Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: father

Potty Training

The other night, Toddler J was falling asleep. She was getting close, reaching that stage where the eyes roll back, eyelids close, and head hangs loose. Suddenly, her head popped up and said, “Daddy! Potty!”

I asked her, “Did you potty already?” “No!” she answered, “Potty!”

I scooped her up and headed downstairs. Once in the bathroom, we were on auto-pilot. The Minnie Mouse seat positioned just right, and the toddler, sans diaper, set on the Minnie Mouse seat.  I was instructed to sit in my customary spot on the floor.

And we waited. . . . . and waited.

We waited until I was sure that this was simply a well orchestrated tactic to keep herself awake. I scooped her up, and got a clean diaper. As soon as her PJs were secured around her waist, the protest began.

“No diaper! Potty! No diaper! Potty!”

I heard the cry of my child, and we returned to the bathroom. Back on the Minnie Mouse seat, within seconds, there was the sound of a faint trickle.

So I ask, who is training who?

My Call to Ministry Part 1

When I was in high school, through the combined experiences of youth group, being on the Ashland District Youth Council, and participating in a summer work-camp called Richmond Metro Workcamp, I began to experience a call to ministry. I don’t remember sharing it with others. But it did reach a point where they shared it with me. It all became very real when the pastor of the small United Methodist Church where I grew up asked if I had ever thought about going into the ministry. As I finished high school, I was much more comfortable with the idea that God was calling me to ministry.

But, doubt would creep in. I would go to community college and get an Associates Degree in Early Childhood Development. I envisioned myself getting a teaching degree and teaching in a school. After getting that degree, I got a full-time job at a United Methodist church working with their weekday children’s ministry. During that time, my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer and in about eight months would claim the promise of the resurrection. Those eight months would send me into a whirlwind of thinking and rethinking my vocational call. The reality of death and loss hit much harder than Bambi losing his mother ever did.

This whirlwind sent me through many days and hours pondering in an empty church or walking alone on a nature trail. I was asking myself questions like, “What do I want to do with the rest of my life? What is my purpose?”

Me on my wedding day with the window dedicated to my dad.

Me on my wedding day with the window dedicated to my dad.

My father claimed the promise of the resurrection on Easter Sunday, April 2001. Before he passed, two things happened. I applied to Randolph-Macon College, the college I had wanted to attend since I was six, and I applied for a new job as the Youth Director at another United Methodist church. A week before my father passed, I was hired as the Youth Director. When I told Dad, he replied, “That’s good, Son. That’s what you’ve always wanted to do.” (Two months later, I was accepted at Randolph-Macon.)

In June of my first summer as a Youth Director, I took a small group of youth to Durham, North Carolina for a youth work-camp. The work crew that I was assigned to worked on the home of an elderly African-American woman who had adopted two teenage girls and was battling cancer. I had resolved, subconsciously, not to get attached. I did not want to experience the grief and pain that I had just experienced through the loss of my father.

During lunch on that first day, the youth on the crew had invited the home owner to eat with us and join us for our devotion time. The youth had decided that we would eat lunch in her bedroom because she was unable to move freely on her own. I was the last one to enter the room, and when I did, the home owner announced, “There’s the minister!” I was quick to correct her that I was a not a minister, and she was quick to correct me that I was. “When you walked passed me this morning,” she said, “I felt the Holy Spirit move through you.” Not sure how to respond, I politely said, “Thank you,” and sat with the youth for lunch and our devotion.

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

Saving Mr. Banks received nomination for Best Original Score.

Ponderings - Saving Mr. Banks reviewIn 1961, P. L. Travers, the acclaimed author and creator of Mary Poppins, spent two weeks at the Disney studios in Burbank. Walt Disney had courted her for twenty years for the rights to make the Mary Poppins film. Travers had consistently said no. She came to Burbank as a last-ditch effort to put this project to rest, either by making it or destroying any hope of its existence.

Emma Thompson plays P. L. Travers to Tom Hanks’ Walt Disney. Hanks’ Disney is warm and welcoming. He insists on being called “Walt,” not “Mr. Disney.” Thompson’s Travers is cold and critical. She will not allow anyone to call her “Pam” or “Pamela.” They must call her “Ms. Travers.” Travers, herself, was a bit of a shock to screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and the Sherman brothers (Jason Schwartzman and B. J. Novak).

The film does an amazing job of recreating what it was like to work with Travers and the mostly unknown difficulties the filmmakers had. Many of the conversations held in the studio were taken directly from over thirty-nine hours, which by the way, you should stay through the first set of credits, where the original recordings are shared. This provides a glimpse into how cold and difficult Travers was, but also how well Emma Thompson portrayed the author.

Despite what the trailers communicated, you quickly figure out that this film is about so much more than the making of Mary Poppins. More than once, Mrs. Travers tells Disney and his team that the Banks’ are like family to her. The flashbacks to her own childhood suggest that the Banks family is really her own family. Colin Farrell plays the father, Travers Robert Goff, and he’s good at it. Farrell’s Goff is a loving, playful father who loves being around his children. Unfortunately, he does not love to be at the office so much. He struggles with his own dark side, all while seeking the bottom of a bottle.

