Archive for November, 2012

Hunting for Dad: Part 2

Part 2 is up. I’ve been wanting to get this article published for a while. It means a lot to me because the hunt means so much to the guys who let me invade their space for three days last year, and because the family is dear to me. I don’t expect to do it justice, but it’s a shot. It’ll be serialized over three parts.

Family and friends bury the ashes of the man who brought them together

Part 2 in a three-part series; click for Part 1

Inherent in every hunter is the quiet philosopher. The choice of solitude and listening to the woods, from dawn to dusk, lends itself to introspection. A slow day of hunting is an extended daydream grounded in the hopes and problems you brought into the woods. It offers a chance to understand your place in the much wider and wilder woods we navigate. It is the hunter, then, who can see the forest for the trees.

“It got to the point where it was no longer your dad taking you hunting but you taking your dad hunting,” Tom says. It’s a proud moment, and he references the cycle of life. The first time Tom shot a gun, at age 7, was with his dad. And now we’re about to bury his ashes at the base of his tree stand, which has fallen into disrepair.

Several years ago, the sons built a ground blind so Bob wouldn’t have to climb. Then they intended to build a gazebo in the heart of the property where the main access road gets swallowed by the woods. They cleared the spot, laid out the slab, but Bob would no longer be able to make the drive, no matter what comforts they erected for him on the land. Diabetes crippled him, so the end of the last few years, when he was no longer living, were met with relief.

Now, almost a year later, amidst the second home he opened to his friends and family, they celebrate his life.

Rea the rest at





Hunting for Dad: Rites, Rituals, and the Tribe

I’ve been wanting to get this article published for a while. It means a lot to me because the hunt means so much to the guys who let me invade their space for three days last year, and because the family is dear to me. I don’t expect to do it justice, but it’s a shot. It’ll be serialized over three parts. Here’s a tease:

Family makes annual pilgrimage to hunt deer and bury the ashes of the patriarch

The winds are supposed to get up to 50 mph. The hunt may be cut short because the high winds confuse the deer, throw their senses for a loop, so they bed down to keep safe. In this case, the deer are smarter than the hunters.

We’re twenty-five feet in the air, suspended between two oaks on a sheet of plywood reinforced by joists braced on either side of both trees. We face each other, our backs against our respective trees, the rifle hung from the hook above Tom’s head. He built this stand, along with his dad, who we are here to bury. It’s been hours since we spoke, and the only thing we’ve heard since daybreak was the mad warbling of turkeys, like a gang of women in the kitchen as holiday guests start to arrive. And the wind.

It roars like a waterfall over the ridges and down the valleys, unimpeded by the thick November woods. The gusts cyclone leaves on the ground back up into the air and when it dies down, you shouldn’t relax. The tree stand rocks like a small boat in a big lake and, earlier in the morning, sleeping off last night’s arrival, I napped in a ball at my friend’s feet, awakened by the sense that I was going to pitch over the side. He’s sitting up against the tree now, nodding off like you’re supposed to, always at the ready. That’s how you do it, even in the extended daydream that can be a slow day of hunting.

It’s day one of the hunting season, a day that’s taken a year to arrive for these guys, in a week fraught with more meaning than in any of the decades preceding the family ritual. I’ve never hunted, don’t have a rifle or a permit, so for now I’m content to observe, eager for getting down to the ground and to the cooler for lunch. We’ll meet up on top of the ridge, with Dave, the son-in-law real estate lawyer whose built like a defensive lineman. We moved his tree stand earlier, and if he wasn’t a relative newcomer I’d think he could hoist the metal store-bought stand by himself. We’ll also meet up with Mike and his teenage daughter. When we picked her up the day before, she emerged from her high school with a boy who quickly peeled away. She wore a mid-thigh skirt, and an unzipped fleece jacket flapping in the wind. Now she’ll be covered in Carhartt camouflage, an orange jacket, and with one of her dad’s rifles, the metamorphosis complete. Mike, the eldest son-in-law, is a picture of zen. He recently sold his flooring business—the knees only last so long—and joined his wife in her home office as a mortgage broker. Like the Dude, he abides, and his easy going manner belies a profound, spiritual intellect that makes him the go-to guy for answers.

