The End of the Innocence

Don Henley's iconic song "The End of the Innocence" laments the loss of childhood innocence--purity intercepted by Lao Tzu's ten thousand things. 

"You can lay your head back on the ground
And let your hair fall all around me
Offer up your best defense
But this is the end
This is the end of the innocence"

John John is growing up too fast--a cliche to anyone who hasn't experienced the phenomenon, but a harsh reality to all those parents who've watched their sons and daughters change before their eyes... not enough time... never enough time. Their bodies change, their faces change, their skills and understanding change, and the babies they once were... are gone.

I travel every week for work. Not a week goes by that I'm not on the road. One, two, sometimes three cities a week--two, sometimes three nights a week I am not home. Thus, the relative speed at which John John grows seems further accelerated by the short yet important gaps when I am gone. I will leave for three days, and all of a sudden he has learned to roll over, or crawl, or stand, or a new tooth has popped up, or he just looks older--more like a boy and less like a baby. 

"Who knows how long this will last
Now we've come so far, so fast

But, somewhere back there in the dust
That same small town in each of us
I need to remember this
So baby give me just one kiss

And let me take a long last look
Before we say good bye"


This "growing too fast" phenomenon is based on the relative perspectives of the subject and the observer. John John is almost 10 months old. To him, one month is 1/10th of his entire life. To me, one month is 1/409th of mine. Then there's our relative biological growth. My growth has plateaued (or perhaps decelerated), yet John John's growth seems almost logarithmic--changing significantly every week. 

I must admit, I simultaneously rejoice in his growth and think often of his future, while quietly plotting exactly how to freeze time, to keep him small and innocent forever--so far my plan isn't going very well.  I know he is still young now, and his innocence will linger for a while, but already I am starting to feel his growth--a sign, I suppose, that he is thriving.

He sleeps with me and my wife. Often in the middle of the night, we'll find his soft face laying on my elbow and his even softer feet tucked under Courtney, or vice versa. He'll wake up at 4:30 in the morning, sit up, and--knowing that we're still asleep--he'll start whispering to us, "dadadada, babababa." And he'll tap us as if to say, "mom, dad, I'm awake now and ready to play."

Recently, just in the last few days, he's started to nap in his crib, instead of on mom, and I am both proud and heartbroken. 

But then I think of all the kids who will never get the chance to grow up. The innocent kids who, because of a terminal childhood illness, will never have the opportunity to lose their innocence. I suppose some do prematurely.

Recently, we had the pleasure of hosting a Wish Kid on the farm. He is four years old and has a brain tumor. He is a blessing to his parents and he is a blessing to his community--his presence and his bravery are reminders that life's precious moments now are to be counted and enjoyed and savored and loved and celebrated. I don't know this young man's fate, but I consider him a blessing to me for that reminder alone.

So, as I lay my head back on the ground, I remember that God's greatest gift to me will be John's growth from innocence, with a hope that he'll always hold innocence in his heart, for himself and for others.


John Paul Fiske, Sr.

On New Hampshire

Recently, in 2017, U.S. News and World Report ranked New Hampshire the #2 overall state in its "Overall Best States Ranking." Important to New Hampshire's ranking was its placement among all 50 states in the categories of "Opportunity," "Education," and "Health Care." New Hampshire ranked #1 in Opportunity, #3 in Education, and #4 in Health Care. I can't think of three more important, or more American, categorical metrics.  John John's mother, my wife, was born and raised in New Hampshire. 

I, by contrast, am a California native born and raised in San Diego. Among the same U.S. News and World Report rankings, California ranked #23 overall. California's highest honor was #3 for "Economy," tempered by its "Opportunity" ranking of #42. 42 in "Opportunity" is a polite way of saying 9th worst. Assuming integrity in the rankings, it is bewildering that the 3rd best economy can also be the 9th worst place for "Opportunity." Of 40 million residents, it's painful to imagine all of the brilliant, young, hard-working Californians struggling through the rat race in order to fight upward through the 9th worst setting for opportunity. recently ranked my native hometown of San Diego the #1 worst big city to build wealth, and it ranked California the #1 worst state for first-time home buyers. U.S News & World Report says California is ranked 25th in education. 

Populated with roughly 1.3 million people, New Hampshire is the 41st most populated state and the 46th largest by area, making it the 21st most densely populated state at 147 residents per square mile. By contrast, San Diego County alone has 3.3 million people, or 680 residents per square mile--that's over 4.5 times the density of the entire State of New Hampshire. 

