Category Archives: Community

Meditations on Fatherhood


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My dad once told me that being a father is like no longer having your own heartbeat. You share a pulse with your children.

This made little sense to me until I held Auggie for the first time. And of course my dad’s wisdom has been reaffirmed with Evie. I know of no greater pain than seeing my children suffer. I know of no greater fear than when I consider the infinite ways they might be broken by the world’s violence. But I also experience boundless joy when they smile and laugh, when they look at me and the world around them with wonder: Evie’s expression when our eyes meet, the way her whole face turns into a grin; and with Auggie, it’s all about mow tractor, noodles, and “Up with Daddy” — or Up with Mommy, Joe and anyone willing to take him for a ride on the Scag.

The Buddha likened the practice of awakening to the love a parent has for their child — manifested outward to inlcude all beings. If only my actions in body, speech and mind were half as generous and spacious as the love Auggie and Evie have initiated me into!

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Being a parent has a way of transforming any moment, disrupting my grasp on the way things “should” be, how I’d like life to go. A somber example.

The other day while driving to visit my sister I was listening to the radio. The host of the news program was reporting about the assault on an off-duty Parisian police officer and his family. The only survivor of the attack was a 3 year old child. When I heard this, my entire body stiffened. I pulled over, too overwhelmed by fear and sadness to drive. Parked on the side of the road, it struck me that somehow I’d be deceiving myself not to imagine the incomprhensible grief of that child and wonder what the day after losing both his mother and father must have been like. And how would Auggie and Evie cope if Emily and me were gruesomely murdered?

I have learned that being a father, along with the bliss, also means accepting that — as the depth psychologist James Hillman once put it — as soon as you’re born you’re ready to die.

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Though they’re young now, I wonder all the time: How do I help my children prepare to face suffering and death, protecting them from experiences that might cause horrific injury, while also teaching them resilience and the skills needed to embrace and heal a world increasingly replete with violence and injustice? How do I also teach my children to receive joy, in the very midst of hardship, and live wholeheartedly, expressing their gifts in abundance and for the sake of others?

As these questions come to me I consider some wisdom shared by men I interviewed for my dissertation. Fatherhood was a core theme in their lives, and their struggles to make sense of it centered around these three questions: (1) How do I face, and can I accept, my father’s failings and vulnerabilities; (2) Does my father affirm me as I am; and (3) Do I feel capable of being a father myself? Not necessarily by having a child, but rather by awakening a sense of inseparable connectedness to an other, whether person, community, project, or cause, and sustaining that relationship for the course of its life.

Reflecting on this day and calling to heart and mind my father ancestors, living and dead, I was struck most by the first question. I’ve been considering how a father’s open, honest and loving relationship with his vulnerabilities can prepare a child to be in right relationship to his own fragility and brokenness. This has been one of my dad’s greatest gifts to me. He’s taught me, as he once put it, how to lie belly up — courageously naked and vulnerable. Not to get rid or cure myself of my injuries, but to hold a space for the suffering, to let it be a branch into someone else’s life and recovery.

While my meditations have taken me to my father and his father and some inheritance of suffering between the three of us and beyond, there’s something I carry with me into my own fathering of Auggie and Evie, something from the soul of my dad, which I like to think is his genius, Buddha Nature, spark.

I felt it as a child on our trips to the same beach in North Carolina he used to visit as a kid, not far from the tobacco farm where he grew up. At the beach we’d wade in the ocean in the late afternoon and my dad would sing rugby songs — changing all the words inappropriate for us to hear (essentially re-writing the songs entirely) — singing loudly and with a silly British accent — because he’d learned how to play rugby in England where he was stationed during the Vietnam War; because he’d learned how to replace his Carolina drawl with just a touch of a Londoner’s lilt. My sisters and I would splash him with water, he’d help us launch off his shoulders and dive into waves. He’d act goofy. He’d play like a kid, just like us.

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This poem reminds me of him in those moments and embodies the love I try to realize with Auggie and Evie.

 

First we braid grasses and play tug of war,

then we take turns singing and keeping a kick-ball in the air.

I kick the ball and they sing, they kick and I sing.

Time is forgotten, the hours fly.

People passing by point at me and laugh:

“Why are you acting like a such a fool?”

I nod my head and don’t answer.

I could say something, but why?

Do you want to know what’s in my heart?

From the beginning of time: just this! just this!

— Ryokan

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Come Discover the Birds!

On June 18th Baltimore Green Space and Baltimore Bird Club will be hosting a bird walk through our woods.  Please come join us to experience these marvelous creatures.

