Monday, June 27, 2011


It was a lesson I apparently needed. Taking a break from gardening, I sat on the deck, lost in my own thoughts on one of those rare June days here, sunny, warm, and a cloudless blue sky, flowers blooming and birds flying around.

I noticed a swallow, swooping in to squeeze into the nesting box I’d nailed to the house, about seven feet above the deck, out of the reach of our cats. We’d been seeing some scouting and nest building going on there by a pair of barn swallows, their iridescent feathers shining in the midday sun.

Mama swallow approached the nesting box, with a large white feather, longer than she was. She grabbed onto the face of the box, trying to push the feather in. It was sideways in her beak, and all her pushing and noisemaking wasn’t enough to get the feather in. She flew away and dove in again. Still no luck. And, again.

Papa swallow was in the picture, too, swirling and dive bombing around, offering chirpy bits of advice. They flew around together, chirping, plotting.

On the fourth try, Mama had shifted the feather a bit, so the point was at more of an angle, and the feather slid into the hole, along with her. Papa chirped his glee, and there was a bit of a rustle inside the box for a bit, until Mama poked her head out, and flew off, joining Papa in a victory lap around the yard.

The feather was in, and the nest was about done. Let the egg laying begin!

Whatever human problem I was contemplating there, sitting on the deck, sipping iced tea and recuperating from a couple of hours of weeding and trimming, faded away. Perhaps if I just took a different approach, things would go easier.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Letter To My Sons On Father's Day, 2011

Dear Son:

It is nearly Father’s Day. Our culture seems to make a big deal out of celebrating Father’s Day every year. And, we seem to do it by somehow turning it into a day of giving a gift, and having a barbecue, or go fishing with dad.

Those are nice things, and I am not putting down a barbecue or a few hours fishing.

Yet, our society seems to be missing the point. Every day is father’s day. Every day is a day we need to be mindful of family and parenting, and the influence and effect that good fathering has on every one of us. (Every day is mother’s day, daughter’s day, and son’s day, too.) You know I value good parenting.

We all have had biological fathers. Yet, real fatherhood is more than insemination and a contribution of DNA. Real fatherhood doesn’t really have anything to do with biology.

You and I don’t share any DNA, and I haven’t done anything to contribute to your genetic structure. What we do share is a sense of family, a sense of belonging, and a period of time in which we have spent together, in the roles of father and of son.

In that time, I have attempted to impart to you a number of assets, a number of traits, moral lessons, guidance, and leadership. In short, I have attempted to introduce you into manhood and give you the benefit of not only some of the lessons I’ve learned in my life, but also a whole lot of determination to take charge of your life and for you to have a strong moral compass, a direction in which to travel through life.

As you have learned and as you demonstrate in your life now, it is not what I said that is really important, it is how I actually go through life that is the most powerful lesson I have offered to you. You know how I love to talk. More importantly, you should know how I believe a person should go through life.

I don’t want to just talk the talk. I want to walk the walk. As I get older, I realize lectures aren’t terribly effective. Its how I live and what I do that is real communication. You know that, too.

Not that I want you to walk in my footsteps or to do what I do. No, I want you to find your own direction, and your own passion in life. I want you to fully realize the tools and the skills that you have inside of you, and to use those talents and skills to the utmost, and to reach for your dreams. We each have our own paths, our own passions, and we each need to be captains of our own ships.

Your dreams are probably not my dreams. I’m not going to tell you what you should do in your life. But, I do want you to dream. I want you to live with passion, and I want you to stretch your talents and your abilities, and drive yourself to the highest level of action.

I do not want you to sit on your butt, take life for granted, and not live a passionate, adventure filled life. I don’t want you to be uncommitted, to let life go by, and to not grow and challenge yourself. In my work, I see a whole lot of men just being vegetables on the couch, and have nothing to show for it. (Nothing in the sense of unrealized dreams, and unenjoyed passion.)

You can be anything you want in life, if you aim for it.

You are a healthy, spirited man. I hope you see that and you celebrate that. It is a success. It is an accomplishment. I am proud of you.

So, I celebrate Father’s Day, knowing that you, my son, are living a good, healthy, and passionate life. You dream, and you work towards your dream. You do not sit on your butt, but instead, you engage the world and you are headed in a healthy, passionate direction. You don’t let grass grow under your feet.

I see you rejecting the popular culture’s mockery of men: stupid, insensitive, and lackluster guys who are easily distracted by beer, sex, commercialized sports on TV, and other time wasting activities. Real men, like you, are living their lives differently than how men are portrayed on TV. You value hard work and looking long term, down the road, on what you want to attain, and how you want to live. And, in doing that, you are doing your part to change and reform our culture. You are a good role model of what a man really is.

You have a direction in your life. Oh, its not my direction and its not my career. And, that is good. I haven’t tried to be a father who expected their son to be a clone of themselves. Instead, I’ve wanted you to find your own way, and be well equipped for that journey.

We’ve had our differences, and we’ve argued, and sometimes, it has been a not so fun struggle. And, that is good. In that struggle, and in those differences and those arguments with me, I saw you find your strength, and your own individuality. I saw you learn your own values, and I saw you advocate for your own beliefs, your own passions, and your own direction in life. That struggle with me made you stronger, and, I suggest, a healthier man.

