Robert Duffer

Writer. Editor. Teacher. www.robertduffer.com

Homepage: https://experimentsinmanhood.wordpress.com

Experiments in Manhood is Moving!

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If you’re still following Experiments in Manhood, thank you and please consider following at the mothership, http://www.robertduffer.com. I’m streamlining content into one place on my personal website, where the blog page will essentially be a stripped down version of Experiments in Manhood with more frequent updates ranging from the professional to the paternal. Experiments in Manhood as a site is shutting down.Print

The success and attendant work of the Dads & Families section of the Good Men Project has led me to put my blogging resources there. The section has grown 350 percent since I started less than a year ago, and the digital magazine has a whole has experienced phenomenal growth this past year, further validating the conversation we’re hosting on what it means to be a man in the 21st century.

Here’s the facebook page for Dads & Families.

Twitter: @DufferRobertChicago Tribune Cars

In April 2013, I was hired as the editor and lead reporter of the Green Guide, Cars section at The Chicago Tribune. It’s a dream job where I get to report on trends in fuel-efficiency in the automotive industry. 54.5 mpg by 2025! I got to drive a Tesla Model S for fifteen wondrous minutes on Lake Shore Drive.

Here’s the facebook page for Chicago Tribune Cars.

Twitter: @ChiTribuneAuto

For my social media accounts, where I post everything from literary news to Chicago sports laments, visit facebook, twitter @DufferRobert, or g+. That should be enough for ever now.

As ever, thank you for reading.

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It’s the Little Things in Marriage

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My friend Gint Aras ran my essay on turning off the lights and finding common ground in marriage, Why Won’t My Wife Turn Off the Lights, over at the Marriage section of The Good Men Project. Gint said this: “You’d think there should be a simple answer to the age-old fight between husbands and wives over the use, necessary or not, of household appliances. Personally, I don’t know why my wife leaves the lights on in the basement. I have my theories. Robert Duffer, Families Editor at The Good Men Project, dissects the problem and offers a serene bit of sense.”

Do check it out.

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Robert Duffer special to HLNtv: When Do You Really Start Loving Your Kids?

That's not me. That's Oren Miller, who inspired the article, and his son.

That’s not me. That’s Oren Miller, who inspired the article, and his son.

Proud to say my writing on parenting has made it to HLNtv’s program, “Raising America”. It’s a round-up on this idea of our expectations as parents versus reality. Oren Miller, of Blogger Father, shared an insightful, honest essay about the guilt of not feeling overwhelming love for a newborn. In the comments section on both places (linked below), there was a lot of support and gratitude for the honesty. It’s an interesting topic, this disconnect from what we’re supposed to feel, and what we do feel as parents. I’m contractually allowed to share only the first paragraph, so here it is:

There’s a phenomenon that seems common among fathers, though few ever mention it outside of an old dad-to-new dad talk: the lack of storybook love for their newborn child. We’re acculturated to expect a watershed moment of unparalleled love upon holding our child for the first time, afterbirth and all. There are plenty of men who experience this, I’m sure, but more share the experience Oren Miller wrote about, first on Blogger Father, then again on the Dads & Families section of the Good Men Project. Instead, dads like Oren and I felt awe, wonder, fear and guilt.

To read the rest, check it out at HLNtv Raising America or click about the other links.

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The Next Big Thing

My friend Megan Stielstra, author of Everyone Remain Calm and bestower of good news emails, asked if I wanted to partake in a blog chain going around amongst writers called The Next Big Thing. You agree to answer a ten-question form, then get 3-5 other writers to participate. The idea is not just to drum up support for our works in progress but to see what our writer friends are up to. Here’s Megan’s Big Thing.

As writers we don’t have a water cooler where we can meet at during the day to share our frustrations or boast of our minor breakthroughs. Few nonwriters could understand why you’d be bragging about finally nailing that key transitional paragraph. That’s what I’m taking from The Next Big Thing.

