given the above, the device I sought would need to have top of the line processing power. It would need to handle multiple applications at once and accommodate my spastic nature. It’s not uncommon for me to type a few paragraphs, hit on a word that pops into my mind, and then send me reeling on a lesson in etymology, and wondering whether the word selected is fit for the occasion. Self-doubt is a cruel mistress.

Suffice it to say, the ability of the internal processor needed to be stronger than my undiagnosed, adult ADD at a price that wouldn’t break the bank.

Word Processing Capability. And finally, my “forever” device needed to provide multiple, and ample opportunities for me to write.

To the kids reading (I so hope you’re not reading, kids), pay attention during your English class. Pay attention to your English professors in college (no matter how lame they may be). And above all learn to write. And when you’ve mastered this basic skill, learn to write well.

As a university yokel-in-residence, I can’t claim to have followed the advice I’ve just given. But writing in all its forms, from emails, to contracts, to law review articles (yay – new publication coming soon!), to hiring decisions, to blog posts – writing is 90% of what I do. So, my laptop replacement needed to provide the capacity to accomplish this basic function with aplomb.

(Lest anyone think I’m being overly dramatic, think about the apps any given professional might use on a daily basis: Apple Mail. Outlook. Microsoft Word. Dropbox (file syncing across devices and because Box sucks). iA Writer. Scrivener. Facebook Messenger. iMessage. Skype. Snapchat. Kik. Twitter. The lone thread in all of these apps is that they all depend upon the ability of an individual to translate the thoughts in the mind to digital text on a platform. Simply this and nothing more. And as our robot overlords come to take our jobs, the ability to write and communicate is one of the lone bastions of human ingenuity that they have not quite mastered. Or have they?)

Outcome

Out the gate, I immediately bought the new iPad Mini (or iPad Mini 5) that was released alongside the iPad Air this past March. The Mini ticked nearly all of the boxes above. It’s portable. It accommodates the Apple Pencil and digital note-taking. It has superb processing power. And I thought that this made it was a viable laptop replacement. Until it wasn’t. Alas, I overlooked the key final component: It was incredibly difficult to actually write on the iPad Mini.

Consider the following image:

The iPad Mini checks four out of the five boxes that I wanted in a laptop replacement. It’s incredibly portable. The entire bezel of the device is only slightly larger than than the largest Apple iPhone. It’s size makes it great for note-taking. Any moleskin notebook aficionado will appreciate the form factor of the new Mini. And it’s processing power is actually equal to that of the iPad Air. It is also an amazing media consumption device. Users can happily surf the web, watch movies, and read books to their electronic heart’s desire.

But it’s 7.9 inch screen means it also has a concurrent 7.9 inch (or so) keyboard. And this made it terrible for word processing, and thus a terrible laptop replacement. I honestly didn’t think that this would be a problem given that my hands are only slightly larger than those of a large child. But even for me, it was ridiculously difficult to type on the external keyboard that I purchased for the Mini, and the onscreen keyboard wasn’t any more convenient. Suffice it to say, I had made a costly miscalculation (the iPad Mini with 256 GB of storage, and Wi-Fi only capability runs $549.00 USD – excluding tax).

Given the tech dilemma, I wrote off the mistake à la Seinfeld  and purchased an iPad Air (or iPad Air 3).

As you can see in the image above, the iPad Air 3 is considerably larger than the iPad Mini. The extra 2.6 inches doesn’t seem like a lot, but in the context of onscreen real estate, the difference is dramatic. The iPad Air allows me to tick the final box and actually be productive in the crucial area of word processing capability. This transforms the device from one that permits media consumption to one that also allows for creativity, and communication. I’m sure there are some users that would not see so stark a contrast, but here are some side-by-side comparisons that illustrate the point:

Above, the Air and Mini showcase their respective screen viewing capacities. The Mini is scarcely larger than the Apple Pencil that I used for taking notes, while the Air has a full-sized keyboard that makes typing a breeze.

