Mother Church, Father Church?

Photo by Brittani Burns on Unsplash

Anybody think it’s weird that less than a week after I leave the church, I started having significant insights into my daddy issues?


I think I had been trying to get attention from some unsuspecting innocents. A pat on the head from the men in my life, maybe approval and attention from them where I never got it from my dad. I thought that men in my grown-up life were supposed to be helping me heal wounds from my kid-life. Isn’t that what the relationship experts say? But then I realized that’s too big of a job for anyone. No one should be saddled with fixing me. And so, I began learning to father myself.

When I was a kid, I loved going to the hardware store with my dad, or the dump, or anywhere, really.  I just wanted to be with him. He rarely spent time with us kids, working all day, then going out to the garage to work his side hustle buying, fixing, and selling wrecked cars. So, when I could get him all to myself and go someplace as interesting as the  landfill, I jumped at the chance. But I was a girl, and it was hard for a dad to know what to do with a girl in those days. He never really noticed that I was a girl who loved the smell of grease and car paint, and could build and fix things. And so most of the time I was just the pretty little girl he seemed to enjoy showing off to the guys at the lumber yard or parts store when he accidentally ended up alone with me. I don’t think it was so much that he didn’t want to be with me, he just didn’t exactly know how. 

When I got to around fourteen-years-old, sometimes I saw how other men looked at me; sometimes my friend’s fathers. It felt strange to see them noticing me. I wanted to hide. My body image suffered. I hated being a girl sometimes. My legs were growing long and (I thought) awkward. There were so many limitations and talk of how I should learn to type or do bookkeeping so I could get an office job when what I really wanted was to be a park ranger or race motorcycles.  I felt powerless most of the time, just assuming “something” would happen and map out a life for me.

And it did. I had a baby before my nineteenth birthday and my life was mapped—at least temporarily. I spent the next fifteen years trying to make up for it. I was the perfect daughter, the perfect mother, and the perfect wife hosting football parties and poker nights for my husband’s friends. Everything was perfect. I perfected my body, my skills, and my cover up. And I thought for the longest time, I had to do all of this. But I didn’t. 

Somehow, I realized I could exercise free will. So I willed myself back to college. I willed myself out of my marriage, and into the arms of another man. Imagine how I then married him, a new man who didn’t know how to be with me either. 

I knew when I tried to get his attention, I was just that little girl wanting to hang out with her dad again. When we were dating and he was remote, then in a sort of startled way noticed me across the table and say, “You’re a pretty little thing aren’t you?” that it felt just like my dad saying it.

Still there is something in your mind, like when you were a child, that tells you this is normal, and therefore, good. But it wasn’t all that good. He had all he loud, scary traits of my dad, and all the opposite ones of my first husband. Which meant I didn’t have to host football parties and poker games anymore, but which also meant, those daddy issues were something I hadn’t even recognized yet. It wasn’t until after Ben was born, I was divorced—again—and left to alone to figure out my life that I really started to see it. 

One day during all of this, I found myself looking into my bathroom mirror, pouting like a six-year-old about how everything I ever wanted to do, my dad would say something negative about and stop me from doing it. There was the major in Forestry, there was motorcycle racing, there was getting married (oops, you get props for that one dad). As I stood there feeling sorry for myself and looking at my teary reflection thinking about all of this, I heard that voice say, “Yeah, well who’s standing in your way now?” 

That’s what I think gave me the courage to take on my own life, leave organized religion, and start believing in what I really believed without feeling anyone’s condemnation about it. I learned Reiki and meditation without feeling guilty. I started cooking and eating organic foods again. I had sex for the sheer pleasure of it. I took responsibility for my own decisions without the crutch of a church or a husband or any other daddy-figure to approve or disapprove. 

And you know what? The world did not come crashing down around me. In fact, the world was kinder, brighter, more wide open. 

It was clear that although I had abandoned the church, god had not abandoned me. And in fact, was still on my side. And much like when I heard Warren Macdonald say, he’d  “. . . best get on it,” I heard loud and clear, it was my own turn to do the same. 

Not to spoil the ending, but . . .

