Let’s take the Tricycle Son. You Drive.

Posted in Uncategorized on April 3, 2018 by michaelcogdill

My mother said of me, “The good Lord knew just what I needed when He sent me you.”

What a lovely motherly thought.

And what a naive, childhood-shattering, stupendously improper thing for a parent to believe, or to say.

It is immensely well meaning, but utterly wrong. My own mother knows this now. We have made beautiful peace. I adore her, so please don’t deem me a cad of a son. I am, instead, a real one, writing this as a legacy – for himself, and for his family, and for yours.

Seeing a child as a filler of human need amounts to believing Harry Potter’s a real boy. It’s like buying into the myth of children as angels on brooms, fluttering from the abyss, born to save us.

They are not.

The very idea is a viper — specious as a cotton mouth in a silk suit. That means it looks lovely on the outside, with fanged venom just underneath.

If my mother had spoken those words out loud to a counselor, the counselor would have winced as if snake bitten. I’ve lived that. I quoted her on that sweetly venomous little lie to more than one counselor. They all flinched. You would have thought I’d shoved the viper up their pant leg.

They flinched because they’ve seen the results. The child gets bitten. The venom carries into adulthood.

Hear me on this. Hear me not as a writer or television correspondent or Emmy winner. Hear me as the child who was deemed a savior by a well-meaning but broken-hearted mother. Her asking me as a child to talk my father out of drinking amounted to having me ride my tricycle in interstate traffic, with her on my back.

My mother thought I could cure her broken marriage. I couldn’t. She thought I could erase her childhood scars from an addicted father. I could not. She lived convinced I was just what her lonely, co-dependent marriage needed.

My tricycle was not built to carry us both at highway speed. Nor my dad.

My father could not be fixed by the love of a child. He had been broken by poverty and shamed as a boy. He didn’t need human fixing. He ultimately needed surrendering to God when the drinking got bad. Before that, he needed to be loved, to the essence of his own inner child, who lived secretly frightened and hungry within the man. He and my mother needed to love one another at their essence, with that true intimacy that says – I know you, honey, I know it all, and you are safe and well and loved with me, as long as I am with you. We are more than enough for one another. So much more than enough.

They didn’t do this. They relied on me instead. I was trying to play with Matchbox cars, but they needed a marriage mechanic.

The grown son of that beautiful woman – and ultimately beautiful man – knows better now. She wants me to say this. So I will.

Married people MUST wed themselves only to one another, not their children. If they bear children, they are to raise them in an updraft of sustaining responsibility, overwhelming love and stout discipline. Love tender as thistledown and tough as sidewalk weeds at times. But the parents must be exactly as I said – more than ENOUGH for one another, without the children. This is how children learn how a proper marriage looks and feels and sounds. When they see mom and dad dance in the kitchen because it’s Tuesday night, kids learn to respect that innermost love, that private adoration. They learn how to be part of the family and independent beings at once. Mom and dad are individuals on a couple’s journey. And the child says within, “I am not the pilot of their journey. I’m learning how to fly. I will fly on my own one day, and so, so well. I am learning well from grownups doing it well.”

That is love, carried out and taught. That is faithfulness, to one another. That is no Sasquatchian myth about kids as superheroes, born to pull you from the swamp.

But let’s skewer the myth another way, right here. If your minister says your child is a gift from God, don’t believe it. Pass by that idea faster than you’d blow the feathers off a chicken truck. A child is a high calling, not the answer to mortal yearning. A child is a source and receiver of love, a beauty to whom to rise. A child is not a gift given to serve some need you have. The authentic LOVE of the child is the gift, not the chance to get the kid to do heavy emotional lifting. A child does not exist to fulfill an ideal. Children are not to complete an illusion in a parent’s mind.

To see them so is to damage the child. Trust me, the damage will last. I’ve had to shed it.

Before you vilify me as a man without understanding, let me remind the reader I am such a child who has learned better. I am a man who guides and parents children in his life.

Remember, too, I am doing so as the boy who became my mother’s solace against an alcoholic and abusive father. She didn’t intend me harm, but she did it. She didn’t seek to hurt me, but she did.

So all this distills to a warning: To repeat the mistakes of my boyhood is to see some of the following results in adulthood.

Co-dependency. It’s like bed bugs, come to stay a lifetime. That child on which you overly depend will seek people to save, lifelong. Your little boy or girl will grow into an adult believing the following myths: “You’re not enough, you must earn love, no one ought to love you just for you, you must be perfect or you fail, you must do everything everyone demands – no matter how wrong it seems. Even if they can do it for themselves, you must do it, or you’re a wreck.

Pedal that tricycle harder, mom and dad need to get somewhere, and look out for that truck, kid!”

