Thursday, May 16, 2013


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. I've been doing a lot of reading lately. I've begun Hemingway's Farewell to Arms. The title should have been 'Farewell to Legs' with how its starting. I think I read it already a long time ago - maybe high school. Whatever.
I'm also on a bit of a graphic novel kick. I'm reading a lot of Batman and Avengers. Batman rules. I've also just finished a really good one by Neil Gaiman called Death. It's worth a look.
I've heard you've been a bit down lately. I have too. Maybe there's something in the air. Most of the time when I feel down I don't really know how to explain why I feel this way. It's not that I don't want to feel better. I just don't. The problem with not being able to explain the 'why' behind how you're feeling is that if you can pinpoint the problem - you'll be hard pressed to come up with the solution.
Carl Rogers was a Psychologist whom I've been recently studying that really seems to speak to me and has been a help when I'm low. Roger said that we all have an image of ourselves of what we would like to be like - an ideal. You, of course, are perfect. I'm not talking about you - this is about me. Anyway, if how we see ourselves is close to our ideal self consistently then the higher our sense of self-worth is. Convexly, (convexly?) if our life experiences are unacceptable and our ideal image is nothing to what we see ourselves to be - our self worth is denied since we are in a state of incongruence. This is all based on how we see ourselves (self-image), how we think about ourselves (self-esteem), and who we would like to be (ideal self).
As you can probably guess, Rogers was not much on behaviorism or psychoanalysis. His theory was that people behaved as they did because of how they perceived their situation. Nobody, Temple, knows how you perceive your situation and your life. You are the expert on that. Ever have anyone tell you how you should feel, think or act in a situation where you felt just the opposite? They are basing their views of how you should feel on their own situations - not yours.
You have good instincts and plenty of life lessons beyond your years already. Trust your instincts. Trust yourself.
One of the determining factors of reaching self-actualization (Maslow bomb! - think fullest potential) is your environment. When you're a kid you don't get much call on the environment you grow up in. You're getting older now and you've got a pretty good handle on what environments are healthy and which ones aren't. You know who loves you and who's acting in their own selfish interests. You know who keeps you safe and who handles your care with disregard. The older you get, the more you will have charge over where you go, what you do and who you choose to be around. Trust your instincts on this. Trust yourself.
I love you much and miss you always,
Uncle Justin

Saturday, May 4, 2013


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. Should be a short note tonight. I'm about to head out to a buddy's house and hang out by a roaring bonfire. Should be fun.
Elijah and I just got done building Tony Stark's Iron Man Laboratory. It's fun spending time with just him in the evenings. Here's a fuzzy picture of it. You can't see it too well from the photo, but there's a lot of detail and movable parts. Your cousin is getting to be a pretty capable builder.
I hope you're having a nice weekend. I love you much and miss you always,
Uncle Justin

