Remembering My Dad

 Jim Banner as a young man

Jim Banner as a young man

My father passed away June 22nd after a long battle with Parkinson's. He was 78. Here's a written version of what I said at his visitation. 

Losing someone to Parkinson’s is a very long goodbye. So when the end finally came I felt relief as much as sorrow. I think many of us did. And I think that’s ok, I know that’s what my Dad would say. He would want us to be relieved, to be happy, to celebrate his great escape! He never wanted to be a burden on anyone, most of all my mom. But accepting that reality was the hardest thing he ever did. Jim Banner was a proud, independent, active and strong man. To be robbed of that in his prime was devastating to him and to everyone that knew and loved him. It was devastating to me. But in the end, Parkinson’s was a gift in many ways to my father. He became a better man because of it. He was proud and it taught him humility. He was a leader who learned to follow. He lead conversations and then had to learn how to listen. The transformation wasn’t easy on the physical body but it did wonders for his soul. Parkinson’s made my father a better person. 

I share this with you because I know my Dad would not want me to get up here and spout any watered down BS. He was, on the whole, a very honest person. His email signature for years was “truth over harmony”. Although the tone might have been off I can’t deny the logic. If we value harmony over truth we whitewash reality and eventually reality always comes to back to bite us. My father once said something to me after he caught me in a lie, he said “you can lie to me, but don’t lie to yourself, once you start lying to yourself there is no-one left and you lose touch with reality”. That really stuck with me and I am challenged by it daily. Telling yourself the truth might be the hardest thing to do. But dad was great at calling BS when he saw it, even when he had to call it on himself. 

Dad had a temper, especially when he was younger. That was another unexpected gift that Parkinson’s gave him, and us. It mellowed him out. But when he was younger, during my time at home, he could really unload on us kids. It could be scary. This was something handed down from his father who had a horrible temper. Dad battled that all his life and shared with me that he struggled with that more than anything else as a parent.

One time he really gave me a tongue lashing for something dumb I’d done. Probably left his tools in a state of disarray after working on a go kart or something. But he knew he’d gone too far. After I’d slunk away to my room I saw a piece of paper slide under the door. He wrote me a sweet note apologizing for his outbreak and asking for forgiveness. He did that, in different forms, a few times.

One of the things I will miss most about my dad is our long conversations. They really started in high school. I have memories of sitting in his home office, talking well past bed time. He would talk about anything- girls, marriage, school, politics, etc. Once he told me that he was still processing experiences he had as a child. That really stuck with me. Most of all he made it safe to open up and talk about myself.  He showed a genuine interest in my life. I didn’t feel talked down to or judged. He wanted to know what I was doing, what I found interesting. I felt understood, accepted and loved. 

As some of you know, I’ve played music since I was about 12. My dad didn’t really understand my music making in high school, and who can blame him, we were terrible, but he always encouraged me. If I wanted a new guitar or amplifier he would match me on funding it. If it cost $200, I had to come up with $100. This taught me the value of work and saving money but didn’t put things too far out of reach. 

I can still see him walking down into the basement of our house with a decibel meter during one of my high school band practices. He would point at the needle shouting “120 decibels!”. But my parents would let me throw parties with hoards of high schoolers running amok all over the house and yard. Mom and Dad would lock themselves in their rooms praying for daylight. Later he gave me a space at his business to play and record music. Now that I look back I can see that maybe he’d just finally had enough of the 120 decibel rock and roll. But at the time I thought it was pretty awesome to have my own “studio”. He was, on the whole, a pretty cool dad. 

He was always supportive. When I started my first business he gave me a $20,000 loan that I paid back over many, many years. He was always willing to help if he could. He had a soft heart even if he sometimes fronted like a tough business man. 

When I was in my teens and 20s I was often told by friends and family “you are looking so much like your father”. And I hated it. Like most people at that age, I didn’t want to look like anyone but myself. But as I got older those comments became less offensive to me. Now I am honored to remind people of my father. I hope that I am honoring him in how I live my life. How I love my wife- remembering how he loved his wife, his “lovey”, grabbing her rear in the kitchen while she cooked. How I love my kids- remembering whoop de dos (essentially throwing a young child waaay up into the air and catching them right before they crash to certain death), fireworks and wrestling “strongest boy in the world” where he would pretend I was incredibly strong and could throw him across the room. How I run my business- seeing how he treated his employees with care and respect. How I treat others- remembering a constant stream of foreign exchange students, homeless dinner guests, foster children, international students, friends, family, etc etc.

Jim Banner was a powerful example of someone committed to living a meaningful life. It was an example that affected me deeply. I know that example impacted many more than just me and my siblings. I am sometimes surprised by how many lives he touched. But I shouldn’t be. That was just his nature. He truly cared about other people and lived that every day. He always pushed me to consider someone else’s perspective. To not assume. To challenge my biases. To walk in someone else’s shoes. In that area I continue to strive to honor my father’s example. I love you dad.

Confessions Of A Reluctant Father

I kinda fell into fatherhood. Everything was backwards- baby, house then marriage. Our first was a surprise. We weren’t even engaged at the time. When I found out I proposed but my future wife wisely punted- let’s just focus on one thing at a time. It was the right call. When we did get married a couple years later it was the right time. It was also great fun to have our daughter as a flower girl. 