I distinctly remember living in San Diego 15 years ago when I graduated high school in 2001. The quality of life was much better than it is now for two main reasons--population and density. This meant less traffic, fewer elbows, more open space, more parking, more affordable housing, less noise, and--most importantly for any San Diegan--easier beach access. Without a doubt, since I graduated high school in 2001, the quality of living--both objectively and subjectively-- has gone down. Note to local government, more concrete doesn't mean a better quality of life.

In New Hampshire, the state is largely rural or untouched, boasting trees and fields for miles. Cold winters dump clean, white powder--a refreshing, rejuvenating blanket of atmospheric fresh water. The temperature is 11 degrees as I type this--it's cold. But, the cold winters bring family and friends inside, together. 


Enduring the elements binds a common experience. Snow plowers are revered, and rightfully so. During even the harshest snow storms, through late nights and sacred holidays, the plowers clear the streets, laying salt and sand, saving lives mile by mile on state and interstate highways. Ice is more dangerous than snow, and sleet can be downright scary. What speaks of godliness in trees and nature, screams of prayer and appreciation in streets and neighborhoods.

Folks in New Hampshire have more time--more time to stop and talk, more time to learn this or that, to look at the ridge or notice the birds, to watch the lapping waves or the wind-driven slurries. Debbie works at the hospital, and Kristin is a Spanish teacher. Ken tows boats in the summer and plows streets in the winter. The Art Place is sold out of Lake Winnipesaukee wood-carved maps, which highlight the maximum lake depth of 212 feet. 

Lone red barns pop in angel white snow, and tree branches bend with grace and humility under heavy weight. Rust is more common, and jacket sales are strong. All wheel drive is necessary, and icicles point downward. Heat is a topic of discussion, and so are the Patriots. Tom Brady isn't likely human. 

Family is paramount--whether by culture or necessity--and North Main Street gets 400 Trick-or-Treaters on Halloween. Cold weather means coming together inside and making the most of the American experience when the opportunity arises--the consensus is that the best opportunity is the Fourth of July. And fireworks are legal. 

John John is 6 months old, and the cold doesn't seem to bother him.

But, he lives in San Diego, in the Rancho Santa Fe School District, in the largest, most populated state in the union--the sixth or seventh largest economy in the world. He lives among some of the most diverse cultures and backgrounds in the world--along the Pacific Rim, where the sushi is fresh and the burritos are authentic. And, it takes 20 minutes to drive down the street.

When a young boy like John John comes into the world so uniquely joyful, so pristine and happy, I wonder what type of environment best suits his growth and development. I have always found profound peace and solace in nature.

It seems California can learn to strike a better balance between too much of everything and not enough of what matters most. New Hampshire provides a great example to follow.


John Paul Fiske, Sr.


A newborn horse is a foal. A mare is a female horse, and when she is pregnant she is "in foal." The young males are colts, and the females are fillies. The colt's or filly's mom is a dam, and she gives birth usually lying on her side, but occasionally can give birth standing up, at which point the foal needs support landing safely to ground. Gestation lasts about 11 months, but foaling occurs quickly, within about 20 minutes after the dam's water breaks. Within minutes, the dam will lick and nicker and squeal and fuss over her newborn foal--this is an important bonding period for the new pair. 


On July 18, 1984, in San Ysidro, California, a 41-year-old man named James Huberty walked into a McDonald's carrying a long-barreled Uzi, a pump-action shotgun, and a handgun. An Uzi is an open-bolt, blowback-operated submachine gun, with a rate of at least 500 rounds per minute. A round is a bullet. James Huberty shot and killed 21 adults and children in McDonald's that day.

A female or mother pig is a sow, and a sow is only pregnant for less than 4 months. Throughout her pregnancy, she requires more nutrients than usual, especially near the end of her pregnancy. She benefits from plenty of greens and grains, including fresh soil and roots. When she nears 3 months and 3 weeks, extra bedding is recommended for comfort--when she is ready, she will use the bedding to nest. Piglet birth is called farrowing, and can last much longer than foaling, for 2 or 3 hours. Immediately, the sow's piglets instinctively search for their mother's milk, and a healthy litter can include 8 to 12 piglets. Should a piglet have difficulty feeding, hand-rearing may be necessary to ensure proper nutrition and growth. 

On October 1, 2017, 64 year old Stephen Paddock of Mesquite Nevada spent 10 to 15 minutes firing bullets into a crowd of 22,000 country music fans. Stephen hit over 550 people, killing 58 and injuring over 500. Stephen's vantage point from the 32nd floor enhanced the capabilities of his weaponry, which included a bump stock that allowed his semi-automatic rifles to fire as fully automatic rifles, thereby increasing his number of kills. That night, Stephen chose from among 17 different rifles, mostly military-style, including four DDM4 rifles and three FN-15s.

