Monday, December 6, 2010

Men of a Greater Generation

I've been hinting at this for quite some time, never really tackling it here because...well, because I don't really know how. Imagine that? Me, who typically has diarrhea of the mouth, unable to figure out how to write about a subject.

John LAYTON (I had previously written Saunders...I am such a tool. I can never remember who is who in Jennifer's enormous family. I am so sorry John...) is Jennifer's grandfather on her Mom's side. He has been battling lung cancer for a very long time. In fact, he has very much been one of the many inspirations for me to quit the habit. He did a long time ago.

It has felt like an eternity that he has been fighting this. He's beaten it before, but this last round, it came back with a strength that even John has struggled with. And this is a man who does not struggle, even at his age, he was just last Spring playing nine holes.

The man is a Fighter.

And other than myself, I can't think of any man who I have ever seen more emotionally wrecked over what happened to Bennett. I do not know why, exactly. I have never really had the courage to ask him.

It isn't something you ask a man like this. I mean, granted, I have issues with male authority figures anyway, but John has always...intimidated me more than most, and I don't mean from fear or anything, more from...awe.

He comes from a generation that I have an almost Superman-like respect for. I can't get past it. And when I am in the company of men like him I feel like an insect. I know he doesn't see me that way, but it's how I feel, mainly because I am pretty much the polar opposite of anything he is.

I can do so little on my own. He can MacGyver pretty much anything.

That is just what people in his generation DID.

They always did it themselves. They figured it out.

You didn't call a repairman. Most people didn't have the cash. And there was a pride, an honor in being hands on, in having skills, in being...well, a man.

Some people in my generation have man skills. But those guys, the ones I know, had fathers. I didn't. I do not have ANY man skills. None.

And sadly, I have none to pass on to my boys, who I am very much afraid will be more pussified than I am. It makes me wonder. Am I beyond that now, at 43? Should I take a lesson from John and learn as much as I can now in the hope that maybe I can teach something to my sons, or at least Carter, that he can actually USE that is hands on?

I don't know.

I have only ever seen tears in John's eyes maybe two or three times in my life, not that I have known him long, only as long as I have been in Jennifer's life, which is a little over ten years, but those times were over Bennett. He had some kind of special connection with Bennett I can't describe. But it was a very strong bond.

I think his choice to fight for as long as he has in a battle that takes so much out of you had, among other things, a lot to do with Bennett, wanting to see Bennett make progress towards what we ALL want, real communication, something maybe even like he used to have before the surgery.

John died yesterday afternoon, at home, with family. He fought so hard for so long, but his now over.

He can finally rest. Be at peace.

Very selfishly, I wish I had overcome my awe and asked him my questions. Very selfishly, I wish I could have my Faith restored. But I can't.

I want it back, but it isn't something you can wave a wand over and magically find returned to you. Especially when you are filled with so much anger so much of the time. The two hardly go together. Well, they never do, not in any Faith I have ever understood or embraced. But I want so badly to have it again, because I want to believe, I NEED to believe, in two things, both of which are very far beyond my reach.

One, that Bennett will progress to being able to communicate, and I mean really communicate, that the healthy part of his brain will 'kick-in' like we believed it would when the bad parts were taken out and that he can live, at least minimally, a somewhat 'typical' life. Two, that there is a place that exists, beyond the boundaries of this world, beyond the edges of my understanding, that is real, so that John will be able to see it.

These may be just pipe dreams, impossibilities...but to believe in them anyway, no matter what, would be a genuine comfort. And you can't manufacture that, no matter how hard you try.



  1. It was a great privilege to know him. He will be missed by many.

  2. really sorry to hear...although given your description, at least he went down swinging...what more can anyone ask?

