Fraternity of Fathers

It’s the first day of the sophomore year of college. Not for me; for my daughter.

The trip down was harrowing including interesting new policies the airline carrier imposed without adequate notice to its customers. Becoming haughty about that lack of full communication and delayed baggage. All of which couldn’t seem to be resolved unless the airport cops were involved.

Last time I checked, the lost baggage department was staffed with folk who were empathetic and interested in trying to help even when they had no real way to help. This one we met instead essentially quoted Smeagol “…leave now, and never return…” -__-

Eventually, 16 hours after leaving my humble abode, I pulled up to the fleabag motel where I’m staying with the rest of the family, bags retrieved and safely in our trunk. The motel staff is moderately put out due to the sudden influx of 15 trillion people. They are a bit gun shy and beleaguered so I can’t expect their best. Nor do I receive it.

The room is fine, for its part, and it’s convenient to the strip of groceries, big box stores, restaurants and is a short run to the actual university.

The stage is set. Strike up the band and dim the lights. The show is about to begin.

Next morning comes and it’s breakfast time. Here’s where the fun really begins. I look and my bleary eyes espy cold boiled eggs (which were rather good), a plethora of pre packaged bread items like bagels and pancakes which likely never actually saw a pan before being hermetically sealed in plastic. The juice is in a bladder hidden by a large metal closet with a plastic arm to release it’s chilled contents. The television is blasting the interlopers rioting in Ferguson Missouri making the locals anxious and fatigued. I stand in line with my bagel hoping the toaster doesn’t burn it like the last guys was. Next to me is an equally concerned father gaping at the toaster, giving it the side eye.

He asks me how to adjust the heat as his glasses are forgotten upstairs. I assist and we stand in silence for a beat. I feel from him that he is a father of a college kid too. So I ask him how it’s going. My instinct is correct as he immediately launches into the concerns we both share:

The university is huge.
My kid may get lost.
I may get lost.
My money is already lost.
The cost of education is unbearable.
The cost of not being educated is even more unbearable.
We both are afraid to walk out the motel door because everything we do and every time we move, it costs us dearly for tuition, books, room, board, handshakes with random folk, meetings with the professor, student center, trading post, parking. ‘…It never ends and it all has a price tag.’ he finishes. I agree and say that perhaps those whom are currently invested in jails would do well to pull out, given the current political climate. Better to invest in colleges. There’s money in them thar hills! He laughed mirthlessly at the irony of that observation and agrees. The haunted look in our faces would’ve made Janus pause.

We part.

Being a father has always been a challenge emotionally, physically, financially and sometimes spiritually. But honestly there’s no better job I could ever ask for. I’m blessed to be a daddy. I just wish college was not quite so painful for us dads.


So, why do you ask?

I am a public official and over the years I’ve seen many people with many different motivations. They have needs that must be fulfilled and those needs are fueled by a variety of pressures. None of those motivations are necessarily my business and so I do not care to know. Besides. It tends to foment a certain level of bias if I do ask. So if knowing the reason beyond the ask is not going to serve me in being a good public official to the citizen, I will not go there.

But there are folk who are not public officials. People who have agendas both obvious and subtle. I do not fault them for that. I too have agendas on occasion. Frankly, an agendas a good thing to have. It gives me a drive and encouragement. A muse, if you will, to press on to the proverbial mark. So I don’t judge on that point.

What I am interested in understanding is when a persons motivation IS important. When their questions are probative and intended to net results. Leading questions, my lawyer friends might say. These are the questions that make me think, so…. Why do you ask?

You see, when I am asked a question I often am left to wonder what caused them to ask it.

Questions that are simply curiosity driven are few and far between when it’s an adult doing the asking. Children are great. They ask curious questions like:

‘Why is the sky blue?’
‘Are we there yet?’
‘Can you change my diaper?’
‘Do you love me?’

But adults have been around a while. We adults know that innocence is generally for the innocent. Honest and wholistic questions are somewhat rare. The ask simply for the sake of asking is met with many responses. Mostly defensive. In fact, even my pastor, whom I care deeply for, said a few Sundays ago that the substantive conversation is rare and unusual. But that rarity has fostered a society that is based upon sound bites, short attention span for even the most complex issues, and ill prepared for the pithy conversation we miss out on.

The tendency is to immediately be suspicious when someone or anyone, even children, ask surface and small talk questions. It’s nothing to do with the question asked, but the idea that someone went out of their way to stop you from your agenda to query you on yours seems at once invasive and threatening. It’s a fear led response that makes us think the inquisitor ‘….wouldn’t be interested in just making conversation because I certainly never do so, therefore they must want something from me. Not just my time. Maybe my money. That’s it. They are selling me something. Where’s my wallet? Did I hide it well enough?..’

Never thinking that we all crave simple conversation. But usually that simple minded inane low brow dialogue is relegated to the office workplace. Mostly around the proverbial water-cooler.

But what has us here? Lacking in substantive conversation as a rule, afraid of simple conversation, and constantly suspicious of people’s motivations? My thought is because our greatest fear where communication is concerned is being vulnerable. Vulnerability allows for a measure of trust. Faith if you will. Honesty. Acceptance of a truth. Maybe not THE truth, but certainly A truth. Communication on any level requires at least some level of thought and many of us become fatigued with the very idea of thinking. Why else are reality tv, talking head shows, radio blow-hard programs, and American Ninja-esque shows so popular? Those forms of media allow for knee jerk instantaneous entertainment that requires no effort at thought to enjoy them. Hand me a spoon, I’m hungry for more.

It’s not wrong to enjoy empty programming. Far from it. It allows for some escape from stress by watching others escape a sticky situation… Or revel in it. But it conditions us for empty programming in our heads when we interact with real folk everyday. And the shows are a product of us attempting to escape reality while cyclically mining society for reality shows subjects we will engage with for 24 minutes or 47 minutes at a clip.

Frankly I feel a nice walk down a city street, quiet neighborhood, or wooded trail is more fulfilling for that sort of escapism but that’s a subject for another blog.

My argument is….well, I don’t know that I even have one. Perhaps this is just a letter to be aware. Aware of what? Glad you asked.

Aware that we are generally at least ambivalent about shallow conversation because it has the propensity of leading to a deeper conversation. We tend to fear connection through conversation because that sort of conversation requires dropping of bulwarks and fortresses of privacy we’ve spent years building. We often avoid even eye contact on the bus because if we see them looking at us, they might say something, perish the thought. And having a pithy conversation is good but only when we trust and trust is hard to build, easy to break and rare on a larger scale.

Finally faith, trust, honesty, true heart to heart conversation is spiritually uplifting. It is that sort of connection that makes being a communicative human such a gift. It lifts the heart and dashes our fear. Exposes the lies and highlights the truth. It conveys opinions born from an honest place and asks others to consider it for the value it may own. And in the end if we let go of preconceptions and fear driven avoidances we may finally get to the point where we no longer need to ask or even wonder: So…. Why do you ask?