Thursday, May 31, 2007


Early this afternoon, I had an unexpected opportunity to get my hair cut before I had to pick up my kids. So in an effort to get a conversation going, I was telling my five year old about my haircut.

Now, you have to understand that haircuts are VERY big deals for my sons. This is mostly because they loathe haircuts with a great passion, and historically have engaged in much of the wailing and the gnashing of teeth at any attempt to trim their hair to a more respectable and presentable length. My wife and I have therefore been reduced to outright bribery so that they will participate in this activity -- we will buy them a notebook, a video, let them watch a show, etc.

So after I tell J, my 5-year-old, about my haircut, he says "Yay! Great job, Dad, I'm so proud of you!" And the kicker, "Now you can watch golf!"

Which cracked me up. What with his little mind trying to think of rewards for me.

But then he tells me that he wants a haircut himself. And I tell him that he doesn't need one because he only had a haircut a couple of weeks ago. But he persists, so I ask, "J, why do you want a haircut?"

And Jacob responds: "I want my hair to look like you."

To which I inform him, "But I'm going bald." And J assures me, "But I want to go bald!"

I could have informed him, I guess, that a brief perusal of hair patterns in the adult males on both sides of his family assures him that this is a likely possibility. Instead I just laughed. "Maybe later, J. Maybe later."

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

"a little bit off course"

One of the interesting things I'm learning about as I continue to explore the RDI program is the notion of regulation. The idea here is that we are only quite rarely perfectly "on track" or "on course" with what we're doing. Whether it's traveling to a destination, monitoring a conversation we're having with somebody, or trying to get homework done. We're probably only completely "on course" say 2% of the time. Why? Because we wander, we get distracted, or we fail to pick up on a cue soon enough (e.g., that we're boring someone).

The RDI program tries to make two points about this: (1) we have to teach kids with autism that being a little "off course" is OK, is tolerable, is the way things are most of the time, and (2) that success doesn't come from being "on course" 100% of the time, but from continual, moment-by-moment readjustments when we're getting too far off course.

So, for instance, we need to realize when our "joking" with a partner crosses the line and they're getting offended. Or when our fascination discussion of golf minutiae has crossed the line into boring someone to tears. Whatever the specific situation, the point is to realize that things are going off course and to make an adjustment, to get back on course.

I find myself wondering if this isn't a far better way of thinking about relationships, about spirituality.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

of golf and life, part II

All this talk about golf has reminded me of a true story.

My father taught me how to play golf. He wasn't the best of golf teachers, to be honest. My golf game was pretty pathetic for a number of years until I actually took some lessons. But he taught me the game and was a patient companion when my shots went astray and I had to go off looking for them in the woods.

He loved to golf, my father. You could see it in his face. His father (my grandfather) was a pretty good golfer as well, I believe. We used to hear all about the time he hit a hole in one when we were growing up. My grandfather taught my father the game, and my father taught it to me.

Later in life, my father developed Pick's disease, a progressive dementia somewhat similar to Alzheimer's. As the disease progressed, we began to involve my father less in things. He struggled with issues of continence for one thing, and he grew increasingly less able to communicate with us about what he wanted.

But the last summer of his life, we took him with us to the golf course. He rode around in the golf cart with my three brothers and I -- and on the 8th or 9th hole, he became agitated. He got up out of the cart and started walking around.

I wish I could tell you that I (what with my finely honed clinical skills and all) picked up on what he wanted. But it was actually my younger brother with Asperger's Disorder that realized -- my father was asking to play golf with us.

So we gave him a ball, a tee, and a club. And he stood up there and hit the ball. The first shot was unimpressive. But the second shot flew far and straight, and as I cheered his effort I heard a certain, familiar grunt of satisfaction from him.

It was the first recognizable effort at communication I had heard from him in some time. It was also probably the last, now that I think about it.

Golf has this way of being a game about family, about fathers and sons, mothers and daughters -- in ways that other sports don't quite seem to match. Perhaps that's because golf can be played late into our adulthood, allowing us to continue that experience together as we grow older. Perhaps its because the relative slow pace of the game allows for communication and reflection amidst the course of the round.

Perhaps for me its because the slow and quiet nature of the game fit so well with the gentle and quiet nature of my father.

I like to think that somewhere in heaven my father is playing a round of golf with my grandfather, that they're laughing and joking with each other and thinking fondly of us. I miss my Dad. The game of golf, in its own small way, gives me a chance to feel connected to him again. Whether it's recalling the way he'd say "dag nabbit!" when he hit a bad shot, or his quiet satisfaction when he hit a good one. Or the patient way he'd listen and give advice when I was struggling.

Golf was his gift to me. I look forward to the day when I can give it to my sons.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

of golf and life

My wife is at a MOPS meeting this evening. The boys are asleep. I probably should be doing something productive.

