Giving masculinity The Works

I want to break free from your lies, You’re so self satisfied I don’t need you…

I came across Gillette’s new ad a few days ago. It’s the kick off of a re-branding campaign. No longer “The Best a Man Can Get,” the Proctor & Gamble subsidiary is now saying, “The Best Men Can Be.” They are using their power and privilege to send a message that men can be the better angels of our nature. And to sell shaving products. I watched the video. I cried.

I cried because I’ve been that guy in the video. And that kid. Because I remember the hurt and anger on my father’s face when I told him in my sophomore year that I didn’t want to play football anymore. I remember the pain I felt inside by believing my identity and worth depended on me playing football. I remember the ostracization from peers after I quit. I remember being afraid.

I remember being afraid of my father’s anger. His physical size. His violence. Of being a small boy running down the hallway fearing that my father would break me with a patada. Even after it had become a family joke. And while my father never did hurt me or abuse me, and I remember his life with love, in death his anger scares me. Because his anger is inside me.

I cried because I remember using homophobia as a weapon. I used words like “gay” and “fag” and “queer” with hate. I buried my emotions deep inside. Everyone, including myself, forced me into a script I never knew I had the option of rejecting. I wore a mask every day of my life. And for years I internalized the shame in hating myself by being attracted to men as well as women.

I cried because I never had the courage to publicly say that I was attracted to men as well as women.

I cried because I’ve hurt women and I’ve been hurt by men. That I will spend the rest of my life transforming the toxicity in all the identities I carry as someone who walks through this life being seen as a “man.” And knowing that my truth underneath layers of propaganda is fluid and flexible and loving and fabulous.

I cried because I have a son who told my partner and my mother last night, “One day I’m going to be strong like daddy.” And I knew he meant my physical size and strength. Not my compassion. Or my vulnerability. Or my ministry. Or my love.

I want my son to look at me and internalize that strong means more than big muscles. That the word means believing survivors of abuse. It means confronting abuse in the moment. It means refusing to accept a culture that centers supremacy of any sort. It means resisting and loving and working and bending the arc of history toward justice.

I want my son to learn that being strong means getting out of bed in the morning to make the world a more just, loving and compassionate place for all people. To do what daddy does in the hospital: show up to help. And to know in the depths of his heart that “masculinity” and “femininity” are only old and outdated stories, and that he gets to write his own story. Just as I work on rewriting mine.

I want to be free. I want release.

Joshua trees

I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside…

I feel like a Joshua tree today. Reaching toward the sky, rooted in sand; prickly. I’m ready to survive my forty days and forty nights. Even if it’s a different kind of desert. Sinai and Mojave would have a lot to talk about over drinks.

Toby recently said that he missed “Papa.” I wasn’t there when he said it. But I agree. I wonder what he misses. Maybe a laugh that would shake the house? Or sitting in the recliner wrapped in long arms of copper skin and copper tubing? Perhaps it’s just the general feeling that something in life is missing and when feelings are bigger than a tiny forty pound body can hold, those are the only words you can say?

I look at Toby and see my my father. I look in the mirror and see my father. My sister, my nephew, Facebook; pictures are everywhere. Like photocopies reproduced one too many times. Everything is a little blurry around the edges. “Did you know your grandfather could make it rain by dancing in the backyard? When I was your age…” I think dad would agree with the apocrypha.

I imagine Joshua trees dancing along the old sixty-six. Waving their spines at the heavens. Waiting for a window to open and let in some rain. Not being disappointed when it’s another day of wandering through the desert. Yucca have the patience and faith of prophets. Eventually the drops will come.

There always has to be a release.

Man in motion

All I need is a pair of wheels…

Part of my graduate degree involves classes in psychology and therapy. These skills are important for working with people who are in psychospiritual distress. I’m not of the notion that human beings are inherently broken. I also experience my own woundedness. I am not someone who needs to be fixed. I am looking for support.

The path through psychospiritual trauma is an individual journey made in the context of caravan. My father is dead. My heart is broken. For now I am engaged in grief. Nobody else can do this for me. And I am not alone.

There is a dynamic tension between my need for growth and my taking time with my transition toward wellbeing. I come to church because I want community: nurturing, support, a sense of mutuality and interconnectivity that inspires me to live into the best of my humanness. And I hope that I am held, in the moment, as I am. Which for now means fragility.

I do not sit with woundedness easily. I don’t know too many people who would describe me this way. For the last six weeks I’ve shown strength, love, and resilience. And I secretly know that I am holding it all together with masking tape. I am internally distracted. I have two papers due that I haven’t been able to start. I look back to before November 27th, and wonder where that person is, because it’s not who I see in the mirror.

Two schools of thought: “Just get over it,” and “Just be who you need to be right now.” They both feel insufficient. How do I just get over losing somebody who I loved deeply, who was here one day and gone the next? I am not so heartless. And I don’t want to sit with this pain any longer than I have to; my life has to continue because that is what life does – it moves on.