Above, you can see how much easier it is to write on the iPad Air than the Mini. Both are actually great for taking notes. But the larger screen makes transcribing my scrawl much easier – both to do, and to read!

Afterward

In sum, I’m a few weeks into the experiment, and I can’t say that I’ve missed a beat by not lugging around my laptop. Even when I work from home, the experience of using the Air makes me inclined to sit at the kitchen table with my iced coffee and work, rather than dragging the laptop out from the doldrums of my home office. In terms of price point, the iPad Air is in the almost dead center of the iPad lineup and retails for $649 USD, excluding tax. I find that this extra $100 over the Mini is worth every cent for its larger screen and word processing capability.

While there are some limitations, and a few processes that can be done faster on a computer, unless you are in the top 1% of tablet users, I think the iPad Air is a reasonable middle ground between Apple’s smallest iPad and its most expensive (the iPad Pro).

With that, here’s that a new device will inspire more blogging, and increased productivity.

New Adventures in the Desert

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I moved back to Tucson in early November of 2016. I hadn’t spent any time to speak of here since I left shortly after Clark’s birth in 2013. But a failed marriage (June 2016), new opportunities (August 2016), and the promise of sun (Jan – Dec. 2016) – all have a way of drawing a man back to a place.

So, here I am beginning a new adventure in the desert. And if the early billing is any indication, I’m in for quite the ride.

Truth is, while I love my job (more on that in a future post), a city can still be a dreadfully lonely place. Particularly when one is in their mid-30s, newly a bachelor, a bit out of shape, and settling into the routine of life anew.

Given the predicament, this week, I did what any rationally-thinking, non-impusive, risk-averse person would do: I adopted a two-year old Cocker Spaniel.

Originally, his name was Mickey. But this was far too plebeian for so august a dog.  So, I renamed him Nigel, after the sulphur-crested cockatoo in the cartoons Rio 1 and Rio 2. (See here).

See also, exhibit A:

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Now, Nigel, is a wonderful dog in many respects. When I’m home during the day, on balance, he either lays in his bed or at my feet in a crumpled ball of fluff on the floor.

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Which was all fine until this afternoon. I came home from work per usual. The blinds were partly open just as I had left them. There was no barking or noise to speak of. And upon entering my abode, I see my pooch, bounding in my direction from the hallway, excited to see me, and even more ready to go potty downstairs.

So far, so good.

After taking him downstairs to do his business, I came back up, entered the apartment and pulled the screen door to. It was a lovely day. High 70s low 80s. And I wanted nothing more than to have some dinner and enjoy the evening breeze.

As I’m mulling about, however, I glance in the corner near my bedroom door. The carpet looked oddly pixelated – as if the real life image I had tried to see was still downloading from the servers that span the breadth of time.

It was only after I glanced again that I was able to process the magnitude of what had happened.

Whilst away for the day, it seems that young Nigel tried to dig his way to freedom through the carpet of my hallway. Cue much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

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After conversations with friends, an expletive laden evening spent cleaning up the mess, and a couple of DIY videos on youtube for dog training, as it stands now, I really have two options for Nigel.

I can:

A) try to rehome him (viz., get rid of him); it’s an option that’s easy, elegant in its simplicity, and ruthless in its execution.

Or…B) give him another chance; an option grounded in the hope that a sturdy crate and the promise of routine can mute his burrowing sensibilities. Not nearly so neat or final an option as A.

It’s a tough call.

Thinking back to last year, there were more than a couple of sleepless nights when I wish that I had had a second chance. Given the outcome, it’s especially ironic that the Christian set amongst us are so often the least forgiving. And as this applies to Nigel, do I really want to be like THEM?

On the other hand, perhaps what Nigel did is beyond the pale? He did bore a hole in my carpet after all – a surely expensive mess that I will have to sort out with my apartment company.