I hate productive.

So for right now, I am choosing to blog instead.

Hmm...OK, blogging. I'm blogging. With the "blog" and the "ing" and the other little "g" in the middle that mysteriously disappears when you separate those two phonemes.

I would be greatly assisted in this effort if I had something noteworthy about which to blog. But as it turns out, mostly what I'm thinking about right now is golf.

Yep. Golf.

So today I went to the driving range when I had a free hour. And I noticed an interesting pattern. When I was hitting my hybrid clubs (basically, replacements for the 3 & 4 irons which are notoriously difficult to hit well), the ball went fairly consistently straight. Yeah! Pretty much the same thing with my 5-wood (which is somewhat anachronistically labelled, in that such clubs no longer contain any actual product from a tree).

But I digress.

So when I pick up my 8-iron, does it go straight? No. No it does not. Instead, it goes at about a 40 degree angle to the right of where I'm aiming.

Frustrating? Yep. Mind you, clubs like the 8-iron, with their high degree of loft, are supposed to be among the most accurate of clubs, the easiest to hit straight. But do these particular laws of physics assist me? No. They are stubborn and oppositional, worthy of curses too profane for repitition in the blogosphere.

So then I'm back to trying to figure out what's going wrong. Am I forgetting to start my downswing using my hips? Possibly. Am I releasing early enough? Another possible error. Am I failing to release completely? Could be the case. Keeping my elbows too far apart and opening the clubface? Maybe.

So I work on all of these things individually with some success. But it seems like one breaks down when I'm working on the others. So what is called for is applying all three interventions at once -- which, when you're still trying to master them individually is a virtual impossibility.

What this leaves me with, sadly, is an inconsistent iron game. And basically having to accept this predicament while I work on these skills individually, strengthening them by themselves so that they feel automatic, so they can be combined with the other skills.


This is one of those ways that golf so closely mimics life at times. There are times when it's easy, and a small change produces big results. Then there are times when you have to accept that you are where you are, to strengthen small things without immediate results -- hoping for a payout in the future.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Every once in awhile, I find an album just resonates with me. Often it's a new album I've discovered, and I get entranced by discovering new layers of meaning when I hear the songs a few times. But this time it's actually an album I've had for six months or so, "Plans" by the group Death Cab for Cutie.

Just to give a glimpse of why I like the album so much, I thought I'd post some bits of lyrics from the album I'm particularly fond of. For instance, there's the song "Your Heart is an Empty Room," where we find the lyrics:

"Home's face: how it ages when you're away
Spring blooms and you find the love that's true
But you don't know what now to do
Cause the chase is all you know
And she stopped running months ago"

And then there's the song, "I'll Follow You Into the Dark," with the lyrics:

"In Catholic school as vicious as Roman rule
I got my knuckles bruised by a lady in black
And I held my tongue as she told me
"Son, fear is the heart of love"
So I never went back"

And basically the entire song "What Sarah Said":

And it came to me then that every plan is a tiny prayer to father time
As I stared at my shoes in the ICU that reeked of piss and 409
And I rationed my breathes as I said to myself that I'd already taken too much today
As each descending peak of the LCD took you a little farther away from me
Away from me

Amongst the vending machines and year-old magazines in a place where we only say goodbye
It stung like a violent wind that our memories depend on a faulty camera in our minds
But I knew that you were a truth I would rather lose than to have never lain beside at all
And I looked around at all the eyes on the ground as the TV entertained itself

'Cause there's no comfort in the waiting room
Just nervous pacers bracing for bad news
And then the nurse comes round and everyone will lift their heads
But I'm thinking of what Sarah said that "Love is watching someone die"

So who's going to watch you die?

Love it. I just wish I had a way for the music to play on the blog so you all would get the full effect.

Friday, May 11, 2007


Not too long ago, I was explaining to my five year old (he just had a birthday a couple of days ago) about what I do for a job.

So today he was telling me that he was a "Daddy" and had to go to work.

"What do you do at work?" I asked.

"I help people with their problems," he explained. He went on to report that some people are "sad" and he wanted to help with their problems so that they would be "happy."

"What do you do to help them feel better?" I asked.

"Umm...I play hide and go seek. That will help them feel better," he replied confidently.

And as I looked down at his little face and thought about the joy he has when we play that game together, I realized that what he said was really very true. "Yes," I told him. "Yes, I think it would."

Thursday, May 10, 2007


As I understand it, Pope Benedict XVI has recently endorsed the practice of bishops who are excommunicating Catholic politicians in Latin America who have voted in favor of abortion rights.

Some years ago now, the bishop of the Lincoln diocese here in Nebraska excommunicated a whole list of Catholics based solely on their membership in certain political organizations.