I am left with just living well in this tension. Which means being broken and being strong. In community. I find comfort with Rumi’s wisdom:

“Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again , come , come.”

Perhaps in this caravan, I can safely experiment with release.

Never surrender

Just a little more time is all we’re asking for…

I know I’m not promised another minute. My experience is one of rebellion. A denial of a universe that moves whether or not I agree with its motives. Most of the time I don’t mind feeling small in the face of creation. But right now I want it to notice me. To provide answers that my work has taught me don’t exist. To provide concise data, not that it would change the outcome. How does one yell at boulders? Or expect windmills to care?

At least I find a comfort in their enormity; they are big enough to take it. Trees and rain absorb everything I’m willing to throw at them. The Mountain promises to be here whenever I need her. This landscape’s wisdom and solace just waits for me to wring myself out. The squeezing is the hard part.

My anger isn’t because my father is dead. It’s because things didn’t go how I imagined they would. We all thought he would live to be a hundred. He probably did too. We were the only ones who cared about things like that. Life had other plans. Sackcloth and ashes aren’t for the dead but the living; it makes no difference to the old gods. It’s up to me to learn something from all of this.

“No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.” Dorothy Day has no time for my bullshit. But I’m not hopeless. There is a difference between surrender and release. The woods tell me letting go isn’t closure. It’s acceptance. I need to remember to walk in them more often in these days.

Never surrender. Release.

Lose my Illusion

Cause nothin’ lasts forever, even cold November rain…

There is a funny thing about illusions. When uninterrogated they exert gravity. When dissected, the integrity becomes a choice. Like pretending my father is still alive. The thought experiment is sanguine. Lots of coulds and woulds and shoulds. Saying goodbye in a “proper” way. Or just thinking, “I haven’t called home in a few weeks…”

The real real always wins.

I find grief holds plenty of illusions. I wake up, go to the gym, shower, come home, make coffee, then realize: my father is dead. I remember the hospital room. His body. His face. The tubes. The machines. The goddamn TV blaring in the background on Fox News.

“Dad would have hated that.” Past tense.

There’s a quip we use at the hospital: “cannot be unseen.” Reality crashes in like the Cool-Aid Man; uninvited, destructive, terrifying. And offering a sweet cold drink on a hot summer day. My illusions are born of holding onto an old normal. The transition is made up of two competing narratives; one a little less painful than the other. The new normal isn’t habit yet. Life is pretty thin on this rainy Seattle day.

A breathing exercise my therapist taught me. Hold my grief, anger, sadness, frustration, pain. For a second. One breath. And release. Didn’t work? Try it again. Breathe deeply because one second is relative and for a moment the emotions are bitter sweet and delicious and seductive. Maybe I’m not ready and this is what it feels like to fight against reality. These emotions are the strings attached to the illusion.

And suffering is born from attachment. One breath. Release.

Closing time…

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

Last call aside, 2019 will be a year of transitions. My last year of classes. My last year working at the church. A year of challenge and growth; receptive to newness. A chance to really love into my vocation as minister and chaplain.

My 2018 word for the year was “enough.” It was appropriate. I struggled to be enough: of a father, a friend, a partner, a student, a human being. Most of those received passing grades. It has been a journey coming to terms with realistic agency. Prayers helped.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. ~Reinhold Niebuhr

I also had enough of 2018. I resisted as my country plunged deeper into fascism. I chose to be the person who answers the call of the dead and dying. My father was taken from me without warning. I have been stretched thin. My heart broken six ways for Sunday.

My word for 2019 is “release.” Because enough is enough.

Eulogy for my Father

Today, we celebrate the life of my father, William Almeida, who died on Tuesday, November 27th, 2018 at 82 years old. What more could be said, other than he was a man who “wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life?” We celebrate him for his dancing. We celebrate him for his hospitality. We celebrate him for his generosity. We celebrate him for his love. And we celebrate him for his faith; in people and in God.

My father was a Christian in the best of ways; a human being who, despite his failings, would return again and again in love to the altar of God to find refuge in his faith. The way he lived taught me that what the Spirit of life and love craves is not perfection, but a relationship of covenantal love rooted in recognizing the worth and dignity of all people. He taught me that what makes a human being righteous before creation went beyond just claiming Jesus as his savior, but extending a spirit of charity toward every person who walked through the door of our home.

I remember my father opening the door for anybody; and especially for the missionaries who would come by our house. While I’m sure these men and women found many unanswered doorbells or maybe sharp words and slammed doors, when they came to my house, they would find not only a conversation at the threshold, but an invitation inside for food, water, and scripture. I am also sure none of them knew who they were about to deal with.