Nevertheless, at the end of the day, the rub seems to depend upon whether or not an ‘old’ dog can be taught new tricks. And, of course, the extent to which I am willing to entertain this fact. Funny how it is all sounding so very familiar…

One can say many things about my life in Tucson. But it hasn’t been boring.

Life: Standard or Fast?

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I mailed a letter to a friend Friend back home the other day.  When I looked at the New Zealand Post mailbox outside our student centre, I reveled in the appropriateness of their signage.

Over the past year, my life has been lived on the ‘fast’ side of life’s mailbox. Looking back over my 31st year of life, I can see that it would really serve me well to downshift to ‘standard.’ I suspect the fare would be cheaper to boot. Beginning with Clark’s birth, extending to our relocation from Tucson, and finally to our re-relocation to Hamilton, New Zealand, looking back over the past year the lone thread that ties it all together is how unexpected the whole lot of it was. And seeing as I entered my 32nd year of life this past week (or turned 31), now seems a fine time to think on such things. Here are three lessons I’ve learned from the past year. 

1. Life’s Uncertainty Is the Norm Not the Exception

If there’s a lesson I’ve learned this year, it’s that life is veritably unpredictable. When 2012 began, I had little thought that I would be a father the following year, and even less thought still that I would be leaving for life in a new country roughly 13 months hence. In fact, had you brought any of these eventualities to my attention, I suspect that my reaction would have been to promptly enter a catatonic state induced by a debilitating panic. My comfort zone was something to be guarded rather than deserted, something to be kept neat and tidy. Kids, by contrast, are messy and international excursions messier still. They have socialized medicine here!

And yet, here we are – with a perfectly healthy son, now one year old, and plans to stay here in New Zealand for roughly 18 months time, returning to America in June 2014. None of this was planned, per se. It just happened. And slowly I’m coming to realize that that’s okay.

2. Embrace New Opportunities by Letting Go of Expectations

The second lesson I’ve learned from life in the fast track has been that expectations are really illusory. While it’s wise to plan and anticipate the futures we would like, it’s important to keep in mind that all of this planning we do on a daily basis is with a grain of salt. Planing is always done “Insha’Allah,” or ‘Lord willing’ as they say in the Muslim world. Following the completion of my SJD, I expected to remain in the U.S. and teach at a tribal college close to home. Had I stubbornly clung to this expectation, I would have missed out on the opportunity to live abroad and gain first-hand insights into the situation of Indigenous governance in a country I had only seen in the Lord of the Rings. Now, I actually live in the Shire. And, more importantly, I would never have met so many of the individuals we now consider dear friends.

Letting go of my expectations was honestly the best outcome that could have happened. 

3. Enjoy the Day

Earlier I mentioned that I’d like to downshift from the fast iteration of life I’ve been living to something more pedestrian. While I’ve come to terms with life’s uncertainty, and the need to be somewhat flexible in my expectations, I still feel like there’s something to be said for living and enjoying a slower life.

The first point to make is that it’s dreadfully easy not to live a slow life. Recently, I read a fascinating essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education on Michael Ignatieff, former opposition leader of the Canadian Parliament. The biography highlighted the career of Mr. Ignatieff, detailing his swift rise in academia, and his slower, gradual ascent to political power – before ultimately documenting his resounding defeat at the hand of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The theme of the piece was how rapidly a career can peak and plummet. Not exactly inspirational material. 

What I took away from this past year, and the unintentional case study of Mr. Ignatieff, is that the best way to navigate life’s vicissitudes is to simply enjoy the day you have. Our ambitions may fail. Our best laid plans may be upended like a landslide, Canadian electoral loss. So, really the best we can do is focus the madness of existence through the lens of the now, and enjoy the moment of life we have – however fleeting and uncertain it may be.

