Papa Prayer

family story

Watsonville has a cemetery sandwiched between strip malls and drive-thru taqueria’s, Freedom blvd. cuts it in half. Taking it at forty-five mph, this flowered city of the dead becomes a technicolor dimensional shift that passes by so fast you can’t believe you were there. The memorial-flower-splotches around the graves remind me of the pollen balls honey bees drop when you setup your hive for dusting their spurs, so many intense colors you can’t take them all in. Perfect for drive-by ancestor worship.

Me & Moogie

I think of my dead friend Shaun more often than I ever thought I would. He and I had not been close since we both left theater when we were young, still his loss struck me like a boulder in the center of my heart. When he died unexpectedly he left two beautiful young children fatherless, kids I know were the center of his universe.  He always looked so effortlessly successful to me, his beautiful face a shrine I stopped at when retracing my past. How could he have checked out so early?
He comes to me when I’m in the midst of my most mundane parenting tasks. “How would Shaun have done this”, I ask myself. “How can I do this better”, is what I really want to know. Is it possible to cherish my children more? Five years later his death still pushes me to look at myself as a father, the better ghost I imagine him to be guides my hand.
Lately my dreams have been pulling me through a dense tunnel, like a black hole, scraping layers of me away. Something deeper is trying to emerge, its been buried for so long I don’t think its really human. Its something from before incarnation. Each layer breaks apart like an atomic web of life and death, shattering bardos that have entangled parts of my spirit for who knows how long. Does time even matter here?
Pulling myself out of this dream space is like awakening from a narcotic near-death experience, probably not unlike the drug-death journey that finally took Shaun. I feel like my soul has been twisted up and wrung out like an old wet towel. This is the alchemy of the seen and the unseen, fire and prima materia. This is the place where the soul becomes tangible, where the dead pass the living as the sun comes up.
If I love my own children more, somehow Shaun’s kids will feel it, thats what this place tells me. I can create a great wave of rapturous fatherhood that sweeps over the abandoned and unloved. Wouldn’t that change the world forever, if our worst problem was that our fathers gave too much love?
Watsonville affords me a lot of opportunity to consider the toxicity our way of life creates. Agro-industrial dead zones appear out of nowhere, backlit by well loved family gardens, brightly painted homes. Bee pollen and desolation, family love and anti-life share every block. Watsonville is a place with strong families, and yet its also a place with its share of fatherless children. Some had Dad’s who were always there physically, but never really present. So many kids have Dad’s who just can’t love openly, I’ve adopted a few of them.
There are so many men in my generation who’ve chosen never to parent, or foster, or mentor. They want to change the world, save it from devastation we’re creating. For me the answer is so simple: be like Shaun but survive. Find a way to let go of whatever chains you down and become a well-spring of love for the little-ones in your life. I never knew that just achieving the fullness of being a loving father would be enough, but it is. Fatherhood can be epic, it wants to be, we just have to allow it, let go of our own bullshit.
When Shaun is with me and I see those graves, they become places of offering to his children, tables where I can make some small love food, a salve for the wound that never heals, a fathers prayer.
“Papa didn’t walk out, he drifted away on a current he fought for most of his life. He wanted to be here, always with you, some part of him is. Its not enough I know, but there is still enough love in the universe for you. I know that because we’re here, the other fathers who love you. We’ll always be here.”

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