When a friend recently shared that she had lost her father 10 months ago, my tears surged so quickly that my tear ducts ached.  After listening quietly, I shared that I had gone through this as well. I could feel a shift, as if she knew she was not just experiencing that uncomfortable pity that we sometimes unintentionally cast on others; she felt my empathy.  She suggested that it would get easier over time, but I told her not to hold her breath. That even a decade later, the pain can still be there.

I lost my father 14 years ago to Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), an incurable neuromuscular disease. And even though 14 years may seem like a long time ago, it is only now that I can even bear to write about it. It is true that as time passes, the pain dulls. But the experience of him can come back instantly through simple and unexpected ways; the smell of Old Spice cologne on a passerby, a sudden memory of him sitting in his chair reading the paper, the way he used to laugh so hard that tears would come to his eyes.

If someone famous dies from a rare disease, they may receive the honor, or burden, of having that disease named after them. Although my father had his own rite of fame in the eyes of his friends and family, I am thankful that ALs is not called Bob Anderson disease. ALS is, however, known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, after the famous New York Yankees baseball player whose rapid rise to fame was tragically cut short by ALS. Lou Gehrig and my father had something much more uplifting in common:  both of their family’s loved them.

Although we are trained to subdue our emotions and to get over our losses, I think it is healthy to be able to connect with the feeling of loss, wether ten months or twenty years have passed. Such feelings confirm your ability to truly love other human beings, and prove that love is indeed infinite. If I hadn’t cared for my father, perhaps it would be different. But to this day, I believe my father to have been one of the best in the world: kind, patient, humble, great sense of humor, able to give a concise summary of world events, manly enough to say he loved you.

If he were here today, I can only imagine how differently my life might have turned out. I can see him playing with his new grandchildren that have been born since his passing. I can picture him talking with my husband, his hands clasped gently together as he listens. I can imagine him sitting with my mom on the front porch, looking at the play of light and shadow on the mountains in the distance.

Yet I do know that he is here. Over the years I have felt his presence in subtle, scientifically unprovable ways that have provided kindling and flame to my faith in the hereafter. Sometimes when I pray, I picture my father as one of the bearded men up there who may have an ear more keenly turned to my needs. Sometimes those prayers are even answered.  So if you think your duties as a father end when your kid turns 18, think again. Once a father, eternally a father.


Beach Days, Sex Crazed, meditation and Jellyfish

I spoke to my sister-in-law in America last night and she reported having just thought of me while flipping through a sportswear catalog.  Among the image laden pages of must-haves was a pair of sleek thermal running pants for extreme climates. She figured I was probably in need of such an item, poor thing, in the miserable weather of Holland. Yet, to her surprise and my pleasure, I reported that we’ve made two trips to the beach this week, and I most likely won’t be needing any such running pants until at least Wednesday, when the weather is supposed to take a turn for the worse.

Den Haag is a 20 minute bicycle ride from the North Sea. The coastline stretches in both directions with kilometers of open beachfront, some just off the well trodden paths of beach towns and others via walking or cycling-only access through the sand dunes.

Every spring, a whole village of beachfront restaurants are erected along the shore for the summer season, and then deconstructed by the end of the season. These are not wheel-away-at-night patat (french fries) stands,  but full-fledged restaurants with decks, glassed in walls, padded furniture, roofs, electricity, thematic designs and palpable sound systems to fine tune an ambiance that differentiates it from the neighboring restaurant. These are not only labor intensive to set up, but the restaurateurs pay hefty fees to rent the beachfront.

The summer weather in Holland was so bad this year that most Dutch claim the season was skipped in this country. The city of Scheveningen must have felt sorry for their beach renters, a Dutch friend informed me, as they extended the restaurant leases until the end of October.  And what a good decision it was; last weekend every restaurant was busy and every square meter of beach occupied by a broad spectrum of humans ranging from pale white to foreign-vacation tanned.

I walked with two new friends I had met in a yoga/meditation course and the shore of the North sea on a warm Saturday afternoon seemed the perfect setting to discuss what we had learned. We had all experienced the value of regularly doing the meditation and breathing techniques, but we also felt annoyed by having to do “one more thing,” regardless of how much it improved our daily lives.   As we discussed how our meditations were coming along, we navigated our way through the jellyfish that washed up on shore. Although no longer alive, their amber tentacles moved gracefully to the gentle rhythm of the waves. They did not have the tell-tale blue lines on the round part of their bodies that indicate they are poisonous, but their presence was enough to keep 95% of the population out of the sea.

Although we were equally engaged and participating in the conversation, our eyes were still scanning the ground for jellyfish. Soon we made the prudent decision to walk on the dry sand of the beach, thus allowing our gazes to be more all-encompassing, our thoughts more present for contemplation.

As our gazes lifted upward our conversation did flow more easily. But as we proceeded on our journey, I noticed the beach goers on their towels had somehow transitioned from scantily clad to wholly unclad. As we casually ambled forward through the bobbing penises, sagging breasts and occasional sunburnt child, I was determined to focus on the conversation at hand. But soon, the change in landscape penetrated our thoughts.

As we passed naked families sitting together under the hot sun, my friend shared a conversation she’d had with friends just a few nights before about the vast differences in freedom of conversation between mothers and daughters around the topic of sex. The three of us shared in common having almost never talked to our mothers about sex. On the other hand, one of her friends had reported that mom talked openly to her about her sexual experiences down to which toys she liked for such occasions.

In Holland, land of sexual freedom, legal prostitution and drugs, it makes sense that family views on the topic of sex could be much more liberal. If I had thought about the topic before, I might have naturally come to the same conclusion. .

I sometimes have difficulty with the general zen principle of staying in the moment, but my child is like my zen master. Besides the anticipation of dessert after dinner, he seems to live fully in the moment, engaged in play, in laughter, in taking in the opportunities around him. When with him, I too am in the moment. Yes, I can digress back into history and think of holding him as an infant, or think in a general sense about his future educational needs, but for the most part, I think of him as a four and a half year old, no younger, no older. But, former topic at hand, how will this country of liberal indifference influence his sexual upbringing? Of course, parents play a large role, but contemporary society also holds a powerful set of cards in how our children will think. But, keeping my little zen boy in mind, I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.