|Look at that enormous Sloat head.|
I’m typing this from the doctor’s office. We’re here for a checkup on Isaac, making sure he’s growing like he should and hoping he won’t be covering his face for the next ultrasound.
I’m about to be brutally honest with you, and I hope you can forgive me for it.
I don’t want four kids.
Up until this morning, I have been dreading Isaac’s arrival, I’ve been worrying about my money, my time, and the fact that I’ve got three adopted children who might grow up holding a grudge against our sole biological child.
Akeeli, Aven, and Drake, if you’re reading this, I need you to know I never loved you any less than Isaac. Not for one second. I know you can’t help feeling like you might feel, but listen: I love you more than you could ever imagine. I love you so much I’d die for you.
On the way to Tulsa this today, I had to drop my truck off in Wagoner to get the oil changed. This is in no way a sponsored post, but the guys at Kevin Grover are seriously the best, and one in particular slapped me in the face with some truth this morning.
He walked over to me, and I spent some time trying to figure out if I was looking at his smile or the sun. That’s Neil being Neil though. I’ve never thought of him as car salesman, he’s a friend who happens to be exceptionally skilled at getting me to spend huge sums of money on things with four wheels.
My son weighs 2.6 pounds today. He’s grown tremendously in the last two weeks.
We’re sitting in the lab now, waiting on blood to be drawn. In fact, I’m almost positive Alicia is actually reading what I type as I type it. She’s talking about how much Isaac has grown over the past couple of weeks, and saying that he better slow down. I think she’s finally realizing that when you have a giant for a husband, his kids might be huge too. I don’t know, maybe just my head is giant.
Back to Neil. He came over and shook my hand.
“Two things to congratulate you for, Travis. One, you look fantastic, and two, your newest little one!”
Everyone always does that. If they’re familiar with our situation at all, they’re so excited for us; for me. I get that, and I’m thankful for the empathy, but up until today, it was a forced smile, forced enthusiasm. So I smiled back at him, and I gave my prototypical response.
“Aww, thanks! Be excited for her though, I don’t want four kids.”
Neil didn’t even blink.
“Oh stop that, Travis. You’ve created an eternal soul.”
I’m alone now, Alicia has gone back to have her blood drawn, and I’m fighting tears as I type this. It’s me and one old lady in the waiting room, and I don’t need her wondering why the behemoth four chairs down is blubbering quietly into his cell phone.
We’ve created an eternal soul.
My son is an eternal soul.
Isaac is an eternal soul.
Somewhere in my brain a switch flipped. I took a couple of confused steps and finally spit out a response.
“Thank you, Neil. I’ve never looked at it like that.”
“I’ll leave you guys alone, I know you’ve got a busy day planned!”
He bounced away, frustratingly happy, unaware of the chaos he’d just wreaked in my brain. Unaware of his creating a tectonic shift in the pangean plate that is my selfishness.
You see, that’s all it is, selfishness. One thing I’ve discovered since having children is that I am, by nature, a selfish person. I didn’t realize that until after we’d adopted the kids, but it’s true. I am a selfish person. I want my time, my money, my stuff, my wife. I, I, I, I.
I’m not saying all that changed instantly. I know somewhere between now and the next eighteen years, I’m going to be selfish. But I was given a new way to look at things today. I have four eternal souls that I am now responsible for. Five and six if you count mine and my wife’s, and that’s a whole lot of souls to be in charge of.
My dad figured it out. I don’t know how, but he figured it out. Reading his writings from when I was a kid, I know he was frustrated, unsure of himself as a father, and selfish. But at some point he cracked the code. He figured it out, and he took responsibility for the eternal souls he’d helped create, and he did a damn fine job of it.
Now I’m back at the doctor’s office, waiting for my beautiful wife and my son to come back from getting a shot, which is apparently what you have to do when your husband’s blood (A+), has a higher GPA than yours (A-). We’ll leave here and go pick up two other sons and a daughter, all of which are mine.
Today is a new day. Today I was verbally slapped by a friend who has obviously figured some of it out.
Here she comes. Gotta go. I’m gonna try figure it out.
“Watch Travis here. He’s going to learn something. He doesn’t know it yet, but he’s going to.”
“What’s he going to learn?”
“Shut up and listen, this will be good.”
Let’s be real for a second. As an adoptive parent, I have a problem. It’s a problem that stems from my selfishness and pride, both of which can spiral out of control very quickly in my life.
I don’t need your kind words and panegyrical speeches about how awesome we are for adopting kids. I really don’t. I still don’t think we did an amazing thing, I think we did what any human being on earth would do, we saw some kids who needed a home, and we gave them one.
By the way, I’m getting all the stuff that makes me look like a douchebag out of the way early, so if you want to scroll a bit you can. I’ll understand.
For whatever reason, though I don’t want your edification of our character, I do expect our children to be grateful.
See the problem yet? Again, the offer to skip forward still stands.
I feel like my wife and I (who I am absolutely not speaking for here) pulled these kids out of a situation where their lives could have taken a much different turn. Some of the birth family reads this blog regularly (Hi guys!) and I’m not out to skewer them about how the kids’ lives would have turned out. For all I know, they might have changed their lives around and raised better children than I could ever dream of.
So the kids should be grateful. No, I don’t expect kissing of rings or regular shoe shines from them, but maybe stop the entitled behavior a bit, yeah?
The other day Aven decided he didn’t want to live here anymore. Said it was awful. He wished he lived somewhere else.
Guys, seriously, skip ahead.
So I told him anytime he was ready to leave I’d help him pack. I was pissed. I was offended. I’ve also never parented an eight-year-old boy before, so cut me a little slack.