It turns out Beautiful Carpenter was good at everything. He’s one of those people you try not to envy because he can play the piano, and do math in his head, and can fix, build, or otherwise create anything he wants with just his brain, his hands, and a few things laying around in the garage. Not only that, he’s still the only guy I’ve ever known that has the patience to wait for French press coffee in the morning and can change an alternator on a work truck in the dark during an icy rain in the Best Buy parking lot without throwing his tools. I don’t get it. When I’m in a frustrating situation like that, I can’t even fake enough patience to impress someone, but that’s just him.

Between his house and mine, we took on dozens of DIY projects and finished nearly all of them. And honestly my house never looked better. He was even more of a perfectionist freak than I was, and one night we went down into my basement and he ripped up that five-way intersection of crooked tile I had thrown the rug over a few years earlier, and put it all back together nicely. Then the next weekend, we finished the tile in the laundry room and the office, mudding and grouting until three am fueled on homemade organic margaritas and a heavy metal playlist.

It looked like this for a long time. Sorry neighbors.

When I picked up the phone to get an estimate on new house siding from a local contractor, Beautiful Carpenter listened in. Then he asked me about my ideas, threw in a couple of his own, and the next thing I knew, we were calling the lumberyard and ordering up some rough sawn cedar for us to do ourselves. Honestly, he did most of the work, but I never minded being his grunt man, sweeping up, doing simpler tasks and painting trim. As long as he was teaching me rather than doing it all himself, I think we were both happy.

That was a long-ass project that spanned from autumn to the next spring, into summer when it grew too hot to work outside. Instead, we passed the time floating on the lake behind my house, running the trails, and drinking beers at sunset waiting for the temps to cool down. In the mornings, we drank coffee at sunrise at the edge of the nearby creek where, besides us, only the fishermen were out.

When autumn finally arrived again, we trimmed out the windows and put a coat of paint on the whole house. After that Beautiful Carpenter landscaped the front and back of the house so I had a little retreat where I could watch sunrises from the patio or sunsets from the front porch. And you know, it looked pretty good.

To tell the truth, it needed another coat of paint, but like I said, my house had never looked better. So maybe next fall I will add the paint and some new front porch posts, but for now I see the progress I have made over the last several years. I still like to get the old pictures out from when I started these projects, just to remind me that I am growing and progressing every day.

And I know that whatever happens next, is just the next thing. Maybe that’s why I bought this shirt a few weeks ago. Because even though sometimes it’s hard to believe, really, everything is going to be okay.

Kitchen Remodel

Definitely the before picture

This is a job that I am hiring out–mostly. The hunt for countertops, cabinets, flooring, wall colors, etc., is unbelievably time consuming and exhausting. I have spent hours upon hours just doing this. Thank god there are people who remodel kitchens for a living because I have to make an actual living by working at my actual job.

I have spent so much time shopping on line and running from warehouse to warehouse that I have been neglecting my yard and flowerbeds, and spending no time outdoors. So much so, that the other day, I took a minute to hang my underwear on the clothesline and do a pass through the vegetable garden for the first time in weeks. From the yard next door, I hear someone yelling, “Hello . . . hello.”

I look up to see a woman smoking a cigarette in a van parked in my neighbor’s driveway. “Hi,” she says. I didn’t think anyone lived there. I’m Linda, I take care of Mr. H.”

Mr H is my ninety-five year old neighbor. I have no idea how long Linda has been caring for him. I walk over and introduce myself and she explains why she’s in her van.

“I’m a smoker, and I don’t like to do it in his house,” she says. “I thought that house was empty” she says, nodding toward my place. “How do you do?”

From her point of view, I see clearly why she thinks no one lives here. Last year I planted a wildflower garden, partly so Mr H would have something pretty to look at when he sits outside with his nurse, partly to attract bees and wildlife, and partly so I can stare at it from my office window when I can’t make myself send another email about deadlines. This year the flowers have bloomed like crazy, but the grasses have grown up, too, and the weeds under the window have become a dominant feature.

So I get it. It looks like nobody lives here. Well, she’s partially right. I have just been existing. Existing on bad food and too much coffee. Existing on constant internet research for luxury vinyl flooring and the differences between granite, quartz, and quartzite. I still don’t really know what the difference between quartz and quartzite is. I do know, that just like every other project I have taken on in this house, there are lots of people who like to tell you what you should do, but not so many that will help you do it–even if you offer them ten thousand dollars cash.

