Best of My Love

When I was 15 years old, that was the oldest I'd ever been.  Fifteen was the top, so relative to the rest of my life, I was old.  Then when I was 24, that was the oldest I'd ever been. And then when I turned 30, that was clearly the oldest I'd ever been.

Perspective is framed by our own life context, established by a linear sequence of past events. Experiences are synthesized, analyzed, and understood from the point furthest along in life. Judgments, decisions, and emotions are expressions of a perspective from that point.

Our perspective at 15 or 24 or 30--looking backwards through time--is incomplete, ignoring the perspective yet to be gained by the next 30 years, God willing, or the next 30 after that.  Perspective considers only a portion of life. It's hard to gain perspective from events yet to come.

But what if life's perspective is better considered as a whole--perspective from a simultaneous and completed lifetime, rather than just from one point somewhere along the line. What if we could understand and explore life's perspective as a 15 year old, and a 45 year old, and an 85 year old, simultaneously, including all of life's experiences. How would that change our perspective? How would that release us from the insecurity and anxiety about the unknown future?

In the recent movie Arrival, the heptapod aliens expressed thought as one circular, simultaneous thought--neither linear nor sequential, without a beginning or an end. Instead of using letters, arranged from beginning to end to create words, and instead of using words, arranged from beginning to end to create sentences, the heptapods expressed thought as one, simultaneous, circular expression--no beginning and no end. 

So too was the heptapods' perception of time--circular and simultaneous, rather than linear. The heptapods understood the completeness of their lives all at once, including the good and the bad, the life and the death. 

In Arrival, the heptapods' gift to humanity was the perspective of an entire life lived. An understanding that one day certain eventualities will take place--certain highs, certain lows, certain victories, and certain losses.  Seeing it from the end, the heptapods provided perspective as if the unknown had been revealed, easing the insecurity and anxiety of a future unknown.  

While it's impossible for us to know every plot twist--or any plot twist for that matter--we can try to live with the perspective of an entire life lived. How would our new vantage point change our appreciation for each day?

Buddha explained this in his own way. Fully appreciating that beautiful, priceless vase sitting atop the fireplace mantle means knowing the vase is already broken--knocked over by the goings-on of life. The vase, from a circular, simultaneous perspective, is already broken, so we should fully appreciate the vase now. This is Buddha's extreme appreciation. Eckhart Tolle describes the Power of Now. Ironic it seems, that the power of now is intimately interwoven with perspective of the whole.

Prior to my son's birth, my perspective was from the vantage point of a childless man who deeply loved his wife. Without the perspective of my son's birth, I thought my love then was the best of my love. That my love for all my family and friends, throughout my entire life, was the best of my love.

Boy was I wrong. Without such perspective, I didn't know the best of my love was yet to come. 

Now, my son and my wife, they get the best of my love, especially as I watch her indivisible bond with him.

If only my perspective throughout my entire life had included the best of my love, how would I have lived my life differently?

If only my perspective now included the best of my love yet to come.  To act now with the best of my love from an entire lifetime.

John Jr. will cry because he is hungry or gassy or uncomfortable, upset because this is a big deal from his perspective. We know he is not in any real danger. So too must be God's perspective for us. Be not afraid.

The three of us will have highs and lows--victories and failures. But whatever life brings, my family's ultimate gift to me is the best of my love. 

And so I am reminded of the Eagles' lyrics, 

"Here in my heart I give you the best of my love
Oh sweet darlin' you get the best of my love, oh
Sweet darlin', you get the best of my love" 

Yours Truly, 

John Paul Fiske, Sr.

Tough and Tender

The story of the American cowboy rides a few trails. A tobacco-spitting gunslinger-- a 19th century outlaw. A pioneer chasing manifest destiny, a violent campaign for western domination. A rodeo daredevil, risking it all for reputation and a buckle.

But the trail that interests me most is that of horseman and steward--horseback shepherds, protecting and conserving land in the natural state. These shepherds live, work, and ride throughout cowboy country in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico, and in parts of California, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Texas. This cowboy spirit runs rich through parts of southern Illinois, Missouri, and Oklahoma. Teddy Roosevelt's Dakota Badlands remain largely untouched today.