  3. Ken, first I want to say I'm terribly sorry for your and Jennifer's loss. Secondly, his passing should be motivation for you to quit! I can't tell you how awful it was for me and my family to watch my grandmom, the one who lived near you, suffocate to death in her hospital bed because she smoked for 55 years. The quality of her life towards her death was tough to watch. I will say at least soon after her diagnosis she did not suffer from much discomfort and pain. 3 months later she passed. Thirdly, you're right about your faith. You really can't just wave a magic wand and expect it to just reappear! What I will say though is sometimes the events in your life are messages from Him if you are open to accepting there is a higher power out there that has control. Obviously we sure don't have control over a lot of things. You are blessed that Bennett is still here. His current health might be His way of testing you. Maybe it is to humble you and make you realize and appreciate less of the material stuff. Your family is most important in your life no matter what your differences may be. They still love you. I am by no means a bible beater, I have my moments where my faith wanes but I will say this, I have never prayed more in my life than I have over the last ten years and when I opened my heart and eyes to what those signs and messages were I saw what choices I had to make. I strongly believe He sent me signs. I could go into detail about the experiences I've had but the testimony is long. Let's just say it took me a lot to let go of my preconceived notions about what things should be like and open up to His will. You may or may not come to this point in your life. I am much more at peace with what happens because of my faith. There is always positive that comes from adversity. Maybe you are here to mentor to us with your wisdom and intellect, you are such a poignant writer. When I had my accident I went through a long bout of occupational therapy. 5.5 + yrs and did so much for people while I was there. I was there that long not only for me to recover but it was for me to help other people cope and for me to humbled as well because there was always someone else worse off than me. It was a constant humbling reminder to me that my life could have been taken and things could be much worse....That being said and my novelette becoming too long as it is, I will leave this where it is. I will continue to pray for you and your family and not so much that Bennett will get better, I do hope he stays healthy and gets better, but for you to be able to have peace in dealing with what is planned for you for your present and future. God be with you Ken...Hugs

    Laura Diamond

  4. Awesome post by Laura. I couldn't have said it better myself. The one thing I wanted to add is that even if Bennett doesn't communicate...even if he doesn't lead a "typical" life...that doesn't mean that God isn't out there, that He isn't playing a huge part in your day to day life. He's there whether or not you acknowledge him. Whether or not you have faith. You need to have faith because you believe...not because God came through and did what you wanted. God's answer to your prayers is not always yes...more often that not it's no or not yet.

  5. ken, i don't know you. i read your blog links via facebook, sometimes, and sometimes i skip them. this one i read, and it touched me in a way. i know what you mean by the seeming "invincibility" of the older generation of men. i was raised by one of them, and one of the great struggles of my life was coming to terms with the legendary man who reared me, both his strengths and his weaknesses, and my relation to them.

    what i'd like to contribute here today is that there are essentially two kinds of people in the world, whom i call Team Problem and team Solution.

    Team Problem are a group of helpless, bleak-minded people for who every obstacle in life is a struggle, every setback is the worst, and every problem is worth a pint of haagan das and a cry. Team Solution live a different way, for them, they actively seek solutions, they see a setback in life as an obstacle to overcome, and they are not afraid to fail, because failure means you've narrowed the field of possible solutions.

    Team Solution are not always the most capable guys, and they're not always right, but they will always TRY, they will always, without hesitation, attempt to fix problems through will power and common sense, and they're not afraid to get help when they are overwhelmed. more often than not, common sense, and experience in doing, will trump most challenges in life.

    As a man with disabilities (i have cerebral palsy) i can vouch for powering through things and refusing to acknowledge defeat. in my childhood, after a particularly invasive corrective surgery called a femural derotation, i had to learn to walk a second time. in grade school, i was all over the place, i participated in track and field events, i did everything the other kids did. in high school, i played football with my friends and walked almost a mile home every day from school... cuz i had to. that was my scenario, so i did it. i didn't stop to think about how far away it was, or how hot it got in the summer, or anything else. i had to get home, i didn't have a car, what else could i do? i struggled for a long time in my teens wondering whether or not i could date, cuz who would want a gimped up husband? well, i got laid in college, i had some failed relationships, and i eventually got married to a wonderful woman, for whom my disability is simply not an issue. i have two beautiful boys now, again, something i wasn't sure would happen. my life was not stopped from going on just because i had doubts, just because i occasionally got down about things. when a moment was created, i ran through it, no fear, no hesitation, for better or ill. my point in all this is, bennett will be who he is destined to be, don't fret that. what you can do as a father and a mentor, is create opportunities for him to blast through, when he's ready. and as a man, your job is quite simple, live fearlessly. failure is as much or more part of "success" than accomplishment is. be an example to your kids or the virtues you'd like them to have, and they will have it. if you want them to learn a skill, YES, go learn it yourself, and involve them in your learning, so they'll discover not only the cool things you can do, but that you're not afraid to learn new things! just my two cents man... sorry to hear about john. celebrate his life, and the pain of his loss will pass in time, i promise.

  6. So very sorry, Ken. Losing a loved one is never an easy thing to endure, much less this time of year. I will certainly say a prayer for your family.

    And speaking of prayer amd other things religious (but sparing you a long sermon)...I believe Faith is a choice AND a gift. We ALL have a measure of faith within us, but what we "choose" to do with that "gift" is up to us. You may not know it or even feel it right now, but you have it. Looking at my life and the way things have progressed, you wouldn't think I should have any at all. But I do. I chose to have it because without it, I would crumble and fall to pieces. Some days are better than others and it most certainly fluctuates. I think that's true for anyone though because no one's life is ever perfect. And it's only normal to step back and question things when something terrible happens. Like losing a loved one or dealing with catastrophies like Infantile Spasms. But choosing to have faith that there is something better on the horizon, makes it worth fighting through.