I don’t know that I’ve shared the details of our son, Clark’s birth before. But toward the end, just prior to his successful delivery (viz., everything turned out alright), his heart rate began to drop. Gwyn had been in labor north of 30 hours and the stress had taken a toll on Mom and Baby alike. When the doctor’s brow furrowed and the medical team began to discuss emergency procedures, my heart sank and fear set in. There was a moment in the delivery room when I would even have given my own life to buy a bit more time for my wife and son. It was a primal, visceral reaction to situation and ultimately completely needless. But it was also telling. Seldom does a day go by that I look at our healthy, happy, and beautiful baby boy and don’t think about how fortunate we are that the moment came to pass so favorably for us all.

Enjoy the moment. Enjoy the now.     

Resurrecting Pax Plena

In sum, I’ve learned much this past year and have more or less put Pax Plena and blogging on hold as a result. My plan, wholly bereft of certainty and expectation, is to begin blogging more frequently. Toward this end, I also plan to teach a course on behalf of the University of Wyoming this spring semester and hope to use the blog here as a way to transmit supplemental information and connect with students, whether through social media or comments on reactions to readings, etc. This means that I’ll be culling some of the old posts and generally trying to whip this nearly 10 year-old project into shape. My hope (as opposed to expectation) is that this will provide a way to reconnect with blogging as a genre of writing and as a means of living life in the slow – a way to remember that in the end, the tortoise wins. 

The Lone Star Restaurant, New Zealand Style


Having long grown tired of my much-too-small flat, I decided to brave the wilds of public transport and mosey on down to the Lone Star Cafe & Bar.

As you can see in the photo above, the decor is almost spot on. Wood floors, exposed beams on the ceiling, and above all American country music blaring on the speakers. Granted the music is country music circa 1990, but it’s still quite good relative to the rest of New Zealand.

Naturally, while the restaurant excelled in ambiance the food was sorely lacking. The first tell was the sign in the photo above. No self-respecting, Texas-imitation restaurant would ever advertise lamb as their special of the day. That’s much too ‘high falutin’ for Texas. Most Texans can barely spell lamb. Needless to say, when I saw the sign above, alas, I knew I was doomed.

The second tell was the arrival of my burrito meal, which was inexplicably served with what was billed as the New Zealand equivalent of cold slaw.

My “burrito” meal is below.

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Having lived in Arizona and having there enjoyed some of the best Mexican food there is, I’m obviously not an objective critic. But even by frozen-Mexican-food-from-Wal-Mart standards the burrito was subpar.

For starters, the alleged burrito contained BBQ sauce on the inside, a holy accoutrement that should be reserved only for steak and ribs – as all good Texans know. Unless of course one is from Austin, in which case, the bar for knowledge is considerably lower.

The meal did get one thing right, however, and this impressed me greatly. It was served with a small cup of sour cream and salsa, just like God Himself intended. How the Lone Star got this detail right and, nonetheless, put BBQ Sauce on its burrito, is something I’ll never understand.

As I alluded to earlier, the frozen Chimichangas at good ‘ole Wally World are a better substitute for the burritos at The Lone Star Cafe & Bar in Hamilton, NZ.

But I heard Johnny Cash’s Jackson in New Zealand. And, by God, that ain’t bad.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Winter Books Reviews – 2013

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It seems no sooner did I resolve to post more often then the first week of the new year slipped away.

Much is afoot here in the Sooner State. My family and I are planning a temporary relocation to New Zealand (more on that later) and it seems like the paperwork for our visa applications will never end.

Closer to home, I am planning three book reviews for the winter months – all of which look quite promising. Here’s a brief run down of coming attractions:

Ron Rash’s The Cove debuted in the Spring of 2012. The paperback came out recently, reprinting the haunting tale of an outcast girl, and a mysterious wanderer who happens upon her isolated homestead.

Alexander Snegirev’s Petroleum Venus is set for release next month. The book is on he shortlist for the Russian National Bestseller Prize. The novel depicts the relationship between a single father and his soon who was born with Down’s syndrome.