1. What is your working title of your book?

The Affairess

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

Moving from the city to the suburbs, taking the 6:20 am express train, and seeing the same woman get dropped off by her husband at the train stop, then meeting her lover three stops later on the train. That might be fiction. I don’t know. Definitely from riding the commuter rail from the suburbs to the city. And feeling grateful for the first time to be at least underemployed.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Romance and humor. A student classified a writer as such tonight in class and I loved that. Bleak romance and dark humor.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Bugs Bunny doing both genders.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Lying to his wife about losing his job, a man about to lose everything finds inspiration in the woman having an affair on the train.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I will have a  box-o-books with my name on the spine delivered to my door. I will have validation. Preferably in cash.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Tinkered around in the dark of winter, saw the light, wrote it in the summer. Came quick once I heard it. Three months. Read excerpts from six chapters last year at various reading series. Started third major rewrite in January 2013. Expect to be done in March, then writing group again, then my wife the ringer, then submitted by summer.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I don’t much like Updike yet Lyle has some Rabbit characteristics. The suburban pageantry and the economic collapse dovetail into characters who are estranged from themselves by the lies they perpetuate to assert a sense of identity. Earlier draft had the Affairess jumping in front of a train, so there’s some subconscious Anna Karenina. Sans threshing of the wheat. Takes place in February, the longest month of the year for Chicagoans, so it feels Russian at times, but with hope.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

It was fun. Then it became something that was saying something. I didn’t hold it in the same make-or-break regard as my first (unpublished) book, which was personal and which had to be perfect(it isn’t). This was pure (see #1)fiction, a daily discovery that led to creation, and it was fun. The inspiration was not thinking about the old novel anymore (still do).

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

There’s a disturbing blow job scene.

NEXT UP:

Gint Aras, author of Finding The Moon in Sugar, editor of the Marriage section of the Good Men Project, professor at Morton Community College.

Amy Guth, author of Three Fallen Women, Social Media Manager at Tribune Media Company, RUI co-host.

Scott Miles, Pushcart-Prize nominated writer and author of The Downriver Horseshoe.

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On Death, Loneliness, and Goldfish

On Death, Loneliness, and Goldfish

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Addressing Death, as a Parent and a Son

On Death Loneliness and Goldfish

Talking to my kids about death was the first step in listening to the loneliness evoked by loss

Day three of single parenting and I want to do something big after picking up the kids from school. Something fun. Something social. Anything but go back to the house and its static winter silence.

Seems like a big weekend. The schoolyard buzzing with weekend plans. Some of my first grader’s friends and their dads rushing to their first overnight adventure as Cub Scouts. I was a little envious. Not of their plan, but of having a plan at all.

The daddy-daughter dance is the next night. Weeks earlier, she shot me down. You’d think the terror of embarrassment would’ve ended with high school. It might’ve been my method, casually over breakfast instead of getting down on a knee and handing her a bowl of chocolate ice cream with an invitation inscribed in sprinkles. Might not have mattered. She’d seen me “dance” to Led Zeppelin one too many times. Once is one too many times.

On the walk home, usually my favorite part of the day where we dawdle and play and recap our days, the old loneliness settled in. Amidst these people I see everyday, in the hometown I returned to for the community, I don’t know anyone well enough—or convenient enough—to call up and play, adults and kids, together and separate. Or for those with plans, I projected these fantastic family adventures with parents who would probably appreciate my night of nothing. Doesn’t matter that we had a two-night ski trip the weekend before. This illogical mood deepens because I’m inadequate not just socially but as a parent; I haven’t given the kids an option either. But this isn’t the source I’m avoiding. They want their mom and I want my best friend, who has gone home to Philly where her grandmother, who raised her like a daughter, had been waiting to die.

So we went home. Put a cork in my self-pitying bullshit. Played hockey in the basement, fiddled with Legos. Amused ourselves. This is what I wanted—a distraction from the self-examination evoked by death; from the seeking—for meaning, connection, validity, whatever—that results from loneliness.

God, who cast man in his likeness, has an uncannily human sense of metaphor and story.

