Burden of dreams

by Wolf Pascoe on July 16, 2012

Last night, after a soft-sword fight, Nick and I lay on the living room couch together catching our breath. We were easy, shooting the breeze long past his bedtime, a moment too sweet to abandon.

“Am I a pre-teen?” he said.

“I suppose you are,” I said.

Times like these all the gates are open,  I patted myself on the back.

Then I remembered the dream.




It arrived a week ago, brief as a needle. It went this way:

Nick has brought home his report card from Fern Hill. He got a C, a C-, and a B-. I don’t remember the subjects, just the grades.

The thing is, Fern Hill doesn’t give grades. I can’t pin the dream on them.

So who, I ask you, is the son-of-a-bitch grading my son? Who gave him this crummy report card?




Also last week, Kyle Bradford (Chopper Papa) published a post with the title, “The power of a father’s approval.” I recommend it to you for a kick in the gut. He begins with the following:

I’ve spent the better part of my adult life looking for the approval of a man who’s been dead for almost two decades.

How to get a purchase on that sentence? I’ve read it a dozen times and can’t get past the better part of my adult life looking. The regret it suggests–hurt, waste, the cry of pain–echoes a larger pain, a despair such as here:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix . . .

The poem, Alan Ginsberg’s “Howl,” is a catalogue of outrage that became an anthem of rebellion. Behind and underneath it is a father wound.

Kyle’s piece goes on:

This longing has, at times, led me to replace relationship for career, love with advancement, and attach my self worth and manhood firmly to paychecks and job titles. That hunger has impacted my friendships and my confidence while seeing to it that I spend long hours in therapy.


His point is a simple one. Little things that fathers say or do (or do not say or do) have an enormous effect on their sons. A thoughtless judgment, a conditional acceptance, are cuts that linger.

I would say this: A father blesses with his attention. When he does not bless, he curses.

Again. When a father does not bless, he curses.

A burden, no?




I remember noting the first day of Fern Hill the exquisite attention that the teachers paid.

A child mumbled something.

“Oh, my ears didn’t hear that!” the teacher said.

Not, “You mumbled,” or “Speak up” or even “What?” but “Oh, my ears . . . ”

How was I ever going to be capable of that kind of mindfulness?

Nora as well wondered, as it’s a question for both mothers and fathers. But just now, as Nick approaches adolescence and we spend more time flopped on the living room couch, I notice again and again his asking simple questions that aren’t so simple, such as, for example, Am I a pre-teen? 

Kyle again:

The approval a son receives from his mother is almost guaranteed while that of his father must usually be earned. And the boy desperately wants it. Should there be any surprise that a boy will ultimately try to leave the shade of his mother for the shadow of his father?




Which brings me back to the lousy report card.

What can such a dream mean? I need to sit with it a long time. I know dreams often don’t mean what they seem. Maybe it’s not even about Nick. Maybe a  average isn’t that bad.

Still I can’t help asking, in a secret recess of my mind am I measuring and condemning my son to mediocrity?

In the dream, I said this to Nora: “What should we do? Should we talk to Nick about this?”

Before she answered I woke, grateful it was only a dream.

Now I’m on the couch with Nick in the soft evening light, looking to see where my shadow falls.



10,000 mistakes



The power of a father’s approval

The images for this post come from Doodlepress, a sweet visual journal across the pond. (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 License)



Got an approval story–boy or girl–? Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)


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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Gezibel July 16, 2012 at 11:24 am

I absolutely love this post. Fathers are everything to their sons , such a deep & complex relationship. Lucky are those children & parents who are willing to engage in a little self reflection.


Wolf Pascoe July 16, 2012 at 7:41 pm

The fathers are everything to their sons, and the sons are everything to their fathers.


David July 16, 2012 at 1:27 pm

There are times when I read your pieces and am moved to tears and I can’t explain it. This is one of them.


Wolf Pascoe July 16, 2012 at 7:37 pm

Ah, David. Thanks for hanging in.


Kyle Bradford July 16, 2012 at 3:02 pm

“How was I ever going to be capable of that kind of mindfulness?”

The $1,000,000 question. Any why is it easier to be mindful with other children than with our own? At least it’s so with me.

Thanks for the support Wolf!


Wolf Pascoe July 16, 2012 at 7:40 pm

Everything is so much easier with other people’s children. It was especially easy with them before I had a child of my own.


pamela July 16, 2012 at 3:26 pm

You are such a thoughtful person. Nick is so lucky to have you for a dad!!! I have dreams like that about my kids and for me, it’s fear FOR them, not a judging of them. One of my kids wants to drive a truck and another wants to be a mailman. Granted, they are little, but we can’t all be doctors and lawyers. Here’s to the middle! The ordinary! Those beautiful ordinary moments when all the gates are open.