Human pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks. A human baby in utero is called a fetus, and healthy fetal development consists of specific milestones. By 11 weeks, the baby is kicking, stretching, and even hiccuping. At 23 weeks, the baby's ears start to pick up sound more clearly and will recognize sounds she later hears after being born. In weeks 37 through 40, the baby's lungs and brain complete development, getting ready for the outside world. Upon birth, human babies cry and kick and scream and need blankets and are completely and totally helpless, relying entirely on the love and protection of their mothers and fathers.

On December 14, 2012, 20 six and seven year old children were gunned down in their elementary school classrooms by a young man named Adam Lanza, 20, using a Bushmaster XM-15, a popular line of AR-15 semi-automatic rifles--manufacturer's retail price, $739.00. Adam and his XM-15 also took down six adults, elementary school teachers and staff. Later, Adam's mother, Nancy, was found dead from a gunshot wound. Sandy Hook Elementary is located in Newtown, Connecticut. The Connecticut Department of Education core curriculum for first graders includes the "Listening Strand-- Fables and Stories," working towards "identifying words and phrases in stories or poems that suggest feelings or appeal to the senses." First grade standards encourage "asking questions to clear up any confusion about the topics and texts under discussion," and promote "identifying real-life connections between words and their use," by "distinguishing shades of meaning among verbs differing in manner by defining or choosing them or by acting out the meanings." Second graders' common core standards include lessons about "Newspaper Reporting," "Dr. Martin Luther King," and "Cycles in Nature."

My son is 5 months old today.


Frivolity by Design

Of architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright wrote, "The mission of an architect is to help people understand how to make life more beautiful, the world a better one for living in, and to give reason, rhyme, and meaning to life."

Architecture fascinates me as an interdisciplinary study of art, math, engineering, psychology and environment; a sort of countervailing blend of societal and personal; requiring objectivity in design and subjectivity in interpretation. 

We take architectural design for granted. (Perhaps, some strip malls and monster boxes deserve it. Oh how we've ruined our suburbiscapes.) 

But when disparate materials clash and blend and move into space, architectural harmony pursues human experience. It seems almost miraculous how certain buildings and bridges and universities and temples stand. My favorite courthouse in America sits on Boston Harbor, a federal building with interstellar imagination. 

I'm jealous of architects. Poets too. One recognizes beauty in practical human creation and the other describes it. Recognizing beauty is a gift.

Until John arrived, my meaningful life was filled with frivolity and without much recognition for the beauty and design of basic life. Much of this frivolity was essential to my sense of self. Going here, going there. Doing this, acquiring that. Feeling offended, serving judgment. Being seen, going to that very important thing, having the best whatever. The frivolity, so important to my day, absorbed my energy.  

Since John, an entirely different frivolity feeds my energy. A frivolity by design. The best way I spend my day is being frivolous with my son. Sitting, laying, laughing, walking, holding. Making funny noises, explaining basic utensils, reading funny books. And, there is no end to these means. There is no goal in mind. I haven't read a single child-rearing book, and I don't know if raspberries on tummies raise IQ or support sensory awareness or enhance interpersonal skills or make a kid poop. I just know John laughs when I do it and then I laugh when he laughs. Our frivolity together, our time, seems to me the most important thing I can do or ever will do in my life. Just for the sake of itself.

I hope my son sees beauty the way architects do or poets describe. I hope he designs his frivolity in favor of tummy raspberries. I hope he recognizes, earlier than I did, what it means to give reason, rhyme, and meaning to life. 

frivolous pizza.jpg

On Community

In the novel "Illusions" by Richard Bach, the main character meets a Messiah in the corn fields of Indiana, where both offer biplane rides to small-town locals. Barnstorming from field to field, the two drop into one community after another, selling rides to farming families seeking once-in-a-lifetime thrill rides. Along the way, the Messiah passes along sage wisdom to his student--a truly classic story. One of the themes thread throughout the book is that of individual seeking respite from society--away from the noise, the people, the hustle, and the conflict--too many people in one place. When the going gets tough in one community, whoosh, the two are off again to the next town for a fresh start, and possibly some peace this time. You might guess the two never quite seem to escape society, despite running from it, and ironically they dive again and again into community after community. The reason? They have to.

Community simply is. It's all around us in everything we do. When we go to birthday parties, it's community celebrating individuals. When we go to weddings, it's community celebrating love and commitment between two individuals. When we go to funerals, it's community celebrating the lives of fellow community members, and grieving the loss of one of their own. We are literally never not in community: school, a community of learning; church, a community of worship; ballgames, a community of athleticism, leisure, and drama; concerts, a community of music-lovers; movies, where we sit alone together in the dark watching community unfold; work, a community of survivors--some impassioned, others uninspired.

