Noon, Dad. Noon.

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Noon, Dad. Noon.

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In Wisdom

Well, it happened.

I knew it was going to happen, I just didn’t know when.

The real question I had was how I would react.

And, it happened last night.  It was almost midnight.  I was having trouble sleeping in my bed, so I looked for another place to rest.

I walked upstairs to the dark, family room with a pillow and blanket thinking I was the only one.  As I walked toward the couch I noticed one of my sons was in the easy chair next to the couch.  I couldn’t tell which one, just a silhouette of a little human.

His silhouette was still, as though he were sleeping.  But, this is not where he usually sleeps.  He has a bedroom that he shares with another brother.  I sensed he might be pretending to be asleep.  Maybe it was the tension I could make out in the shadowed figure.  Not the relaxed figure I would expect from someone in a deep slumber.

I was so tired and focused on finding my own rest to prepare for the next day of work that the above thoughts didn’t really register until my head was on my pillow and blanket over my body.  And then I felt it.  I felt the tension of the room in my body, in the tightening of my chest.  Something wasn’t right.

My head was just a few feet away from my son’s.  I whispered, “Why are you here?”

He quickly answered, “I couldn’t sleep.  I’m having such a hard time sleeping.”

When my sons have trouble sleeping, they typically come into my room and let me know.  We then brainstorm, ask questions, offer solutions like sleeping in our bed, diffusing essential oils, or sometimes just listening.

But he didn’t come into our room this time.  This time, I found him, huddled in the easy chair in a dark corner.  Stiff.

Something still didn’t feel right.

I asked him, “What is keeping you from sleeping?”

“I don’t know.  I just can’t sleep”

In our house, “I don’t know” doesn’t count as a real answer.  The kids know this and always know what follows.  I said, “Try again.  What is keeping you from sleeping?”

Again, “I don’t know.  I just can’t sleep.”

Oh, the blocking that happens with young men.

Something inside told me to get up and get close in.  I rose and walked to the other side of the chair where I knelt down to put my arm around him.  My knee bumped the iPad that was leaning against the chair, a typical place for it to be charging.

And then I remembered what it was like to be his age.  The curiosity, the unanswered questions, the TV ads that flash images into our retinas, the surge in hormones.

He became restless, turning around to face me, still appearing tired.

As I reached for the iPad, he sat up and started talking faster, “I’m just tired, that’s all.  That’s it!”

I was on to something.  I felt his apprehension.

I pushed the menu button and as I typed in the password, my son began to cry, “I’m so sorry.  I feel so bad about myself.  I am so bad.  I am so bad.”  He just kept crying and repeating it, “I am so bad.  I am so bad.”  My heart literally began to ache.

 

When you’re a father of four sons and live in the digital age, you know that eventually you are going to have to face it.  You are going to walk in on your son watching pornography.  It’s going to happen.

About 30 years ago, my father’s response to my 11-year-old brother’s sexual indiscretions was the only example in how to react in a moment like this.  My brother and I shared a bed.  That night, when my father heard about my brother’s natural but somehow sinful acts, he used his fists to teach the lesson of sexual purity.  My young body vibrated during the beating and the screaming.  Each blow, I felt each blow, maybe not as clear as my brother, but I felt the energy, the violent vibrations from my father’s fists into my brother’s body.  I can still feel these vibrations today when I think about this.

 

 

The Google search read, “pokemon anime sex pictures.”  I scrolled through the images.  While it isn’t the kind of porn that I would search for, as I scrolled through the cartoonish, sexual images I could feel the innocence in my little boy.  A boy who is listening to his body and trying to make sense of it all.  I was that boy 30 years ago.  And, I am that boy today.

His hands were covering his face with his eyes peeking through his fingers, watching my illuminated face, hoping to get any indication of what would happen next.

I have always wondered how I would react in that moment.  I have always wondered how I should react in that moment.  Should I show anger and disappointment to discourage him from doing this again (aka shame and control)?  Should I go into an intellectual conversation about how watching pornography can affect the way we view other human beings?  Or should I just accept that this is part of being a boy, hand him the iPad and ask him to do his business in another room?

 

I could feel the vibrations again, the ones I would like to forget.  It was a difficult and uncomfortable moment for me…dealing with my own past while being present for my son.  I just sat with the uncomfortable sensations firing within my body, taking deep breaths, and listening, deeply listening to my son’s tears and my own body.