Finally, Nell Leyshon’s The Colour of Milk was released in late December. The slim book explores the temptations of a young father’s daughter as she leaves the family farm to work for an aging couple living nearby. The young girl is introduced to knowledge of the intellectual and carnal variety as she is forced to grapple with the consequences of both.

In all, a busy schedule but one that hopefully generates many more conversations to come. As always, stay tuned.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

A Few Resolutions

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It’s sad but I tend to be more consistent in making resolutions than in actually following through with them. As a quick recap from last year, I accomplished a meager 6 of the 14 goals I set last January:

Wins: 1) confirmed in the Episcopal Church, 2) memorized the Nicene Creed, 3) finished Ten Book Reviews, 4) finished my dissertation, 5) moved back to Oklahoma, 6) found gainful employment – more on this later.

Losses: 1) failed to read the Bible in one year, 2) failed to blog four times per week, 3) failed to ride my bike twice per week, 4) failed to drink less alcohol, 5) failed to reclaim my high school weight, 6) failed to finish War and Peace, 7) failed to finish The Brothers Karamazov, 8) failed to take a celebratory vacation – but for a good reason.

Naturally, the tally isn’t exactly an inspiring reason to set goals for the new year. But they say misery loves company and, indeed, research shows that my failure puts me in the good company of four-fifths of all people who make resolutions.

For 2013, my list and motivations are a little different. Most of my resolutions are fairly specific but I feel what was lacking this year was an aspirational goal to motivate me at points in the year when life seemed flat. To correct this, I’ve added a theme for the year summarized by the phrase, “Do good. Keep it simple.”

What makes this year’s theme exciting to me is that it combines service aspects of my faith that are important to me with the zen concept of living minimalism. Life is challenging enough without my adding any unnecessary complications to the mix and I feel this theme is already reflected in a number of the goals I’ve set for this year:

1. Faith. Get back to the basics. Focus less on theological problems and look for ways to obey God by serving others. Application not theory.

2. Drink less alcohol. This is starting to sound like a broken record. I managed to cut back since Clark was born, so really I just need to carry this momentum into 2013.

3. Fitness. My goal is to lose 30lbs. No excuses. Play like a champion.

4. Kindness. Surprise. I’m an extremely sarcastic person. I think I could be a lot kinder to people if I weren’t such a smartass all the time.

5. Writing. I am the biggest obstacle to my creative writing outlet. My creative writing goal is to write one page per day.

6. Bible. My goal is to read the Book of Common Prayer’s Daily Office readings each day.

7. Blogging. As my grandfather might say, my goal of four posts per week went over like a lead balloon. I’m reducing that wayward aim to twice per week with hope for more.

8. Time. For reasons associated with my new position, a point requiring its own post, time management is going to be crucial skill for me to continue to develop. I’d like to set aside at least one hour per day for family time every day. I realize this number sounds slight and I expect the balance to be much larger, but for those days where time is scarce, this will be a fine goal to keep in mind.

9. Cycling. I plan to ride my bike regularly as circumstances allow.

10. Finances. My goal for the year, in keeping with the idea of minimalism, is to purchase less things and to spend my money on memories and things of lasting value. I do not know how this will work out in practice, but God knows we don’t need any more ‘stuff’.

And that, friends and fiends, is my list of new year’s resolutions. May the worst of your 2013 be better than the best of your 2012.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Fatherhood: First Impressions

Baby Clark

This past Monday, on October 15, 2012, after a protracted, thirty-hour labor, Gwyn and I welcomed our first-born son into the world. Clark William Fodder was born at 9:52 AM here in Tucson, weighing in at 7 lbs on the nose. It’s strange to think of instantly loving a child, but the parenting instincts really kicked in without a problem. A few years ago, I called children parasites, as of Monday I called this one my “little buddy” and my Son. Naturally, much has changed in the past week. 