That morning, after breakfast, I told the kids that GG died. Their adaptability to any news amazes me, but it was their understanding that floored me. When I said she was in heaven, Ria, who was doted on as much as any great grandmother could, corrected me: “No, Dad, she’s in here,” touching her chest, “and over here,” gesturing over her shoulder, smiling coyly before running off.

I didn’t know my son was feeling anything until dinner tonight.

“Doesn’t it make you sad, Ria? You should be sad.”

From the range I was about to interject but then heard him say, “I almost cried this morning.”

“You did?” I asked, treading carefully.

“Kinda. My eyes got all hot.”

We talked about what happened–and what happens–over quesadillas. They were worried about Mom. She didn’t think GG would die. She had gone out there to boost her spirits and get her out of the hospital, show videos and tell stories of the kids, a strategy that had worked a half-dozen times before. Not this time. A day after Heather’s arrival, GG demanded hospice. She was tired of fighting, I told them.

They mentioned the fish. Just last week, Heather, a heart nurse who never lets anything go, took multiple trips to the pet store and the library and Google to resuscitate one of our four goldfish, who’d been hovering near the top of the tank, alive but unswimming. Diagnosis: swim bladder. Lots of causes, one remedy: Gotta feed the fish manually. Fish refused all her ministrations. Next morning, dead. There was a eulogy. I played TAPS. Flush. Best thing about those fish is teaching the kids the cycle of life.

I didn’t share with them the text Heather had sent at 2:20am, not three hours before GG passed:

“Fish with swim belly. GG with a clot in her belly. A Nor’ Easter named Nemo whirling outside this tank of a hospice room. Maybe God does have a sense of humour.”

Aside from autocorrect being British, we glean that God, who cast man in his likeness, has an uncannily human sense of metaphor and story.

The connection they made with the fish blew my mind. We shared memories, we made lists of things we remembered, we facetimed with the Philly folk. What I couldn’t explain to the kids, what I’ve slowly been coming to all day, is this idea of loneliness. It is this reconciliation I wanted to avoid tonight, or at least forestall by surrounding myself with life. What is loneliness if not the consciousness of death? The fear of death is the fear of being alone; it’s why the faiths are filled with promises of eternal communion: believe in me and you will never walk alone.

This is Heather’s first major death, which is made even tougher for a woman who keeps people from dying for a living. It doesn’t matter that GG, who lived 82 years and with whom we were able to share her last Thanksgiving, whose hand Heather got to hold and say goodbye to, went out in an ideal way, quickly and in her sleep. Doesn’t matter. Now comes what my brother calls The Hardening.

It’s been 16 years since our mom died. She was 52. I was 21. My first major. Subsequent grievings are involuntarily compared to and pale to it. Maybe it’s that way with mothers. I hope to know nothing more about it. She had two remissions over three years then an interminable hospice. When her physical form finally passed I was free. I traveled, then I returned when the loneliness shifted from beautiful to dangerous. With each sojourn I’d get more distance, building up the confidence to live without anyone, making no commitments and keeping no connections. Being on my own, fully and freely, meant I could live without that insatiable, capricious pain of loss. Being alone meant I was in control. It didn’t take long to reconcile that trying to live without love sucks. That love leads to loss and loss leads to pain. The Hardening is the mature acceptance of our mortality, the resignation to all things transient, and learning to embrace the pain of loss.

It will be a while before Heather’s sets. The acuteness will fade but the hole will never disappear. It’s not something to get over; the feeling of loss—what we call loneliness—is something you come to appreciate as a reminder of what was there. I remind her of this via text, middle of the night, but I’m really reminding myself so I can better frame it for the kids, or better understand life and loss now as a father and a son. When we share pictures, we tell stories, we play out memories, however clumsily, we are listening to that hole of loss, listening to what it is saying. That hole is the sound of loneliness. It is a good thing; not an easy thing, most certainly not a bad thing. We must listen. Because the alternative is silence.