    Ok, so that was more than I had originally planned, but I hope it helped...even if just a teeny bit.

  7. So many insightful, good people read your blog. I am sorry for the loss. If it is appropriate, please tell Jen I'm sorry too.

    I once heard a quote which was falsly attributed to Mother Teresa:

    "I do not love God. I do not even want to love God. But I WANT to want to love Him. That is what I pray."

    I SO often feel the same. Loving God and having faith in His existance goes hand in hand for me. I believe that, because it is so difficult, it has to come from Him. Some days it is all I can do to pray for faith and understanding. It's what I pray for you too by the way.


  8. He sounds like a beautiful amazing man. The kind we all pray our children have in their lives...if even for just a moment.

    My heart is smiling that your family had him...and sorrowing that you've lost him.

    There are specific times in life that cause us to reflect and question and hunger...for God. For faith. For hope. Death and Birth are two of the most powerful.

    I never know quite what to say when you're being transparent about wishing you could have your Faith renewed. So I pray instead. That you'll find Peace and Faith. That Bennett will gain developmental ground. That your marriage will be strengthened. A lot of the same things I pray over my own family, actually...


    Cyber hugs from me to you guys...


  9. I'm sorry about the death of Jen's grandfather. Losing a rock like that really shakes a family. Wishes for peace and joy to come back to all as soon as possible.

    But my main comments are about the Man Skills:
    I'm pretty strong in that department, if I do say so myself. I didn't learn it from my dad -- he was not the handiest...and besides, being a girl-child kept me out of any home-grown shop classes. But, I hated -- HATED -- not knowing how to do stuff or having to rely on someone else to get something done, so I taught myself. Between trial and error (lots of the error part), books, wanders through hardware stores and more than a few episodes of This Old House, I can wire, plumb and carp with some competence.

    You CAN learn. You know you're smart enough to learn, and with all respect, I think you're at least as stubborn as I am, and that helps a lot. You taught yourself how to use Photoshop back in the day --- you can learn fix-it stuff, too. Decide, and you're halfway there.

  10. I love Richards quote.Perfect for you right now.

    Sending you peace today as you move forward in this life,navigating and processing,the void that is left with the passing of Jen's grandfather.

    Sometimes I wish I had that magic wand,in so many different situations or that crystal ball,or actually, do I?Do I want to see what lies ahead?Do I want to have all my questions answered in the here and now?And I always circle back to,no.

    Perhaps the answers and that which I might glimpse,might make it impossible to live fully and completely in the here and now.The miracle of THIS very moment.

    Sometimes I feel your right on the cusp my friend and I just want to give you that little nudge but you know,it is not for me to do.That power lies in Someone far greater than I.And He hears you.Most especially on days like this.He hears you.

  11. Wow. Lots of nice smart comments. It is certainly obvious that this is a post that resonates with people.

    He sounds like a fabulous man who will be greatly missed. My deepest condolences to you and Jen.

    I want to second something Kim said. I truly believe you can teach yourself anything if you want to. I have similar man-skills to her, and I honestly think they are some of my most prized skills. I like that no project is too big. And that I don't have to call "the guy". My dad taught me none of it, but I learned mainly through the internet, my hubby, and various friends. The internet will teach you anything if you want it.

    I also agree with most all of your commenters' views on your faith. It is clear that certain experiences have profound effects on what we believe. The fact that his passing has you wishing for your faith back may mean it is meant to help you find it. If you want it.

  12. Interesting, I've never looked at the older generation that way but you're right... there is a certain level of invincibility and desire to be a "man's man". I've been to two funerals in the past 10 days. One of my closest uncles died just before Thanksgiving due to Alzheimer's and another uncle died last week in bed (cause is still unknown). It's been a rough time for me, seeing my family go through so much all at one time.

    I've only seen my dad and my stepdad cry a handful of times between them and seeing their vulnerability really opens up mine. My thoughts are with you my friend...

    Now go pick up a hammer and fix something. You can do it.

  13. So much to write here and so little space in this damn box. We need to get together and just hash it all out.

    In the meantime, my condolences, and thank you for this moving portrait --

  14. Faith is a relationship. Relationships only happen when we spend time with someone and get to know them and allow ourselves to be known. For some reason here in the Western world we equate a lot of Faith with forcing ourselves to believe something we don’t know to be true. If we really want Faith we need to stop trying to fill our heads with facts or change our heart’s disposition by a force of will and instead just carve out some time to hang out with the one we are seeking a relationship with. If the majority of the relationship at first is anger, frustration, and all communication seems like one sided shouting then you are in good shape. It means you are uncomfortable with hypocrisy and don’t believe it is your job to fix yourself before going to God.