Fast forward a couple of weeks. Aven had a real bad day at Drake’s birthday party on Sunday. Drake got Legos, and Aven got pissed because he thinks he should have all the Legos in the house, and he threw a fit then gave everyone the silent treatment, and basically took all the attention away from Drake on his big day.
For his behavior, he earned some alone time in his room, along with the promise that when the family left, he’d be getting his rear end lit up.
For an explanation of why I was waiting until family left, see the following tweets:
I told him to sit down, and I explained what was about to happen. I told him that he had made some real bad choices today, and that he was now going to pay the consequences for his actions. I told him he had options when he got mad. I explained that one of those options was walking away. I explained that another option was some alone time in his room if he wanted. I made sure to reinforce that these were his choices, and no one could make them for him.
I then told him he was to go apologize to his mom and his brother, and then he was coming back to get his spanking.
He walked back in to the room, and I told him that he could get mad about the punishment, but my dad busted my butt and that’s why he was getting his butt busted.
And just like that, words stopped coming out of my mouth, because a very shocking thought crossed my brain.
Aven doesn’t need Brian Sloat as a dad. Aven needs Travis Sloat as a dad.
The revelation floored me, and I’m sure I seemed a sight to Aven as I stood there holding the paddle while being unable to communicate.
I heard a voice in my head. It wasn’t Brian Sloat. To tell you the truth, I absolutely know it was the Holy Spirit, giving me a direct order that I wasn’t ready to accept.
“Pray with your son.”
Eventually I put the paddle down. I sat down on Aven’s bed and I told him to stand in front of me. I looked at the wall for a while, then at the giant Superman on the wall. Then I looked at the dresser, the whole time trying to find words that adequately suited the situation, and that would affirm to my son that I had not gone completely bat-shit crazy.
I finally looked him in the eye.
“Aven, I love you so much.”
The tears fell. Through blurry eyes I watched as everything in his countenance changed, his features softened from anger to what could almost be called remorse, and then tears fell from his eyes too.
“Dad, I’m sorry,” he said. And then he hugged me.
It was one of those classic father/son hugs you see in the movies. The whole tears staining the shirt, me gripping the back of his head like a man desperately trying to keep a hydroplaning car on the road type hug. If you had been in that room, you’d have cried, trust me. Nicholas Sparks in all his writing glory could not have manufactured a better hug than that one.
And we cried.
Eventually the crying stopped, and I looked at him again.
“Son, if anything ever happened to you, I would never be the same. You are wanted. You are special. I love you so much, and I know it seems like I’m mean to you sometimes. I’ve never had a son before. I don’t always know how to be a good dad.”
And then we prayed.
“God, help me have a better attitude, and help me not be jealous, and make better decisions, amen.”
“God, I’m a bad father sometimes. Please help me realize that Aven needs me as a father. Please help me be a better dad. Thank you for showing me what mercy looks like. Thank you for Aven. Amen.”
May 15, 2016 will mark the second time ever that I have prayed with my son. The first was his salvation. I am an absolute idiot for not doing it more. I should be praying with all my kids. I’m going to try and make that happen.
As for Aven, well, there will be more bad decisions. He’s eight, after all, soon to be nine. He’s got a whole lifetime of bad decisions ahead of him. Just like his dad.
And I’ll spank him again. It’ll happen. Not for fun, not because it’s what my dad did to me, but because I’m biblically bound to do that. I just need to remember that I’m also biblically bound to love my children as my Heavenly Father loves me.
Alicia walked in the house yesterday and said, “I don’t know what you said to him yesterday, but he’s been amazing today.”
I guess sometimes sparing the rod is necessary. I guess ultimately, that’s what Christ did on the cross. I deserved a beating, and instead I got told that I was loved, that I was special.
I’m a horrible father. Nothing you can ever say to me will change my mind about that. But I love my kids, and Christ loves me, and that’ll work just fine. And in the meantime, I’ll be busy reminding myself that although Brian Sloat was a brilliant father, he doesn’t need to be the one who parents Aven Sloat.
That’s my job. That’s what I do.
I’d been told to throw the lighter in the trash, not to play with it because fire is bad. It couldn’t be all bad though, right? Man had invented fire for a reason, and I was reasonably certain that arson wasn’t even a thought at the time.
Civilized disobedience would have its way, and I sat huddled in my sandbox, every bit as focused as the lonesome caveman sitting inside his prehistoric domicile rubbing two sticks together ferociously as his lady friend got ready to go help some other dude with something he was calling the “wheel.”
Did she have to wear that skirt? The leopard?
The lighter wound up being less successful than two sticks. Minuscule promises of flame flew as the spark wheel struck the flint, but either the fluid chambers were empty or the elements had rendered it useless.
I found the lighter in the yard, and to this day I’m not sure how it got there. Might have been those idiot teenagers my parents were always griping about, smoking and being a bad influence on us “good kids.” When I found it, I did the honest thing, I told mom about it, and had been given the above-mentioned instructions to throw it away.
What did all fire need? Being an eight-year-old boy, I wasn’t sure, but one thing I knew I needed was kindling. I didn’t have to look far. Lying in the sandbox beside me was a scrub brush, bristling with dry fibers perfect for the ultimate starter fire.
Sparks danced, but did not catch.
I grew bored and eventually gave up, Promethean visions no longer dancing in my imagination. Back to an existence without fire.
When my dad walked in with a scrub brush burnt to the composite bristle holder, at first I didn’t understand.
“I found this in the sandbox, Travis. Do you know anything about it?”
Then my mother sang like a canary.
