Friday, December 16, 2011

Saint Joseph

By some accounts, I am a foolish man, I suppose. Yesterday I was in Chicago, following through with my latest latest windmill charging incident, challenging my electric bill in front of the Illinois Commerce Commission. Long story short, somehow my engineering background and usage analysis was able to convince two well paid ComEd attorneys to adjust my bill. Small victory but still, a victory against a utility supplier that has no competition in the state. Not exactly David beating Goliath, more like David prevents Goliath from stealing his lunch money for once.

After that ordeal was over, I settled back into my skin and walked a few blocks on Randolph over to Daley Plaza (recognizable from its appearances in The Fugitive and The Blues Brothers) to take in the sights and sounds of KristKindle Markt. It is a Chicago take on a German Christmas Street Market, and the smells are fantastic, warmed by a celebratory atmosphere. I had about 45 minutes until my train left and planned on a little mulled wine and a potato pancake for lunch while I considered my childhood visits downtown. Back then it was the tree and the store windows on State Street. The windows aren't there anymore. The wine would help with that pain.

I still remember how the tree looked at Christmas when I was a child. Perfectly shaped, it appeared to be the world's largest fir tree, festooned with huge ornaments and thousands of lights. In actuality it was a steel frame with dozens of trees applied to the surface that yielded a perfectly shaped tree every year.

Now the city seeks entrants who need to get a large pine tree removed. By way of a contest, the winning tree is cut down and bolstered up in Daley Plaza. The asymmetric natural look is refreshing but the sparseness of a very mature pine tree leaves a lot of light shining through. Still, Charlie Brown would like this year's tree just fine.

I walked south next to City Hall so I could cross the street at the corner, Pavlovian drips of spit wetting the edges of my mouth. My phone rang. It was my eldest son's school calling. Thinking it might be serious and that I was gonna have to find someone to pick him up, I leaned against a light pole and nervously answered. Turns out it was my son's Principal calling me back. I looked over the tops of the little shops in the plaza across the street and answered, yes, when asked if this was a good time to talk.

The reason for the call was to discuss some extreme bullying going on. My son talked to me about it and when he decides to talk it generally means it was rough for him to take. This time the bullying was verbal and made reference to him and some extreme crude sexual references. I was infuriated when I heard what was said to him. I was not mad at my son, mind you, as he knows what would happen to him if I found out he was speaking to someone else like that. I was instead pissed off that there was a dad out there who failed to put the fear of God into his son for the same reason. This is why I contacted my son's Principal.

Although the popular approach would be to yell at the administration for running a school where such behavior occurs. I took a different path. I offered my help. I asked if there was something I could do by way of petitioning the School Board for the needed resources or if I needed to speak to parent's groups.We had a good talk for about twenty minutes, which hurt because the food smells from 100 feet away were killing me!

As we talked about the ways he planned to address this across several disciplines, I spotted someone across the street. He seemed to be looking at me and standing nearly dead still. He had words hand written on his shirt which were hard to make out and in his right hand was a sign balanced on a fire hydrant. His face was covered with a scarf and I could barely see his eyes. When I was done talking to the Principal, I headed across the street to have a better look.

Once I worked through the midday pedestrian throng, here is what I saw.

By outward appearance he is a father who has not seen his children since 2006. If the sign is correct he is on a hunger strike as a sign of protest. There was no canister to collect money near him. Just the informational clothing, a sign, and his back pack. I do not know his story. I did not bother him out of respect and fear that having a discussion with him might humanize him too much to impact the passers by. He was quite serious about being seen in just this way.

To me it made sense. The way he looked made me remember when I was separated from my son for four months when he was a year old. The world moved quickly by and I was left feeling very much alone and out of place. I got it. As a father, with a heart longing to see his children, he needed to stay just that way, almost motionless and alone.

I considered the implications of being a father. The sacrifice, the loss, the joy, the struggle, the frustration. Here we were, two caring dads, while out there somewhere a father who raised his son to have no inhibitions about bullying mine with sexually suggestive phrases.

I am a Christian, Roman Catholic to be more precise. As a measure of my faith, I think about Saint Joseph, the surrogate father to Jesus, and his dilemma with his bride to be, Mary. Finding out before their marriage that she was with child was a situation to be sure. To turn his back on Mary when he found out would probably have meant her death by stoning as an adulteress. Instead he realized his calling and sacrificed a selfish life for that of the one he was destined to live.

Whether Christian or not, I think all men need to consider his case. A father who does not sacrifice for his children is not a father. We need to give of ourselves. We need to be relentless. We need to guide our children until we are in the grave, and then some. Then we can rest.

Merry Christmas.