    John sounds like a wonderful man and you have eulogized him well. You have a gift for capturing sincere emotion with your words. I doubt it is only when you write but also how you speak; I’m sure John recognized your honest love and admiration.

    Bennett’s condition has touched many peoples’ lives. I am humbled by your ability to speak honestly about the struggles and triumphs it has brought for your family. It is also an honor to keep you guys in our prayers (before bed it comes out as a sort of run together rhyme “let’s pray for KenJenandBen and Carter.”)

    As for passing on the secret guy knowledge stuff of how to repair things and what-nots, I too suffered from a gross deficiency of how to do anything remotely mechanical. But by watching diy videos on the net and more importantly making myself available to help on repairs I have become quite handy. In fact at my former church I was the “washer and dryer guy.” I went from being all thumbs (one usually used as a seat cushion) to being the guy you called for help if you had a problem in the laundry room. So take heart it is not too late! I think doing repairs together is a lost manly art, there is something beautiful about seeing what a few guys, a hammer, and a six pack can fix.

  15. I haven't read a single blog of anyone's in several weeks...I have been remiss....So I am just now seeing this news...

    You have lots of wonderful friends here with great words of wisdom...All I can say is that I am so very sorry that y'all have lost John...

    John sounds so much like my daddy....This post really touched me....We lost Daddy three years ago this past week, and I miss him every single day....

    The relationship he had with Colby is irreplacable...No one will come close to loving Colby more or worrying about him more or wanting MORE for my boy than my own daddy....John obviously had that with Bennett...He's watching now...And he will always be watching as Bennett grows and learns and meets his goals...And he will be smiling...That's what I always imagine with my daddy, anyway...It helps...

    Thank you for writing about John...What a great tribute....

    Take care, and please extend my sympathies to Jennifer....


  16. Carol
    It was and he will. Wish you could have been here for the service.

    Stryder Wolfe
    He was certainly a fighter, and he was one of the strongest I have ever known.

    I should point out that I DID quit, two years ago. And he was part of that motivation. As for the rest of your comments...I don't know. I have never believed that God intervenes in the day to day events of anyone's life. Just not my belief system. You're certainly entitled to yours, don't get me wrong, but I don't think it works that way. And it isn't that I don't see signs of God's existence or that I question my BELIEF in God either, cause I don't. I question my Faith. One of these days I think I need to devote a very detailed blog about exactly WHAT I believe. Might clarify some things for some people.

    Reagan Leigh
    I do agree with you 100% that Bennett's situation, for good or ill, does not have an impact on whether God exists or does not exist. Nor does my acknowledgement of God. If I seemed to indicate that I believe that I apologize, I would never be that self-centered. I do understand that to have true Faith it must be given without expectation. When I was a very passionate Catholic I understood that very well and practiced that without hesitation. My feelings have simply changed. Again...I think I should probably clarify.

    Since I don't know you, I am not sure exactly how to talk to you, but I can at least say this...thanks for posting, and thanks for saying what you did. It was very inspiring. I do often talk about the things I can't do...and that is a piss-poor attitude. I certainly have a lot to learn, and a lot of people I need to take inspiration from. Not just people like John, but apparently total strangers too. :)

    I agree that Faith is as much a choice as it is anything else, much like making the choice to actually go LEARN how to go fix the kitchen sink. And like any choice, any path, it is work and you have to have a certain devotion to it.

    Dora's Daddy
    I figured you'd love what the comments ended up morphing into.

    happy's mommy
    He was an amazing man. And I appreciate your prayers. We need them this month. It's a doozie.

    I know all about your man skills. They are legendary. I've seen them in action. And they are very good and I know they are self-taught. And I know I can teach myself. I just have to reach inside myself and pull it out. Suddenly you're Yoda with the 'Decide, and you're halfway there.' I almost expect it to read as 'Decide, and halfway there you are.'

    Zoey's Mom
    I think I would resist the magic wand as well. Besides...anything just given is not as precious as something earned and scraped and fought for.

    Thanks...and pretty much yeah...I agree with you and Kim. I can find a way. I just have to put my mind to it and have some faith in myself.

    Chad...I'm sorry about YOUR losses...I did not know about them. That is awful news.


    Agreed on the relationship angle. That's the real key. And the only way it EVER works is if I put effort into it. I am unwilling to do that right now, and so for the time being no changes will occur. Bottom line? That is the Truth.

    I'll let Jennifer know and thanks for checking in. I appreciate it.


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