AustinMama offers up some Daddy props.
A human being should be able to
change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, design a building, conn a
ship, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort
the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve an
equation, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a
tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
- Robert A. Heinlein
I originally planned to write a follow up column to last monthís rant,
and then by the time it was on line I wanted to write about anything
else, but here I am and here it is. First, let me start with another
unrelated personal anecdote to set the tone.
During my time in an intentional community in Arizona I made quite a
remarkable friend. His name was Nathan, he was certifiably a genius,
and a very gentle and decent human being. He was only 15 when I met
him, home schooled, a vegetarian for nine years, and a fascinating
blend of cleverness, insight, wonder, and inexperience. Not only did
we squander many a late night together, he was an integral part of my
emerging sane and reasonably functional from that whole adventure.
Nathan and I stayed in touch when I moved back home and he visited me
more than once over the next few years, until one day he arrived with a
lady friend - Nathan had finally lost his virginity, and here was my
chance to meet the lucky girl, with whom he was apparently living.
Naturally I was curious, although I warned him that if she wasn't good
enough for him we'd have to kill her, this being something of a running
joke in our circle of friends. I tried very hard to like her. A
pretty, obviously clever and slightly acerbic woman, she held court at
our dinner table as if it weren't actually me who played host and
prepared the meal, and over three late nights I heard tales of her
life. As a polyamourist (someone with multiple active sexual
partners), she apparently resolved social issues between her lovers by
ranking them: if lover #2 clashed with lover #5, #2 was always right.
In one of her stories, she had moved to a cabin with two guys and one
day she just decided she'd had enough and left, no note, nothing. I
was appalled, and baffled that Nathan had become so clearly smitten.
Finally, the moment of truth came: their train was pulling into the
station, and it was time for goodbyes. I told Nathan I loved him and
gave him a big hug. She turned to me and said, with a big smile,
"Well, I'm still alive, so I guess I must be good enough for him."
shook her hand and tried to summon something nice to say.
"Actually, you're not good enough for him, but that's okay because I don't think
you're going to keep him."
I swear, it just popped out. I was as surprised as they were.
maybe not quite. I'm sure it gave them plenty to talk about on the
trip. Nathan never spoke to me, answered any emails, or in any other
way acknowledged my existence again. I just couldn't help myself.
was my friend and I couldn't lie to him, couldn't pretend all was
sweetness and light and I foresaw a beautiful future for them together.
I've never been terribly proficient at keeping my mouth shut, but I
accomplished nothing but alienating someone I liked. Nathan, if by
some obscure chance you read this, I'm sorry, and I miss you.
So I guess that brings me back to where I left off last month. The
noise and traffic of Keefe's 12th birthday party went off without any
significant hitches other than some conflict I had with Keefe over
contributing to the clean up. Some of the potential guests had
scheduling conflicts and couldnít show up, which meant that our two
families of warring friends didnít bump into each other. The extra
residents in our house had been quietly looking for another place to
be, and the day after the party guests left they packed up their pets
and belongings and abruptly they were gone. Only a few days later I
found myself minding a 15-month-old, and the contrast between mass
chaos in our house and spending time alone with someone that tiny and
quiet was spectacularly jarring. Conflict between our friends
continued to escalate in even more unlikely ways, as with cleanup
completed the owners put the house of contention up for sale and the
former tenants started calling local real estate agents and warning
them not to represent them. While I canít imagine having the cojones
for that myself, I could quietly shake my head over it and not give it
much further thought, because now none of the participants were living
in my house.
Ahhh. A pleasant sign of relief.
Then, of course, the column I had written in the middle of this chaos
appeared here, and served to rub salt in the wound. My dear friends J
and L felt that I had the order of events in my recounting of the story
wrong, and that my column implied callousness on their part. More
specifically, they said that they never heard complaints about
dangerous mold from N and D until the day they arrived on our doorstep.
I was pretty certain I had included a disclaimer in my column somewhere
about the whole tale being largely based on hearsay, which I guess in
retrospect I didn't, and I know I had intended to send the involved
parties a copy for comment before it went on line and later I noticed
that email was with a bunch of other half finished and out of date
correspondence that never got sent. Things were crazy here and we had
flu that week and it just sort of slipped my mind, which is really no
excuse, but there it is. So I find myself having to apologize again
for not knowing when to keep my mouth shut, and I apologize for any
unintended slight or seemingly cast aspersion in last monthís column.
I hold these people in very high regard as decent and compassionate
people. I also wasnít there for any significant conversations taking
place between these folks, so I canít make any authoritative claims
about what took place between them. As I said, Iím mostly just glad
have the issue moved out of my house.
It still leaves me thinking hard about communication issues. I have
something of a gift for occasionally harming friendships with my
compulsion to speak my mind, although I am learning. I stopped
claiming years ago that tact was a mutual agreement to be full of crap,
and I think harder now about how what Iím about to blurt out is likely
to be received. Iím still unapologetic about being an opinionated so
and so, though, because in my own experience I vastly prefer it to the
In the time weíve known N and D, theyíve mostly gone from one crisis to
another, and it seems to be human nature to assume people who do so are
somehow doing it to themselves. I donít think thatís entirely
but I know that this specific family has developed a habit when under
stress of climbing into a hole and pulling it in after themselves.
This turtle behavior apparently helps them in processing their
emotions, but not staying in communication in a straightforward way
with those around them clearly exacerbates problematic situations that
might otherwise be defused. I canít be sure who told or didnít
who what when, but it doesn't seem entirely out of character to assume
something didnít get said or said clearly enough that Iíd personally
find it inconceivable not to be mouthy about.
If we really want to live together in any kind of community, even just
within a solitary household, thereís really a kind of balance that has
to be struck. Blunt communication is an announcement of important
content using poor language, tone or timing, and confused communication
concerns itself with tone or timing so much that the content gets lost.
Both sabotage community. Now that all of our houseguests are
and with every indication that everyone invited to our annual feast of
the dead isnít going to show up, I struggle to remember that in my
ongoing pissing contests with our 'tween. Unless I strike the right
tone I canít get the message to sink in. But in the blissful
simplicity of our nuclear family, itís a little easier because we
already know each other so well, and remember eventually not to take it
personally. I can be pretty sure at least that our frequent
miscommunications arenít likely to result in litigation. Knock on
Michael Nabert is a Canadian writer who loves to talk and sing, and writes mainly about
parenting, the art of wooing and paleontology. Widely traveled, with an opinion about everything, his friends often describe him as having
deplorable excess of character." He is currently stay-at-home dad to Hugh