I know some people just click with parenthood right away. Birth is a transformative moment for them- everything is reset around the child. But that wasn’t my experience. I was more in shock and it took years to really embrace being a dad- which is much different than being a father. This wasn’t because I didn’t have a great role model growing up- my father was warm, loving, playful and very present- but I just wasn’t ready. Or something. I just didn't feel it.

To be honest, it wasn’t until we had all three of our girls did it start to really click for me. I began to truly fall in love in with each of them and appreciate their distinct personalities. I became fascinated by them. I became truly invested.  I imagine the feelings I have for my girls now are much like some fathers have on day one. But, for whatever reason, it just didn’t happen that way for me.

That’s why I’m writing this. I know I’m not alone. This topic is weirdly taboo, no-one says at a dinner party “ah man, my life sucks, I don’t know what I was thinking having a kid!" There is so much pressure to paint a picture of bliss to the outside world. 

But the reality is that the first year of having a child is often really, really hard. And so can be the second or third as well. It can be truly disruptive and traumatizing. Heck, pregnancy alone can be rough on a relationship! Although I now see how much joy and fun those years had, I can’t lie and say I didn’t often feel a little trapped. My freedom replaced with dirty diapers.

Now I enjoy the parent role. I’ve discovered and embraced my nurturing side. All the stuff going on out there in the world without me doesn’t echo so loud anymore. I am well on the other side. But I remember how hard and long I struggled to really own being a dad. So if you are going through this I hope you don’t beat yourself up. If you don’t feel intense joy the first time you see your child, don’t worry, it’ll come in time if you put in the time. 

What I Learned from 2014's Big Freeze aka Snowpocalypse

This past Sunday the snow was falling and I was looking forward to being snowed in for a few days. I had a pork butt smoking on the Green Egg, a fire going, records playing, games with the kids, etc. I was looking to do some reading, catch up on email and hibernate a little more before heading back to work. But everything changed around 2:30pm when the power went out. After waiting a couple hours we decided, with the approaching cold front (Arctic Vortex!) that it was best to evacuate. Fortunately my in-laws live in town so after some packing we made our way through the snow and resettled at their house a few miles away. 

Tonight, back home at last, I am sitting by the fire, listening to records and reflecting from the last 3 days. What was learned?

I wash my clothes way too much. You can wear the same jeans and shirt for 4 days.

In-laws are awesome. Jenny's parents took the 5 of us in, and our big dog Russell, and made us feel at home. Good food, wine, games. We were hardly roughing it. I know we put them out but they never complained and I feel lucky to have them in my life. Thanks John and Cheryl! 

Good neighbors are priceless. My neighbors kept a watch for our lights to come back on, their text last night "Lights are on!" was the most exciting text I've gotten in a while. When we finally got back in the house my neighbor Ray across the street came and cleared my drive with his snow blower (I really need to buy one of those) when my Volvo couldn't hack it. I can't believe how poorly that car handles the snow. 

I don't like having a beard. I left my razor at home and finally had a chance to shave tonight. It had been about a week since I was already slacking before the storm hit. I really don't like having facial hair. It seems like I can never get past the itchy stage. I don't know how those dudes in Williamsburg do it. 

Being uprooted messes with the mind. One thing I noticed when I started to come back to work this week was that I was more unfocused and discombobulated (love that word) than usual. I was a mess, basically. I didn't feel centered or on my game. My energy was off. A lot of that, I think, comes from being uprooted. It made me think about how fortunate I really am. I mean, come on, I packed up the family and drove 3 miles south to stay in a very nice, warm house- first world problems all the way. But so many people around the world live in an almost constant state of disruption. Often we think of this in physical terms but this small sample experience reminded me that the mental impact is equal if not greater. I feel much more sympathetic to those that struggle with maintaining a safe and comfortable home. Now I want to challenge myself to do something about that, how can I build on this increased awareness?

We (still) crave shared experiences. It was really interesting to watch, almost as peaking through a window, everyone's reaction to the storm via social media. Sometimes I like to look at my wife's Facebook feed and vice versa. Since we have many of the same friends it can seem weird how different each feed can be. So it was interesting to see that the storm/freeze created an overwhelming shared experienced that forced us out of our highly personalized feeds, if only for a small period of time. As a culture we don't have many shared experiences at this time. There aren't a lot of moon landing moments. It felt good to go online and see all of us talking and sharing about the same thing. We may have been snowed in but it felt a little bit like we were in it together. 

What was your experience? What did you learn?

Kids Second

I love my kids but I don't believe in putting kids first. In our culture parents often feel like everything they do must be "for the kids". But what kind of example are we setting for our kids by living a stressful, unfulfilled life so that they can live a "better" life? I believe in putting my relationship with Jenny, my wife, first. If that isn't the foundation then the kids suffer. I believe that many good people are in unhappy marriages, even with spouses they love, because they are putting the kids' needs above their own. They have lost contact with friends, rarely go out and when they do they only have one topic of conversation- their kids. 

I don't believe we were put on this earth just to procreate. I believe we were put here to create. That doesn't stop with our children. Really they are just a reminder of how powerful creation is!