Wolf Pascoe July 16, 2012 at 7:35 pm

And here’s to the Fresno Home for the Thoughtful, which is probably where I’ll end up.


Jim Parkevich July 16, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Ouch…..this one really hurt, down to my soul, no, down to the carbon atoms that swirl around in my body..I don’t know, when I read stories like this, how hard I am working to repair the damage, in this last part of my life.. There were plenty of happy times, laughter, exploration and learning..There were also too many times of anger and explosive rage…a little boy scared of his own father. My torture is to awake each morning and hear those awful words ringing in the dark spaces of my mind as I look sleepily into the mirror. My salvation is working to make our relationship new and supportive each time we are together. And he has blessed me with a grand daughter, the very light of my life.
I do miss those quiet times on the couch and hope that there are more by the end of my life to outnumber those anger outbursts in the first part of my life.
Laying on the couch with my grand daughter asleep in my arms…the voices in my head are being quieted almost to an inaudible whisper.


Wolf Pascoe July 16, 2012 at 7:37 pm

Thanks for sharing, Jim. You are an inspiration.
It’s never too late.


carole July 16, 2012 at 5:25 pm

ahhh! the exquisite complexity of dreamtime, matched only by equally multi-dimensional phenomenon of phantom report cards on how we measure up to who we want to be.. Thanks Wolfe.


Wolf Pascoe July 16, 2012 at 7:36 pm

Perhaps, then, it was my report card, not Nick’s.


BigLittleWolf July 17, 2012 at 11:40 am

What a remarkable post this is – for Kyle’s words as well as your own.

The shade of the mother and the shadow of the father. For those of us with absent fathers (whatever the reason), for those of us with sons who have (largely) absent fathers – again – whatever the reason, how do we ever “sit with it” long enough and figure it out?

Perhaps the fact that we recognize the need to do so is a step in the right direction.

Those moments you share with Nick are golden, Wolf. You are giving him a gift that I suspect few children get from either parent, and if and when they are recipients of that time, it’s often squeezed into a schedule that leaves us unappreciative of the moment in a real way and wondering if our children sense as much.

Make the most of these next two or three years. They continue to be open and absorbant.


Wolf Pascoe July 17, 2012 at 9:20 pm

Open and absorbent. Lovely.


Barbara July 17, 2012 at 4:33 pm

Wolf, I believe you are more mindful than 99% of the fathers out there. Nick is truly blessed. And Nora, too, because having her son’s father be that mindful makes her job much easier. One thing I have to point out… “Little things that fathers say or do (or do not say or do) have an enormous effect on their sons.” On their daughters as well. Fathers with girls take heed.


Wolf Pascoe July 17, 2012 at 9:22 pm

Do you think it’s okay if I point out to Nora how much easier I’m making her job?


BigLittleWolf July 19, 2012 at 8:13 pm

From one Wolf to another, I think it’s okay. Barbara was absolutely correct in what she said!


Wolf Pascoe July 20, 2012 at 6:03 pm

Alrighty then! I’m telling Nora.


Tom July 20, 2012 at 10:52 am

Wolf, these ephemeral moments of connection (or conversely opportunity lost) happen with fathers and daughters too. How sweet to make the connection. How painful to squander the opportunity. I’ve experienced both.


Wolf Pascoe July 20, 2012 at 6:03 pm

Ephemeral is the word. Hold on tightly, let go lightly.


The Exception August 7, 2012 at 1:40 pm

This was touching and thoughtfully posed. My daughter is nearly a teen – so many ways a tween and so many ways not. Your thoughts are interesting to me as her father is out of the picture to the point that he sold his house earlier this year and moved to another within the area and has yet to tell her that he moved. As a daddy’s girl myself, I struggle with the impact that her father’s choices will have on her. He has not blessed her in his heart or in person – so how does she overcome this or is there anything to overcome? In turn, he was raised by a mother that doesn’t give unconditional love; everything is passive and conditional and his dad was another story entirely. While I can empathize with his childhood experiences, I wonder if the uncoditioal love and blessings I give her will be enough; if they will keep her as secure as she would be were she to have her father’s love. We do the best we can – mindfully aware of the possiblities, being involved, engaged, and attentive, and demonstrating that a parent is love without having to gain approval or beyond everything else. (This is a topic that is close to my heart and one I am aware of more often than not as hormones kick in and boys become part of our conversation)


Wolf Pascoe August 8, 2012 at 12:31 pm

I’ve heard it said that if a girl has an absent father, she’s in danger of looking for a male to prove herself to. I think your response is just right: “We do the best we can – mindfully aware of the possiblities, being involved, engaged, and attentive, and demonstrating that a parent is love without having to gain approval . . . “


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