“TRAVIS DID YOU THROW THAT LIGHTER AWAY?!”
“Yes ma’am.” Because I had, eventually, thrown it away. And to be honest I had a hard time believing I had started the fire that claimed the life of this charred scrub brush.
“DID YOU KEEP PLAYING WITH IT?!?”
My silence damned me.
Sometimes we forget things. I feel like I forget more things than most people, especially pertaining to my childhood. My childhood wasn’t bad enough for me to forget it for any reason, I wasn’t abused or molested or burned with cigarettes.
But every now and again I’ll see something that will trigger a memory, much like the story I’ve just told you. Today that happened.
Let me introduce you to Exhibit A.
Some of you may not know what you’re looking at, but I did the moment I saw it. It’s a cleaning brush that has had bristles burned off it. An inexperienced eye might not be able to see the tiny pigtails that indicate fire has been applied to the bristles, but I can attest, after having a cleaning brush waved around me as accusations and confessions flew, that’s what has happened.
Someone in this house has been playing with fire.
Someone besides me.
And I’m not sure why, but when I saw it I laughed. Setting aside the potential danger of it all for a moment, I enjoyed remembering something about my childhood. About the seriousness in my father’s voice as he told me how I would one day burn the house down and kill us all if I didn’t obey he and my mom.
I could deliver that same speech to Aven—Aven if one day you read this I know it was you—but I don’t think I’m going to. There’s no telling when he did it, and honestly, I yell at him enough for things I can prove he did.
But I think I’m going to replace smoke detector batteries. You know, just to be safe.
It’s happened innumerable times over the last fifteen years, and each time I thank God for the opportunity to learn more about my father’s legacy.
It happened again last night.
I was standing in Charlie’s Chicken, trying to get my family out the door, and an older gentleman looked at me.
Anyone who has ever had something like that said to them can attest to the time warp effect it can have. My mind immediately flooded with memories, all of which I’ve shared with you on this blog, and I looked the man in the eye and subconsciously stood up a little taller, straightened up, like a soldier in the presence of an officer.
I laughed and said, “Yes sir I am. How did you know him?”
“I worked with him for eight years when he first started at Unarco,” he replied.
“And what was your name?” I asked.
“Well it’s nice to meet you Jeff.”
He looked the other way for a moment, the way everyone does. I’ve never figured out why people do that, but it never fails, I can tell the words are coming the second their head turns:
“He was a good man.”
We went our separate ways, and I climbed in the car and told Alicia what had just happened.
With my eyes focused on the road to keep anyone from noticing any tears that might be forming, I said the same thing I always do, without fail, the only modification being the amount of years I have to add since he died.
“I hope people are still saying I was a good man fifteen years after I die.”
I don’t have to be known for great things, although it would be nice. But later in my children’s lives I want someone to walk up to them and say, “You must be Travis Sloat’s kid. He was a good man.”
I know I look exactly like my dad, and I know my children won’t look exactly like me. But I want people to know by how they act, how they carry themselves.
I’ll be thrilled with that legacy. Just like I’m thrilled to be Brian Sloat’s boy.
I’ve been in California now for a full 24 hours.
I can sum it up entirely with just one picture.
Today is the day.
I’m sitting here watching The Missus—who took the easy way out and flew in last night—get ready, and all I can think about is today.
The day I get to see Josh for the first time in three months.
The day when I see him in his boot camp outfit, or whatever it is.
The day I see him march. Yell “Yes sir!” at the top of his lungs. Stand at attention, parade rest, all that stuff. Hug mom. I get to see how much weight he’s lost, how short his hair is, and how he stands taller and with more pride.
The day I see him grown up.
I’m not afraid I won’t recognize him. I’m not afraid he won’t smile and laugh when he sees us, and I know for a fact he won’t cry when he hugs mom or his girlfriend. That’ll be my job, just like now.
I wish to hell my dad could be here to see this.
I’m going to do my best to hold it together and get some pictures of him doing his Marine thing. Then they give us something called “Family Day.”
|I am petrified of accidentally walking on the parade deck.|
One thing keeps running through my mind after reading that.
It’s My Brother. They will never take that title from him.
“Mom, when is dad coming home?”
Those are the first words I remember coming out of my baby brother’s mouth. I’m sure if I took a minute and really focused, I could come up with something else, but that’s what I remember.
Our dad had been dead only a few hours when he asked that question. ***
|Four of a kind: Sloats.|
I’ll never forget letting him drive my car for the first time. I’ve blogged about it before, but I can condense it here for those who haven’t heard the story.
Josh could not have been more than 10 years old. I needed to move my car a few feet from the driveway to the patio to do something stupid to it, like add subwoofers or crappy undercarriage lights.
Josh wanted to drive. I thought, “eh, what’s the worst that could happen?” and I let him hop behind the wheel, scoot the seat up, and give it a go. The car rolled a few inches then caught the lip of the patio and wouldn’t move.
“Alright, Josh. I want you to reach down and just tap, just TAP the gas. You understand?” “Yeah!”
He floored it.
The car jumped over the lip, hit a picnic table we had on the patio, shoved it off and directly to our pool, which it would have destroyed had I not jumped into the car and mashed the brakes with my hand.
Josh looked at me, eyes wide, breathing hard, not scared at all.
“THAT. WAS. AWESOME!”
He called me one night about six months ago.
“Travis, I’m going to join the Marines.”
I laughed at him.
“No you’re not, it’s not that bad at home.”
To tell the truth, I was kind of upset with him. For those of you who aren’t intimately connected with my family history, my dad had three brothers, just like me. Out of those four boys, one died at the age of 9, the other at the age of 20, and my dad at the age of 40.