Many of those states boast vast swaths of natural beauty unspoiled by concrete jungles, expanding subdivisions, and impervious pavement. In Wilsall, Montana, population 237, song lyrics like, "leave Montana alone" remind you why the treasure state is "the last best place."

When I travel from a state like Montana to a large city, my first thought is "my god, what have we done." These concrete cities create real ecological problems--impervious surfaces transport stormwater pollutants into lakes, rivers, and oceans, rather than into soil where natural percolation helps remove pollutants as water travels down into natural aquifers. Many big-city environmentalists live in the most polluted areas of the country, while less vocal conservationists live quietly in rural, untouched lands. 

These quiet cowboys strike chords once sung by Native Americans living the same land.

Two distinct qualities stand out: they're tough and they're tender. By tough I mean resilient and adaptable--an ability to calmly weather any storm. Duty bound. No complaining. By tender I mean a steward, a caretaker--tasked with the responsibility of conservation. Corporate ranchers today can't seem to find these qualities, if they ever had them. Could be greed, could be market pressures. Cold corporate complexities aside, the tough and tender spirit is alive and well in cowboys across the west.

I'm reminded of two cowboys I've had the pleasure to meet. Both were featured in short documentaries about cowboy life in the elements. Both men are quiet, whisperers.

Ed Zevely describes his natural horseman lunging technique, careful never to crack the whip--the snapping sound instills fear and anxiety in the horse. Ed never wanted his horse to be fearful or anxious.  Ed said of Colorado's high country, "I always believed that God created the world, but he spent a lot more time up there."

Mike Leffingwell is a fourth generation Montana rancher, a descendant of American homesteaders with great respect for the land, including their 3,000 acre ranch. For Mike, less is more. Mike said of his land, "I am simply somebody that has been handed a legacy by generations before me, and it is my responsibility to continue to live life in the stewardship of the land, and carry it forward one more generation. So I am simply a pack horse, carrying it one more time... nothing special."

There aren't as many cowboys as there used to be--in practice or in spirit. Tough and tender is now rare. Today's young American men grow up lacking resilience and adaptability in the face of adversity, and thus become insecure and aggressive or self-absorbed. Selfless stewards replaced by ego-centric emotional delicates, overly obsessed with the small moat circling their heads, unaware of devoted lives of service.

Mind-numbing, city-spinning insecurity turns into quiet equanimity when we thrust ourselves into lives of service.  

In 1978, Paul Harvey described the American farmer, blessed with grit and grace, "I need somebody with arms strong enough to rustle a calf and yet gentle enough to deliver his own grandchild. I need somebody willing to sit up all night with a newborn colt. And watch it die. Then dry his eyes and say, 'Maybe next year.' Somebody who'd bale a family together with the soft strong bonds of sharing, who would laugh and then sigh, and then reply, with smiling eyes, when his son says he wants to spend his life 'doing what dad does.'"

The cowboy spirit, tough and tender, need not a horse or a ranch or a dying colt. The cowboy spirit means living in service and stewardship. I am inspired by those professionals who live the cowboy spirit of tough and tender every day--teachers, nurses, social-workers, caretakers... today's shepherds. 

It's a reasonable ambition to raise young Americans tough and tender, resilience in service, to carry the pack for one more generation. I hope John Jr. will one day find his own cowboy spirit, whatever it may be.

Yours truly, 

John Paul Fiske, Sr.

Speak Impeccably

When I chose to accept the first rescue horse, a flood of thoughts rushed through my mind, both good and bad. We all suffer from that incessant self-talk, that little voice of doubt, fear, and anxiety. But, that voice gets louder and faster whenever we embark on new ventures. The unknown future creates dark spots in our visions of things to come. We flip through our mental view finder, from cartoon to cartoon, imagining the worst possible outcomes even when the probability of occurrence is quite low. This fear can immobilize our intended action, causing a retreat into unfulfilled dreams.

As Henry David Thoreau described, "the mass of men live lives of quiet desperation."  I've always understood Thoreau's "desperation" to mean the paralysis of fear, not the outcome of failure in trying. Again and again, our own "desperation" originates in our own word, our own self-talk, through which we allow doubt, fear, and anxiety, however inaccurate, to paralyze us.

