The wee grrrl and I were downtown today, hanging around at the skateboards-and-used-records shop, playing pinball. She took to pinball like a duck to water. Her approach is constant flipper action: flippety-flippety-flippety. I try to show that sometimes one is better off not hitting the flippers, that it’s possible to catch the ball, let it go and pop it into the holes or to hit the extra ball target, but she wants none of that. Flippety-flippety-flippety-plop-Daddy-do-you-have-another-quarter? She’ll catch on. For a kid who has to stand on a crate to see the top of the table, she’s pretty damn good.
After a couple games, it was time for me to herd her to the car so I could get her to her mom’s on time. We said “see ya later” to the guys at the shop and walked around the corner, past the bakery, a.k.a. muffin store.
“Daddy, I wanna go to the muffin store.”
“Why do you want to go to the muffin store?”
“I wanna cookie.”
So, still walking, I went through the regular reasons why we were not going to go into the muffin store for a cookie. Almost dinner time; cookies are good, but we don’t eat cookies all the time; she’d already had a snack earlier, which wasn’t a cookie, but which was not entirely unlike a cookie; and cetera. The logical explanations, as any parent knows, don’t mean anything to the little people when they have cookies on the brain.
“Daddy, I’m afraid that if I don’t get a cookie, I’m going to have to cry.” She actually said that. Those exact words. She says that kinda stuff all the time. It’s amazing every time, but the obvious answer was
“I’m sorry that you’re going to have to cry, but you’re not getting a cookie.”
So she cried. “I wanna cookie! Ah! Ah! I wanna cookie!” over and over and over as we got in the car, fastened our seatbelts, drove to the mom’s place, gathered up her things, got out of the car, went up to the porch. She even gave me a hug and kiss and rubbed her nose on mine while crying “I wanna cookie! Ah! Ah! I love you, Daddy, see ya tomorrow. I wanna cookie.” and into her mom’s house she went. Usually, she’s able to let it go when she can’t have what she wants. Today…not so much.
A couple hours later, I was sitting around with some people, drinking coffee and talking about spiritual shit. Basically, we were discussing how our conceptions of divinity had changed at various points in our lives and I found myself relaying the cookie/crying incident. I somehow managed to tie it into the conversation and now I’m trying to remember how I did it.
I was raised in a tradition which likens the Ultimate Mystery to a male parent and people to children. When I was a children, my male parent had a can of Budweiser permanently attached to one hand and a big, skull-busting class ring attached to the other, so my take on the Heavenly Father metaphor was a bit skewed. Basically, I saw God as an omnipotent, drunk, angry guy who made up a lot of arbitrary rules and then punished the shit out of anybody who did or didn’t follow them, either way, it didn’t matter because it was all a set up, impossible to win, so ya might as well have a good time because you’re burning no matter what, motherfucker. Or something like that. I guess I vacillated between trying real hard to be on the Heaven-bound bus and then giving up on it and sinning as much as a kid can. I did a decade of angry atheism and then, to paraphrase Bongwater, Joseph Campbell gave me hope and I was saved. * I got clean and sober and started developing a spiritual life which included a specific deity.
I should state right here that I have no intention of ever naming my god/dess here. This is a public format in which I will ramble on and so on about whatever shit pops into my head, mostly about religion and myth, but my own specific image of the divine is personal. I’m not actually sure why that is, but I know that it is. Of course, I am aware that the deity to whom I pray, several times daily, is a metaphor. All the gods and goddesses, daemons and daevas, avatars and angels are metaphors, but they are metaphors for something. There is a reality which those symbols symbolize. It doesn’t matter which metaphor anyone uses – they all serve the same end – so it doesn’t matter if the one I use is Baldr or Isis, Wakan Tanka or Allah, Gaia or Indra, but I’m still gonna keep that to myself.
My conception of, and relationship with, god, to use the shortest word that serves and with a lower case ‘g’ to avoid confusion, has changed considerably over the years. When I first started this trip, I admit, I was kinda childish about it. I basically thought that if I did the right things, prayed the right prayers and was sufficiently humble, I would get what I wanted. That’s a form of magical thinking that a lot of people fall into. It got shattered for me when the woman I was involved with at the time dumped me for a younger guy. Actually, there was one hell of a lot more to it than that, and actually, in retrospect I figured out that the woman wasn’t all that important and now I’m glad that I’m not with her and not really sure why I was in the first place, to be honest, but at the time, I thought that I was all broke up about losing her and I got all pissed off at god, the universe and everything and threw a tantrum for a couple years until I got the fuck over it and grew up a bit. Then, a few years after that, I became a Daddy.