We cannot escape community. Since the dawn of humans, community has been an essential factor of survival and the human experience. Throughout our day, we do more in community than not. We wake up with loved ones and make breakfast, we go to the beach and eat at restaurants, surrounded by community, and we even park in the same community parking lots! Then, we go back home to our community of family, to rest.

Perhaps, one of the only times we might not be in community is when we sleep--but even then we'll reach out to our loved ones, through the sheets, for the physical touch of community, even in the calm of night.

For those who sleep alone--they often long for someone to sleep next to, and to build a community of their own. 

On the farm we see community in our domesticated animals. Horses, for example, crave community as one of the most social animals on the farm. They'll work together, standing head to tail swatting flies from each other's faces. Our hens have an incredible social order--a pecking order--which can rearrange with the addition of new community members. Our roosters must know, who is the leader of this community? I am the leader! And our pigs, who may be the most complex of all the animals (and perhaps the most similar to humans), want community but also want individual space--individuals within community. 

We don't have too many rules around the farm. But one policy is we never adopt down to less than two of a kind. A Noah's rule. Our animals clearly and distinctly want each other, and we must accommodate their sense of community.  

Behavior and health change as community changes. Most interestingly, the animals' communities seem to be for the sake of community itself. They do not need community to survive--we always provide for them. We feed them regardless of their ability to build successful communities. So, why then would a 27-year-old horse cry out for her 29-year-old companion when he's away from the pasture? It's not for fear of predators, or lack of resources. These are domesticated horses who have never been attacked and have never been for want--heck, we even give them fly masks for their faces. Instead, it seems the horses want companionship. 

I've happily watched my son be passed involuntarily from person to person, from community member to community member--passed around family, passed around friends, and passed around some we hardly know but who want to be part of his community. They join in the celebration of their newest community member! Another human companion. They want to hug him, and kiss him--and they want to connect with him, hoping to catch a smile. They want to be part of his community, as we do for them. If anything, I happily watch John learn a wonderful lesson: community is an involuntary and essential part of the human experience. 


Our communities are diverse and interwoven--a true tapestry of languages, religions, cultures, races, nationalities, genders and identities. In November 2015, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 350 languages are spoken in American homes. For example, in Houston, Texas, 145 languages are spoken at home; in Boston, Massachusetts, 138 languages; in Riverside, California, 145; in Phoenix, Arizona, 163; and in Detroit, Michigan, 126. The list goes on and on. 

The diversity of race and nationality in America matches that of the world. Americans includes gay Christian republicans, libertarian dog-lovers, and Muslim engineers who love Monday Night Football. 

Our community is what it is--filled with individuals as diverse and unique as the stars in the sky, both of which (the stars and the individuals) were created by the same Creator. Expressions of intolerance, hatred, or bigotry towards individuals in community is resistance to what is.

Haters gonna hate. But hate won't change the fast-paced integration of community.

Powerful, worldly forces are in motion.

Technology and travel have accelerated the integration of the modern communities. Great minds are now thinking of new ways to connect diverse cultures. The overall trend is a fast-paced train speeding towards integration through all corners of the globe.

Be sure: there is no stopping the Travel-Technology Integration Train, barreling through its station stops. Unfortunately, this train is too fast for some members of the community, who are watching the make-up of their community change faster than ever before in the history of the world. For them, it's too fast, and it creates an unknown--a perceived resources battle. An "us versus them" mentality.

On the farm, we watch our domesticated animals closely. Their behavior is reflective. For example, when we introduce a new horse into the pasture, the herd ostracizes and excludes it--even bites or kicks it when near food, water, or shelter. When a new bird arrives, the flock will chase, corner, and peck--blocking the new birds from bird food. The pigs will frantically pace from food pile to food pile, stealing each the other's food to ensure they have the most, best food, even though the servings are exactly the same.

Then, slowly, within hours or days or weeks, the herd achieves balance, and the flock calms down. The members realize they've been receiving the same resources they had always received. The farm adjusts to accommodate all the members of the community--providing a healthy and dignified life for all. The farm works through the logistics of an ever-changing, dynamic, and fluid community. Through minor, fair adjustments of resources, the farm creates abundance for all. Slowly over time, the once-ostracized animals become family.

There is no finite amount of resources. We do not artificially control the supply of food in order to force competition for dignified survival. The farm accommodates the needs of the community. 

I hope to raise our son to understand that his membership in our diverse community is involuntary, and that perceived resource battles are merely logistical problems waiting to be solved by great minds. I hope our son, in whatever capacity, involves himself in the diverse and abundant nature of his community. And, I hope our son understands that his diverse community is not just involuntary, but rather the specific and elegant design intended by his Creator.


John Paul Fiske, Sr.

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.







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.




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. 


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.