Travers’ Aunt Ellie (Rachel Griffiths) comes to save the family when Goff gets sick. From the moment she appears on the screen, you know that Travers based Poppins on her aunt. Aunt Ellie gets to work on empowering the family to clean the house and to get things in order. The only thing that Aunt Ellie is not able to fix is Goff. Travers was extremely close to her father. She had left to go get him pears and when she came back, he had died.

The death of her father would shape Travers. The life she as aspired to as a child no longer seemed possible. The carefree, imaginative world of her father only led to death. As she worked with the Disney team on the film, these memories come flooding back to her. In one heartfelt scene, Travers goes outside the studio, sits in the lawn, and begins to construct a small house out of sticks and leaves. Her driver for the week, the only fictional character in the film played by Paul Giamatti, comes over and helps her. Here in the lawn, these two adults recall and reclaim childhood.

Travers finds it hard to break free from the past. While Walt Disney and Travers are at odds on so many things, this they have in common. Disney can relate to having a less than perfect relationship with his father. Our pasts can haunt us, but they do not have to control us. Travers, through the two-week film making process, claims her past as part of her story. And it is her story to tell.

Ponderings - Saving Mr. Banks review - Disney and Travers

It is in relating his father to Mr. Banks, that Disney realizes that Mary Poppins comes to the Banks family not for the children, but for the father. It is figures like Poppins, Aunt Ellie, and Walt Disney to help point us in the direction of reconciliation with our past. We too can wrestle with our past, claim that part of us, and tell our stories.

There is a lot of Oscar buzz around this film. Tom Hanks will undoubtably get a nod, but my money is on Emma Thompson as P. L. Travers. The film is really her story and Thompson frustrates us, makes us a laugh, as well as makes us cry. I also think Colin Farrell should get a shout-out as supporting actor.

Why I Am Not Shaving

It is rare that I don’t think about my father. When we sing a certain song in church, I remember singing it with him. When a song comes on the radio or iPod shuffle, I remember sitting the wooden pew listening to him sing that song in church. When the car makes a funny sound, I think about in what seemed like no time at all, he would be able to identify the sound. When I watch the CBS Evening News, I remember how that was a part of his evening ritual when coming home from work.

And I miss him.

I miss that he would always be there. I miss that he always seemed to have a fix, no matter the problem. I miss how he deeply listened to people, hearing them to speech. I miss how helping and serving others was important to him.

There is a glimmer of a memory watching my dad shave. The sink full of warm water, the shaving cream spread across his face, and razor in hand. A skill I would need to master. My parents gave me shaving cream and razors for Easter one year while I was in middle school. Shaving would become a ritual for me just it had for my dad.

But not this month.

This month I have not been shaving.  No razor or shaving cream has touched my face.  I have decided not to shave in observance of No Shave November. According the No Shave November website, this is “a unique way to raise cancer awareness.” The monies donated support the American Cancer Society. But a quick Google search will show that there are other organizations that encourage men to participate in some form of No Shave November to raise funds and awareness for their causes.

I have decided to do in memory of my father, Bruce C. Stanley. Dad had prostate cancer and died from it April 15, 2001. Easter Sunday.  That previous September Dad had started experiencing unbearable back pain. It was treated for a pinched nerve. After a month of the pain continuing, Dad went to get a second opinion and that is when he learned that he actually had prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer is one of the leading diseases in men. It is the second cause of cancer death in men, only to lung cancer. According to cancer.org, the American Cancer Society estimated that in 2013 about 238,590 men will be newly diagnosed with the disease and that the disease will be the cause of death for about 29,720 men. Roughly about 1 in 36 men will die from prostate cancer.

Dad just happened to be one of the 1s.

Dad always had facial hair. For the longest time, it was full fledge beard.

But, not always. When he and Mom got married in 1975, he had a simple, conservative mustache.

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After I was born, he sported his awesomeness, circa 1979-1980.

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As the ’80s continued, the mustache became the beard.

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Over time, it returned to a simple mustache. The switch came after much debate in our house as to whether Dad should shave his beard or not. I don’t remember what the deciding factor was, but it was a compromise to keep the mustache. And he held on to the mustache for as long as he could.

In the first few months after learning he had prostate cancer, there wasn’t too much change. But eventually, Dad would have to limit himself to the amount of physical labor he could do. The pain was just too great. While we worked in the yard, he would sit on the back deck watching, and wishing he could be out there with us.

As the cancer got stronger, Dad got weaker. He would eventually not have the strength to support himself to get up or to sit down. Family members would come by and, in a day, build a wheelchair ramp on the front of the house. Dad would be wheeled out in a wheelchair on the new ramp, lifted up out the car, and sat into the car.

To see my father – the essence of manhood – so weak and unable to do “manly” things, was heartbreaking. He was the one who worked on all kinds of automobiles. He was the one who chopped wood so we had firewood for the winter. He was the one who built a doghouse for our dog. He was Dad.

He was the one who carried us when we were not able to make it on our own. Yet, here he was in a hospital bed barely able to raise himself up. The more the cancer grew, and the more medicine ravaged through his body, the less hair he had. Including the facial hair that was a part of his identity as much as it was a part of his face.

The loosing of hair marked the lost of strength.

And so, I’m not shaving to remember, to honor, to raise awareness, and most of all, to be strong for all the times my father wasn’t able to be.

For more information about No Shave November, visit their website here, and consider making a donation to the American Cancer Society.

© 2017 Jason C. Stanley

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