After a few moments, my body’s vibrations culminated.  Circulating around my heart area.

Instead of reacting how I thought I should have reacted or how I was taught to react, I reacted with my heart, through my heart.  My heart didn’t want to shame him for something that everyone else is doing but too ashamed to talk about.  My heart didn’t want to lecture about the objectification of humans.  My heart didn’t want to just let him go into another room and figure all this out on his own.  And my heart certainly didn’t want to use fists.

My heart flooded with compassion for a young man trying to navigate in a world that is sometimes so difficult to understand.  I know that young man.  I am that young man.  I knew coming down on him would push him further away into the dark corner I found him in.  I knew that the only response I would feel proud of would be one of authenticity and understanding.  The heart is where the most precious and life-giving energy resides.

So, I simply asked him the question that came up for me, “What is it like to be you, son?”  That’s it.  That’s all that came out of my mouth.  I suppose that is how I wished my father would have reacted to my brother’s news, with compassion, with understanding, with love.

He took a deep breath, held it in for a few moments, and then for the next hour I listened.  Until 1am I just listened to a little boy cry to his father about how lonely, lost and empty he felt.  How last week’s last day of the school year was one of the hardest days of his life because it meant three months of not talking to his friends at lunch, not having something to do, some purpose.  He told me that his schoolmates were planning to play football the next day at noon, but that he was just too scared to reach out to them because they might reject him, because he’s not as good at football as they are.  He said “noon” like it was a terrible deadline of doom, a time he wanted to be a part of but just couldn’t garner the courage to show up.

 

He lamented, “I feel purposeless, Dad.  Do you ever feel purposeless, this empty, this scared?!?”
“Yes, love, I feel purposeless sometimes too.  It is one of the hardest feelings to sit with.  I am so sorry you feel empty.  I know what that feels like too.  It is really hard to just sit with the feeling of emptiness.  And, yes, I feel scared sometimes too, even with meeting people and asking if they would like to hang out.  I sometimes feel personally rejected when someone says they are just too busy.”

“What did you do to get rid of the emptiness feeling, Dad?”

“Oh, it took me a long time to figure that out.  I lived with the emptiness for so long. ”

Desperately he asked, “What did you do!?!”

 

So, I shared with him the lowest time in my life, the one-year anniversary of the Chick-Fil-A protest.  How dark it was for me.  How hopeless it all was.  How heavy the loneliness was.  How being rejected and being publicly shamed by so many felt like the worst kind of punishment I could have never imagine.  I told him how I even thought of ending my life to keep from dragging the rest of the family down with me.

I told him that it takes courage to be honest about one’s feelings.  That it takes courage to face the hard, dark emotions.  And it takes courage to take steps toward helping yourself too.

 

I told him a secret that I learned, a secret I am reminded of every time I share my story in a public setting.  “We are not alone, love.  You are not alone.  Everyone feels emptiness, loneliness, and fear.  I’m sure many of your friends are feeling the same kind of loss from leaving school too.  They are all likely feeling the same feelings you are feeling right now.”  When I am thanked with “I just wish everyone was honest about what life can be like sometimes.  I just wish everyone wasn’t wearing so many masks”, the secret I am reminded of every time I tell my story is that we are all in this together.  We are all experiencing love and hate, joy and sadness, connection and disconnection.  We are not alone.  You are not alone.

 

That hour wasn’t an hour of shaming or lecturing.  It wasn’t a time to manipulate or punish.  That hour was an hour of unconditional love from a father to a son, from a son to a father, and more accurately from me to me.  That hour was so connecting for the two of us.  We were not separate.  We were one.  We were working out what we all have to work out, how to manage the heavy emotions that inevitably come up in our lives.  That we all feel.

 

After 1am, we agreed to sleep in the family room together.  I was exhausted and knew I would be asleep within a minute of my head hitting my pillow.  But before I quickly drifted I heard the sweet sound of a little boy quietly snoring.  I smiled.  No, my heart smiled and we slept in deep peace together.

 

The next morning as I walked out the door to go to work, I hugged each of my family goodbye.  When I got to the son I felt so close to just a few hours before, he whispered, “Noon, Dad. Noon.”

 

May we all have the courage to face our darkness.  For in facing the darkness we find our light, our peace, and ultimate, unconditional love.

Thank you, darkness, for leading us to the truth of who we are.

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