Four brothers. Now one. The oldest is still alive. I am also the oldest.
I am absolutely petrified of losing one of my brothers. One of my biggest requests to the Lord is that He’d take me home first, to spare me the pain of losing any more of my family. I am scared to death at the thought of one of them dying before me.
As for military service, I’ve always supported it, but never really seriously considered any one of my brothers joining. Brad talked about it some, but never did. Jordan and I never really even considered it. It’s one of those things where you think “Oh, that’s fine for other people, but not for us.”
Well, it turns out Josh was serious. All three of us tried to talk him out of it. We insulted him, laughed at him, and told him how the Marines would eat his lunch. He’s a small town kid from Okay, Oklahoma. He wouldn’t know anyone. He has authority issues. People would stick bars of soap in pillow cases and make him their girlfriend.
We probably overdid it.
But he joined up. Then he left us for three months so he could go to boot camp.
He wrote the family a letter the other day, his last one before graduation from boot camp in San Diego.
Jordan tried to read it.
It took Brad, faithful, strong, dependent Brad to read it.
“I got my Sloat name bar the other day. I think dad would be proud of me.”
I can’t even fully comprehend how proud our dad would be of you, Josh. I’m proud of you. Mom is proud of you. Aven and Akeeli are proud of. EVERYONE here is proud of you.
Tomorrow I’m going to wake up and head to my mom’s house, where I’ll meet Jordan, my mom, and Josh’s girlfriend Miesha. We are going to get in a van and drive 24 hours to San Diego. The Missus will fly out on Wednesday evening, and we’ll all be watching Josh walk across the stage and become a Marine.
I’ll cry. It’s what I do.
I’m going to post a few more things about Josh this week. Give him a blog dedication of sorts. I think he deserves it. Truthfully, all of my brothers deserve it. We are Sloats.
|The night before he left. I’m praying they didn’t take his sense of humor.|
It started the same way at both of the houses I lived in growing up. My father paid a ridiculous amount of money, which I’m sure we didn’t have, to have a cement truck come out and pour the concrete slab. Then he would set to work smoothing the concrete, working it until it was just right, keeping us kids away from it, telling us just to wait, wait, it would be ready in a few days. Then he would set up the goal, and he would always make sure the rim, at it’s tallest adjustable height, was exactly ten feet from the slab…
Saturday was a busy day. I woke up sick, my sinus cavities clogged with anger at the fickle Oklahoma weather we’ve been having.
I had a trainer session at 8 a.m. Bright and early. I blew my nose, I drank my disgusting pre-workout shake, and I headed out.
My schedule for the day included the workout, then driving home to shower and change, then head out the door for a writing assignment that was an hour’s drive away from my house, and that started at 11 a.m.
The one thing I simply did not have time for was my son’s basketball game at 9 a.m. It just wasn’t possible. Even without the workout, it still wouldn’t have been possible.
If the weather was nice, I’d usually be outside on that slab, throwing up shot after shot. It was the place I hit my own personal “The Shot,” and I loved being out there. Every once in a while after dinner, my dad would walk outside to the slab, look at me, and ask, “What’s it going to be tonight?” I’d usually pick a game called “Around the World,” where each person shot from nine different places around the “court.” Every single time, I would think to myself “This is it. This is the night I beat him.” My dad would flip me the ball and say, “You go first…”
The Missus sent me a text Saturday morning. “Are you going to Aven’s game?”
“I really don’t have time.”
She didn’t make me feel guilty, she understood.
And really, if the truth be known, I didn’t feel guilty about it. I was too busy. There was too much going on. Plus, I’ve been to every single other game he has had this year, and let’s keep it perfectly real, Aven is terrible at basketball.
Don’t get me wrong, he can shoot, barely, when he’s practicing. He’s working very hard on his dribbling and he’s coming along nicely there…in practice. Yes, he’s five. Yes, he is appropriately horrible at the game for his age and experience level.
But at the same time, I knew I wasn’t going to miss anything big.
I’d miss the first shot. I’d always miss the first shot. You had to stand under the goal and one arm it up and in, and I did not have the coordination for it yet. Since you got a “chance” shot every time, you could always take two shots on the first and not have to worry about starting over. So I’d try again. I’d usually miss. I’d groan, knowing what was about to happen. My dad would get the ball, and the beating would commence…
I was driving home from the workout, and I was feeling pretty proud of myself for going in even though I was clearly on my deathbed. I was thinking about things the day held, and how I was going to divide my split shift for the day into workable segments.
Not a thought in my mind was occupied with Aven’s game.
Then the text came in.
“Aven just made his first basket in a game!”
I missed it.
I f*$&#*@g missed it.
He didn’t miss. He never missed. He would go the entire way around the “world” and not miss once. Every. Single. Time. I don’t know how my dad shot so well. I don’t know if he played in school, I don’t think he did. I’ve never heard of him being a hoops legend on the street courts of Coweta, Oklahoma, in his heyday. In fact, I don’t even really know why he liked basketball to begin with, but I know he did. After his first circuit, he’d look at me and say, “Alright, now I have to go back around.” And somewhere in that trip, he’d miss. 18 years later, I’ve finally figured out he probably did it on purpose…
I’ve felt pretty bad about things in my life. There are times I’ve had where I realize how wrong I was, or how stupid I was, and then I usually have the obligatory pity party, where I steep in self-loathing almost as completely narcissistic as the original act I’m “punishing” myself for.
But Saturday, it was different.
I missed it.