Friday, May 3, 2013


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. I don't know if I've told you yet, I don't think so, but I am about to be an Uncle again - twice. My sisters are both expecting girls. I am very excited about this. Being an Uncle is cool. You already know this and I'm sure you are just in awe of my coolness.
Maybe not.
You might not think I'm very cool, Temple, you may think that I'm out of touch and forgotten how to be cool. That's where your logic fails you. I'm so cool that I don't even remember HOW to be cool. This makes sense. Don't argue with me.
Let's move on.
I like waiting for more children to come into my life. Kids are an important blessing. My sisters and their husbands are good people. These little persons are fortunate to be being born to such caring and loving people.
It's good being the Uncle for another reason, Temple, I have children being born into my family and I don't have to DO anything. I just get to be excited. I don't have any real responsibility toward raising, caring, funding or anything else for these children. My interactions with them are basically based on what my sisters are willing to allow me (just because I'm family doesn't mean I'm entitled to anything.) I feel fortunate that I have good relationships with both my sisters and we are willing to actively be involved in each other's lives.
Sounds kind of like a legal contract rather than a relationship, but I've found that it's good to be careful about these things. I'll tell you why.
When my father died (yes I'm talking about that again - there were a lot of poignant lessons during that time) I had a lot of interactions with close family and veritable strangers that ran the gamut from caring and helpful to completely inappropriate and destructive. A friend of mine, Philip Rhodes, told me something very wise that I've kept with me.
"Go have a beer," he said. He is a very wise man.
There was something else he told me that was also very insightful.
He said, "People do all sorts of odd things during emotionally charged events like funerals. People say crazy things that they don't mean. They laugh and they don't know why or feel like they shouldn't be laughing. Some people are good at these things. Some people just fall apart. Most of them don't know what they should do - and they are usually the worst of the lot."
"What should I do?" I said.
"Watch them," he said, "Take notes."
That's just what I did. I paid real close attention to people, what they were saying or doing. I paid closest attention to the people who shined. Those that knew how to comfort. Those that knew when to help and when to get out of the way. Those who said just the right thing at just the right time. I also made sure to note what the destructive people did. I watched every time they chose selfishness over empathy. I watched every time they followed their own agenda, fulfilling their own desires over those really in need. I listened to every destructive or careless word they said. I took good notes, Temple, and I do my best to model myself after people who model what I hope to attain to be.
Being a good Uncle is easy. It's so easy, that it's easy to mess up and I'm not going to do that.
I get to be excited that I get to have more children in my life.
If my sisters were the type of parents (which they are not) that don't like anyone to touch or hold their babies, if I had to admire this new life from across the room. That would be enough for me because I get to be an Uncle and am excited that my sister's are having children.
If they didn't want me to visit for a year, for whatever reason, and I had to wait until the child's first birthday to see her. That would be enough for me because I get to be an Uncle and am excited that my sister's are having children.
They can make whatever rules they want and I don't care. I have no expectations of them or the baby. I just get to be excited, and I am.
My sisters are having kids and I get to be an Uncle.
I felt much the same way when you were born. I love you much and miss you always,
Uncle Justin

Thursday, May 2, 2013


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. It's been a beautiful couple of days here. We've got some rain coming in tonight. Later on I'll be going to see Iron Man 3 with my neighbor. Being broken down fathers of young children, we're going to the 9:00 show. I made the mistake of going to the midnight showing of The Avengers with him. I fell asleep and missed the last 45 minutes of the movie. He told me it was good.
Today I was busy running errands. I have some laundry to do and will start making dinner soon. See what you have to look forward to when you get older! Excitement! Suspense! Mundane boring repetition of basic custodial practices and routine! Hooray!
I get through my day by telling myself that I am providing my children and spouse with a clean, crafted environment where they can live and thrive. This is important. It's also not very exciting. However, I am not fooled by my daydreams of adventures and spontaneous living without cares. I like living in a clean place, having enough food and a roof over my head.
I'm hoping to get to the lumbar yard and pick up some more materials for the boy's tree house. I've got another couple of projects I'm working on. Blah, blah, blah and blah.
Can you tell I'm a bit crabby today?
Our garbage man has suffered for my attitude. Don't get too upset with me. It's his own fault. Last week I didn't have the garbage bins far enough out in the alley and he ended up not picking up my trash. This irked me. I'm not talking about a lot of distance here. The man couldn't be bothered walking an extra four strides. To make a long story slightly shorter, I wasn't planning on cleaning out my garage this week, but when my trash wasn't picked up, I did just that.
Today's garbage pick-up was something to behold. Full bins of garbage and refuse stacked high. Old paint cans, old home project refuse and to top it all off - a heavy old couch. He didn't show any signs of knowing, or caring, about the pile of garbage. I'm sure somewhere in his heart, he was contrite.
I saw him muttering a bit and I imagine him saying, "I should have taken care of this last week. 'A stitch in time' so they say."
Who knows?
I have to be careful, Temple, being home and out of contact with adults can make someone odd. Give me a couple extra years and I'll have imagined a whole feud between myself and garbage man. I'll live for Thursdays where we will engage in a epic struggle of him attempting dodgy service while I try and destroy his lower back with hidden masonry at the bottom of garbage receptacles.
Come to think of it - I really need this night out.
I love you much and miss you always,
Uncle Justin