Such children grow into adults who spend enormous energy simply feeling worthy of being loved – of every kind. The eternal child within them will keep holding you up, carrying you, serving as your “gift” instead of your child. The gift will keep propping up the ideals you have. Instead of being sovereign men and women, they go around trying to be gods to just about everybody. They’re not gods, no matter how much they seemed so when they became your solace. They are not made to fix you or your life partner or your marriage.

Children are not made by God to fill adult-size holes in grown men and women.

Today I heard a fine and short description of where all this leads. It is the finest definition of co-dependency I’ll ever know: The slow depletion of the self.

No even decent parent wishes this for a child. No worthy parent wants their children depleted in any way. We want our children built up, not run down. We should want our adult relationships founded on primal and secure intimacy, not the fragile hearts and minds of our kids.

I write this as the only son of a mom and dad who would celebrate every word. They erred, I suffered, but we are among the fortunate. The wheels didn’t come off the tricycle in our lives. I sought help, vulnerably, and received it. I still do.

That makes me an evangelist of authentic love. It heals me to do so. Prevention is part of my cure.

It makes me the son my mother truly needs: A man who knows real intimacy from co-dependency. Who knows how to forgive and love and carry on.

Waving tricycles off the interstates, wherever he can.


Lose the Pedestal. Hit the Ground.

Posted in Uncategorized on March 21, 2018 by michaelcogdill

We don’t climb into deeper love with Divine love. We fall there. Only in the plowed ground of our admitted failings do we grow upward, more alive, less apt to fall so hard next time, and the next.

We fall into true love with one another the same. Not in high-minded poetics, but in humble words and acts that speak of all we are not, after all. Only when people fall for our true humility, into the rich ground of our humanity, our honesty, will they know they’re in the company of the truly human.

Someone they can believe.

A being capable of authentic, peace-granting love. Someone safe and fit to love.

Pray for those who accuse you of being worse somehow than they. Poor dizzy souls, they accuse from a pedestal, way up where there is no water, no ground of grace. It’s a sad, lonesome place up there. Tiresome the climb. A human spirit withers on a pedestal it knows it doesn’t deserve.

But down low, where we fall, we bloom. And true love, likewise.

Show Me Who You Are. And I Promise to Believe You.

Posted in Uncategorized on February 4, 2018 by michaelcogdill

Believe this wisdom of Maya Angelou.

When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.

My father was rare. He changed.

He also became living proof of the pain, the suffering, the diligence demanded when a stormy drunk becomes a sober hero. He chose the great upward ride on the hem of God. Darkness to light. Midnight to dawn.

Few people so beautifully change.

And none by the fixing of another human being.

It’s the fall, not our catching, that ignites a man or woman to rise. What looks like a saint trying to yank or plead or cajole one upward is actually a fool on an errand from hell. I know. My foolery at this goes back into boyhood.

But I learned better.

I learned how to believe what I see, and hear. To keep standing and stumbling on my own feet of clay, not crawling in the mud — believing it an ice cream party full of kids promising to stop wallowing.

One day soon, they promise. One day the lies, the thievery, the heart-shattering ways will end. “One day, I’ll stop pulling you down here with me. If you were just…something more….I wouldn’t be down here at all.”

Don’t believe what they say. Believe what they show. There’s good love in believing only the experience of a Divine mercy can make things truly new. Letting this be is deep human mercy, done well.

Take it from a boy who’s lived it, they don’t change. They ARE changed. And not by you or me.

Oscar Wilde said every saint has a past and every sinner has a future. Each one of us is some portion of both of these. The question becomes, to each of us, which one of these will show up as the real us, most of the time? Which one will we feed?

What will people see in us the first time?

What will we believe of them, the first time?

How often will we fall before we finally get up?

When will we believe getting pulled down makes no one stand.

The Last Time Cometh, Soon.

Posted in Uncategorized on February 1, 2018 by michaelcogdill

You will touch your most prized possession for the last time sooner than you think.

I am witness to this.

My mother did not expect to leave her home — her teacup, her sofa, her pillow — when she did.  Age crept from the woods of her good North Carolina life and sprang from cover.  It happened in her twilight, not midnight.   The years didn’t wait for the dark th.  They cut her legs from under her in her gloaming.  She thought those legs would climb the mountain above the house for years more.  I recently threw out her walking shoes.  Her sunhat had to go with them.  She thought her life with them would last plenty more  years.  It did not.

But some things matter when they remind us what does.  In Mama’s townhouse,  I just found one of my Uncle Woody’s ancient-looking cowbells.  It’s survived more than a hundred years.  It reminds me of an old hand, chinked and worn by motion and weather and the doing of its work

Forgiveness, With Reckless Abandon

Posted in Uncategorized on January 27, 2018 by michaelcogdill

I was 4 years old the summer night my father took me to the little league baseball game at that old field.