So when I chose to accept that first rescue horse, my view finder displayed images of injuries, disease, and death. Horses getting loose and running away. People getting injured. Finances running dry. I imagined every worse possible outcome.

In Don Miguel Ruiz's "The Four Agreements," he describes the first agreement-- " be impeccable with your word." "Impeccable" means immaculate, pristine, and with the highest standards of propriety.  Ruiz explains all communication, including oral discourse, self-talk, and silence, should be executed impeccably.  Ruiz explains we should only say what we mean and mean what we say, that our words have profound effect on ourselves and those around us. While seemingly self-evident, manifesting the concept in practice is not so easy. 

Throughout Courtney's pregnancy, I imagined every possible negative outcome, even when there was zero indication for such outcomes. Much like with Emma, the first rescue horse, I imagined injury, disease, and even death. My self-talk--my view finder--supplied no shortage of negative cartoons. 

Ruiz's words, "speak impeccably," were a constant reminder during the pregnancy that my words, whether inner-thoughts or outward expressions, would impact Courtney and myself. Speaking and thinking impeccably helped calm tenser moments. 

Some might chalk this up to "Think Positively" or just "Be Positive."  But words are the building blocks of "thinking" or "being" positive. Ruiz's advice to "speak impeccably" is a guide to the building blocks of being positive. 

We all throw words around cheaply, and each time we do we either enhance or degrade life goals. Seldom do our words wade in neutrality, but rather promote or demote our own life visions. While we cannot control outcomes, we can at least avoid Thoreau's desperation of not trying at all.

I recall once my father took me to a Barnes and Noble Bookstore because child care author Dr. Benjamin Spock was signing books. My father, a reader of Dr. Spock's work, wanted to introduce me to the author who preached in his own right "speaking impeccably." Not only did Dr. Spock preach speaking impeccably, but his preaching itself was impeccable. He wrote, "Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do."

The funny thing about my negative vision for the rescue farm is that it all came true! Animals have been injured, suffered infections, and one even died due to age-related arthritis. Horses and pigs have escaped!

But, those injuries and infections healed, those escapees returned, and the death was grieved. Despite it all, we kept rescuing and we'll keep rescuing because we've accepted that responsibility in our lives. It's good for the animals and it's good for us. In 17 months, we've rescued 53 farm animals. Who knows what adventures await Courtney and I as we raise John Jr.  We will not have lived in desperation for not trying. We will do our best to speak impeccably to our son and to each other.

And so I am reminded of Don Miguel Ruiz's words from The Four Agreements, 

“Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use your power of your word in the direction of truth and love.” 

Yours truly,

John Paul Fiske, Sr.

Your Body is a Microbial Wonderland

John Jr.'s skin is so perfect. His eyes and lips and ears and nose, they are perfect. His head, shoulders, knees and toes--perfect.  I am excited to watch him grow up on a farm getting dirty and exposed to good germs in organic horse manure and German Shepherd kisses. Medical literature is replete with conclusions that early introduction to germs is beneficial for the overall cellular and systemic health of humans. [1]  

For decades, scientists have been trying to nail down the exact number of human cells in each person.  National Geographic reports the adult human cell count may be as many as 30 trillion. [2] Other sources have cited over 10 trillion.  Safely, we can say the adult human body is made up of 10 to 30 trillion cells--skin cells, muscle cells, blood cells, eyeball cells, the list goes on and on and on. 

What's possibly more impressive, but definitely less known, are the microbial cells living on the human body--not actual human cells, but rather stowaways, freeloaders, squatters. These microbial cells, or microbes, include bacteria, fungi, archaea, protists, viruses, and yes, even microscopic animals. [3]

The microbes largely live within the human gut--the stomach and intestines--and are absolutely essential to human health, including digestion, immunity, metabolism, and other significant aspect of our health including possibly warding off cancer and viruses.  [4]

These microbial cells greatly outnumber our own cells.  Some scientists have estimated a 10 to 1 ratio of microbes to human cells.  That means that if John Jr. has 10 trillion of his own cells, he has 100 trillion microbes living on him. Other more recent estimates hit closer to 40 trillion--thus an adult could have 30 trillion of his own cells and 40 trillion microbial stowaways. [5]  

Moreover, our microbial profile may be equally, or more, important to overall health than our own genes.  Where all human DNA is 99.9% similar, the microbial profile from one person to another may only be as much as 10% similar. [6]  This may explain the vast disparity in human health.

