Wednesday, March 9, 2011


It doesn't take a hundred  feet of water to drown a person. It doesn't even take a gallon. Maybe a pint or two. Sometimes less. While at college I returned home to Germany as often as I could which amounted to three summers. Each time, I was given back my old job by my crisp and clean German boss, Rudiger Schmidt, for whom I had worked at the AYA (American Youth Association) on Sembach Air Base since I was sixteen. I was popular with the parents, staff, and a couple hundred children who saw me as their father or mother (depending on whether or not I needed to physically restrain or hug them).

In the summer of 1991 we had a particularly lazy staff: an older, shriveled, chain-smoking, German supervisor with an obese daughter spared insult by the staff and kids because of her mother's job, Rudiger Schmidt, a handsome, self-avowed atheist, a twenty-two year old prick who got the job because his father was an officer (and who slept with one of my associates who was a newly-married, little slut who allowed the prick to give her back rubs in front of the children), a widowed German Putzfrau who cleaned the AYA and allowed men to grope her (but only occasionally. I saw her slug a guy once. German women know how to slug), Larry, the Black, athletic director sporting jerry curls dripping with sulfur-smelling chemicals and who was married to a Mensch of a German woman with two children and who was afraid to go home at night (probably because of his wife's "playa"-radar), Sheila who was messing around with a short, balding, Greek guy trying to grow dreadlocks and who had the largest calves I have ever seen on anyone, a dour-faced mother in her 30's with smoker's voice who was always tired, two high school "summer hires", one who was Emo and spastic, dissolving into tears each time she was reprimanded for talking to the kids about her sex life, and another young man whose company I enjoyed quite a lot. And me.

We had routine activities each week of summer camp, every other Thursday being the visiting of different Schwimmbaden (swimming pools). One time we went to a "beach" at Hohenecken. Someone didn't do research. Hohenecken ended up being a topless beach: four staff and fifty kids stranded on a topless beach for three hours with me in charge. 

My boys were fascinated with the topless women. Though elated at their "score", they were still so culture-shocked that these 10-12 year-olds ended up causing a scene by completing surrounding these women to stare at their boobs. The topless women (get this) and their husbands complained. 

I pooled the children's money together so we could rent canoes and at least get the testosterone-hyped boys to spend time on the other side of the lake where there were nothing but large boulders and the promise of adventures of a different kind. En route, we got caught in a crossfire of people in canoes tossing organic, black sludge from the bottom of the lake at each other with their oars. My boys and I were ruthlessly targeted until we got close enough to knock them out of their canoes, threatening them in Germish. That was back in the days of little regulation and little common sense. The topless people cheered us on from the shore.

One day we were pegged to go to Bad Durkheim which I dreaded because we had a bad reputation there. My American kids would crawl under the changing rooms, peeking at people as they changed. They ran across picnicking families' blankets and lunches. They got in the way of the Omas and Opas who would swim laps back and forth for hours, splashed by the American kids who were trying to dunk each other. 

The complaints were stacked against us, and, though I did not want to go, was made to go. I was the one in charge of the day trip, driving the lead van, in charge of the Marks to pay for forty-five entry fees, in charge of extra Marks for the children to buy ice cream which was an embarrassment in itself because the American kids cut in line, making friends with the Germans so that the Germans would buy them ice cream and pommes frittes (french fries with curry ketchup-Yum!). The friendliness of the American kids, however, was a deficit because each pool seemed to have a contingent of boy-lovers who sported erections in their swim trunks while eying our kids or even worse, luring my kids to a disclosed side of the pool where they would expose themselves to them (I had my share of confronting pervs as well as neo-Nazis).

The pool owner hated us and was visibly angry when he saw us. I beat him to the punch: "Look," I told him in German, "I understand these American kids can be rude and all, but I'm in charge today, and I take responsibility for them." He seemed to calm down, actually looking grateful. Before the children went off to change, I castigated them in front of him like the Germans do, and he seemed very very pleased. 

My problem, however, was the staff. Little Ms. Slut was in a funk because Mr. Prick had been fired due to adultery which I am happy to say I had a hand in supporting. All she wanted was to sulk and sun (her husband was considering divorcing her). Mrs. 30-years-old-and-I-have-fibro-mialgia-or-anything-else-that-will-get-me-out-of-work would not get into the water, and neither would the Emo summer hire who was "sad" about something. I was the only one for 40+ children. I was able to cajole Ms. Slut to sunbathe at the north side of the pool and the other two to watch the west side of the pool while I would be the only one in the south and deep end of the pool where I thought the danger to be the greatest.

It took no longer than five minutes before I was being hailed by several German Omas lazily swimming their laps. "Your girl has drowned," they kept saying. Confused, I turned around to see two of the pool staff several yards away at the shallow end on the west side of the pool pulling Jessica, a beautiful, twelve-year-old Black girl out of the water. From where I was, I could tell she was limp and apparently lifeless. And today had been her first day at summer camp.

