Monday, July 21, 2014

OMG it's been YEARS...

The Art of Being a Dad... 
continues into the late teenager worlds.

Wow... time flies. I have not posted for a year. Life is so full, multi-dimensional, simple and complex at the time. And my girls...they just keep growing, and are now both moving away from home.

They say one of our jobs as parents is to create independence in our kids, get them out of the house when it's appropriate, love them, bless 'em, and hope they have a great life.

I was inspired by my kids and I started writing, drawing, and painting them when they were wee little ones. The older one is 19. When was still in mama's belly when I started a journal for her which I'll give her when she's 21. The little one is now 16.

So... a beautiful 23-year-marriage to their mom completed itself on great terms almost 2 years ago. My wife (x, whatever she should be called - past partner?) is a writer. Recently she came up with a great analogy of what we did when we separated. 

"We took the plant out of the pot," she told me, "and we put it in the garden so it could continue to grow."  It was root bound, she said. And she was right, we out-grew the confines, the pot of our marriage. And we're still growing, now even more. We are healthy, still connected, and still a very loving family.

It was a good time to change the family configuration. The girls were both in high school, both aware of what was happening because we've always been a really open family - we talked about it - we stayed connected. We always told the girls age-appropriate information about our marriage, the family, and our home. And we used therapists when needed. My wife and I were in therapy almost all of our entire life together. We acquired incredibly useful communication tools. In the end there just wasn't much to work on - a job well done. We both get gold stars for all our hard work and honesty, proud of us both and without collateral damage.

I moved out of the house, but stayed close by, and returned to being the artist that I am and who I have evolved back into. I sacrificed a great deal, like all parents do to be a dad, husband, and house owner. We co-parented in a really good way. When the kids were little I was the playful parent. I just get little kids (and animals), I understand them, and can play and goof with them and also get them to clean up after themselves in between watching the old Star Wars movies.

But then when my girls got into puberty and when breasts and periods and shopping and looking in the mirror took over, I was relieved that they moved over into their mom's realm of knowledge. My job wasn't over of course. I knew it was still important to "see them," to mirror back what I saw so that they knew I had, and have, their backs. I still do this. I see them at home a lot and we hang out. And now they are scattering to the winds. The older one is in college in Colorado, and the little one is leaving high school early (got to a point where she couldn't stand the scene) and she’ll go to 2 alternative schools out of the state, ending her high school education with college credits. Good on them both!

And as much as I love my girls, I also love my life as a single man and working professional artist in the world. In a sense I am not a dad anymore, not a 24/7 dad with little people who want and need me. I know I have done good. I can see it in their eyes, I can hear it in their voices and what they say, and I can see into their hearts and I can see love for self and love for others, and life.

I just heard on the radio a football coach who was describing what it is to be a man (apologies for not being able to credit him) - it's actually what it is to be a real human.

"To Love and Be Loved, and to Be of Service."

I'm curious where my girls will go and what they will do. I heard from Michael Meade (amazing storyteller) that we should ask young people this question (without really needing an answer, just ask the question.. for years). "Who are You and Why Are Your Here?" This really bugged my girls over the years, but I sense it's working. A radar pings every time it’s asked; a parent’s soft and gentle voice asking for the unique genius of our children to emerge so that they can see it and live from that place. 

Creative Blessings and Dad Shout Outs ~

The Book

~the first seven years
complete with ToolBox of Tips, Tools, and Tricks of the Trade

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Sent from my iPhone

Sent from my iPhone

"I know you probably don't Ike me talking to you in this way - but I know you and I love you and I am your dad. See if you can tell if you are in your head about this or in your heart, is it an idea or a feeling?

Can you drop down into your gut/ belly and from there see a bigger picture of the jacket and what it symbolizes, comfort, security, other peoples opinions? You struggle at times making decisions, asking what others think, being a Gemini - these, as you well know are difficult. The way through all of it would be to continue to practice your intuition and trust it."

Xxoo Dad

She said thanks, when can you take me to return the jacket?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

My Dad's Passing

It's been said a job of a child is to help their parent die, one way is to tell them they did a "good job" even when as a kid it wasn't what we wanted, but that it helped us grow, we learned, and became better human beings.

Eulogy ~ Alden Fredrick Wagner Jr.
June 15, 1930 – Jan. 23, 2013
~Mark Lewis Wagner

(longer version for retirement home service)
I was born right here in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA. I grew up in Holtwood where my dad was working at the PP&L hydro and then coal plant. The Susquahanna River was always near and part of my life,  I’ve called her my second mother. I remembered dad would come home with a box full of Indian relicts, arrowheads, tomahawks, and beads that he bought for $5 at a farm sale.  