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. Thank you for writing me back. I appreciate it. My stories do tend to be a little random, but I never have an agenda. I just write you and see where it goes. If there is anything you want to ask me about or talk about, just drop me a note and I can answer you here. I would tell you to call me, but most of the time I don't even know where my phone is - much to the chagrin of people who want to get in contact with me.
I don't know why I lose my phone so much. I won't bore you with the introspective meanderings of my mind, but my current belief is that I have some sort of repressed hostility against technology and it's continued invasion of personal privacy. I don't like the idea that people are feel entitled to instantaneous contact with me at any given moment of the day.
You're bored now. Sorry.
I've done a lot of cleaning today and I still have much to do. Your cousins destroy just about as fast as I clean. They are learning to pick up after themselves, because I tend to inconvenience them with cleaning at moments they would much rather be doing something else. Like playing outside in the warm weather. Hopefully, they'll take the hint and start cleaning up things right after they are done playing with them.
I just got back from taking the kids to the park. They biked around while I went over the draft of the children's book I'm working on. I think it's ready to send to my editor, but she's booked up until the end of May. There isn't any real rush on this. I'm just impatient.
I have a goal about being a successful author. I define success, in this case, by making good money as an author. This hasn't worked out so far. I've found that success only comes through hard work, so that's what I'm doing. My plan is to write a lot - every day. Get better at writing through hard work and never give up on myself. No matter how many time I get rejections for my work, I will keep sending it out. I will not except failure. I will only get better. I've gotten close to being published, but close isn't enough.
If you have a dream, Temple, you have to make it happen yourself. Most of the successful people I know, achieved their success through hard work. You don't have to look any further than your Aunt Crystal. She's worked hard through school and she's not done yet (I hope she won't make me call her Dr. Hunter.) She carefully planned our her career to put herself in position to achieve employment that befits her talents. None of her success was handed to her. None of this was easy. Her supervisor is retiring, which puts her in charge of the Early Childhood Special Education Program for one of the biggest cities in America.
Your Aunt Crystal did this herself. I am intensely proud of her. If you want something out of life, Temple, roll up your sleeves and go get it.
I love you much and miss you always,
Uncle Justin

Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. I was so happy to hear from you after yesterday's letter. I want to make sure I answer you - so here is what you wrote. It makes me smile every time I read it.

- hay uncle justin thank u 4 the note. and realy ......u will kill the kid. wow. thanks a lot 4 saying i cant have a boyfriend until on 40. have u been talking 2 grandma & grandpa? i love u tons. and lol u r funny. love temple
- ps its temple

- never mind i already said its me

- lol
I've noted and appreciate your charming use of sarcasm. Temple, I am your Uncle. That means if anyone is mean to you - they must die. That's not being overprotective. That's in the Uncle bylaws I signed when you were born. That's also why I live about a six hour drive away from you. 
I'll explain. Remember I take the long way around while explaining. Just listen.
When your Aunt Crystal and I got married we moved from Wisconsin to Missouri. We moved for reasons of work and opportunity. Which we have found. We also moved this far away because of the father-in-law rule. Your Grandpa and I get along very well, (except for the time I was beating him in chess and said, "Pastor, where is your God now?" I don't get many opportunities to gloat when we play chess. Anyway.) Your Aunt Crystal will always be his little girl and that means that no matter how well your Grandpa and I get along I know that I'm toast if I ever do her wrong. Living six hours away by car is helpful. 
If he ever gets upset with me and jumps in his car to get me - there's a good chance he'll calm down by the time he gets here after six hours of driving. This helps you in reverse. If any twerp does you wrong and I jump in my car to get them - there's a good chance I'll calm down by the time I get there. 
This reminds me of a story about when my older sister came back from the park crying. She told my father that another kid hit her. My dad stormed out of house to the park to find the boy. His rage died when he found the aggressor only came up to his knee.
Random story? Yes. That's how I roll.
Thank you so much for writing me back. I love you much and miss you always,
Uncle Justin  

Monday, April 29, 2013


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. Yesterday was Elijah's birthday - we had ourselves an nice time of it. We went mini-golfing, ate out, went to an indoor playland and saw a movie at the dollar show. Elijah received loads of presents and went to bed happy. It was a nice day.