Yeah, Aven will have other “firsts.” He’ll have his first game where they actually keep score, his first assist, his first high school game, his first start, and maybe more. There will be a lot more firsts.
But this one was more important to me than anything else.
And I missed it. Why?
“I really don’t have time.”
I’d get my second chance, and I’d get going. After the first shot, the next two were easy. Then the corner shot loomed. This was the shot that would make or break me. I just had to complete one circuit, and this was the keystone on which success or failure was built. Most of the time, I’d miss. Then I’d usually take my chance, and I’d usually miss again. My dad would laugh and say something like, “You won’t beat your old man today, son.” Then he’d rip off five or six straight shots to win the game. After, he’d flip the ball back to me. “Let’s go again.” He gave me another chance…
Aven walked in the door right as I was about to walk out of it for my assignment. To tell you the truth, I had been praying I wouldn’t see him before I left. But he walked in. He looked at me, all ready to go, and all thoughts about his shot left his mind.
“Dad are you leaving already? I never get to see you!”
I turned around, bit my lip, and forced myself to smile. I turned around, and The Missus, thinking quickly, said, “Don’t you have something to tell him?”
“DAD I MADE MY FIRST BASKET!”
I hugged him, fast, before he could see the tears. I said, “I know son, and I’m so proud of you.” I turned, walked out the door, into my busy life.
Yesterday at church, Aven met his assistant coach on the walk to door. The coach walked up to him, high-fived him, and said, “Aven! The scoring machine!” He and Aven laughed, and the coach said, “And you had everybo…your mom and your sister there to see it!”
I have no doubt his intentions were pure and it was a simple slip of the tongue. No doubt whatsoever.
But I wanted to tear him apart.
Then, that afternoon, my family gathered at my mom’s house for dinner and the reading of my youngest brother’s letter, which will be another blog this week. As we walked in the door, the talk of the room was Aven’s first basket. Everyone congratulated him, high-fived him, and my brothers were joking with him and in general just making me feel a little more sorry for myself.
I missed it.
I missed it. I always missed the first shot. Then history would repeat itself, and we’d walk to the house, me as the loser, him as the winner, the universe in perfect harmony. He’d always slap me on the back and tell me to keep working. “One day you’ll beat me.” Oh that the “one day” would come! Even though now I would trade a lifetime of losing to my dad to get him back, then all I wanted to do was win. All I wanted was to be a good…
Dad. That’s all I want to be. A good dad. Not great, not spectacular, not anything special. Just good. I want Aven and Akeeli and any other children that might come along to say, “My dad was a good father, and a good man.”
So I kept working. I don’t remember the day I beat him, but I know I did. I’ll never know if he let it happen or not, but I don’t think my dad was that kind of person. My hard work paid off. I kept trying, and I made mistakes, and I kept getting chances, and that’s exactly how real life works too. I’ll keep getting chances at this “dad” thing. I’m sure this won’t be my last big screw up, because it’s certainly not my first. This one just hurt more.
Whenever I think of the word, my mind flashes back to the movie Man on Fire with Denzel Washington.
“I wish. You had. More time.”
After a discussion in my Sunday School class yesterday, I’ve discovered I’m not the only person who struggles with managing their time. We’re all busy with work, school, church, family, friends, hobbies, and a billion other things that cause us to lose focus and never complete any one thing with care.
I’ll learn. I’ll figure it out.
My job at the moment is not something which cannot be manipulated. If I have an assignment, I have to take it, because it’s work, and I have to contribute to this family somehow. Could I have chanced being a little late and maybe caught Aven’s first basket? I don’t think I could have. Does that change the way I feel about missing it? No it doesn’t. Not one bit. I feel terrible.
But I get to keep working with at the game. I get to teach him little things I know, and encourage him to try harder.
Aven doesn’t watch the ball when he plays. He watches us. He’s always looking at the sideline, disregarding all the basic principles of the game, eschewing them for us. For our approval.
And my life’s goal is to always be there, looking back at him, waving my hands like crazy, telling him for the love of God just get back on defense, stop looking at us, pay attention to your coach, GO!
As much as I hate time, it provides us with the one thing we all so desperately need.
He had gotten me a shotgun for my thirteenth birthday, an old Stevens Savage 12 gauge that I still have to this day. We wanted to get out and test it, and rabbit hunting seemed as good a test as any.
My dad was a paragon of gun safety. He made sure he drilled into my head all the proper procedures for safe and happy hunting, then we went out.
We walked about 25 feet apart so we would have a greater chance of scaring up rabbits. All of the sudden, one appeared in the distance, about thirty feet ahead, and in between us. My dad looked at me and said, “Shoot it son.”
I drew a bead on the rabbit, who was frozen momentarily, deciding which way to run. As I looked down my shaking gun barrel at the supposed doomed creature, it suddenly decided which way it wanted to run: right at us.
Being an ambitious and aspiring new hunter, I did what I thought was the smart thing. I kept a bead on that rabbit as it came closer, closer, and eventually passed in between us, when I realized I was now pointing a loaded gun at my father.
He spoke quietly, patiently, but in volumes.
“Put the gun down.”
***My brother Brad has the hunting gene in our family. I read a lot and am generally considered the “book smart” one, Brad is the hunter/gatherer and has the best work ethic, Jordan is incessantly teased about being the milkman’s son, and Josh is…well, Josh is now The Marine, but that’s another blog.
In the past few years, my want to go hunting again has increased slightly. I’ve been rabbit hunting with a few friends since then, and I haven’t pointed a gun at anyone, and I think our Sunday School class (which is filled with hunter/gatherers), has kindled a long-dead interest.