Anyone know what this brand is or how much is costs?

So stay tuned. After I unjumble my mind from the search for a back vented under the shelf range hoods like this one, I can start writing checks and get this job started.

By then the rest of the flowers will be in bloom and I can start to pay attention to the gardens again. I’m ready to take this job and my life by the ballz. Who knows, maybe by summer’s end I will be living again instead of just existing.

A word or two about tetanus shots

Get one. Or at least, call your doctor and find out if you are due for a booster. You will need it anyway, and likely you will really be sure you need one at a most inconvenient time, like 7:30 in the morning when you step on a nail left over from a piece of old furniture you tore apart and dragged out to the trash.  Lucky for me, my day job has a clinic for things like this, but I didn’t know that until I freaked out about how I was going to get this done on top of Ben’s Dr appointment and TKD class.

I’d gotten by without a booster for a few years, even when I thought I probably should have gotten one, like when I scraped my arm on an old piece of drywall bead while stuffing the crap left in my driveway by the drywall guy into a garbage bag. Or the time I was pulling nails out of the privacy fence in the backyard and, first, stabbed myself with one of the nails, then, hit myself in the forehead with the claw-end of the hammer.

Each time something like this happened,  I  got on the Mayo Clinic web site to look up the symptoms of tetanus just to make sure I wasn’t coming down with it. According to Mayo, here are what the symptoms look like:

Common signs and symptoms of tetanus, in order of appearance, are:

  • Spasms and stiffness in your jaw muscles
  • Stiffness of your neck muscles
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Stiffness of your abdominal muscles
  • Painful body spasms, lasting for several minutes, typically triggered by minor occurrences, such as a draft, loud noise, physical touch or light

Weird thing is, I have most of these symptoms all the time.  Stress and a general crappy attitude will do that to a person. But then they add these other symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Rapid heart rate

Which could also be mistaken for the symptoms of falling in love—which of course I didn’t have either—so most of the time I got away with avoiding a shot in spite of the fact that tetanus is carried in dirt and animal feces, and out here where I live we have lots of both of those.

But that day, the classic dirty, rusty nail-through-the-shoe-into-the foot scenario happened in my driveway and I had to face the truth. As much as my friends and family would appreciate my jaw to tighten and close permanently, I wasn’t ready to face another hospital bill I couldn’t afford, so I got the shot when I called a friend and she suggested visiting the clinic.

I know when we don’t know what to do, we are supposed to ask ourselves what we would say to our best friend. But trying to take my own advice can sometimes be met with hazards. Thankfully, nothing worse than the flood, the fire, or the storms I’ve faced.  And nothing makes me more thankful than the peace that comes when these events finally subside and I can listen in the stillness. In that listening I usually here something really interesting.

I was facing a particularly difficult personal circumstance recently and found myself whining to God, “Please don’t let this be my life.  Please don’t let this be my life.”  And it took a couple of days, but finally, I heard something back, when he or she said, “Then don’t make this your life.”

And became empowered again to know that some of this is actually within my control, and water in the basement is just some water, and my house didn’t burn to the ground (though I ordered- up a fire escape ladder from Amazon the very next day after it tried to), and I don’t have to worry about lock jaw.  The water in my basement came up with a shop-vac, the firefighters and electricians took care of the burned up outlet, and I got my shot. And one more thing: Sometimes, when I call for help, people who care about me (and even people who don’t know me) will answer.

Inside Out

IMG_0762There are times when I do  a lot of work that no one but me will see, like the time I painted the insides of the cabinet under my kitchen sink, which is weird, because the outside of the cabinets look terrible. Then I painted the bottom section of the kitchen pantry and let it dry while I spent the entire day throwing crap away in the garage again, sweeping and arranging the lawn mowers and bicycles in a way that Ben (and maybe I) could have some space in there to work out on the heavy bag and practice Tae Kwon Do.

Yet my back yard deck looked like this:

IMG_0757My garden was full of weeds and the grass around the mailbox was 20 inches high.  Even my bedroom (which no one else was going to see either) was a mess with shoes everywhere, sweaters hanging on the door knobs and dust covering the unread books on the nightstand.