As a quick example, it’s about 12:30AM on Sunday night as I sit down to write this. Clark is snoozing in his bassinet, a structure I am very much tempted to call a crate à la our Pooch Alexas. Though the hour draws late, it’s really only the beginning of my night. In a surprise to no one but me, late nights over the past week have delayed my ability to do much of anything. So many friends and family had warned us about the coming dearth of sleep but I stubbornly assumed that any spawn of mine would prove the exception rather than the rule. The result of tempting these fates is that Baby Clark seems to have inherited, in manifold, my penchant for late nights. This party is just getting started.

Clark’s typical “night” includes waking up around 11PM/12AM for dinner. After 10 to 15 minutes of feeding, he falls back asleep for an hour or so, before waking up for yet another meal. The scenario repeats itself until around 7AM when he finally drifts off for good until breakfast around 10AM. Sleep for me and Gwyn occurs between feedings, leaving us in a zomboid trance most of the day, mindlessly wandering between Clark’s crate and the kitchen in search of coffee (brains!). 

The Mayo Clinic actually offers a number of helpful tips to soothe the disconsolate newborn, but at 4AM our ability to think rationally is usually fairly well gone. I find that I’ve developed a number of superstitions to help me cope with the uncertainty. My ritual when putting Clark to bed includes gently placing him in the bassinet and gingerly walking backwards as if the slightest wrong move might trigger the baby bomb’s explosive mechanism. And when Clark successfully remains asleep, James Bond has nothing on this sleep deprived father. 

I’m not sure that my rituals help but like so many tricks of parenting, they impose a bit of order on what is in reality a muddled process, adding structure to something that is utterly beyond my control anyway. This is the hardest part of being a parent really. Nothing and everything is simultaneously within my control. As first-time parents, there are any number of things that could go wrong at any point and none of these exigencies are within my ambit of control (illness, acts of god, diapers that don’t quite keeping exterior clothing dry, etc.). And yet all of the choices related to Clark’s rearing are within my control (selecting a pediatrician, purchasing a safe car seat, buying a different brand of diaper, etc.). It’s really a maddening dichotomy when you think about it.  

The crux of what I’ve learned in the past week is that the only way to navigate the contrariety of Fatherhood is give it the old college try. Do the best you can. Give it a go. “Keep Calm and Carry On” as the meme says. But don’t get caught in the lie of believing that there’s a best or even better way of doing things. For every opinion given, there are completely different schools of thought that say the opposite. So, just pick one. Everyone who has ever parented a kid and whole segments of the population who haven’t, seem to have theories about the best way to swaddle a newborn. Accordingly, there are no less than ten different websites selling wares meant for swaddling newborns, with each company claiming to sell the best product for swaddling (and let’s be honest, the Miracle Blanket is really the best product on the market). Yet, the same act can be accomplished by a bit of folding trickery with a receiving blanket, $10 for a pack of 4 at Target. There’s no right way. Just your way. 

Anyway, in case you missed the lead I just buried, the point is just that there’s really no right, better or best way to rear a kid. This realization makes me appreciate the decisions that my own parents faced when I was a child. And in retrospect, I have to say that most parents (mine included) end up doing a pretty good job – even when they’ve had to turn chicken shit into chicken salad.  

And so, with already 6 days on the job and roughly 6,564 days until Clark turns 18, as the hymn says, time is now fleeting, the moments are passing. Here’s hoping that when the bell tolls, we’ll have done a pretty good job too.

Thoughts of an Anxious Father

An Anxious Father

“The people of long ago are not remembered, nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come by those who come after them.”

– Ecclesiastes 1.11

We had our weekly doctor’s appointment today. I’ll do my best not to reveal too much information although this is surprisingly difficult to do when discussing a pregnancy. In brief, Gwyn is progressing quite well and is nearing the stages of early delivery. In terms of timeframe, Baby Clark could arrive any day now. 