—first appeared at the Dads & Families section of the Good Men Project

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The Semiautomatic Weapon Binds Our American Tragedies

Guns used in the Aurora shootings

As the details rippled through the media, I kept searching for one fact: what weapon was used? This answer might give me more insight than understanding why he did it. The psychology of a mass killer, in a singular catastrophic event, is so nuanced and hard to forecast that it does little in understanding how such a tragedy can be prevented.

Fantasies of destruction are a part of being human. There are societal safeguards blocking the ability to act on those fantasies. Permissive gun laws in America—“the loosest in the developed world” The Atlantic wrote in July after the Aurora horror—are the biggest hole in those safeguards.

I am not anti-gun. I have fired handguns and rifles for kicks; I have gone hunting with men who abide a fierce code of their second amendment rights, which I respect. You can say that guns don’t kill people; people kill people, but that is a limited truth. Guns make people killing people a whole lot easier.

Let’s say you can justify the handgun for self-protection.

Let’s say you can justify the shotgun and the rifle—that darling of Americana—for hunting.

Let’s say you can justify the next class of weapon, the semiautomatic weapon, which has been used in the deadliest shootings on American soil, including Sandy Hook.

In all of the single-shooter non-political tragedies of the past five years, look at the weapons that were used:

2007 Virginia Tech

9mm semiautomatic Glock 19—purchased legally (same weapon used in the Gabby Giffords assassination attempt, which killed 6 and wounded 18 in 2011, and would’ve been banned under the Semiautomatic Assault Weapon ban)

.22 caliber Walther semi-automatic pistol—purchased legally

2012 Aurora

a semiautomatic variation of the M-16 rifle (100-round magazine), the AR-15, same as the one in Portland EARLIER THIS WEEK but it temporarily jammed, and another national crises was kind of averted.

12 gauge shotgun

one .40 caliber semiautomatic pistol

According to the NYT, these are among the most popular guns available in the multibillion-dollar American firearms market.

From 1994-2004, certain semiautomatic assault weapons were banned. From the ATF: “The law defined SAWs as 19 named firearms, as well as semiautomatic rifles, pistols, and shotguns that have certain named features.” Amidst the cosmetic features that were banned, the most significant element was the banning of LCMs(large capacity magazines) which hold more than ten rounds of ammunition. (A semiautomatic differs from an automatic in that each round in a semiautomatic requires a pull of the trigger.)

Still, did that ban prevent Columbine? One killer had a TEC-DC9 9mm semiautomatic handgun; the other killer had a 10-shot Hi-Point Carbine rifle; they both had sawed-off shotguns. All guns were gotten illegally. After Columbine, the Denver Post reported that the TEC-9 was made in 1994 by a gunmaker who had tripled production to beat the ban—“and called it his best year ever.”

The ban didn’t stop them but it might have slowed them down. Two people armed with such hate were going to do damage, but if they had 100-round semiautomatic guns, it’s conceivable that the damage would’ve been worse. Consider that semiautomatic weapons don’t allow shooters a chance to think, a chance to process the reality of their destruction. The moment of doubt comes too late. Nearly all of the killers ended their spree by suicide, except in Aurora.

NBC News reported that the weapons used in Sandy Hook were legally purchased and registered by the mother of the shooter. “Two 9mm handguns, one made by Glock and the other by Sig Sauer, were recovered inside the school. An AR-15-type rifle also was found at the scene, but there conflicting reports Friday night whether it had been used in the shooting.”

The AR-15 same as Aurora and Portland; was the brand of Glock the same as Virginia Tech? Remember, these are some of the most popular guns in the country. They are easy to get, easy to use, and easy to do devastating destruction.

These places, these towns that were unknown to popular culture are now known for that singular horror. Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech, the island in Oslo, the Portland mall, Sandy Hook. The empathy and the hurt are worsened by the random possibility that it could happen in our town. And why not? What is stopping it? These places weren’t any different from ours.

If nothing can stop it, then what can prevent it? The easy answer—admittedly not necessarily the best in understanding the cultural or psychological forces at play in these not-so-isolated incidents—is gun control. Get semi-automatic weapons off the goddamned streets. Make guns built to rapidly kill a lot of people illegal, except in the hands of military. Reenact the semiautomatic assault weapon ban.