IMG_0761Still, I felt better when I opened the pantry or threw something in the trash under the sink and saw the fresh white paint.

What was going on in the kitchen was not unlike what I had been doing on my own insides. The past few years, I’d spent a lot of time out on the hiking trails, riding my bike, and doing yoga. These things are all good for the insides, but if I had to be absolutely honest, I was doing them for some outside reasons too; that primarily being the outside of my thighs, also known as ass extensions.

And while physical activity has always been good for my soul as well as my body, I had been neglecting straight-up soul work for some time. Spring  had a hard time arriving that year. Normally, if I can get through February without medication, I’m good because with March usually comes some hope that the weather will warm and the sun will begin to shine again.  That year though, it was May and we had just gotten a couple of frost warnings and the sun hadn’t been out for more than a few minutes per week.  We had more rain between January and May than we had all of previous year.  I honestly thought I would never go outside again, never show my fleshy legs again, never be happy again.

The long winter took a toll on my psychological well-being, too. Spring took so long getting here, that I just figured it never would. I was a pale blob of depression, anxeity and widening ass flesh.  Being forced to spend so much time inside, I had no choice other than to look into places I didn’t normally look, and slowly I began tidying up my own insides in the same way I had been painting the hidden cupboards of my kitchen. I read my first Caroline Myss book that spring and from what I understand, it’s a tough one to start with. But it was the one on the shelf, when I decided to go to the real bookstore—not the half-priced one—and find whatever book on spirituality spoke to me.

Little did I know that the Barnes and Noble near the rugby practice fields was moving and only had about ¼ of the normal books on the shelves.  But I was determined to find something and Myss was the only author on the shelf I recognized, other than God and Abraham, so she landed in my hands.

In the book she says this (which I think she specifically wrote about me):

“The archetypal hero’s journey . . . always begins with a process of separation or alienation from the tribe, followed by a series of difficult challenges that the hero must meet alone. The journey culminates in a descent into the abyss of self-doubt and a loss of faith in the Divine, but then results in a vital transformation of trust, which in turn leads to a revelation of some new knowledge, insight or wisdom.”

I am almost always in the abyss of self-doubt and loss of faith, which, if you think about it, is not what one would normally think I’d be facing after my own series of difficult challenges, e.g. things catching on fire, lots and lots of flooding incidents (By the way I fixed my constantly flooding basement with a 51 cent piece of plastic from Lowes.), tons of trash and rodent removal, beginner’s Tae Kwon Do, and the loss of my favorite yoga instructor. Normally, you would think making it through all that and more, I would be the poster child for self-esteem, deep faith, and glistening skin, but I wasn’t. I  was the complete opposite. My hair was falling out, my skin looked terrible, I was full of anxiety, and I couldn’t hear God speak if she shouted at me in the middle of the night from the foot of my bed.

Myss is right though, nowhere is it said that if we overcome a lot of adversity and figure out how to fix the lawn mower are we rewarded with clear eyes and a fruitful spirit.  We are only given more knowledge, and hopefully, greater understanding.

So of course the next step is self-doubt and a loss of faith. We used up all our naive faith and confidence doing things we never thought we could do before, like fix a lawn mower and survive an electrical fire. Eventually things calm down, though, and there’s time to poke around inside and uncover some things that aren’t so evident from the outside. Things like, a transformed trust. Maybe less blind and childlike, but born from greater knowledge and experience. Maybe a self that is less about it and more about others. And perhaps even an ass that may have gained a pound or two, but has also gained some hard-earned wisdom.

A house with no drapes and wooden floors

20150307-135636-50196070.jpgI realize now that I approached recovery in much the same way I used to approach housework. I used to clean my whole house every Saturday morning then hardly touch it again for the rest of the week.  I must have learned this style early, because I remember going to my friend Elaine’s house when we were kids and thinking it odd that her mother ran the vacuum two or three times a week. Their rugs always did look great, though, all plush and fluffy pile with vacuum marks in nice little lines.  Not like the indoor/outdoor in the family room at my house.  Geeze, my poor parents. I’m sure my mom would have loved plushy soft carpets in her home, too. But we would have just ruined them with our 16 pair of muddy shoes and bowls of Cap’n crunch in front of the TV.