Shock is a gift from God, because otherwise I would have drowned in the deep end. I felt the need to get to Jessica as quickly as possible, though the sane part of me was already suffering the effects of full realization and revulsion at what I would see up close. I could not move fast enough, but I was moving. As I pulled out of the pool, the world went quiet, and I heard the blood rushing in my ears as my entourage of Omas kept chiding me to get out of the pool and "go to your girl." As I exited the pool on the west side, mechanically moving towards Jessica who was lying on her back lifeless with her grossly distended belly and lungs pregnant with more water than a stomach and lungs should hold, I felt the world caving in. The owner of the pool was on his knees crying and sobbing, surrounded by my American kids who were as interested in his breakdown as much as they were in lifeless Jessica. As I approached, I could hear nothing but his wailing, kneeling on his skinny knees and looking imploringly up at me in disbelief and sobbing "Your fault! Your fault!"

That day was the only day I have ever seen anyone come back to life, that is, assuming that Jessica had been dead. Chief of all voices in my head was How am I going to tell her mother? I assumed there would be prison time, I would forfeit college, the incident would be on the AFN news (American Forces Network) as manslaughter by negligence. I was looking at Jessica's body thinking a conglomeration of  nonsense and hearing the intermittent, heart-rending sobs of the pool owner when I saw Jessica's arm twitch. On the verge of coming out of shock and into a world I was not ready to face, I hyper-focused on that arm, my spirit going Move. Move! MOVE!

The next movement was unexpected and so dramatically absurd that I thought shock was morphing into delusion. Jessica began to writhe. Like a snake. On her back. And threw up the equivalent of a Route 44 worth of chlorine-tinged water. Immediately sound came back INto my ears, my guts heaved, and I almost threw up all over Jessica. I've never felt happiness like that since.

It doesn't take a hundred feet of water to drown a person. It doesn't even take a gallon. Maybe a pint or two. Sometimes less. Fathers do it every day: drowning their kids by absence. Especially the father distracted from his family who has a modicum of religion under his belt ("doctrine") or in his life ("spirit-filled"). The left-brained father can quote Scripture out of his ass and pragmatically deduce God's "will" for his son's life. 

Who cares if he can quote Scripture? Since when has quoting Scripture been an excuse for being a negligent father? Who cares about the expectation that his son to do this religious thing or that religious thing? Maybe he has inflated expectations for his son. Maybe he himself is so hyper-focused on getting what he wants out of his boy ("good behavior", aka, an automaton) that he is functionally delusional. If he is nowhere to be found when it counts (aka, if he would rather be anywhere else) then he has essentially bastardized his child. That child has no pater. That child is chained to a mini-dictator who chooses not to communicate to him in a way he can understand.

The right-brained father can go for weeks and even months transfixed on inspirational work that satisfies himself and nobody else in the house. He can especially be involved in the "Lord's work", hahaha, saving individuals from the rightful consequences of their asinine actions, helping families avoid the inescapable consequences of their asinine actions, utilizing time and money and concentration on artificially flatulent visions over which he gets fat, gets depressed, loses his health, loses his virility, loses his hair, loses his metabolism, loses his reason, loses the only reputation that matters. 

He gives other people meaning, he gives other people money, he gives other people affirmation, and then he comes back home full of inspiration and expects to take his neglected boy to Starbucks or on a ski trip and is absolutely shocked when the boy returns his enthusiasm with spite? That boy has no pater. That boy is chained to a celebrity who is orbited by a scant universe so insignificant in the long run that it carries no gravity.

Fatherlessness is a vacuum, and nature abhors it, like it abhors every vacuum (and vacuum salesmen, haha). Fathers who solely let their wives deal with their boys where it counts and fathers who are so energetic and excited about their own work yet who do not want to come home because they have to be with a very boring family they feel sucks the life out of them. 

Presence, I think, is the solution, and you can't be present if you want to be anywhere else than you are right now. 


  1. Great post! This is something that needs to be addressed among families in ministry, in a faith where the core of it is the relationship between The Father and His Son, there should be no fatherlessness. Again great job, love your writing style, your story is intense!

  2. Unbelievable story!

    By the way, studies show that nurturing fathers produce good children. Yeah, "nurturing"... the word that the church most often gives the mothers and say is a "woman's role." We have to re-think parenting. Thanks for helping with that.

    Also, mothers are good for boys too... "The Courage to Raise Good Men" is a good book on that that slices through a lot of the men's movement mumbo-jumbo.

    In short, if both parents are not nurturing in all areas of a child's life, boys and girls, everyone loses.

  3. Dude, I agree. Thanks for the illumination.

  4. A good paradigm shift is to help fathers/husbands realize that God's primary mission and ministry for them is their family, not others. All that good work that needed to be done was why Paul stayed single. He understood. "As Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. " he also didn't tell mothers about parenting, he spoke to fathers.

    You nail it when you say that negligent fathers are celebrities. they look for "love" and affirmation from safer sources than the real relationships God has put them in, and justify their fun with snippets of scripture.


  5. Dennas, no truer words have been said. Today. To me.


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