I want to get the hell down out of the wind and stretch my legs, meet up with the guys to understand what it is about the northern part of Missouri that attracts them, and what it is about hunting that connects these men in some profound way spiritually, geographically, ecologically, and as a tribe.

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Dad Gets Pissed at Being Called Good

At the Good Men Project today, a response to a dad who hates being called good.

Dad goes Andy Rooney on woman who praised his parenting

So this woman sees a man saddled with a one- and three-year-old disinfecting his shopping cart at Target. She calls him a good dad, the dad says thanks, but internally he’s seething.

“I absolutely hate it when strangers call me a ‘good dad,’” Matt Villano wrote in “Motherlode”, The New York Times parenting blog.

With no context — and no real basis for interpretation — the act of labeling someone a “good dad” suggests that most dads are, by our very nature as fathers, somehow less than “good.” That we don’t care. That we’re mostly cruel.

What’s more, the phrase evinces a heinous double standard: It’s not like strangers compliment women as being “good moms” for doting, loving and doing normal mom stuff.

You know what they say about opinions.


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Pig Face Hangs Up His Mask

Grandpa prankster shifts strategies in scaring another generation

Pig face is retired. The man behind the mask is not. His grandchildren might breathe easier.

The man behind the mask is Duff, and Halloween is known as Duff Day. As a scare persona that he often kept balled in his pocket like antacids, Duff’s Pig Face is relatively new but effective. Pig Face appeared behind closet doors, on back porches, in basement recesses. Two grandsons will not come to the door unless they see their grandfather standing in full sight, waving him in. They’ve been scarred by a knock-off Texas Chainsaw Massacre pig mask and a grandfather that knows no limits. Cruel and unusual? Not in our family.

Our instinct to protect our children led to a soft rebuke, at best, because our dad was born on Halloween and, in the mornings of his youth, Duff would often find his toe tied to his big brother’s toe, their grandfather snickering silently in the corner. It’s in the family DNA and, as his children, we were used to it.

Corners weren’t safe in our house. Neither was the tub with the curtain drawn. Washing dishes, according to my sister, meant he’d jump up behind from the opening between the kitchen sink and the dining room. Dare to retrieve something from the pantry, which was connected to the crawlspace, which always had mice, and the door would slam: he was able to throw his shoe, from his recliner across the room, over your shoulder against the door. It was practiced like any skill. To this day, it’s easier to sleep on my right side because my left side faced the window that terrified my brother, the window that he glimpsed in the vampire movie Salem’s Lot, that provoked him to hide behind the couch and caused our mother to force our dad to turn it off. Duff promised to climb a ladder up to our window, to give the vampires easier access. This was our normal.

We had a presence in our house, the Ghost of John, who was to blame for any strange noises, and who hung out on the kitchen light fixture, what my sister describes as a “weird gooey guy with green half pants.” I vaguely remember the figure but the Ghost of John—as a presence—lives on in our home, with our kids, who blame silly John for the noises and knocks that might otherwise have scared them.

Our children’s metaphoric skin is thick, like Pig Face. Though we are no longer fun for Duff, his grandkids surprised him this Halloween: Pig Face was as scary as a squirrel. With so much competing for their attention, the grandkids were not scared.  Our son has learned the joys of the scare, and also of the disappointment. His attempts at scaring his aunt—around corners, from behind doors—failed, and her response caused him the most trouble. “I grew up with Duff,” she explained. Attempts at scaring the Grand Pooh-Bah of scare have been met with loving mockery. Inspired by Leonardo the Terrible Monster, who is not good at scaring, the boy has had to seek out new victims. That makes Duff proud, and intent on finding a new mask.


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