So this year I borrowed a bow and arrow from Brad, bought a license and archery tag, bought a deer blind (since I cannot climb trees due to my symmetry), and The Missus started calling me “The Great White Hunter.”
I did not shoot a deer with a bow and arrow.
While I have a knack for hitting an archery target, I seem to have trouble actually getting the deer to come towards me, even though I stood really still and smiled a lot.
When rifle season opened, Brad and I talked about going together. So I bought yet another tag, and the date was set.
On Thanksgiving morning, I woke up at five a.m., took a shower with scent-free soap, purposely neglected the brushing of my teeth, and drove 40 miles to a remote location in the woods with my younger brother, two guns, and a package of wafers that supposedly smelled like deer vagina.
We set up the blind, loaded the guns, and Brad placed a deer vagina wafer delicately on a tree beside us.
We waited. Then we Facebooked. Then we heard crows for two solid hours. Then he stuck a deer vagina wafer under my nose. Then he pulled out a deer “call” that sounded like one of those things you get as a prize at Chuckie Cheese.
We did not, however, see a single deer.
***The morning after Thanksgiving, I decided to go hunting on my own terms.
I woke up at 7:30 or so, got around slowly, and made it to the woods at 8:45. I loaded up my deer blind, my gun, my camera, and The Missus’s Nook Tablet, and traipsed through the woods like the proverbial bull in a china shop.
I found a spot near a deer feeder that was not mine. I thought, “you know what, I bet I can kill one here.” I looked for a hunter, did not see one, and set everything up.
The Lord, as you know, moves. After setting all of my stuff up, I realized I had forgotten my chair.
I am fat. I need a chair. Sitting on the cold ground does not become either my buttocks or my spirits.
So I walked back through the woods, got my chair, and started back through the woods to my blind. On the way, I realized that the spot I was set up in was probably not very ethical. I had not spent the money or the time feeding these deer, so I decided I should move.
I got back to the blind, packed it up, and moved it to a new location, where I set everything up and got everything inside it yet again.
And…yet again, I realized I had left something behind.
The Great White Hunter strikes again.
By the time I got everything set up and gathered in the blind, I was exhausted. I sat in a chair for 25 cold minutes, got up, gathered it all back up, and left.
***As I sat in my recliner that evening looking at the pictures on Facebook of all of my friends who had shot a deer, I realized something. I realized that in all honesty, I’m just not a hunter. But that didn’t shake the want I had to keep trying.
I looked at a certain picture of a very good friend of mine, and I commented on it to The Missus. She said, “I bet Zac took him, you should send Zac a text. I bet he’d take you just for the laughs.”
Sometimes my wife is a genius.
So I sent the text message.
***The next morning I woke up at 4 a.m. I decided there was no way I was taking a shower/putting on deodorant/brushing my teeth. I drove to a convenience store where I was to meet Zac.
The night before, he had told me he would supply everything. The gun, the blind, all of it…except one thing, a chair. I needed to bring a chair.
“No problem,” I said, because in fact I had the chair in the back of the truck already.
So at 4:45 a.m. I gathered The Missus’s Nook Tablet, the turkey hat she’d knitted me, a Red Bull, and the rest of my gear and got in Zac’s truck.
Approximately 15 minutes later I realized something. I’d left the chair.
“No problem,” Zac said. “I’ve got a bucket you can sit on.”
When we arrived at our hunting destination, I told Zac I had brought the Nook with me to read in case I got bored. He told me that was fine, but he was going to keep a lookout because you had to really pay attention to see the deer out there. Sufficiently shamed and feeling like a kid, I left the Nook behind and made up my mind to be the most attentive non-hunter in the world.
So I sat there, on a bucket, in the cold, for two hours, looking. The sunrise was absolutely breathtaking, and even though the deer blind was nowhere to be found, we both blended in perfectly with the surrounding landscape.
All of the sudden, I saw a flicker of white around 500 yards in front of me. I asked for the binoculars, and sure enough, there was a deer.
I made some sort of herky-jerky slapping motion at Zac’s arm, trying to ascertain the universal sign for OH MY GOD IT’S A DEER LOOK IT’S A DEER.
Zac saw what I saw, and he told me to watch it until it got closer. “It’ll come down the ridge,” he said.
“IT’S A DEER I WANT TO SHOOT IT NOW LET ME SHOOT IT,” was my interior monologue.
So we waited. And sure enough it got closer…according to him. You see, I had lost sight of it. He kept giving me reference points to its location, but I could not for the life of me see this deer.
Then, finally, she marched back into my view, but unfortunately, still too far away. Right after that, she walked behind a group of trees, and left me shaking and amped on Red Bull and adrenaline, waiting for her to come out in a clearing where I could get a better shot.
Zac leaned over to me and said, “Travis, she’s walking that way, but she may all of the sudden pop up a lot closer, so you need to be ready.” We got his rifle loaded up and got me into a shooting position, and I just did everything in my power to sit still.
Afterwards, Zac told me, “Travis when I told you it could pop up closer and to be ready, you started breathing real heavy. It took all I had not to laugh.”
Then we waited again.
I got a swat on the arm, signaling me to look right in front of me. And there she was 175 yards away, right in the spot Zac predicted she might pop up in.
“Travis. Shoot her.”
“Travis. Shoot her now.”
“Travis. Just pull the trigger.”
“Travis. Just shoot at her. Now.”
For some reason, my gun wouldn’t stay still. I’m not saying Zac intentionally gave me a gun with a bunch of loose parts and a scope that kept jiggling around on the target, and I guess it could have been that I was all jacked up on the afore mentioned Red Bull, but the scope wouldn’t stop moving and all of the sudden I just decided to squeeze the trigger and before I knew it the gun had gone off and there was a lot of smoke and through that smoke I saw a deer jump once, twice, three times, and disappear.