Microbial profiles include large categories--dermal, oral, fecal, and vaginal. One of the very best ways to introduce your newborn to a robust microbial environment is vaginal birth--your kid is smeared in his or her mom's vaginal microbiota during passage through the birth canal. While c-sections are often necessary for the health of mom and baby, microbial health should be taken into consideration when making decisions. [7]

Another important consideration includes the use, or rather overuse, of antibiotics in newborns and infants. Antibiotics can be life-saving and essential to human health. No sane parents would deny their newborn or infant antibiotics when necessary.  However, concepts of necessity, amount, duration of use, and frequency are extremely important because antibiotics used to kill harmful bacteria can also destroy the good bacteria in your child's microbiota. 

I have litigated harmful drugs and chemicals for years. I am biased against trusting chemical and pharmaceutical companies because I have seen far too often motivations for profit and shareholder loyalty outweigh science and public safety. One great way to increase profits is to push the dosage, strength, duration, and frequency--this is where pharmaceutical companies gain competitive market edge.

However, in this concept of dosage--meaning how much you take and for how long--we find destruction of good bacteria, which could have lasting effects into adolescence and adulthood. Every father should engage his child's doctor in an honest conversation about which antibiotic, for how long, at what dosage, and why.  Is the antibiotic absolutely necessary? Can a lesser strength drug be prescribed for a shorter period of time?

One commonly prescribed class of antibiotics, known as Fluoroquinolones (Cipro, Levaquin, Avelox) is extremely strong and can cause permanent peripheral nerve damage. Having litigated this drug, I would not let my son ingest these drugs unless absolutely, absolutely necessary. 

According to the FDA in 2009, 80% of antibiotics sold in the United States are for livestock. Antibiotics given to livestock animals may be a significant cause of antibiotic resistance as humans consume meat containing more resilient harmful bacteria, which in turn could mean your child requires stronger antibiotics after having been exposed to those stronger, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which in turn could destroy the good bacteria in your child's microbiota. The World Health Organization concludes antibiotic resistance is due in large part to antibiotics in livestock. Feeding your child organic and antibiotic-free foods is a great way to protect your child's microbiota. [8]

Whether on the farm, in the doctor's office, or in the kitchen, fathers can offer tremendous benefit to their child's heath by protecting that microbiota.  

And so I am reminded of John Mayer's (modified) song, 

"Your Body is a (Microbial) Wonderland."

Yours truly, 

John Paul Fiske, Sr.

[1] http://time.com/4501169/five-dirty-habits-to-encourage-in-your-kid/

[2] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/01/160111-microbiome-estimate-count-ratio-human-health-science/

[3] http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/microbiome/intro/

[4][5] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/01/160111-microbiome-estimate-count-ratio-human-health-science/

[6][7] https://www.ted.com/talks/rob_knight_how_our_microbes_make_us_who_we_are; https://www.ted.com/talks/jonathan_eisen_meet_your_microbes

[8] http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/93/4/15-030415/en/

Time is Love

A 2015 Pew Research study found that "fathers reported spending, on average, seven hours a week on child care--almost triple the time they provided back in 1965." [1]  

Recently, a good friend of mine explained that his company offers 6 weeks of paid paternity leave, 3 of which he spent when his son was newborn, and 3 more a few months later.  