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Gra Gra and Grampa!

Emily’s parents, Therese and Terry, recently visited. They were a huge help and wonderful presence in our community! Therese spent a lot of time with Evie and Auggie, which freed us up to do some outdoor work. Terry mowed and weed whacked, hung our hammock and installed a ceiling fan in the living room. Therese volunteered in the food pantry, sewed curtains for Evie’s room, and planted flower boxes. Terry inspired us all with his guitar playing: One evening we invited the sisters over to join him in singing Irish folk songs. Therese inspired us too with her culinary talents: fresh baked bread, scrumptious meals, and lots of sweets! We will miss them and look forward to their next visit!

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Above, Terry holding Auggie on his shoulders at the Maryland Zoo.

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Above, Therese rocking Evie to sleep.

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Above, Therese helping Auggie brush a goat.

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New Community Members: Baby, Weeds, Dandelions

Genevieve Therese Parr Brown was born at home, Jonah House, on Sunday, May 1st at 3:50 p.m.

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Auggie has handled his little sister’s homecoming with relative ease. He likes to practice his vocabulary by using her features as prompts: fingers, hands, mouth, ears, eyes and cheeks. He seems to know that Evie doesn’t replace him, but rather enlarges his life with all sorts of wonder and unexpected change!

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We are grateful for community. People have showed up in so many ways: washing dishes, preparing meals, spending time with Auggie, tending to Emily, and simply sitting with us and sharing in the reverie Evie inspires.

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With joy, sadness. Birth and death. Daniel Berrigan passed away. On Monday evening, two days after he’d died and less than 24 hours into Evie’s life, I reflected on some words he’d read during the Catonsville 9 trial:

“Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, for the burning of paper instead of children …”

Holding Evie in my arms, I’m aware that right now other newborns are being torn apart by war, deprivation, addiction, and neglect. I cannot love her without also calling to heart and mind their suffering. Violence in the world throughout fracturing the littlest and most fragile among us. In Syria. In San Antonio, where two kids are found tied up in a back yard, tethered like dogs, leashes around their necks, with scars and scratches all over their bodies. In Baltimore, a mother punishes and ultimately kills her stepchild by boiling his legs.

As I read about and hold these horrors in my heart I experience a great grief over the cycles of suffering and violence — and our world’s addiction to violence — that permeate our shared life. I invoke a passage from the Buddha’s discourse on good will: “just as a mother with her own life protects her child, her only child, from harm, so within yourself let grow a boundless love for all creatures.” It comes to me as a challenge: Do I embrace each being, especially those I’m averse to, as I would Evie?  I know I don’t.  

Evie is precious. She nurses and sleeps. Her needs are simple and direct, physical and intimate.

I practice a different kind of zazen when I hold her. She quiets and invites me into her stillness. Her eyes move underneath their lids and her face, completely relaxed one moment, in another twitches, wrinkles, frowns, grins and pouts.  I love watching her play of gestures.

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Auggie is precious. When he’s not “up with daddy,” I chase him around the house and outside. Auggie erupts with activity and a ceaseless stream of words until, exhausted, he declares: “baff, mup” and we take him upstairs to bed. He falls asleep right away, eats when he wakes up, and again we go, nonstop, until the nightime ritual of washing, brushing, book reading and fare-welling: Bye bye toys, moon, stars, stuffed animals, mommy and daddy.

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Life at Jonah House is full, in and out of doors, with the land greening and growing everywhere. The garden, the grass, the forest humming with movement. Bugs and birds. Vines climbing trees. Plants of all sorts sprouting skyward and every which way towards the light they can catch.

A few day’s ago I spotted a fox. A male, I think. He glided between the tomb stones near the house and disappeared behind a cluster of trees. I watched cats scatter because they gather there.

Dandelions can resurrect themselves over night! On the mornings after we mow, I marvel at their stalks rising upright out of the ground, inches above the cut grass, like thousands of twigs stuck there by some kind of nocturnal mischief.

Tucker Brown

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Getting the Garden Ready

On April 16, four members of the Towson University Garden Club helped us get our garden ready for planting.

Here you can see Tucker plowing one of the plots with the roto-tiller.

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Emily stands in front of one of the plots, which has just been weeded and manured with horse manure that we picked up at a horse farm in Ellicott City. You can see that Emily, like the garden behind her, will soon be bringing new life into the world.

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We have yet to plant the garden, but the asparagus is already producing spears. We’ll have fresh asparagus for the next six weeks or so.

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We’ll be posting pictures of the garden as things develop during the spring in summer, so stay tuned.

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