I had missed.
I looked at Zac and said, “Man, I missed her.”
“Travis, I don’t know. She acted hit. Did you see her actually run out of that thicket?”
I hadn’t, but it didn’t matter, I knew I’d missed. The gun was simply shaking too much, it was the first time I’d ever shot at a deer, I knew I’d missed. I was sure excited though. I took out my phone and sent a message to The Missus, “I SHOT AT A DEER.”
Zac, firmly believing I had scored at least a hit, decided to go track it. He left me at the site of the shooting, to give him directions on where to walk. He got to the place where the deer had been, and all of the sudden he was waving me over.
Could it be?
I practically ran to where he was, and he said, “I see blood.”
I didn’t stick around to see it. Instead, I walked to where I thought I hadn’t seen the deer anymore, and as I walked over, I saw her, laying there, still.
“Please, oh man, please be dead.”
She was dead.
The Great White Hunter had finally won. After three days of trying, forgetfulness, and not brushing his teeth, he had won.
I pulled my phone out and sent the following to The Missus.
|“I KILLED A DEER!”|
I got a short and sweet text message back.
“TODAY YOU BECOME A MAN.”
I absolutely love this life of mine.
“There are lots of walks that people make in their lifetime. Some are important, some are not. Some of those walks are tougher than others, and some seem like they take forever, because you know you can’t wait to have what’s at the end. Some are painful, some are joyous. Some are profitable, some will end with you losing everything.”
September 8, 2000. The day I lost a piece of myself, a piece of my identity.
This past Saturday marked twelve years since my father looked me in the eyes for what seemed like an eternity, then closed his eyes and died. Those of you who need more detail than that can find it anywhere on this blog; my posts are littered with tributes and stories of dad.
We’ve had our kids now for over a year. They’ve heard stories of Brian Sloat, their Papa, the entire time we’ve had them. As I stated in a blog a few weeks ago, to them, since he is not tangible, he is not a real person. He’s a myth, a fable, one of the hundreds they’ve had told to them since they could understand words. Brian Sloat might as well be Harry Potter, Huckleberry Finn, or the Cat in the Hat.
The question of taking them to see him, his grave, and exposing them to so much of my pain, has weighed heavy on my mind for the last year. I’ve often wondered if they could handle it, if they could understand what they were seeing, and if not, understand when I explained it to them.
This, in a sense, was giving them all of me. In some selfish part of my mind, I didn’t want to do that. To me, it represented the final barrier between them and myself, the last wall in our relationship, and I struggled mightily with knocking it down.
Saturday morning, I covered a story for the paper. It was a 9/11 Remembrance Walk in Muskogee. In his speech, a man named Oscar Ray said the words, “I’m pretty sure that when the families of the victims remember their loved ones, they smile.”
He was addressing a crowd of people about 9/11, but all I could think about was dad. I climbed in my truck, cried, and tried to compose myself, but then I got the standard issue text from my mother on this date.
“I love you.”
In that moment, I made a decision. I decided that I was going to take the kids to see dad.***
The cemetery hasn’t been mowed in a while. The grass stands up taller than I’ve ever seen it, and Alicia commented on it as we drove in. I killed the car, and waited just a moment to compose myself for what I knew was going to be one of the harder walks I’ll take with our family.
We got out of the car and Aven looked around, saw a crabapple lying on the ground and said, “Those are cow apples, right dad?”
Our son. The little boy who takes nothing seriously…just like me. His mind was a million miles away from what was taking place, and I envied him. His innocence, once destroyed, is now slowing coming back. He no longer has to worry about mom and dad, and because of that I think he is truly carefree.
Aven walked on my left, and Keeli walked on my right, and Alicia walked behind, selflessly giving me this moment with our children. Slowly, we stepped through the tall grass and around the usual tombstones, some standing, others flat in the ground.
It was The Walk.
There was no arguing with God this time. There wasn’t space in my head for it. All I could think about was my obligation to try and make sense of this for our children, to help them understand what they were seeing.
I thought about Aven tripping over a tombstone and how awful that would be, and I thought about Akeeli crying, because she always cries when she sees me cry.
Our daughter, ever the empathetic one. The one who provides comfort in company, the one who wants to make sure you know that your sadness is hers too. She is beautiful. She is radiant. She is too smart for her own good, and I worry ceaselessly about the day when boys come knocking on our door.
The Walk was a short one, because our children distracted me. It was a good thing.
We arrived at the headstone, and looked at the name Sloat engraved on it. The tears came.
Through choked words and ill-timed snorts, I explained to our children that my father, the greatest man I’ve ever known, was not there. His body was there, but he was in heaven, enjoying the company of his brothers, and now his mom. I explained that we would see him one day, and that I really wished they could have met him.
Then the words came:
“I hope I’m half the dad he was.”
Keeli cried, because Keeli cries. Aven asked why we didn’t bring flowers, because Aven can’t focus on one thing more than ten seconds. Alicia took a few pictures, because I had asked her to. I know I didn’t want them then, but one day I will.
I asked them all to leave me alone for just a few minutes, and they did. I stood there, shaking, hot tears sliding down my face, but I didn’t fight God. I didn’t tell him how unfair it was. In fact, I didn’t address God at all. I talked to dad.
I know he can’t hear me. I know that my sadness isn’t something he can feel or hear or see. If he could, it wouldn’t be a happy moment for him, and Heaven is a place of eternal happiness. I’m okay with that, and I talked to him anyway.