I've heard it said that the Catholic church is a private entity and can essentially do whatever it likes. And I suppose that is true. But with every bone-headed, "we're right, you're wrong, what's the point of dialogue" pronouncement like this, it becomes increasingly difficult for me to continue to think of myself as Catholic.

I yearn for the day when love, compassion, and openness become more important to the church than doctrinal correctness, than enforcing some narrow vision of proper belief.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Friendship (an attempt at poetry...with apologies to anyone who is actually good at poetry...)

Reaching out across distance
Perspectives shared
Each light reflected in the other

Not melding into one
But unified, intensified
Separating at last, but whole once more

Monday, May 07, 2007

reflections on a funeral

I was making a short trip to go get lunch today at our local bagel shop (mmm...turkey club sandwich on a swiss melt bagel...), and I was turning over in my mind various things have been stressing me out and causing me unhappiness lately. I travelled several blocks this way and then the traffic simply stopped.

Which, believe me, is rather unusual in a town this size. Even if it had been the busiest traffic of the day, outright traffic stops are extremely rare.

So this particular novelty caught my attention, and I began to look around, trying to make sense of what was happening. There was a police car about four or five car lengths ahead, lights flashing, blocking traffic. An accident of some kind? No. The officer was outside his car, standing at attention, while a fairly long line of cars proceeded to cross from the other side of the street into a local cemetary on my right.

A funeral.

I'm not aware of any particularly newsworthy deaths in our town. But I could tell from just how many cars there were that whoever died must have been greatly cared for, must have meant a great deal to a great many.

It brought my mind back to the death of my father a couple of years ago now, and my heart was suddenly filled with compassion to those who are suffering today. I was struck by how easy it is to get caught up in my own concerns, to forget (or overlook) the fact that deep suffering knows no borders, is shared by young and old, rich and poor, liberal and conservative.

I find that these kind of insights give me a deeper sense of perspective, put whatever concerns I might have in a more helpful context, and somehow make whatever is bothering me less crucial and therefore more manageable.

As the procession came to a close, I drove on to the little bagel shop, pausing internally to pray that God would grant some sense of peace and comfort to those families. I hope that I can keep the lesson their presence taught me today alive.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Daddy, go sleep

Nighttime at our house tends to follow a fairly straightforward routine for our boys, most of the time. There's dinner, playtime, baths, videos, brushing teeth, and the final ritual of actually getting into bed and (with any luck) getting them to sleep.

Usually, my seven year old autistic son initiates this last step with the words "Daddy, go sleep" or "Daddy, lay down with me." Which, I must admit, I have tended to view with mixed feelings at times. It is terribly sweet that he finds contact with me so comforting, yet I have tended to cut this time short as much as I could. There were just other things that seemed to need doing -- whether that was keeping up on some TV show, getting some paperwork done for work, or make a run to the grocery store.

So tonight my seven-year-old is playing this variation of hide and seek with me, and he gets to a point where he realizes that he's tired. He looks up at me and says "Daddy, go sleep" -- and as he does so he reaches up with his hand and gently touches my cheek. I could be totally reading into it, of course, but to me it seemed to be his way of communicating how much it meant to him to have me there, to just be present with him as he falls off to sleep.

So tonight I didn't cut the time short. I stayed there with him, observing the gentle rhythm of his breathing as he slowly drifted off to sleep. His little face seeming perfectly content, perfectly at peace. And I realized as I gazed upon him that this peace was contagious, that I left the room enriched in ways that grocery runs, paperwork, and television could not provide.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

a green notebook

At my four year old's preschool, they did an assignment not too long ago. The kids were asked to consider what they would buy if they were to find a pot of gold. And there were the typical responses, I would suppose -- a pony, a race car, a Nintendo Wii. My son's response? "A green notebook."

Mind you, my son is something of a Blue's Clues fanatic (thus the love of notebooks on which to store the "clues"), and green is his favorite color. So a green notebook probably does strike him as the closest thing to heaven he knows. Even if he does already have a plethora of notebooks (and of a broad selection of colors) at home.

When my wife and I first saw this little assignment, we were amused and perhaps just a little concerned about whether his fascination with Blue's Clues was going just a tad bit too far. But looking back on it now, I find his response humbling.

Perhaps this is because my own choices in the pretend scenario would be so different, so relatively extravagant. I'd pay off the house, perhaps, or buy a new car (a Prius, I tell myself -- hoping to assuage my inner guilt about the environmental impact of purchasing a new car). I'd buy some land and set up a business devoted to serving children with autism. Or I'd establish a school designed to teach dynamic intelligence to children with special needs.

All good things, I suppose.

But my son's response to that question reminds me to take joy in the simple joys of my day to day life -- to relish phone calls from good friends, the smiles and pure excitement my kids give me when I come home from work, the joy of seeing my boys grow and progress in life.

These are my green notebooks. I hope that I never become so caught up in my "plans" that I lose sight of what is truly important.