Your Aunt Crystal reminded me that you're twelve years old. Twelve! This is serious stuff. I thought that today I would impart you a little unasked for Uncle advice on boys. Don't be embarrassed! This talk is long in coming. I used to be a boy and know their ways.

Your Grandparents have probably instituted a "no dating until you're forty" rule, but in case you decide to break that one. Keep this list in mind. There are a lot of creeps out there and These rules will keep them at bay.

1. The boy must be nice to you. This is easily the most important rule there is. If the lad calls you names, is rude, or makes you feel small in any way. Dump him. This rule alone will cull nearly seventy percent of boys out there - and you won't miss them.

2. The boy must be respectful. If the boy you like is rude to your Grandparents, give him the boot. If they don't respect your Grandparents or their rules, they won't respect you or yours. Dump him.

3. No Wimps - No Monsters. The boy must not be a sissy. You need someone who will stand up for you when needed. I know you don't need it, Temple. You could probably beat up nearly every twelve year old boy out there. Don't let them know that. Too threatening. You also don't want some hot-headed kid who hits everyone who gives him a cross look. Find someone who is gentle, but who can muster courage when he needs too.

4. The boy must be nice to you. In case you forgot.

5. The boy must never make you uncomfortable. If the kid tries to take you places or put you in situations where you are uncomfortable, nervous or scared. Dump him. If he's doing those things, he's not trying to get to know you, he's trying to put you in submissive situations where you don't have power or control.

6. Uncle Justin Veto Rule. If Uncle Justin doesn't like the kid. Send him packing. I can understand why you may not understand or agree with this rule, but this is my list and I can add any rules that I want. You can complain to your Grandpa, but I think he will agree with me (I think he has a "Grandpa Veto Rule.")

I think a top six list is good enough to get you started. Basically, respect yourself enough to date someone of quality. I love you very much and don't want to have to drive up to where you live and kill some kid for being unkind to you.
I love you much and miss you always,
Uncle Justin

Saturday, April 27, 2013


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. Our newest was having an earnest conversation with me. He was really upset. I nodded my head and sympathized with his plight. I gave him a hug and sent him on his way.
I have absolutely no idea what his problem was. I can't understand the kid half the time. He really needs speech therapy. By the time we got him into preschool it was too late to get him evaluated. He will easily qualify for services, but it will have to wait until the next school year.
This is funny because he can curse with clarity and he did so this morning. He seemed pretty pleased with himself too, until Daddy showed him the error of his ways.
He was easily the youngest child in his last placement and there were some pretty rough children there. He's got himself quite the vocabulary. It's getting rare that we hear any of it at home, but once and a while a word or phrase bounds free. Normally I would share with you what he said, but it was pretty bad. Very bad indeed. Probably would have gotten him executed in a couple countries.

Let's move on.

That story reminds me of a time in high school when I was on a mission trip to Lithuania. I don't have a lot of good memories about the trip. I would describe my personality at that time as aggressive, volatile and rude. I still have memories of things I said and did to people I care about during that time that bother me still today. I couldn't have been all bad, it was when your Aunt Crystal and I started dating. I've asked her about this and she tells me, "You've mellowed with age."

Your Aunt Crystal is very polite. Let's move on.

In Lithuania, right after getting a talking too about being a good 'Ambassador for America', a friend of mine, Seth Schroerlucke, and I went out to play basketball with a couple of Lithuanian dudes. We were having a good time and we picked up some of the language. All the guys were saying what sounded to us like "Shoota!" after they shot the ball. We began saying that too.
The next day we were walking with those guys down a small pathway when the guy up front took a little side-step and said, "Shoota." while pointing at the ground. He was courteously pointing out a large mound of poop on the ground.
"Shoota?" I said while pointing at the mound.
"Shoota? Sudas. Yes," He said.
"Shoota means s**t?" I said.
He smiled and nodded vigorously, "Yes! Sudas means s**t!"
Seth and I looked at each other. We were both thinking about how yesterday we, as ambassadors of America, swore loudly several hundred times in a small Lithuanian town. We thought about how we described all our fun 'shootaing' with the elderly woman who put us up during our stay. It was equally embarrassing and funny, which means par for the course, on with our lives.

I love you much and miss you always,
Uncle Justin

Friday, April 26, 2013


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. I thought I would write you in the morning instead of the evening and see if anything goes differently. So far it feels the same. I don't know what I was expecting, but it never hurts to change mundane things in your routine - if for the only reason to prove to people you're not in a rut. You can shout, "Look I'm spontaneous!" - but planning for spontaneity defeats the purpose. You've found that you're not doing anything differently, just shuffling the same scheduled events. You're still in your rut.
See, Temple? I've proven that I can make myself depressed with the same deft skill in both the a.m. and the p.m.
Anyway, I haven't been sleeping very well lately and I'm not too sure why. I was getting to bed very late and still getting up before the sun. Your Aunt Crystal was kind enough to suggest trying to get back on a regular sleep schedule and I agreed. So I went to bed at ten and woke up at two in the morning. Let me tell you Temple, it's better to go to bed late and wake up at the normal time, then to go to bed on time, but wake up way early.
A couple days ago your Aunt Crystal suggested I take a pill that would help me sleep. "Never!" I said. If you know me, Temple, you know that I don't like to take medicine of any kind. It's not that I don't believe in the science of medicine or that pharmaceuticals can help me recover from illness, it's just that I don't like too.
I think it had something to do with when I had some minor surgery done several years ago. I was given some liquid hydrocodone to help with the pain while recovering. I found that I was a bit allergic to the medication and was promptly switched, by my doctor, to ibuprofen and something else. This medicine made my stomach feel terrible, so I did the optimal thing only a sane person would do. I said, "&*$#@!", Flung the bottles across the room, and just dealt with the pain.
I'm sure your Aunt Crystal looks back on this little segment of our lives fondly.
Anyway, I knew sleeping three or four hours a night really isn't enough for a person and I rationalized that your Aunt Crystal may be right - that the pill may help me get back on a regular sleeping schedule.
I went to bed at ten and took the sleeping pill. I lay in bed, waiting for the drugs to work. Your Aunt Crystal made me stop singing, "Hey Mr. Tambourine Man." I fell asleep, slept the whole night and had to be woken up the next morning at 6:30 to help with the kids. It was nice getting all that sleep, but I felt terrible the next day I felt groggy and slothful. We rationalized that maybe it was because I hadn't slept much at all lately over the past couple weeks and getting a good night's rest made my body want more. I took another pill the next night and had the same grogginess the next day.
I stopped taking those sleeping pills. Two nights was enough for me.
I don't take a lot of, over-the-counter medicine, because I believe that the body knows how to take care of itself. I see too many people - all a pill-popping - at the slightest discomfort. I, for one, want my liver to work when I'm sixty.
You may look at my tobacco pipe and make an insightful, yet snide, comment about how you want your lungs to work at sixty, but this is my letter and I can judge all I want.
I love you much and miss you always,
Uncle Justin

Thursday, April 25, 2013


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. I'm making Chicken and Salad for dinner while listening to the soothing music of Pantera. I cut legumes with rage.

I've put down The Lord of the Rings trilogy to read High Fidelity. I don't mind putting down the Tolkien books for now. Gimli can wait. I usually do a little matinee reading in the midst of long novels. High Fidelity is really good so far. I spoke with my sister this morning and she is a fan of the book. She told me the author, Nick Hornby, writes books that are always about something else. She's right. I like the book because it seems to be about growing up even though you're old. I can dig that.

The soothing music of Slipknot is on now. I boil eggs with rage.

My sister and I also spoke a bit about keeping children safe. She's gotten some funny comments from people who care about her. Sometimes I just don't understand people. I'm a quiet guy, but that's because people can say the dumbest things and I figure the less I open my mouth the better. You never know when stupid will jump out of it. My neighbor, when I had the four boys, would constantly comment about how he didn't know how I handled them or that I couldn't possibly keep them under tabs all the time. His children usually have a ratio of two adults to one child most of the time. Recently, and ironically, I kept my four kids without major injury while his recently broke his leg. Don't worry.

The soothing music of Rammstein is on now. I saute Chicken with rage.

The truth is that no matter what you do, you can't keep your kids safe all the time and you really shouldn't. The world can get a bit rough, as you know, and kids need to learn how to handle it. Not that they should be flung to the wolves - I just prefer guidance rather than smothering.

The soothing music of Rage Against the Machine is on now. The song is "Know Your Enemy" and I think he's talking about me.

I love you much and miss you always,
Uncle Justin

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Dear Temple,

I hope this note finds you well and happy. It's still a bit cold here today. The sun came out in the afternoon and I got to spend a bit of time outside. Your Aunt Crystal's car was repaired. We picked it up about an hour ago. One of the running lights was working erratically and I couldn't fix it dependably. We brought it to the local auto shop and they had just as many problems as I did. Fixing a newer VW Beetle is a pain. This is funny since the old Beetles were models of simplicity. At least I feel a bit vindicated as the auto mechanics had just as much hassle as I did. Maybe I should start a social group. I'm thinking of calling us the "Brotherhood Inclusive Of Men Embattled Since Partaking -in- Heroically Engineering Running Eyeball" or BIOME-SPHERE!
Maybe not.

I didn't have a car of my own so I was home today. I did homeschooling with Elijah, cleaned a bit and worked on some projects. I need to get back into editing my books, but I am feeling a bit fussy about doing that. You see, when I edit or write I need everything just perfect. I need a pipe and good tobacco, coffee, a comfortable working environment and time. If time is pressing then I can't create.

I also need my friend Jeffrey's basement chair. I can write without it, and have, but it's never as good. It's the perfect chair. It's large and very comfortable. It's not really a chair someone would have in their living room - which is too bad. Sometimes style takes away our most comfortable possessions, or at least regulates them to the basement. It looks kind of like this
It's not a thing of beauty, but it works for me. Jeffrey likes it too, but he's a good host and gives into my seating whims. *I just deleted a couple paragraphs about chairs. I re-read the letter and decided that you really don't care about any of this (but I know you would be too polite to tell me to shut up.)
If I'm wrong and you really do care, let me know and I'll regale you with hours of conversation about chairs I feel comfortable in.  
I love you much and miss you always,
Uncle Justin

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. It's rainy here today. Your Aunt Crystal and I were sitting on the couch and listening to piano music while reading. Which is about as close to contact sports as I've gotten in years, unless you count the guy I accidentally bumped at our local coffee shop while reaching for my Latte.

Your Aunt Crystal is reading a book called Strapless. It's about the historical significance of French art and artists. She's finding it a fascinating and compelling read. She shares anecdotes from the book with me, which I thoroughly enjoy. Reading something like that, a person can really feel a sense of personal and intellectual growth.

I'm reading The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. In my book Gimli the Dwarf just chopped off a Goblin's head and said, "Arrgh!"

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy I'm reading used to be my father's. Cracking the books open I get a faint, familiar musty smell that reminds me of the basement bookshelf where he used to keep it. It makes me smile.

The letter is going to be a bit short today. I'm not feeling my best and it steals my words.
I love you much and miss you always,
Uncle Justin

Monday, April 22, 2013


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. I had a very productive day playing the role, as my friend Dave from pipe club calls me, a "kept" man. I vacuumed the whole house, mopped the floors, cleaned the bathrooms, did laundry, cooked meals, taught homeschool, painted a dresser and made my bed. You may not be impressed with me making my bed, but you should be. I hate making my bed.

Your Aunt Crystal got some rice bowls from her artist friend Pete in the mail today. They are beautiful and save me from the conundrum of what we're having for dinner tomorrow. I want to finish this thought with something clever, but admit I'm a bit lost. I wrote, "there will be rice involved" and didn't like that. I then wrote, "Let there be rice!" and threw up in my mouth a little bit. Anyway, tomorrow-dinner-rice. Let's move on.

I'm reading The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and am enjoying it. It faltered a bit around page 80 but it's picking back up nicely in the early 100's. I've got a couple books coming from the library soon and will have to take a break from Tolkien to read them. "High Fidelity" and "Trainspotting" will decisively slam me from the realms of fantasy into the throes of  decrepit humanity. So to speak.

This week or next I need to paint the porch. I've been putting it off, not due to sloth, but because I live in Missouri. The more South you go, the more people like to stay a bit and chat. You see a lot of front porches here. Some even wrap themselves around the whole house. Working in the front yard will be a lot more talking to neighbors than painting, and my outgoing streak ended when I switched to near-beer. I'll tell you more about that when you're seventy or so.

I love you much and miss you always,
Uncle Justin

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. Michael Jackson is blaring from Elijah's CD player in the background. I'm catching the lyrics, "Skin head, dead head, everybody gone bad" and something about a "victim machine" and "Don't you black and white me."
It's hard to write you a letter when I'm getting a earnest human rights lecture from Mr. Jackson. It makes me feel like I'm doing something wrong.
When Elijah gets into something he goes full boar. We've been getting an earful of Michael Jackson lately. I prefer the Dangerous album because it's mellower and works as background music, but it's in the car. We both hate the Michael Jackson Cirque Du Soleil Album.
Anyway, Mr. Jackson and my wife have me thinking about our newest child. A co-worker of Crystal's asked her if anyone gave her the "eye-roll" about seeing us with an African American child in our family. I asked Crystal what her co-worker meant by that. She told me that it had to do with our ability to raise an African American Child.
It's a good question.
It's also not a simple one.
The canned answer you'll usually get from people who think they're progressive is, "Of course you can! There is no reason that it should be any different!" These people are well meaning but they are wrong. It is different and no amount of shouting or rhetoric that make us feel good about ourselves can change that.
The basics of raising a child are no different between races. You've got to feed them, educate them, shelter them and turn them towards the sun every now and then for photosynthesis to occur.
The difference is that, as a Caucasian man, I will never know what it is like being an African American in America. I can learn about and rationalize the culture based on my own experiences but I can never fully relate. Period. It's plain stupid to think I can.
It doesn't mean I won't be a good father. I am a good father. I'm just not an African American father.
I can do my best to immerse him in his culture in real ways. I can make sure we go to parks in areas that are predominately African American. If he's interested in joining a choir or joining a sports team, I can find one representative of his culture. What I can't do is raise him in an African American family, because ours is not.
No matter what I do, at his age, all of his cultural influence comes from my family. He can play with, join groups, and be with his culture - but hanging around with and living with are two separate things. He lives with me and I'm a white dude.
He did have a chance to live within his ethic background. His biological family didn't work out, two foster homes which represented his culture didn't work out. If any family of African American background were available to him, he should have gone to them. Period.
This doesn't mean that he would be necessarily better off. Our home is very suited for children. I just think that culture is important. I realize that I'm defining culture pretty narrowly, but this is my letter and I can do what I want. I know a lot about Elijah's culture, gleaned from his previous homes and paperwork and do what I can for him. I know nothing about our newest's and I mourn for his history that is lost.
What I did do for him was make a life long promise to be his father. Something which nobody has ever done for him before. It is the greatest gift I can give him and I do it freely. I love him dearly. He is my son. I will raise him up, show him how to be a good man and eventually send him forth to pursue whatever future he desires.
That will just have to be enough.
I love you much and miss you always,
Uncle Justin

Saturday, April 20, 2013


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. I spent most of my day working outside, mowing the lawn, working on the boy's tree house and other stuff. Not very exciting, but that's okay, I'm not exciting. Tonight I'm probably going to do a little book editing on one of my larger novels and do some work on a children's book I'm doing with your Aunt Erica.
I've other things on my plate too. Keeping busy is good. I miss the little ones, since they've gone back with their biological family, and find that filling my time makes me feel better. Being older and wiser than I once was, I fill my time with productive and good things.
The loss is still there and cannot be ignored forever. I'm not too sad about them being gone really. It's not that I don't miss or love them - I think it has more to do with the fact that nobody promised me they would stay. The plan from the start was for them to return to their biological family and (as unlikely as that was) it happened.
I could get upset with God about it, but that seems silly since he didn't promise me anything either. I feel blessed that they were a part of my life. I keep thinking about an old Zen story about the monk Hakuin and am trying to have his attitude. Here it is -

There once was a beautiful Japanese girl. One day, without any warning, her parents discovered she was pregnant. This made her parents angry. She would not confess who the man was, but after much harassment at last named Hakuin.
In great anger the parents went to the master. "Is that so?" was all he would say. When the child was born it was brought to Hakuin. He took very good care of the child. He obtained milk from his neighbors and everything else the child needed.
A year later the girl could stand it no longer. She told her parents the truth - that Hakuin was not the father of her child.
The mother and father of the girl at once went to Hakuin to ask forgiveness, apologize, and to get the child back.
Hakuin gave them back the child, saying only: "Is that so?"

There are a lot of times in life where a little "Is that so?" would do us all a lot of good. There is a lot of selflessness in that ideal and I'm working on that. I wish the boys could have stayed with us. They were happy here. They were safe here. We got them healthy here. It would have been better for me if they stayed, since my life was so enriched by having them as my children. You just can't always have control over what happens to you in life - It's good practice just to make the best of it. Reminds me of a Steven Crane poem.

A man said to the universe:
"Sir I exist!"
"However," replied the universe,
"The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation."

Funny stuff.
I guess all I really want to tell you today, Temple, is love whatever life gives you as much as you can because sooner or later we all have to let go. I love you much and miss you always,
Uncle Justin

Friday, April 19, 2013


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. We went to the zoo today. The kids had a lot of fun. So did I. Why? Because the Tomato Frog was out. I love the Tomato Frog. It is my favorite animal at the zoo by far. Not that it's much of an exciting creature. It just sits there. It doesn't hop around or climb about. I read today that it doesn't even swim well. Topping that, most of the time I don't even get to see it. It burrows down in it's zoo habitat and all you see is gently rising mulch as it snoozes it's day away.
I love it anyway.
Today the little guy was out. He's a pudgy. Looking much like a red stone with tiny legs sticking out. He had a bit of mulch sticking in his mouth that he would try and extrude with his foreleg when I pretended not to look at him. When I stared directly at him he would stop pawing at it and just sit there looking ridiculous. It was a very cute ridiculous.
I think it must have been funny when God created the Tomato Frog. I picture him making this creature, placing him on the earth and regarding it for a few moments. I can see him staring into the frogs wet, vacuous eyes and saying, "Well....okay...maybe I'll go make a Cheetah now."
Maybe I can become a zoo sponsor of the Tomato Frog. I'll have to check that out. I love you much and miss you always,
Uncle Justin

Thursday, April 18, 2013


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy.  I hope your collar bone is mending well. I broke mine when I was a child, yet another thing we have in common. If only you would develop rampant cynicism, crushing perfectionism, and a staunch linear perception of morality - it would be like looking in a mirror - except for the blonder, shorter and girlier aspects of yourself, of course.
We have been experiencing rain here the past few days. Lots of it too. The timing couldn't have been more perfect for someone else. Not for me. This deluge means nothing but another blow in my efforts to destroy, once and for all, the ants. Every summer these tiny pests have attempted to invade my home, and those of my neighbors, looking for food and drink. Their numbers have increased dramatically over the past few years. As soon as the temperatures here became mild, our backyard was filled with tiny anthills.
They are here and they must die.
Too small are they for the usual ant traps. These "sugar ants" are best killed using a liquid bait, which the company swears the ants will bring back into their colony and kill off the queen. All pesticide companies will tell you that they will end your problem once and for all, but we all know that's nonsense. Pests can only be kept at bay. Nature consumes all in time.
Anyway, I waged pesticide war a few days ago but nature is washing it all away. My hopes and dreams of an ant-free existence are gone. Well, not really, but the extra thirty bucks I'm going to have to drop again is annoying.
I love you much and miss you always,
Uncle Justin