I grew old that night when he left me there, abandoned.

Right behind that old backstop, I stood. Alone. The heat of the day dying in the magic of lights and young fastballs. Grandads shouting attaboy love over their DR Peppers. My dad preferred a beer. He preferred about 7 of them at one time back then.

“Stay right there, now, I’ll be back.”

I remember he shouted it across the street at me from the car. A 4 year old boy knows when his daddy’s drunk. He is no fool. He knows the foolery of a man who had gathered 2 or 3 other foolish drunks into what was to be a father/ son night of baseball wisdom and lore.

“I’ll be back. You stay right there now,” he echoed.

I felt the old Chevy thunder away, up the main street of Weaverville, North Carolina. Into the night. Gone.

A four year old knows, too, when a yonder beer joint holds more allure than the here and now of an only son.

I was a quiet, obedient child, standing left in the ball game crowd behind that backstop. The spell of the game, broken. Shattered, I suppose, under the weight of having to become more man than child.

I didn’t linger long in the abandonment. I abandoned the place. Turned and walked down little Brown Street, calm as the summer dusk under its canopy of trees, turned through a yard, crossed a field, climbed a fence and scuffed my sneakers up to my mom. I found her still working in the yard by the porch light and the moon. And instantly I found how it feels to be held by arms of fitful gratitude. For the first time I felt the pulse of my mother’s fury at the man who helped her put me in this world.

I don’t know what she said to him. I’ll never know what he felt when he and the fellow drunks found me gone from the ballpark. We never spoke of it again.

But I remember being some comfort to my mom, there in the yard. The small town boy knew he had to be her man of that hour. In this, there is nothing noble. Not a thing that is good, for the boy or the man.

From there I grew into the equivalent of a rock upon a shore. The seas of others crashing it, resting upon it, held by the rock, which eroded little over time. A stalwart. The weight, good and strong. This is not the calling of a child. Nor entirely a man. This is the sturdy false ground of the codependent. It took me years to make the rock give way.

But I did. At 17, I turned from the drunken father and walked away. Stopped trying to talk him out of being a drunk and let God alone make a man out of him. Leaving it to them.

My father hit bottom and bounced. He turned into one of the most beautiful men you could know. Graceful and sweet, magnetic and kind and hilarious. So full of love.

Forgiven. Loved. Missed to this day.

But his little boy has to keep walking away from the backstop. He has to keep ceasing to become a false hero. He must keep turning toward home to find refuge, without making himself a savior of everyone along his way.

I remain guilty of making things more than all right for people when they are not. I give care and care too little about taking some. These are hallmarks of adult children of alcoholics. I am devout about not letting them mark my course toward home from here.

Codependency is doing for others what they are more than able to do for themselves. I could not school my dad into being the great man of his calling. He had to do it himself, with help not entirely of this world.

We buried him not very far from that old backstop, just outside that little town, and oh how we cried. I visited his grave a few days ago, and damned if the tears didn’t come down again, years after we grieved his casket into that ground. But they carry salt of his wisdom, a tide of his rejoining to me. A coming home. My dad walks with me now on my road. Proud. And to me he whispers, “Be kind, son, but be no one’s fool. You were wise to get over being a fool for me, and look at how I became. Forgive, but let those you love carry some of the water. Let them take a wave or two, and spare the rock.”

“Oh, and take in a ball game,” he whispers. “Listen for me in the thrum of the crowd. In the wind off a fast ball, you might have thrown. I’m there. And you I will never leave. Never again.”

The Last Time Cometh, Soon

Posted in Uncategorized on January 25, 2018 by michaelcogdill

Sooner than you expect you will touch what you prize the most for the last time.

Sooner than any of us expects.

A friend not long ago tried to remind me we’re old.  No, I said.  Hardly.  The mountain view from my mother’s townhouse is old.  My great uncle Woody’s cowbell I recently found tucked in a box wears age — more than a hundred years.  It’s whittled and chinked by the swing of a long time.  My great grandmother’s butter mold, the same.  It still carries her fingerprints, I’m sure.  It outlasted her, far quicker than she expected, I’m very sure.

I am not old.  I won’t get the chance, if I live to match my Uncle Julius, who hit 103.  In the great exhale of the expanding universe, each of us amounts to hardly a sigh.  Not long for this mortal world.

So, I look around at all the stuff, masquerading as a harvest.  The watches and the house and the cars, all fun.  All not mine for long.  Every bit of it is chaff to the wheat of what matters.

I touch my mother’s hand and find it warm.  Same with the handshake and embrace of my best friend.  The slap of his hand to my back reminds me not to care about the next thing that catches my eye.  The watch on my arm will belong to someone else someday.  But the brush against those who love me as much as themselves — this reminds me to think less of what’s to come and more of what is.  The beautiful here, the gleaming now, the brand new that is the presence of those who eagerly share themselves.  They are extravagant.  And I must remind myself to be extravagant in how I adore them, right now.