I remember a day, a couple years ago, summertime, afternoon. I was making coffee for me and a snack for the Spotted Opossum, who was two years old, fat-cheeked and wobbly. I believe she had on nothing but a diaper. I poured myself a cup o’ mud, turned around and saw that she had climbed out of her high chair and was dancing on the kitchen table. Uh-uh, no ma’am. I picked her up and put her on the floor, which didn’t go over well because who wants to dance on the floor when there’s a table? Not that little girl. There was a minor ruckus and then I did what I do and which works 99% of the time: I walked away. There have been a few occasions when I had to resort to stronger tactics, but not many. I walk away and the sprat follows. We went into the livingroom, I sat on the sofa and the girl decided to try her luck with the coffee table. I watched her scrambling to haul her bottom up onto it, considered the height of the coffee table, the depth of the rug under it and decided that I was willing to risk it.
See, the kitchen table was high and over a hardwood floor. If she’d fallen off that, there was potential for serious injury. A fall off the coffee table would mean a thump and some crying, but nothing major. You have to make these decisions when you have a kid. You can’t fight ‘em all the time and the fact is, they ain’t gonna learn if they don’t fall down once in a while. I explained my concerns as best I could and then I watched the show, which turned out to be pretty entertaining: little fat-cheeked diaper girl wobbling around on the coffee table. After a couple minutes, she bopped over toward me and jumped into my lap and later that evening I had an epiphany.
That’s the kind of Father they’re talking about: the kind that is willing to let the kid fall down. That whole thing about free will is god saying “Okay, dance on the table if ya wanna.” In my own life, my god allowed me to suffer some pretty hard knocks, but when you consider the kind of table-dancing I was into, I got off pretty fucking easy. My liver has some permanent damage, but I don’t need a transplant. I drove drunk thousands of times and never hit anyone or anything and only got one DUI. I didn’t get hepatitis A, B or C though not for lack of risky behavior. The proverbial somebody up there was watching out for me when I was too fucked up to watch out for myself, just like I was watching out for the wee’un, not because I was trying to prevent table-dancing, but because I didn’t want her to get hurt worse than was good for her. That business with the woman that dumped me is the counterpart of today’s I-wanna-cookie incident. I wanted what I wanted, god said “No” and I threw a fit. At the time, it seemed like god was being unfair and cruel for not letting me have the cookie /woman, but now I get it, now I know why. The cookie thing isn’t going to last in the Spotted Opossum’s memory. We have those tussles all too often for this particular one to make an impression. Maybe in a few years I’ll say “No” over something bigger and she’ll be pissed off at me for a long time. That’s fine. I can handle that. I don’t like upsetting my daughter, but I’m the Daddy and sometimes I have to. The phrase “Rock of Ages” comes to mind. It’s my job to be the solid presence, the person who will always be there. The girl can hug me and kiss me and rub her nose on mine or she can scream herself blue in the face, either way, I’m right there, being the Daddy.
So being a Daddy gave me a different understanding of god and then god provided me with a model for being a Daddy. That is exactly how that is supposed to happen. As you move into a new stage of life, the myths and metaphors take on new meanings and provide new wisdom. That’s part of why they’re written the way they are – so they can have different meanings to people at different stages of life. I’m still not crazy about patriarchal religions and when people are bowing their heads reciting the “Our Father”, I generally take the opportunity to ogle boobs, but I get it. I get the value of the whole god-as-father concept.
The goddess-as-mother concept makes sense to me too, but that’s another time.
Sometimes my will and god’s will don’t match up. Another way of saying the same thing is that sometimes I am not in harmony with the Tao. When that happens, things don’t go the way I want them to because, the fact is, god’s will is going to get done on Earth and in Heaven, whether I want it to or not. The only thing I can do is make myself miserable opposing the order of the Universe or put myself into accord with it and have a pretty good time.
I’ve been taken care of. I know people who didn’t get away with what I got away with. Some of them are in prisons; others are dead. The weather’s getting warmer, which is good for the ones that are sleeping outside tonight. I don’t always get all the cookies I want, but I’d say I’m ahead of the game.
*A couple years ago, I contacted Ann Magnusen through some social networking thing and told her that I first heard of Joseph Campbell from her and that it had had a huge and positive impact on my life. We swapped a couple messages and then it ended, which was kinda disappointing, because, ya know, Ann Magnuson is pretty hot for an older cookie, but, ya know, she’s got issues and shit.
Brown Hat the Espresso Shaman
The pun is always intended.