Anyway, before I bought this house, that’s how I did my housework; once a week vacuuming and dusting unless something catastrophic happened in between or guests were coming over. Maybe not even if guests were coming over. I had dark carpets purchased with the intention that they would hide the grape juice and pizza spills. And we had old patterned furniture, basically, for the same reason. Then I bought this house with all its big uncovered windows and hardwood floors, and there was no hiding anymore. I’d look around and see dust and little pieces of things on the floors and think to myself, “Didn’t I just vacuum these floors three days ago?”

On the other hand, haven’t we been tracking dirt and dead leaves in for three days?  And I began to see that the old ways weren’t working anymore. So I adopted new ways. The new way leaves me open to doing the work when it needs to be done, rather than waiting for that perfect time when the kids are occupied and all my buckets are filled with vinegar and tea tree and there is “time” enough.

One of the things I am recovering from is my formerly severe relationship with God and Christianity.  For the longest time I thought that loving someone unconditionally meant to keep loving them while they kept taking advantage, crossing boundaries, and abusing. That’s what I thought love was. You love them and keep giving while they just keep taking. The love part, I guess you can’t really help. You either love someone or you don’t, but the giving and keep taking part is where I got all mixed up. I think it might also be mixed up with perfectionism, because I thought that if I just kept doing it, I somehow would get it right and it would make that other person all better.

The same with forgiveness. I always thought that famous story about Jesus telling people they must forgive seven times seventy meant that if someone kept hurting you, you just kept forgiving them until they did it the next time, then you forgive, then they do it again, and so on. Weird, now that I know better, that sounds exactly like the cycle of abuse. I wonder how many people miss that.  Now I see that, yes, I do have to keep forgiving that person, but that is supposed to be taking place in my heart, not in my living room.

Still, when I’m in the middle of the same, repeated argument or some other frustrating situation, or my savings account is back down to $300 and I am saying to myself, “Didn’t I just learn this three days (or three months, or three years) ago?”

I realize whatever it is, it needs to be learned again and probably practiced a whole lot more even though the kids aren’t occupied and it doesn’t seem there is time enough. Because I am not perfect and the things I am unlearning are just as important as the things I am learning. Sometimes they butt up against one another and can’t seem to call a truce, but that’s just another lesson telling me to fill up my buckets and get to work.

Grab an end and pull

IMG_3948In the middle of one of my DIY projects, the one where I learned all about chain saws, one of the things I had to stop and do was unwind a few hundred feet of orange extension cord.  I never have the patience to wind them back up the way you are supposed to after every use, and I know there is special way handyman-types wrap these things so you can use just a few feet at a time or use all 150 feet if you need it. But I never do that. I just throw them in a pile in the corner of the garage until the next time I need one and then stretch it out half-snarled to the approximate length I need, or go buy a new one that I promise to take better care of.

Anyway, I needed an extension cord for the electric chain saw I was using but when I went to the garage to get it I found this:


In this tangled mess, was a 25-foot cord and a 50-foot cord but I needed only one of them. And since I was concerned for my safety—the perils of living in a free world that allows someone like me to use a chain saw—I considered taking the time to untangle it all.  ‘Sometimes it’s better to stop and do something like this,’ I thought. But rather than doing that,  I reached down and grabbed the end of one of them and pulled imagining that if I pulled hard and long enough something magical would happen to untangle them and I would have one end for the outlet and one end for the chain saw.

Of course, that’s not what happened, and I didn’t really think it would, I was just being hopeful. And hopefulness can do a lot, but I try to keep my eyes on what’s ahead—like the big thing I’m hoping to achieve—while being particularly mindful and appreciative of ‘the now,’ knowing that it will all end up in the same place. It’s my choice to make it a tangled mess or enjoy the ride.

Sometimes it can be great fun to just grab an end and pull and see what happens. Other times we’re gonna meet some resistance. And when we meet that resistance, it’s good to hang out there for a while and unsnarl the cords even when the temptation is to throw it away and buy a new one. The big thing we want will still be there. It has to be because it’s been there all along and is waiting for us.