As I talked, the wind rushed through the cemetery and whistled through the trees. While most would attribute that to something supernatural and impossible, I was reminded of a King of the Hill episode where Kahn’s grandmother said she believed her deceased husband was reincarnated as the wind that blew through the meadow at that very moment. Bill Dauterive looked her in the eye and said, “My god, that’s the most beautiful description of a haunted meadow I’ve ever heard.”
I blinked through the tears, smiled, laughed, and walked back to the car. It amazes me how God put our family together.
September will always be a terrible month, and I’ll always be glad when it’s over.
But now, instead of September 8 holding pain and nothing else, I can remember it as the day when our kids met my dad.
Part IPart II
From Sunday, August 26:
Today was a bad day.
I didn’t get enough sleep last night, and I woke up tired.
I looked at an article I had published in the paper this morning and I saw that they had “edited” in a typo. It bothered me.
We rushed to get to church on time as usual. We got to church, sat down, and listened to our pastor preach about death.
He talked about what was more tragic; the sudden loss of a young lady in a car wreck, or the loss of a old woman who hasn’t been in good health for a while. I’ve experienced both in the last eight months. You’d think I’d be qualified to make that decision, but I’m not. I have no idea which was more tragic.
Of course after thinking about that, I thought about dad. I thought about how much he’s missed. From there it didn’t take long for me to start blaming God for the fact that our children will never meet him. To them, Brian Sloat is myth, a legend, no more real than anyone else that they’ve never met. And after that, I contemplated my own mortality.
I’m afraid of death. It terrifies me. As a Christian, death is the ultimate reward. You are absent from the body and present with Christ. So why am I scared to die? What scares me about being with Jesus? Some would say that I have doubts. Doubts about my salvation, doubts about my faith, and doubts about my beliefs. Our pastor said I shouldn’t be afraid of death.
The Sunday School lesson we had talked about affairs. It talked about how easy they were to fall into, and how it is always a good idea to end them and tough out your marriage. It reminded me of the pile of crap I turned into for a year and half. Most of our class knows what I did. My mind played for me a constant stream of their judgement, what they would really say if they could.
Our kids didn’t get a nap today, and so they were terrible. When we were in the store, they acted out, climbed on shelving, and were just generally ill-behaved. I had to yell at them several times. I had to threaten to spank them repeatedly.
We were in Tulsa traffic today. It was so humid you felt like you were swimming through the air instead of walking. We waited over an hour for a table at the restaurant. I was sweating everywhere we went. I snapped at Alicia. I was sulky and petulant for most of the afternoon.
Today was a good day.
I woke up this morning. The Lord gave me another day.
I got to see an article that I wrote in the paper. I’m a writer. I am living my dream.
We got in one of the two cars we own and drove to church. We walked in the doors of the building without anyone trying to kill us for what we believed, and we listened to a sermon that taught me some things.
I got the chance to remember two very special people in my life. I remembered how they blessed me. How they both lived passionate lives before they were taken from me. I remembered the impact that they had on the lives around them, and how truthfully, they are both so much happier now.
I remembered dad today. I thought about the things that he’d say to our kids. I thought about how he’d hug them, squeeze them, and I thought about how that tough old Brian Sloat would probably be transformed into a giant softy by the introduction of his three grandkids. I found myself thinking about how I need to take them to see his grave, make him more real to them. Maybe soon.
I will not continue to be afraid of death. I will die. When I die, I will leave many people in this world, but I will be reunited with my father, my grandmother, a few uncles, an aunt, and Kambrin. I will not continue to be afraid of death.
I got to watch my newly saved and baptized daughter take the Lord’s Supper. I got to see her eat the cracker and drink the grape juice, even ignoring my own so I could sneak a little peek at her. I thought about where she might be without us. I got to thank God for them both.
The Sunday School lesson talked about love. It talked about how even sure-footed people can fall into traps. It talked about how coming clean is always the best policy. It reminded me of my wife’s forgiveness. It reminded me of why I fell in love with her in the first place. It reminded me that maybe I need to wash a few more dishes this next week, just to show her that I love her.
I got to spend a solid day with our kids. I don’t get to see them during the week, and I spent all day with them today. No naps, no real separation, and no breaks. They were active. They were joyful. They enjoyed being alive and playing when and where they could. There was a time when they couldn’t do that.
We hung out with some amazing friends today. We ate lunch at one of my favorite restaurants, and we laughed and fellowshipped the entire time. I was hot and sweaty, but I was walking. When I snapped at Alicia, she shrugged it off, knowing I was in a mood.
Today was a bad day. Today was a good day.
If the truth was told, most of my days are like this, and so are most of yours. We all take the good and bad, and at the end of the day weigh them on the scales of our temperament, and we draw our conclusions on whether the day was “good” or “bad.”
There is a story making the rounds on Facebook that I love. It explains the situation perfectly. According to the Internet, it’s an old Cherokee legend.
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
I will make every effort to feed the good wolf from this day forward. The evil wolf will continue to fight, for that is what he does best. I will be tempted with negative thoughts, pity-parties, and bad attitudes. I’ll have days where I want to be pissy and lame.
But I’ll try. I’ll give the good wolf Milk-Bones and organic, veterinarian-approved dog food. I’ll give him clean water every day and take him in for regularly scheduled vaccinations. I’ll brush his fur once a week and tell him that he is the best wolf a guy could ever ask for, and “Who’s a good boy? Who’s a good boy? Is it you? Yes it’s you.”
And maybe, just maybe…I’ll shake this nasty writer’s block and get back to blogging about things.