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Here’s a report card on state gun laws: http://www.bradycampaign.org/stategunlaws/

From USA Today via Business Insider citing semiautomatic weapons used at Sandy Hook

CNN reports that Obama supports the assault weapons ban, which limits the number of rounds a semiautomatic weapon can hold.

 

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Giving Holiday Thanks to the Little Griswald

Minivan Man

Still, the aggravation of air travel is a statistically safer trip than by car.

Little Griswald has made it home safe and sound from another coastal road trip. The 2002 Honda Odyssey now has 140k miles, and more love than I could ever express here. (Though I’ve tried, and my website borders on the absurd.) We bought it three years ago, and when you consider the cost of airfare that we’ve saved in four major, 2,000+ mile roadtrips, then it’s like we’re driving a free car.

We took over the torch of regular, diligent service from the original owners, who kept meticulous records including every oil change, and have been treated to an inestimably safe and reliable vehicle. This transcends the numbers—the typical cost-benefit analysis I use for all things purchased. My wife drove with our kids from Chicagoland to her dad’s outside of Atlantic City over Thanksgiving. Our kids, five and six, have been flying since they were three months old and have become intrepid travelers: they have pushed us to drive through the night, to keep going till we get there, to get over our adult discomforts. I think my son likes it because the restrictions on his video game time are relaxed; my daughter, I think she likes having all of us at ready access to play Uno or get silly with. Despite this, driving sixteen hours without being able to manage what’s going on in the back seat is a feat of fortitude like no other. My wife didn’t complain once, at least not to me, who was worried on the phone but otherwise safely ensconced at home.

It’s remarkable to consider, and awesome to reflect on now that we’ve returned home. I surprised her to tears by flying out on Thanksgiving proper so I could be with my family and help drive home. I really don’t know how she did it. I’ve driven over a thousand miles by myself many times before, but never with two kids. The joke was that she really wanted to drive solo so she could justify unlimited coffee all day long. The truth is the airline industry fucking sucks, and if you’re going to have a two-hour delay, which seems standard for holiday air travel, then you might as well add a couple hours to your trip to have total control and know what to expect. (In 2010 the USA Today reported: From 2003 through 2009, 22.3% of flights were late, canceled or diverted nationwide. The rate shot up to 33.4% for the winter holiday period during those same years. That means passengers during the winter holidays were nearly 50% more likely to have their travel itineraries disrupted. )

Still, the aggravation of air travel is a statistically safer trip than by car. Lil’ Gris’ is ten years old, and for as dull as the destination-driven road trip can become after the second hour, it is fraught with peril and unpredictability. My son reported a long delay due to a three car accident, in which he saw a pick-up truck on its hood on the turnpike outside of Philadelphia.

On our way home we encountered the first snow storm of the season in the Allegheny Mountains in northern Appalachia. My wife was driving when I awoke and saw an accident on the eastbound side of I-80. Several cars had spun out, and were now in the process of being cranked from the ditch and loaded onto carrier bed tow trucks. Fortunately, there was nothing too grisly except for what followed: a five-mile traffic jam backed up to the nearest exit ramp. Drivers were standing, pacing, cursing in the snow, with absolutely no place to go. The visibility wasn’t that bad, the snow was wet, there was no ice. It takes so little for that to happen, one text, one dropped cd, one glance back at two bickering kids.

Then you see all the cars sidelined by seasonal and vehicular maladies, imagining how it would play out given the current circumstances, and you can’t help put praise your car. But Lil’ Gris is just a machine, an object, a thing. The gratitude one feels from a problem-free road trip is praised at a bumper much greater than the Honda Odyssey. Thank St. Christopher, or fleet-footed Hermes, or whatever deities of travel that make the best thing about a road trip—leaving home—balanced with the best thing about the return trip, getting home.

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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 http://goodmenproject.com/families/hunting-for-dad-the-burial-and-blackberry-brandy/#LpA3k3WjZqegl0qF.99

 

 

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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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