The Way of Dad

The Forest stole my hiding place and made it into a celebration of connection.

Everyone (including our dog Bella) spent this Fathers Day in the woods with me. That was my gift, to come to the spot I’d been going to almost every morning for the past few weeks. After dropping the kids at school I’d come to this small glen by the side of the road, journal and work with the spirits in some way. Given everything that has been going on, supporting Terry as she works so hard on her health, its been my declared “me-time” space.

The drought-cancelling rains this winter brought out the deep royal green of Nisene Marks Forest. Five foot horsetails are dwarfed by new ferns filling the understory. The river bed is still bruised with giantish tumbles of fallen trees and debris, some rising like many-storied buildings up to the thick duff on the ridges that bank Aptos creek. Portions of the park were closed down due to the storms that lasted well over three months. The forest and her citizens have been well fed, if somewhat battered.

A short time ago I actually left my journal in the glen without realizing it. I’d been so stressed I didn’t even know it was gone until I returned and saw it perched on the edge of a fallen tree where two paths met. I hadn’t written much, but some of what I wrote was deeply personal. I cracked the cover hoping if people read and responded – they wrote something kind.

I was delighted to see that everyone had ignored my entries and transformed my journal into a forest guest book! Some had drawn pictures, many had outlined hands, some had sweet messages to loved ones. Many, many people raved about the beauty of the forest. It was a kind of magic I wasn’t looking for from this glen. I’d hope to meet the Sidhe but instead I met my fellow forest devotees. What a treasure! Greatly relieved, I tore out my original journal entry pages and wrote a formal invitation for anyone who passed to make an entry in the book.

When we returned on Fathers day, Terry brought colored pencils to add to the pen I’d left. The book was still there, in the same spot – some new entries continued the tradition. We all stopped to make our mark, even True. After much ferocious scribbling we all made our way down to the stream. Tadg immediately began assembling a bridge from fallen limbs and melon size rocks, True cast her cloths off with glee and danced across the stream, and Terry settled down beneath a tree to lay on the Earth and rest.

When I check in with my spirit here, three threads come up time and time again:

Patience. Some things take time. Deep healing can take real time.
Trust… not small trust but BIG TRUST that can embrace everything. The trust that says, yes to tomorrow even when today is terrifying.
This is your time to sink deeper into Dad.

Yeah, that last one was a bit of a shocker for me too. I’m sure most people who know me think of me as %110 Dad, but that’s not the whole story. We’ve all met those Dads who show up at the table but don’t really dive into the meal. They acknowledge being a Dad, but don’t seem to want parenting to remake them in any deep way. Its that growing up thing (ICK!). There is a little bit of that Dad in me. I love being with my kids, but do I really want to be a grown up? And why now – why is that my work now?

Nothing says grow up like having your partner struck with a serious illness. Its actually a giant bag of grow-the-fuck-up dropped on your lap every few days. I’ve been coping with it OK {AKA barely surviving}, but too stressed to embrace it, dive in, welcome the remaking that it implies.

Bella wanders through the stream looking doggie-serene. She knows this is where we should all be spending our days, every day. I rest my feet in the cool water, pressing them onto fist sized river stones. I have to keep calling myself back to my body, back to the present moment. My spirit wants to flit about Terry, hovering hovering hovering, exactly what she does not need.

Trust, peace, patience, focus on being a good Father to your children now.

Its fed me in a way, to think about the breadth of Dadhood thats really out there in the world. There is a lot of room to grow, a lot to explore. What kind of Father does my son need, what does my daughter need from me? What does it mean to have more of your life devoted just to Fatherhood?

Right now, lets start with you not being an asshole to your kids, call it a gift to them on Fathers Day.

I have lost my shit a few times over the last few months, enough to hurt feelings, enough to warrant apologies. We all deserve better. The answer is more than self-care, the answer is to grow, to welcome this next chapter. We can never rely on self-care alone to save us from whats lurking in the shadow, we actually have to deal with what is coming up.

Wayne Dyer talked about what comes out when you get squeezed. You don’t expect to get apple juice when you squeeze an orange, you get orange juice. What comes of out me when I get squeezed is what is hidden inside. I have a lot to say about that place within me, a lot to reckon with. Writing is a good part of that. My time alone in the forest has been a blessing, but the guest book showing up reminds me that I tend to choose practices that isolate me, take me away from people.

The forest stole my hiding place and made it into a celebration of connection.

This morning I could have spent the precious few minutes before work going back to the woods to read the journal and talk to the trees, instead I chose to write. Though my audience is relatively small, it takes me out into the world, something I need to do now. Writing always feels like a great connector.

Inevitably I give in and check on Terry as she rests in the warm sun. I want to sit and cuddle her through the days until all of this nasty stuff goes away, but with my caring comes stress and concern, not always the right medicine. I think she and I have both been most alive in forests like this one, it feels like our family belongs here to me. I’ll have to trust her to the ferns, redwoods, horsetails and her own strong spirit.

I came across a post from two years ago on Fathers Day titled Selkie Dad, it reminds me how much I miss my animal skin, the wildness of sinking into the open water, alone on a slightly treacherous day. Right now having another me to slip into would feel pretty good. But I imagine that Selkie me is still a Dad, still has his pups, his own responsibilities. But he has wildness running through him, something I feel I’ve stupidly abandoned during this challenging time. Strange when the wildness of the world can be so deeply healing.

The depth of Terry’s process, her journey, keeps moving us all into new territory. The magic pills here don’t work overnight, and they are not the only course she needs to work. She has to keep showing up, saying yes as best she can, dealing with each moment as it comes.

Cancer is a shit-show, she wrote on FB yesterday.

I’ve learned that my biggest challenge in Fatherhood right now, my biggest challenge in being there for Terry, is to be centered, rooted in my own experience. When I pull up from taking the kids out to the park I check in – how big a space can I hold for her when I walk through that door? I can honestly say I’ve become better at that over the months. I’m better able to seperate reality from the fears I hold, and Terry’s experience. I’m able to come back to center around the kids more quickly, and imagine happiness where just moments before I felt the ache of sad tiredness. I don’t think I can lift us up, the kids do that, but at least I’m beginning to see the time in which I bring us all down less, where I can be a warm shelter for all.

Listen, thats what she needs from you now. Not to fix, just to listen.

I’m beginning to see that the Way of Dad includes a lot of listening, a lot of receiving my beloveds. I have to see this phase of my life as a new beginning, a whole new journey. This is not a brief pause to take care of a illness and then move on, this is a new road, a new way. Its incredibly humbling, every day. I treasure Terry and my children so dearly.

Trust, face the day, patience and … know your Selkie skin is still with you and the Forest is still watching.

I hope you keep us all in your hearts, thoughts and prayers. And if you should happen to see a journal set on a log in Nisene Marks, stop and make an entry. It will be appreciated.