In that struggle, I have tried to model to you healthy manhood and healthy fatherhood, and healthy fathering. Not that I’m perfect. Not by a long shot. Looking back at my relationship with my father, there were hard times, and silent times, and struggle. He died when I was 20, and we struggled with each other. There was a lot of silence and a whole bunch of uncommunicated ideas and passions. There was violence and there was silence, and I saw indifference in him as a father. (Yet, what I thought was indifference was very likely a frustration in Dad not knowing how to communicate his fatherliness with me.)

We all wish we could have a “do over” and have a better childhood and a better relationship with parents. Life doesn’t give us that, and we are pushed along, and to make our own way. Yet, I believe we need to study our childhood and what we learned, and to figure out what tools we now need, so that my tool chest is full and adequate to the tasks at hand. It is a lifelong journey.

We all vow to be different than our parents. Yet, we go into parenting with all of that history and patterns of behavior strongly engrained in our souls. My journey has been to really understand that “baggage” and pattern, and to pick and choose the good from the bad, and to add healthy skills, so that I become a better parent and a healthier man.

Manhood in our culture is hard. We don’t clearly define it and we, as a culture, rarely consciously equip our young men to go forth on their journeys and be strong, healthy men. All men need initiation into manhood, we need to be welcomed into adulthood, and offered the tools we need, and the support we each need to walk into manhood and be strong, healthy, and loving men.

I wish you a continued healthy journey, and I am proud to be Dad.



Friday, June 10, 2011


The box sits on the mantel
next to the picture we took on Family Day--
Family Day at the youth prison,
a time to visit, a time to celebrate
the bonds that are growing
between us.

It is a simple box, cedar, brass hinges, and,
dark velvet
where he had slowly carved the wood into tiny shavings
and sanded the edges smooth.

He has created space here,

Everything fits together, well crafted, well matched,
a product of time, and care, and love.

Every detail is perfect, the finish smooth and shiny
to the touch, knowing that his hours of work have borne fruit
and the box is done--
Done for Father’s Day,
his gift to honor the feelings
growing inside of him,
a gift to me, and to his soul.

Clean, well crafted space
sacred to all of us, this feeling of family
Sacred to him in his work,
behind the prison walls, his sacred work
going on long after wood shop is done,
creating his own space
where the peace of the space is made

Neal Lemery, June 2011

Friday, June 3, 2011

Deck Time: The First Day of Summer

I celebrate the first real day of summer by coming home early from work, the can of lawnmower gas refilled, and toss my dress shirt on the bed. Finding a pair of shorts in the bottom of my drawer, and a tank top, I lope outside to find the lawnmower. I stop briefly to fling open a few windows and prop open a door, letting real air come into the house, the humidity and dankness of gray days actually unnoticeable for once.

A nearly forgotten tube of sunscreen is found, and I slather a bit on my shoulders. Sunburn is a possibility today, a new concept around here.

For the first time this year, the grass flies out of the lawnmower not in thick, wet clumps, but like real grass, and the clippings don’t pile up in fat, slick sheets of soggy green. The sun is warm on my bare shoulders, and there is actually a warm breeze out of the northeast.

Tree leaves and grape leaves and every other kind of leaf doubled their size today, and the resulting photosynthesis gives the air more oxygen than I can handle.

Later, the lawnmower silent again, I find a glass of wine and my chair on the deck, being warm and dry and actually sitting on my deck, in shorts and tank top, and not freezing.

Karen has been planting today, most of the garden now marked with stakes and rows of dirt, and a few rows of seedlings emerging from the warming soil.

The wind chimes sing their gentle song, and the wind carries the faint voice of my neighbor, talking about how long it takes to cook the burgers. The summer smell of barbecue wafts across the deck, another new smell of the season we have been wanting to call summer. I’m usually in the house, drizzle or rain falling, clad in sweats on the couch.

Two more days of this, the weatherman promises, and I am thinking of summer life here. I need to find another pair of shorts, and toughen up the soles of my feet, getting used to walking barefoot and not wearing Gortex. It may even be time to hang up my collection of raincoats and sweat shirts for the summer.

We eat on the deck, and soak up the warmth. Our neighbor’s barbecue smoke adds to the good taste of dinner, and we talk, mostly about the pigeons and the goldfinches, the garden, and Karen’s day in the garden. The plants on the deck are starting to look healthy, and there are a few blooms to be found.

Later on, I play my guitar on the rocker, soaking up the late evening sun with my shirt off, playing some chords and practicing some strumming patterns. My other neighbor comes out to check on his horses and mow the rest of his lawn, his white legs bright against his shorts and the deep green of his lawn.

The young man I’ve been mentoring in prison calls, excited about the weather, and the book Karen sent him, and the pictures I took of our garden. We talk about the tree I planted last week, in his honor, over by the fire pit area. He wants to play cribbage with me on Sunday, when we have our visit. And, probably have our coffee and popcorn, and talk about his week. He’s growing stronger, I can tell it in his voice. Confidence is on the rise, and his smile comes through the phone, becoming content within his own skin.

A neighbor’s voice calls out to his dog, and I can hear the young dog running around on the grass, enjoying the evening with his master. Listening to their voices, I’m not sure who is having more fun.

This first real day of summer fills everything around here, green becoming greener, almost iridescent. Everything smells fresh, alive, and growing, including my spirit.

Sonny the Cat finally comes in from his day, chomping down his dinner, and getting ready for a deep sleep at the foot of my bed. After a day in the sun, he will dream of mice and warmth on his belly, his tail and paws twitching a bit as his brain sorts through the joys of a June day, a day when the sun finally came out.

June 3, 2011