I have found this is true of pretty much everything–work, home, cars, people. Sometimes we find ourselves in a tangled mess, not sure how it got this way, or wondering why we didn’t take better care of it. Our temptation can sometimes be to throw whatever it is it in the corner and ignore it, or maybe go get a new one. But then we miss  what the resistance is telling us. And if we don’t hang out for a while and untangle the cords, nothing is going to change and we’re just going to have to do it again at the next job, or with the next lover, or the next time we visit mom.

So for me, the choice is pretty clear. Either tug and pull and struggle against, or sit with it, get clear and intentional, and keep my heart and eye on the big thing I know I want. And when I do that something magical does happen:


The Beautiful Carpenter was here. I didn’t notice until later that after we finished our work that day, he’d taken the time to do this for me. He was mindful. I am appreciative. Next time I see him, I will show him just how much.




An excerpt from the book

. . .

A few years later my dad died. During the five years of his illness  when his vitality faded to confusion, then helplessness, I learned to father myself. In the process I also let him and all the other men in my life off the hook.

His death left me raw and wide open to whatever might come next. I did all the things you do when your dad dies. I acted brave and strong. I felt weak. I got drunk. I started my period.

Back up. I got very drunk. I got drunk on tequila in my living room with the beautiful carpenter and danced half-naked while we played DJ for each other playing songs that we loved and songs that were funny and horrible, like Funky Cold Medina (what does that  mean, anyway?), Radar Love, American Pie and Paradise by the Dashboard Light. We played Eminem and Barry Manilow and sang to each other and drank more tequila. We took a midnight hike through the farm fields behind my house, then made drunk love for what seemed like hours. We woke up hung over as hell and made love again before rolling out of bed mid-afternoon and going out for breaded tenderloins and Cokes.

Later, while I ran errands he went back to my house and slept in my bed, texting me, “I smell really interesting. Dirt, sweat, sex, fried pork, French fries, tequila, all rolled into one.”

“Sounds delicious.” I sent back.

Something happened in those hours. I didn’t know tequila and dancing half-naked could lead to such intimacy, but how could I? I’d never trusted anyone enough to sing songs from the 80s with and dance half-naked and not feel judged. But like I said, I was raw and open.

Two days earlier  I had I walked in to my dad’s hospice room when my mother looked up and said he was gone. But I already knew that because there was no presence of him in the room.  When I leaned over to hug him, he felt like an empty, hollow vessel.

At the time, it didn’t bother me that he was dead in the room while my brothers and sisters came in one-by-one and realized, just as I did, that he was no longer there. It was just a body. But for several months after, I tried not to see again, what I saw when I walked in there. Him lifeless and already stiff-looking with his mouth frozen open and twisted upward, as if with his dying breath, after two days of not saying a word, he said something he wanted someone to hear.

But no one was there. My mother had gone up to her room to change after spending the night with him. The hospice nurse had bathed him and gone on to her next patient and he was alone, like we all are in the end.

Recently, I have allowed myself to see his face again. Really see it and let down my guard and feel things about it. And I’ve wondered often what that thing was he said in the end. “Sorry?” He said that a lot in the last months. No explanation. Nothing else. He just looked up at one or the other of us and said, “Sorry.”

Sometimes we’d ask each other what he meant by that. Depending on who was there I would say different things. If it was Ben, I would say something like, “I think he’s just saying sorry that we are all having to help him out.” And then Ben would reassure him, “It’s okay Papa. We want to be here.”

Sometimes when my dad would say “Sorry,” I wondered if he meant. ‘Sorry, I could be such a dick sometimes.’ or ‘Sorry, I didn’t spend more time with you when you were little.” or ‘Sorry,  if I ever hurt you.’

But none of that really matters when you have been a dick to your own kids enough times and are are spoon-feeding soft foods to a dying man. I can’t say what does matter, but it’s none of those things.

It was more about who I was and what I did. What kind of forgiveness and kindness and love could I offer? I saw my siblings struggle with this in different ways. I saw tenderness from my brothers that was often times  more than I could extend. Grown men staggering under the weight  of their own lives lifting their dying father from chair to bed, patiently walking him down the halls, and fetching bed pans .  .  .