Missionaries and proselytizers would sit with my father, share food and drink, and he would ask them about their faith. Then, from under the coffee table, he would pull out his own bible with its notes and bookmarks and finger-worn pages, and give his own testament. There were many times when I returned home from school, where wide eyed missionaries would be sitting in my living room, unsure of what they had gotten themselves into.

My father modeled qualities of hospitality and mutuality – he never asked people to share his views, but he would argue his from the depth of his heart. And that when people come to my door, my response should be one of abundance; to share what I have, because the only response to grace is generosity paid forward.

I remember my father having an uncanny ability to predict trends twenty or thirty years before his time. I’ll be honest; I always thought that the aloe-vera juice, the copper tubing, the granola and all his other eccentric health behaviors were just leftovers from a wild time in the 1960s. But as I grew older, I found myself eating crow, as products now appear on shelves touting the healing properties of aloe-vera, and expensive sports clothing is being woven with copper thread. I am happy that he lived long enough to be vindicated in this way; which makes sense, because my father was also one of the healthiest people I’ve ever known.

My father modeled that it was important to take care of my body; and into his 80s he lifted weights, played tennis, and against our better judgement would climb the trees of our property to prune the branches with his chainsaw. In my own gym in Seattle, there is a sign which reads: “You don’t stop exercising when you get old; you get old when you stop exercising.” Which for my father was the secret to staying young; in heart and in body.

I remember that my house was where friends would come and be guaranteed to receive love and comfort. I suspect that for many, coming over to see me was just an excuse to come over and see my father. Which is not what a teenager or young adult wants; to admit that their own father is cooler than they are. I confess I rolled my eyes and cringed more than once at my father dancing in the living room to speakers blaring David Bowie or Queen when my friends showed up. Or wished that my father was “normal” when he would laugh so deeply that the walls would shake, or modeled the new copper tubing he had fashioned around his arm.

But my father loved to dance and loved to laugh and loved my friends. And I know for some, the love they received at my house was sometimes more love than they received in their own. Over this last week, one friend told me that Bill was more of a father to them than their own. And for many others, we was possibly a second father.

My father modeled his calling to love his neighbors as his God loved him; which from what I understand of Christian faith and scripture, is part of gaining eternal life. My father taught me that love was the most transformative part of being human, and for all those who have been touched by his love, I say do not grieve as other do who have no hope. Because my father continues to live, in our hearts and memories, just as he continues to live in reunion with God and with all of creation. Let us encourage one another with these memories.

I remember my father as someone who lived his faith through his politics. Given his social location, as a first generation Mexican American growing up in pre-civil rights United States, and coming of age during the height of the cold-war, he lived first hand the effects of poverty, racism, and militarization. He also reaped the rewards of the American dream, working hard, working smart, and building a life for himself and his family that he never had growing up. Because of my father, I am privileged with abundance: education, stability, food, water, housing, clothing, I’ve never known the pain of desperation. And I am deeply grateful.

My father modeled a liberal politic that didn’t look into his neighbor’s yard to covet what they had, but to make sure that his neighbors had enough, and if they didn’t, he would help. He would give of his time and money to care for people, and believed the country he loved and served should model the beatitudes he lived by: acknowledging the blessedness of the poor, the meek, the peacemakers, and the persecuted. He taught me that not only did I have a religious duty in the world, but a civic one as well. His politics moved my heart just as much as his religion. He was a deep believer, in people, in God, in love rooted in justice.

This isn’t to say that my father was a perfect man. While William Almeida liked to be right, he never, or perhaps very rarely, claimed to be perfect. And he relied on our love, and in God’s love, to get him through his dark nights of the soul. It was his wife, Judie, daughter Brianna, his son-in-law Matt, daughter-in-law Heather, grandsons Jason and Toby, and his chosen community, all of you gathered here and so many more who join us in spirit, who helped save him from himself. And when I find myself succumbing to the pressures of a full and overwhelming life, it is my father who reminds me that nothing is impossible for the Spirit of life and love; that it bends the arc of history toward justice and it transforms sinners into saints.

My father is a testament to the power of humility, forgiveness, and redemption that is only found in the depths of relationships rooted in love. My father modeled that I didn’t have to be a perfect man to be a good man; that integrity and compassion and gratitude would reap abundance – not in wealth or power, but in family and in friendship. My father, William Almeida, lived the words of his prophets: “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Friends and family, we are gathered here to remember William Almeida. Not a perfect man. But at least to me, one of the best of men. My father’s life taught me the importance of family. My father’s life taught me the importance of friendship. My father’s life taught me the importance of love. My father’s life taught me the importance of service. My father’s life taught me the importance of faith. Most of all, my father’s life taught me the importance of living well in the dynamic tensions of life: to play music loudly, to dance like nobody is watching, to laugh with my whole body, and to love like I’ve never been hurt. Today, we celebrate a life that lived the holy covenant of love. May his love continue to bless us all. Amen.