In Sweden, parents are entitled to 480 days of total paid parental leave. Of those, 90 days are reserved exclusively for the father. In 2014, Swedish fathers took 25%, or 120 of the 480 days. Swedish fathers were entitled to 90 days, but took 120. [2]

In the United States, we join the ranks of Swaziland, Lesotho, and Papua New Guinea, offering 0 days paid leave. Statistically, that means American men took, on average, 100% of the 0 days paid paternity leave entitled under the law--no days, not one. [3]

Indonesia, a largely Muslim country, offers 84 days of parental leave at 100% pay. Saudi Arabia, another Muslim country, offers 70 days at 50% pay. Our highly industrious British allies, who sent two divisions into Normandy, offer 280 days for mothers and fathers alike. [3] 

Working fathers have no legally protected, paid bonding time in America. For folks like me, this is not a concern. I am fortunate to work flexibly, for an excellent firm that provides paid time off and the ability to work from home. I doubt the same would be true if I laid brick, or rebuilt transmissions, or drove a tractor trailer--its hard to drive a tractor trailer from home. Why should the inalienable right of a father to bond with his newborn, without financial stress, depend upon a chosen trade?

I learned a lot this first week, mostly through quiet observation. I learned about changing diapers, about my son's noises and breathing patterns, and so much more, all of which required time. John Jr. learned about me--he studied me, his beautiful eyes bouncing around my face, from my eyes to my ears, from my nose to shaggy beard.

In his first week, we introduced him to the salty ocean air and our farm at sunset.

The benefits of newborn bonding are self-evident, and all fathers are entitled to the same. 

And so I am reminded of Josh Turner's song, "Time is Love."

"Time is love, gotta run,
Love to hang longer,
But I got someone who waits,
Waits for me and right now
[H]e's where I need to be,
Time is love, gotta run."

Yours truly, 

John Paul Fiske, Sr.

[1] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/06/15/fathers-day-facts/

[2] https://sweden.se/quickfact/parental-leave/

[3] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/04/maternity-leave-paid-parental-leave-_n_2617284.html

John 3:16

John Paul Fiske, Jr. was born on June 12, 2017 at 3:16 am, weighing 8 lbs 4 oz.  The nurse proclaimed, "time of birth, 3:16," and time froze as we began our new life and journey together. John rested in my wife's arms, and the words rang true "For God so loved the world...."

When we arrived home from the hospital, an incredible urge to write came over me.  "Fatherhood and the Farm" will chronicle our familial journey raising a young boy, into a man, on our farm animal rescue in Elfin Forest, California. 

One of the early memories of my own father is when he signed us up for "Indian Guides," a father-son program offered by our local YMCA. "Indian Guides," he told me, "was founded by two men, one white and one Native American, an Obijwe tracker named Joe Friday, who explained that 'white men do not spend enough time with their sons.'" Joe Friday uttered these words in the 1920s, and the same is true today.  I suspect many of the world's ailments could be resolved through stronger fatherhood bonds, including through the love for the respective mothers. 

IMG_4187.JPG

I watched my wife walk in to the hospital around 10 pm the night before John was born.  She walked in dilated to 7 cm, with contractions 5 minutes apart. Earlier that day, we went to church, ate brunch, and walked along the beach. The days and weeks before that, Courtney farmed as she and the baby were one, as if her body had been designed to be pregnant.  Youthful and healthy, Courtney pitched a perfect pregnancy, later deemed "the princess pregnancy" by her OBGYN. 

My hope is to write to the universal journey of fatherhood, without any specific doctrine or intention, so that any father in any region could read, relate, and share.  There is no design behind the structure, neither artificially positive nor artificially vulnerable. Like so many writers today, I am not an apologist and I do not write with fear of offense.  Rather, this is designed to speak universally from the premise that if I find certain thoughts or words helpful, others will too.  Most, if not all, of my thoughts will be shoplifted from greater minds, to admit anything less would be disingenuous.

Our farm animal rescue as the backdrop, this 2.5 acre farm will be the canvas for Fatherhood and the Farm. We built the farm from scratch, literally from the ground up, as a project of compassion and community.  Now our son is here, and our vision to raise a family among the animals and amid the dirt, is a dream come true. We hope to focus intently on John's life, but also to look beyond, as we are not just raising a son, but a future father.

And so I am reminded of Zac Brown's words from "My Old Man,"

"My old man
Feel the callous on his hands
And dusty overalls
My old man
Now I finally understand
I have a lot to learn
From my old man

Now I'm a giant
Got a son of my own
He's always trying
To go everywhere I go
Do the best I can to raise him up the right way
Hoping that he someday wants to be
Like his old man"

Yours Truly,

John Paul Fiske, Sr.