Being the eternal ray of sunshine that I am, his birth triggers a lot of conflicting thoughts for me. Naturally, I’ll start with the more melancholic.

I suppose I turned to the passage above from Ecclesiastes because it reminds me of our collective lot, set amid the vast pantheon of begins who have lived and died on this terrestrial plane, and are now forgotten. Thinking of my son, I want him to exceed this very low bar set by Ecclesiastes. I want his life to have meaning. I don’t want his name relegated to the dusty annals of history. I want him to be…great!

Of course, greatness, by definition, is rare. When I think of the great men of history, I think of Jesus. Thomas Jefferson. John Locke. Bing Crosby. William F. Buckley. Henry Ford. Steve Jobs and even Ernest Hemingway. Just a few names. But all men who lived lives of consequence. Hoping that Clark will assume a post among the great men of time is surely the blind ambitions of a joyful father. Yes, I know that the humble, appropriate thing to do is to pray that he lives a life of character – and I will pray for that. But just for good measure, I’ll tack on a prayer that he live a life of consequence. However that is defined.

I suspect such prayers are what most parents want for their children. Given my present station in life, I feel that this is a bit like the blind leading the blind. But the arrival of children does a strange thing to us parents to be. My life has become less important to me than the reality of my child having a better future. This sentiment so often struck me as a cliché. I’m amazed to know this is what parents really feel. For myself, I merely pray for the vision to help make these things a reality for Clark, even as he charts his own course. 

Not all of my thoughts are so morose. The second section of Ecclesiastes takes what has become a circumspect, existential view of life. For me, this means that the best I can do is live in the present – not in hopes of what things might come. The present reality is that my son will be here very, very soon. 

As the sun streams through my kitchen window, I have to smile when I think about his tiny feet. Feet that have yet to set foot on this ancient sphere. I think of his tiny fists – fists not clenched in anger but in warmth and love. I can imagine his tiny eyes, not yet fully able to take in his surroundings. Sleepy eyes that have never seen the evil and sorrows of this world.

Simply put, he is pure. Pure in every conceivable, normative sense of the word. An angel. Better still, a son.  

One day, we will throw passes in the yard, just as my Father and Grandfather did with me. Perhaps when he’s able to, we’ll read a book together, or settle in for a game of Call of Duty. Maybe when he’s much older we’ll have cigars and scotch on the porch. I hope he likes that sort of thing. For that matter, I hope he will like our pooch, Alexas. She can be rambunctious. Unrelated, I also hope he is a Republican so that we can complain to one another between election cycles. And I hope that I don’t drive him away. But when I do, because it’s inevitable that I will, I hope that he will come back.

So many hopes. So many joys. So many worries.

But for now, we wait. 

Take your time, Dear Son. Enjoy the love of your Mother’s belly. We’ll be waiting to care for you when you come into our World. 

October Skies

Autumn Skies

With Baby Clark’s birth so near, today seemed like as good a day as any to give a quick update on life, as opposed to the book reviews I’ve lately been posting.

I suppose this is true of any couple, but Gwyn and I have spent much time preparing for our Son’s arrival. We obviously have a name picked out but we didn’t do a big announcement – at least until he actually comes into the world. I don’t much believe in Karma but better not to take any chances. One of the more interesting aspects of our preparations (besides nearly weekly trips to Babies “R” Us) has been coordinating travel plans with our respective families. Gwyn’s family has plans to depart from Indianapolis, while my family will make the trek from Southwest Oklahoma. Given that the baby is not nearly so interested in advance planning as we are, coordinating things has been quite the feat. We’ve more or less accepted the fact that it’s entirely possible no one will be here when he’s born, except for me and Gwyn – unless, of course, the stars align, itineraries converge, and Baby Fodder proves to be every bit the Type-A planner his father is. And really, no one would wish that on him at all. 