On the weekends in the spring we'd go down to a recently plowed field by the river and come home with pockets filled with arrowheads. Dad once found an old trilobite that the Smithsonian dated at around 360 million years. It was a magical treasure hunt.

I remember as kids my brother and I taking turns sitting on dad’s lap and driving home from church. I started my girls driving when they were real little, and now I am proud to say my high school senior is a great driver, she even drove for the first time in the snow here last week.

I remember growing up hunting and fishing with dad, small game around the house, and deer up at my grandfathers. I shot my first and only deer when I was 17. It was a male initiation experience for me, I felt seen by my dad in a new way as a young man. We butchered the deer that night in my grandfather’s garage and ate venison over the next year. What I learned from hunting with my dad was how to be comfortable alone in nature, to be quiet and listen, to let the surroundings settle in after humans come crashing through and then see what happens, and to deeply respect animal life.

I’ve fished all over the place, one time in Canada my brother and I took off early in the morning and I came back with a fish wondering if it was big enough to keep. My dad answered by jumping out of bed reaching for his fishing rod. 

As a family we spent a lot of time on the water in boats. I remember being so small as a kid that I couldn’t get up on water skies. I had the idea of sitting on the edge of the dock and telling dad to “hit it” when the rope went tight – worked like a charm. In the summer mom would make a picnic meal, Paul and I would get the boat ready, we’d meet dad at the Pequea docks and we'd ski until we were hungry, eat on a tiny island in the middle of the river, and ski until it got dark. That was heaven on Earth.

In high school, and I still can’t really believe my parents let it happen, but I was able to take the new car and the boat and go water skiing alone with friends. I was moved by that level of trust. And then there was the time when I lost that trust being a silly teen. The police called at 2am and told my dad to come down to the station to pick up his son. He said I think you have the wrong boy until he looked into my room and saw an empty bed. The next day I was with my dad when he started to tell me some of the ways he got in trouble when he was young, stories I’d never heard and I felt closer to him. I heard more about him as a young man, about his friends and cousins he hung out with, more about my grandparents, college days, and about the Korean War.

I remember wrestling in high school and looking up in the bleachers and often seeing my dad there. I remember camping every summer and shoveling snow with my dad every winter.

I grew up more like my mom, an artist, and my brother was more like my dad, an engineer. I grew up in a safe house and knew I was loved. My dad also felt far away on some levels. He and mom never fought, I never heard him swear, I never saw him get angry. I also never saw him cry, or laugh, or get wild. As an artist I didn’t feel he understood me until to my surprise he bought the first painting at my graduate thesis show. It was a piece about community and working together.

My dad was promoted to vice president for PP&L which was beyond his dreams of being the superintendent of the power plant. It took him away from the river - the place he knew like the back of his hand. He took off his hard hat and his boots and put on a tie and sat behind a desk in the city. And he got into trouble, it’s been called a nervous breakdown, I called it a break through.

I was living in California by then and jumped right in to support him like he would of done for me. I wrote him letters about the dark night of the soul, reminding him to reconnect with nature, to watch the wind blow through the trees, and to just surrender and trust the process. He later said I was saying the same things that his therapists were saying. See my day was a doer, he always was working with his hands. He’d visit my brother and I with our families and want projects to do, it was part of how he knew himself in this world, and how we knew him.

He decided to retire early which at first was difficult for him and later worked out. This transition opened him up to an emotional level that was beautiful. I started to really feel him, he felt more present, alive, and real. He settled into other part time work that suited his nature and kept him busy.

In the early 90’s I was awarded an artist-in-residency on the east coast. My parents were moving into this retirement community at Willow Valley. I packed up all my left over stuff I still had at their house and drove cross-country with my dad. He said maybe that was why he retired early, so we could do this trip together. There is nothing like sitting beside your dad for 4 days, driving for hours and hours, eating together, and getting a room. We talked of course, but it was also about the cellular experience of just being beside him, and it was also about the things we didn’t talk about, it was just about being together.

As a kid my Native American Indian experiences were all based in the past with artifacts and dusty old museums. Over the years I’d connected and became quite involved in Native ceremony, sweat lodges, and vision quests. Right after our road trip I had the unique opportunity to take my dad to a Sundance, and he got to see his son dance. It was a deep lifetime experience for us both. He just cried and said he didn’t know why and someone said that he didn’t need to know.

My dad was really nervous about going into a sweat lodge for the first time. We sat double row, 20 men, and when the door closed it got HOT. I said a prayer, “Great Spirit, this is my dad’s first lodge and I’d like it to be a good experience for him, if anyone needs to take some extra heat so he can be comfortable let it be me.” In the end there were 8 of us left, my dad said “that was great,” and I crawled out on my hands and knees and had to lay down on the ground for the next several hours – good prayers!

That experience shifted something, I sensed my dad saw me grow up more as a man, and I saw my dad grow up spiritually. Recently when I went through my dad’s top dresser drawer there was tobacco, sage, and other things from those times. I knew whatever had happened it still meant something to him and I felt something special, something beyond words, that I’d done a good job.

The physical pain in his lower back over the years drove him away from this world. He slowly withdrew from everything he cared about except for my mom. I could ask him questions and he’s answer with a yes or no but otherwise he was pretty far-gone and I felt like I had lost my dad. He didn’t read or listen to music, he’d hobble and moan all the way to the dining hall and then all the way back, and then he’d lay down on the floor in the only position that he found rest in and stay there until his next meal.  When I asked what he’s was daydreaming about then, he said hunting and fishing.

Lower back surgery helped but the hospital experience gave him a stroke, spinal meningitis, and had him in a coma for a month. But he slowly worked himself back and eventually made his way to the assisted living floor here at the Glenn, part of the retirement home, where my mom would visit him every day.

Over the last year something happened, his medication got altered, or as the flame burns bright at the end so did he. He started to talk, ask questions, he started to write, he wrote letters to people all over the country, like he was saying good-bye my Aunt said. He wrote an entire book about his life (even though my mom remembered some of the things that happened a little differently) still… it was a miracle. He started making charts of his blood pressure (over and over and over), and he got into innocent trouble on the floor which I couldn’t help think was sweet. Stealing the sugar and sweeteners, stealing white out, spilling it, using black markers to cover it up, covering his wheelchair, and covering his hands with black. As an artist you gotta love that!

I’m involved with a men’s group, a different variation on the Lion Club which my dad was part of for many years. One of our jobs as sons is to help our parents die. We’d say all the things to them that we needed to say, both positive and negative. I told him that he wasn’t really there for me as a kid in ways that I needed, but it made me be there for myself and I’m very comfortable being me now. Thank you dad, good job!”

And, “dad you were always working with your hands, fixing everything that needed to be fixed and enjoying the process. You always had projects going that kept you busy and engaged. I love working with my hands and see how it helps me understand the world and my place in it. I enjoy the challenge of trying to fix anything by first looking closer and understanding what needs to be done. Thank you, good job!”

My dad was a kind man, quiet, always helpful, and someone here said “a real gentleman.” The word I recently thought of was “sweet.” I think of him as someone who was always helpful. He had my babies on his lap, liked to drink a cold beer with my wife, and always stayed close to my mom. I think he stayed around as long as he could to be with her. Good job dad!

I have, do, and will always love you. I will be connected to you though my memories and through the stories I tell my grand children. I ask you to help guide me in my life, to look over my family as an angel and ancestor, and to help this world be a better place for all of us. 


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Transformations to the Core

It's been many moons since I've posted. So much to say, the death of my father, the end of my marriage, moved myself and my art studio into a new beautiful space up in the woods on top of the Oakland Hills, with lots of joy and lots of sadness.

And leaving my girls... the end of a phase of being their dad and the birth of anew which at this moment isn't quite solidified. The girls, 15 & almost 18 are already moving out of the house. The oldest is off to college and the youngest wants to be a foreign exchange student next year for an entire school year. They are 20 minutes away and the plan is to spend Weds. night there for dinner and Sunday afternoon and evening.

Their mom and I split on excellent terms. We'd been doing therapy most of our 25 years of being together and as someone else said "there's not much more for us to work on." In the realm of divorce I suspect we are in the 1% who have worked it really well, gone 110% to own our own stuff, to be responsible for our own happiness, to respect and communicate with integrity and honesty. No lies, secrets, or affairs. We just finally understood together, we'd all be in conversation about it, the girls even said, "if you guys are staying together just for us, that's not a good idea." We let go of what didn't work and keep what does.

Still, lots O sadness for the broken illusions of the happy family together, and learning my new way of being a dad. I thought I'd post a piece I wrote for my Facebook family, so they would all know and not wonder.

The Marriage Boat

by Mark Wagner

It’s not that our boat sunk, it’s more like it drifted to shore, we both got out, looked around, looked at each other, nodded in understanding, and went in different directions.

My wife and I were together for 24 years, we met on June 9th, 1988 and seven years later to the day our first of 2 daughters was born. I knew then that we were supposed to be together, that it was that cosmic. Up until then I had my wonderings, we both did. Even early on there were red flags, we were not qualified to be in long term relationships, and through the storms, disappointments, and broken promises, we still forged a long-term deep friendship.

I’m writing this for my personal clarity but also to share with my extended community (the brilliance of Facebook) with honesty and a desire to stay connected to the greater whole. My Facebook community is international, mostly artists, and instead of just moving into a new studio and sharing photos and not saying anything and having people wonder, I felt out of respect of the truth it would be good to share the journey, and it’s been a good one. My wife has a writing class – it’s called Telling True Stories, this is my true story.

When we first got married a friend looked at our astrology chart and said two things, first… neither of us had air in our individual charts but our combined chart was full of air and we’d do good at communicating. The second was that we weren’t here for each other in this lifetime; we were here for the world together. It took me many years to fully understand this; the best way to see was not looking into my partner’s eyes but looking somewhere else together. Road trips were perfect, driving for hours @ 70 mph, through the deserts, talking, telling the real truth, asking good questions, looking in the same direction, down the road, together.

We’ve been in therapy for most of our relationship, that’s one of the main reasons we are parting on such good terms, amazing actually…real friends, we are still connected to our girls, to the house my they live in and I will visit often, to our friends, family, and community. We’ve done such great work on ourselves and with each other that there isn’t much more to work on. It’s like we are from different tribes, not the Jewish and Christian thing, or the Mars Venus thing.

I remember getting some Tibetan prayer flags where on each flag was a different symbol, it was said that these flags were to tell spirit that there were different tribes living in the same house, and it invited spirit to bless the natural discourse that was under the same roof. Or being a visual artist (I call it at times being preverbal), being a feeling image-based person who married an intellectual word-based person. And there is lots of overlap, we both write, make art, teach, make music, very involved in community and parenting – but we often did these things separately, my wife called it parallel play.

Over the years of therapy I learned about individuating, I learned to take my partner out of the equation for my happiness. I learned to listen, to speak, to redo, to take timeouts, to not argue when someone was triggered and angry, to set up a time and space to communicate deeper things, to not take things personally, and to say I am sorry. Someone said that the 2 words that all couples should often say is – “I’m sorry.” 

Sex and Money, the two great common things that all couples deal with in one way or another, we did. In the long run it’s what we choose to leave behind, what wasn’t working. We are keeping what was working which is our friendship, family, and community. We didn’t damage our relationship, no lies or affairs, we actually spoke super honestly to each other and to our friends. We just slowly kept waking up, becoming more conscious, being more empowered to see and understand and then one day we knew we were ready and able to move in different ways (this knowing took place on a recent 70 mph drive to LA).

Our lives and careers and physical bodies over time became separate and unconnected, it was the girls that really kept us together. And we were creative and buff in therapy and had excellent communications skills to work around most obstacles. The girls knew, they weren’t kids anymore, they even asked why we were still together, if it was for them that wasn’t a great idea.

I’m calling our divorce “expanding our base.” I am now moved out, found an amazing place which is mostly an art studio connected to a great house with a musician roommate with a perfect back cottage bedroom on top of the Oakland hills. There is still a good feeling of being connected, and it’s also awkward with the details of separating one’s life from a 22-year marriage, and sad… a death to a dream.

The karma has worked itself through, there is more to learn but this chapter of the book is written and illustrated well. We’ve gone the distance, put in well over 100% to really know and understand and learn. I give us both gold stars and send blessings for all involved, our girls, friends, family, and community. It’s a huge success story and a good one, and now it’s morphed into other forms and the Universe wants us to experience joy.

I know many marriages that are working, are being worked, that have a huge amount of integrity and yes they are still work. I also know marriages that are broken, not healthy, where there is suffering and many missed communications. The institution of marriage is loaded with land mines, outdated systems, old beliefs, childhood social dreams of living happily ever after, deep religious roots… it’s amazing and weird really, trying to navigate one’s own truth and then be in relationship to someone else’s truth – it’s an epic journey of the heart and spirit.

I am so grateful for the experience I have had, I’ve been with a partner who was willing to do the work, personal, and together, and I know my family is still intact, the bonds are still there, and I feel blessed with this new phase of my life. Over the last few months as this was all going down, we’d spoon at night in bed and talk about divorce during the day. There is still lots of Big Love here which will stay. I sense by taking care of ourselves this way of being big enough to part our ways that there is even more care and compassion for each other, we really want each other to have an amazing life that together we just weren’t able to create together, and we did try.

On land now, the boat drifts away, free to float down stream, my new journey is here now, in front of me, all around me, into the great mystery of life. A blessing to all of our hearts and souls – especially to the one’s who suffer now.


excellent on an ipad!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Blink: High School Years

Blink: My middle schooler is now officially a high school 9th grader.

Blink: My 11th grader will in a few days be a high school senior.

Blink: The younger one is diagnosed with Behcets, a rare auto immune disorder. She's doing well, lowering her prednisone each week, diet changed - no sugar, wheat, dairy. We have excellent support and feel much better as a healthy family. Wow... that was pretty intense. I totally acknowledge my wife, she was fierce and so protective, it was a beautiful thing to behold.

Blink: Last week had 4 girls in bikinis and a dog on an isolated Nor Cal beach screaming as we all jumped into the freezing Pacific Ocean. Forgot my camera.

Blink: The recent super moon had me and again 4 teens down by the water at night. I brought my camera.

Blink: Working hard these days. I'm an artist and mostly work freelance, lots of digital art and enough traditional work to keep me happy. This summer I have work in a scenic shop near by on the island. Mostly paint and some light carpentry. Still I am hammered and totally beat by the end of the day, my hands are swollen and my forearms stressed. But it's great to have work in this economy, I get to bring my dog (best perk), I come home for lunch, and I hit the hot tub at the gym before and after work. And truth be told, I do a lot less of the day to day parenting and driving around. My wife and I are both freelancers, we usually share most domestic happenings.

Creating platforms for the California Academy of Science.

 My home office studio
 One of my other gigs - chalk drawing with elementary school kids. Oxford Elementary, Berkeley CA with my nonprofit 

Blink: My oldest JUST started driving. Took her almost a year to get her permit (she just turned 17 yesterday). My wife and I told her this was here own project to make happen. There is at times, a feeling of doing too much for her and damn, gotta kick her lazy butt out the door to have her experience and know that she can do things for herself - like even cook a meal. AND... she is a great driver. I've been teaching my girls how to drive since they were babies.


Blink: The drugs and alcohol have arrived. Both girls have basically overdosed on pot brownies. One of the problems with our culture is that there is no good education on doing these things that young people will do anyway. And yes they are illegal. They were both separate events, everyone was fine, and safe, they didn't know how much they were eating and how their bodies would be able to handle that amount. I did more than once a drive in the wee hours of the night to pick up my people and bring them home safely.

One moment was that someone drank too much. I brought them home late, they were totally without any balance. I'm walking her to our front gate from my truck and I can hear her belly begin to rumble. I reach for the gate, her balance and lack-of throws me a tad off balance and my dog happily stops right in front of us, tail wagging, ready to get into the front yard. I basically toss my daughter to one side while flinging the gate open saying... "DO NOT PUKE ON MY DOG!" She remembered me laughing. We always talk next day about what they learned, what they will do differently next time as they learn how better to take care of themselves.

27 Powers 

Creative Blessings to All, especially to all Parents, and especially to all Dad.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Things Change Fast

In a week my youngest landed in Children's Hospital with what now appears to be an auto immune disease. The support both with doctors, friends, and family has been incredible. My wife's been through a lot and was a total warrior mom through the whole thing. We are all well now and we still don't know what the bigger picture will be like or whats really happening yet. Strange....

One night I sat alone by my sleeping kid in the hospital and felt pretty powerless. I had a vision and the next morning painted this. My daughter is in the middle with healing hands all around her. The hands had leafs, water, lightning, animal eyes, and elemental energies Then at the hospital we got everyone to sign it with white pencil, doctors, friends. Sweet as it is!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Magic Tears of Teens

Tear from teens, both of them. One because I awkwardly talked about eating what good for one's body - feelings got triggered, I felt terrible and got quiet. Luckily my wife jumped in and worked her magic. Yesterday the other teen got sideswiped by some of her girlfriends at school and came home in tears. Luckily again her mom jumped in and worked her supportive magic.

I drove both girls to school today, different trips, different schools. And I worked my magic, talked, apologized, strategized, made the effort to connect and for them to know I was here, showing up, falling down, getting up, but always being here for them, with them, having their backs in many ways, even if at times it doesn't look like it.