I love a boat.  The trace of her hull under my fingers, the throes of her speed are bliss and peril at once — these are romance beyond the poets to me.  But she’s just a carriage.  Alone time, especially to the writer, is bliss and lonesome curse at once.  We all want to smile at those we adore and take a grin back.  The boat is but passage to such.  A temporary cabriolet to the experience of warm laughs, hands to our backs, the love of someone who could not care less how big the boat.

I will touch all this for the last time sooner than I expect.  Sooner than I want.  So, if I let myself linger in the bliss of now, forgive me.  Just making last what won’t last nearly long enough.  There’s happiness in being devoutly ever young in an old world.  Joy in refusing to cleave to the coming rust and canker of what we’re not meant to hold for very long.   The last time cometh, soon.  This is our calling, yours and mine — not from the future, but from here.  Now.

Please Pass the Enough. Hold the Gravy.

Posted in Uncategorized on January 10, 2018 by michaelcogdill

“The opposite of scarcity isn’t abundance. It’s enough.”

Dr. Brene Brown.

A wallet from the Nixon years, one dollar and 38 cents in change, three key chains cleaving to a single key that fits nothing that will matter the rest of my life.

These I moved recently from my mother’s townhouse. She’s 92, moving in her quiet grace about an assisted living, while I move to trash bags the residue of her last 20 years.

I’m tossing it from a house over which I will shed tears in a few days. I know myself and its memories well enough to predict this.

The house is sold, but the contents of true home will never see transaction. True home is not found in the yellowing important papers long impotent, the old remote controls my father feared might burn the house down, or a set of VHS tapes once hallowed as if they contain interviews with Moses. It’s all junk now to my mother, and the spirit of my father.

They have no use for these and so much else they harvested. That includes the old cedar chest containing my baby records and heirlooms of childhood. It always looked like a prop from the Addams Family. A coffin like wooden Tupperware preserving nothing. A stubbed toe in waiting. Now it just lies there, still in the way, a reminder the contents of a house will make no lasting home for anyone. For all it’s heirloom value, the contents of that old casket do not demand to get seen or read, ever again. Just some froth blown off the top of being alive. Dead, it just hasn’t found its ground.

Gloomy sounding, for certain, isn’t it? My mom would scowl a tad and say, “Let’s talk about something else.” But wait. There is true abundance here.

We must speak of — enough.

My father found this abundance on the days he finally had enough to eat. Such days scarcely came in the Canton, North Carolina of the Great Depression. He and his brothers and sister went hungry as very small children. There was far from enough, not even of soap and warm water. He’d retreat to the YMCA to take the dignity of a bath. He left schooling to work so the family table wore more food. Even scarcely enough beat the hell out of virtually nothing. Barely enough can seem a feast in the mouth of a hungry little boy.

Fast forward. My mom and dad feasted together when they lived in peace. When their marriage held grins and laughs and dreams that did not come with fenders, glassware, or refrigeration the size of a Buick, they had enough. And their enough became life abundant.

Now I’m left in the afterglow. Clearing out what’s left of the house they made so lovely, I live in the simple — nearly moronic — truth that Love will never live in a drawer. No cabinet will hold its touch or its echo. The old cedar chest downstairs smells of musty pages, not lusty fun. Two people in love can freeze some of it in photographs. I dig those. But Faulkner might remind us even the family pictures will finally lay dying in the dark. While pausing to take one, we’re reminded we might have taken instead a kiss or a smiling glance or a tender hand at play in our own. The memory worth far more than a Polaroid of Uncle Julius with a wooden cowboy, or Aunt Willie groping Minnie Mouse.

The Love is enough. More than enough, it turns out. And it’s far too big to fit those 4 crock pots Mama kept. Seems she planned to slow cook for every nicotine addict in North Carolina. And never did.

David Letterman loved a Thanksgiving season joke that simply went, “That ain’t gravy.” Turns out neither is all the stuff we all accumulate as valuable, across years, including Aunt Kitty’s unused burial bloomers and dad’s new tie tack still unworn since its unwrapping, Christmas day, 1969. Yes, this is true even of the true heirlooms someone will have to paper and box and find some new place to stow. Much of it an inelegant sufficiency amounting to way too much.

This task of throw out and box up calls us to let go before we must. Let what looks like the gravy of this life hit the garbage can, not the storage drawers. For in the dewy grass of right now there waits the tender breath of one we love against our neck, the giggle of our child and the hot breath of the dog who won’t live nearly long enough. A loving hand in our own, the glance that says I adore you, the touch or word that say — you are more than enough for me.

In these live our abundance. Our treasure. Our elusive — enough.