On my afternoon bike rides, I find my mind wandering more and more toward the type of world our Baby Boy will soon enter. As an erstwhile political junkie, given that we are in the midst of the Presidential Election, it’s impossible not to think about the type of country my Son will grow up in. By any fair measure, the political/economic/social state of our union is at a crucial juncture. With my generation facing massive debt, fewer financial opportunities than the generation before us, and a stagnant political system that has offered no solutions, I am convinced that this election will have tremendous ramifications for our Nation going forward. And as a partisan, I’m also quite convinced that the Nation needs a new vision other than the one offered by the current Administration. Naturally, I was quite pleased with Gov. Romney’s performance during the first debate on Wednesday. I think the AP Photo here, more or less sums up the feelings of both sides following the 90 minute skirmish.

But setting aside partisanship for a moment, it’s interesting for me to think about this election in terms of how it will affect my very near-future offspring. I’ve heard politicians and wannabe politicians clamor for years and years about how elections are all about the kind of future we want to leave for our children. More often than not, I wrote off the remark as that of an older generation trying to kiss up to a younger generation. Maybe a lame attempt to keep granny out of the home for a couple of years, who knows? But as a soon-to-be Father, I find myself asking, “Who would run our ship of state better? Who can I trust to steer us in a direction that will allow my Son to have opportunities that I could not, say 18 – 20 years from now?” Having never really done it before, it’s a strange thing to think with the mind of a parent. 

And of course, I’ve had many thoughts about the greater world – mostly at night while having a cigar on the porch. Overseas, the war drums beat, though perhaps not quite so loudly, between Israel and Iran. The world watches to see what position, if any, the U.S. will take. Meanwhile, the American embassy in Lybia burns and our FBI teams have only just entered the country, some three weeks after the assassination of our Ambassador by terrorists. The latest question to arise over the incident this week is whether our government actually ordered a cover-up of the whole thing.   

To be sure, our Son will be born during a critical hour in history. As a captive of my moment, I would like to think that these challenges are unique but if I give my parents’ generation and my grandparents’ generation any credit, it’s clear that each has faced its own critical moments. But as a future parent, the status quo simply isn’t acceptable to me. I actually want my Son to grow up in a peaceful world. Strange, isn’t it? I’d like him to travel and explore other cultures that are currently restricted by the tensions of world powers (e.g., Egypt, Venezuela, even Iran). Of course, there’s actually a self-interested element in all of this as well – for all I know, my Son could pursue a career in the armed forces; he could command a fighter jet over the Pacific (although with his mother’s eyesight, I highly doubt this). He might even join the special ops, and genuinely mean that he would have to kill me if he told me what he actually did. Suffice it to say, if I were a military parent, I’d rather my Son serve during a time of peace with his missions more akin to Johnny English than Jason Bourne

As a fall air gradually begins to blow across Tucson’s alluvial plain, the only certainty I have of late is the blue, October sky above. As a would be parent, this leaves me extremely unsettled. So much is out of my control and I can’t help but think that I know so little about life. And yet this little life, due in two weeks or so, needs me to help him make it make sense. 

And so I do the only thing I can: I pray that my Son might flourish, even in the desert of our age. 

The Fall

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Today was the first day of fall here in Tucson. I’m not sure what the calendar actually marks as the first day of fall but it was the first day where a distinct northerly breeze came rolling off the Catalina Mountains with a hint of crispness to it. 

I’m sure everyone has their favorite season. But as a Scorpio I have always been partial to the turning of leaves and weather just cold enough to require a sweater.

It’s interesting to think that my son will be here in a few weeks and the he too will be a son of the fall. I wonder if he will enjoy tossing around the football during these months, and whether he will prefer a light jacket over the hot sun of summer.

I wonder about a lot of things as his due date approaches. Mostly, I question how in the world I can share with him everything I want for him in a single lifetime.

Does the wisdom of the ages come in a Reader’s Digest version?

Funny how these timeless questions seem to flow with the cold air of a new season.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone