Portrait of an Artist as a Weird Man: April Scowlers

For those of you familiar with this series, I swear I do not encourage my boys to draw pictures of me–if you’ve seen any of their depictions, you know I speak the truth. Yet, I am amazed that they will just sit down and create a rendition of me. At this stage in life, I can deal with the fact that I’m not the best looking guy out there, but to see me through the eyes of my boys is somewhat frightening. Take this latest masterpiece, by Owen, age 9:

photo (51)Now, I can handle my Flashdance neckline. I can accept that my eyebrows are channeling Martin Scorsese’s. I’m even okay with the masses of body hair and ballet slippers. What I cannot abide is my frown–my scowl, if you will.

Let me elaborate.

You see, Owen created this drawing last week, after school, on a day when I was assembling a basketball net for them. Yes, for three hours I wrenched and rigged a new portable “system” for the driveway. He and I even had a father-son moment at twilight playing hoops together in the driveway. I must admit, I was proud. Proud to have put the court together by myself. Proud to have used only proper tools and not the all-purpose tool of my youth: a butter knife. And, proud not to have freaked out on anyone in my family in the process. Daddy built something and everyone was still on speaking terms–mission accomplished!

So, when we came in from our bonding b-ball session, I was intrigued when Owen told me he wanted to finish a drawing he started earlier.

“Of what?” I asked.

“Of you,” he replied.

“Oh,” I said, excited, for I noticed he had only drawn the eyes and nose at this point. I watched, in awe, as he created the rest. He drew the green shirt and running shorts I was wearing. He drew me thinking about the chips and guacamole I was currently eating. He scribbled in my King-Kong body hair, and, lastly, he drew my mouth.

What. The. Hell. Color me ugly. Color me hairy. But, do not color me cranky. I was not frowning like that. In fact, I’m always trying to laugh and play with these boys–when I’m not yelling at them. But, if I can’t get a stinking smile drawn on my face on the damn day when I could have auditioned for father of the year, then I never will.

“Wait,” I said. “Why are you making me look all mean?”

“I’m not. That’s just how I wanted to draw it.”

“Come on. That’s not cool. I don’t walk around like that.”

It was falling on deaf ears. The artist had finished his creation.

But then, he proceeded to show me how he came to draw my face. It was a new technique. He drew partial circle-faces all around the paper, like this:

final“Did you learn this in art class?” I asked.

“No, I just started doing it,” he said. (Probably picked it up from the Wimpy Kid series.)

And, as I watched his pen dance across the paper, I no longer cared how he made me look. Here was my son, teaching me his approach to drawing–giving me a glimpse into how his mind worked.

I was bearing witness to the creative process within him.

So, I guess it didn’t really matter that my little Picasso was drawing his dad as Frida Kahlo–with glasses.

And that made me smile.

 

 

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Spring Sting: A Runner’s Reflection on the Boston Marathon

Originally published April 23, 2013.

The irony of the Boston Marathon: America has stopped running! This epiphany came to me as I was participating in a 5k at my boys’ elementary school over the weekend. I have these moments of clarity when I run, and during the annual Spring Zing, I was preoccupied with thoughts of the bombing victims in Boston. Then it came to me: America has changed. This latest attack was different.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you have learned that I am a runner. I am as a shocked as everyone else who knows me that I am this athletic in my forties–much more than I ever was as a child. I have participated in close to fifty races in the past two decades. Fifty! And invariably when I run, there is usually a moment in the race when my eyes well up with tears. I am overcome with emotions–pride, joy, disbelief, humility. This is not the person I was slated to be in my youth. Not the overweight, unmotivated, smoker. Yet, here I am. And beyond the disbelief that I am an adult runner, is the pride I feel for being a part of something so palpable, so uplifting. I am forever grateful to have discovered running. For it is my love of running that has helped me explore the world around me and within me. Running has allowed me to process so many things I would have missed otherwise in my daily routine.

landscape-photo.net

Cherry Tree, by: Bruno Monginoux

The Spring Zing is a very sweet affair: A 3.1 mile race that winds through  the neighborhoods that surround our local school, and a 1 mile fun walk for the younger kids. These events are followed by an auction of gifts and crafts created by the various grades–paintings made out of thumb prints, mosaics and garden baskets constructed with tiny hands, etc. The money raised benefits our elementary school, and its partner school in Africa. One of the highlights of the school year, this event has become a reminder for me about the joys that springtime bestows on us. Sadly, this year’s fun was tarnished by an exhausting week of national sadness in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings.

Saturday’s race was especially bittersweet because it is the one race I do that involves many young children. Over one hundred young people, ranging from first to fifth grade, participate in the 5k. My sons have yet to do this race, but truthfully, many of the children who sign up for it are out of their element. They are not ready for this distance. But I don’t think that matters. The point is, they are developing an awareness for running distances–for setting a goal and doing their best to finish it. Many of them do end up walking some, most, or all of the course–but they all cross that finish line! Whenever my boys ask me if I won a race (NO), I always reply, “Anyone who finishes the race is a winner.” This might sound lame in our “I am number 1″ culture, but I mean it. In running, as in life, the race is only against yourself.

As I watch so many children “running” with their parents, I am filled with excitement, looking ahead to the day when I might run side by side with my boys in a race. I have dreamed of such a day since they were born. This thought alone is enough to fill my eyes with tears. But on this day, my smiles toward these families are interrupted by images of other runners whose limbs were lost just days ago pursuing the same passion. I feel the power of my stride hitting the road, only to imagine my feet missing. Next, I envision the youngest victim, Martin Richard, running beside these innocent, naive children, and I shudder at his image that is now burned in my mind: holding up his P-E-A-C-E poster with the plea “No more hurting people.” Richard was my son Owen’s age.  Such stark thoughts of this heinous act try to sabotage my race.

Like most of America, I was riveted by the bizarre turn of events that began on Monday, April 15th and ended with cinematic flare five days later. I still cannot fully comprehend what transpired. Yet, I am proud of the reaction that so many have had in response to this latest act of terror. In numerous news accounts it has been noted how, rather than flee the horror caused by the bombs, many people ran into the fray, determined to help, refusing to kowtow to cowardice, adamant that these monsters would not continue to paralyze our national consciousness. Strangers held one another, clothed one another, administered first aid and comforted one another. They remained. This approach echoed throughout America in the days that followed. Rather than cancel races in the wake of such destruction, more races were organized. I witnessed this locally in Philadelphia, where thousands of men, women, and children ran through Center City just three days after the attack, in honor of the victims and all who ran the Boston Marathon. And many other races have been created in response to this act. 

Yes, the irony of the Boston Marathon is that America has stopped running! As a nation, we are tired of being fearful. The city of Boston has demonstrated the bravery and dignity that is required to stand up to evil. Sadly, we have seen this bravery too many times. But with every new attack, we just grow stronger, more determined. The American people will not live in terror. We will not let this defeat us. In the end, the bad guy will not win–good will continue to outweigh evil. This courage is inspirational, and indicative of what America is becoming, has become, post 9-11. 

Halfway through the race, I realize this. I am emboldened by the courage of all those people who were in Boston that day, and put others before themselves. I think of all the brave law officers, military, and medical personnel who worked tirelessly to save lives, capture these perpetrators, and restore order and safety to the streets. I decide to put my fears–my thoughts of blood and death–away. I look up at a beautiful sky, where the sun begins to emerge from a billowy cloud. I breathe in the crisp fresh air. I smile. As I backtrack the mile and a half left of the course, I see a collection of children on the other side of the yellow line in the road. They are running. We are running. We are all united in this race. We are all united in our freedom as a country. I raise my hand, and begin to high five anyone and everyone. Kids respond without thinking. Parents reflexively put their hands up to match mine. We connect. I spend the rest of the race connecting with all of the amazing people who have come into my view on this glorious day. Each of their smiles, every high five, is a testament of our will to continue. For make no mistake–the race is not over. 

cc by-nc-nd Bruno Monginoux www.photo-paysage.com & www.landscape-photo.net

Monginoux / Landscape-Photo.net (cc by-nc-nd)

“Give me your tired, your poor, your second-grader who wants to run away to New York!”

My son, Hayden, came home with his report on immigration. He was very excited to show us all his hard work, and we were just as proud to read it. After doing just that, I had to share his paragraph on why people want to move to another country.

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At first, I thought Lady Liberty was simply holding her torch, but after reading the last line, it does sort of look like she’s flipping us the bird:) Please don’t move to New York, Hayden. We’d miss you.

Here’s to life, liberty, and second grade reports.

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XOXO

The following comic was inspired by a previous post of the same title.

Whenever my wife travels for work, she peppers the house with little post-it notes of affection for all. And she likes to put them everywhere.

A note like this will greet me when I come downstairs for my morning coffee.

xoxoxo

And there will be notes for the boys on their cereal bowls.

xoxo

We come across them in familiar spots throughout the day–from beginning to end.

xoxoxoxo (1)

Last year, as I was putting the boys to bed, they finally became intrigued about the ubiquitous XOXO that adorns all of her messages.

At bedtime, I usually sit in the hall while the boys settle into sleep. I had just opened a book when Hayden (then 6) called out from his room, “What does XOXO mean?”

xo2 (1)

 

“Or is it kisses and hugs? X is for kisses and O is for hugs,” I clarify.

“Okay,” says Hayden. Their rooms grow quiet. I continue reading by the glow of the nightlight.

xo1 (1)

 

It’s strange, but I actually enjoy this time, sitting on the hard floor in the drafty hallway. The boys are safely tucked in for the night and I get lost in a book. I am just that when Owen pipes in from his room.

“Dad, what’s sex?”

My eyes shoot up from my book, panic-stricken.

xo3

Why is he asking about sex? What the hell have they been watching? What should I do? Pam’s away!

xo4 (1)

I think back to how goofy and innocent these two are. Like the time I thought they were coloring when they were really doing this with all of their crayons:

xo6 (1)

 

I can handle telling them how to properly use their crayons. But this is another matter altogether.

I take a breath, about to say, “Sex is something that mommies and daddies do when…” Just then, Hayden yells from his bedroom.

xo5 (1)

 

I exhale a sigh of relief. He was asking about X! X is a kiss. X is a kiss. “Goodnight you two!” I say, relieved. “Goodnight!” they reply, innocently.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Post Script:

As I reflect on this incident over a year later, two things stand out. One, my mind really has gone to shit since having kids. I was not capable of recalling the conversation the boys and I were having minutes ago–I actually thought he was asking about sex, not X! That quickly, the thought is gone.

Second, in hindsight, I understand why I became so panicky in this situation. It’s not that I’m afraid for my boys to have such knowledge. Pam and I have always wanted to be open and honest with them–from the start, we’ve called things by their anatomical names in this house. No “noodle” or “woohoo”–two terms I’ve heard other parents use for penis and vagina. And I do think I would have begun the conversation as I did in my head: “Sex is something that mommies and daddies do to show they love each other…” And in time, that conversation would have developed into “Sex is something that two people do when they love each other…” It’s not the topic, per se, but the realization that I must be prepared at any time to confront questions my sons will have, and to answer them in an honest and respectful way.

I don’t think my panic arose from them knowing about sex, but just that it came out of nowhere. Even though it wasn’t even the question they had, I was reminded about the fact that, like all things in life, we cannot be prepared–we never know when something will occur. We cannot schedule the conversation, block off a half hour of our time for discussion, then cross it off our to-do list. Kids remind us that life is unpredictable, and we must try to be ready for anything.  ANYTHING!

XOXO,

Dadicus

To see how I handled a similar situation this year, click here .

MEET THE CARTOONIST: Jimmy Murphy
When he’s not performing Shakespearean Sonnets at The Great Wall of China, Jimmy Murphy draws everything from the creatures that haunt his imagination, to the ones that haunt his 9th grade reading curriculum, to the squishy noseless people like those seen on this website [figure1]. Although not yet at the peak of his popularity, artistically or high schoolistically, this fourteen year-old has been drawing since he could hold a crayon–the first recorded drawing being a rainbow–[figure 2]. Jimmy’s artistic influences include Shawn CossGris Grimly, and himself. He enjoys reading a good book, ranting about things he hates, raving about things he likes, sleeping, and can be endlessly entertained with a label-maker [figure 3].
[1] Jimmy.1 (1)      [2] Jimmy.2        [3] Jimmy.3 (1)

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March Madness

As the nation immerses itself in the craze of the NCAA College Basketball Tournament, I thought I’d give you another perspective on the rules of the game. I found this gem in Owen’s room, where the boys have weathered some of this winter playing hoops with one of those over the door basketball nets.

IMG_1266

Number 3 continues on back with …for defense.

Number 4 continues on back …a rope tie someone up.

Number 8 is particularly interesting to me, since Owen’s brother Hayden is 7.

Swimming in Loch Ness

fam (1)

I try to be very calm in my approach to life–at peace with the world, aware of the positive forces in my presence, appreciative of the beauty and joy that surround me. But try as I may, the anger seems to dwell just below the surface. On the outside I am tranquil, but on the inside, I am one negative encounter away from reeling. Emotionally, I feel like I am floating along on a raft in the warm water on a sunny day–on Loch Ness. The surface is smooth, it beckons me to relax, but the prehistoric monster lurks just beneath, waiting to rear its long neck and swallow me whole. Curse you Nessie!

nessie.1

The reminders of this struggle bombard me daily.

After school, I happily make the boys a snack, glad to have this time to unwind with them at the kitchen counter. THEN, I spy some jerk out the window speeding down our street. I immediately seethe, envisioning myself chasing down the car, climbing on the hood, stomping in the roof, and yelling:

nessie.2

At a recent basketball game for my 9 year-old, I try to be supportive of all the kids–even cheering when the other team sinks a great shot. But there, on the bleachers, is one dad–only one–who keeps barking at his son for all the wrong things he is doing. I try to ignore him, but his negativity gets the best of me. I fantasize about walking over to him and screaming: 

nessie.3

Ahhhh. The rage subsides, but it leaves a sting.

These dream-like confrontations make me feel better momentarily, but then deflated in the long run. I cannot be so confrontational in life–even if only in my mind. Too often, I feel like I got my approach to parenting not from Dr. Spock or Dr. Phil, but from Dr. Banner–you know, David Banner, aka The Incredible Hulk (Mr. McGee, don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.)

nessie.4 (2)

But, every so often, the world teaches me a valuable lesson about this struggle. Such a reminder occurred the other day when my boys were sledding in the fields behind our house.

nessie.5

I wait for a groan, but I’m met with  enthusiasm.

nessie.6 (1)

 nessie.7

It was idyllic. The dogs frolicked through the white, powdery trails, and I could hear the boys’ shouts of delight as they raced down the hill. The air was crisp and the sun danced through the barren branches. I became more elated with every step.

nessie.8 (1)

As I made my way out of the woods, I saw that more kids had joined my two–about seven in all.

nessie.9

I wanted the dogs to remain off leash, so I continued to watch the sledding action from afar. Owen (9), was now attempting to ride his snowboard–something he has adapted to quite nicely. As he came down the slope, I noticed he fell right after he passed two older boys–middle schoolers, perhaps.

nessie.10

No parent likes to see his kid fall, but I was proud he got up right away to try again. My radar was raised, though: “Who are those kids? I don’t recognize them.” I watched him trudge up the hill for another attempt. The same thing occurred–he cruised down the trail effortlessly, only to fall immediately after he passed the two boys, who erupted into some kind of shout when he tumbled. My mind raced: Those #@!@##$$#@%! They’re making Owen fall. They’re teasing him and making him self-conscious, and then laughing when he hits the ground. JERKS!

nessie.11 (1)

I decide I will get closer and yell at them. Something like, “Yo, knock it off! At least he’s trying. I don’t see you two making any attempts! Leave him alone!”

I rehearse my diatribe in my head, reminding myself not to call them any names, and then I get distracted by one of the dogs–it seems Huck has chased after a deer.

nessie.12

By the time Huck comes back, Owen has switched to the sled again, and seems content. I call over to them, trying to detect any stress in his voice. “You guys ready?”

“No, Dad! Can’t we stay–just a few more runs?”

“Okay!” I am relieved–and those two punks should be, too. Lucky to be spared of my wrath.

On the walk home, the boys are cold and snow-caked. They each hold a dog leash while I carry the sled and snow board. I try to get a sense of what happened with the other boys.

“Did you know any of those kids?”

“No,” they reply.

“Were they all nice?”

“Yeah,” they say.

As if I just thought of it, I say, “Hey, I saw you fall a couple of times when you were on your snowboard after you made it all the way down the hill.”

“I know. Those guys were trying to teach me how to stop,” Owen replies.

“How. To. Stop?”

“Uh-huh.”

“They were helping you?”

“Yeah, but it’s really hard to learn how to stop. Every time I tried, I’d slide out of control, and we’d just all crack up.”

“Oh. Well, that’s cool. I’m glad they could give you some tips.”

They were trying to help. They were teaching him. They were laughing WITH him.

SIGH.

Water splashes me from Nessie’s tail as he swims back under the surface–I’ve spared you THIS time, it seems to say. But what about next time? I think.

nessie.13

**************

Why do I constantly see the conflict in everything?

When it comes to parenting, there is a fine line between protecting and over-protecting our children. I am aware that I must teach my sons to address their own conflicts in life. I cannot fight their battles for them. But more importantly, I want to instill in them a sense of awareness: not to view the conflict in everything, not to feel constantly embattled.

The best way to teach this is by example. If I continue to allow anger to thrive, I will never be able to fully enjoy where life is leading me.

I want this sledding incident to serve as a reminder for me. I want to recall it the next time I am quick to judge a situation.

 But most importantly, I want to find a new lake to rest on–one that doesn’t house monsters–real or imaginary.

Take that, Nessie!

nessie.14

MEET THE CARTOONIST: Jimmy Murphy
When he’s not performing Shakespearean Sonnets at The Great Wall of China, Jimmy Murphy draws everything from the creatures that haunt his imagination, to the ones that haunt his 9th grade reading curriculum, to the squishy noseless people like those seen on this website [figure1]. Although not yet at the peak of his popularity, artistically or high schoolistically, this fourteen year-old has been drawing since he could hold a crayon–the first recorded drawing being a rainbow–[figure 2]. Jimmy’s artistic influences include Shawn Coss, Gris Grimly, and himself. He enjoys reading a good book, ranting about things he hates, raving about things he likes, sleeping, and can be endlessly entertained with a label-maker [figure 3].
[1] Jimmy.1 (1)      [2] Jimmy.2        [3] Jimmy.3 (1)