Thursday, July 4, 2013

My Dad and the Pit Bull

So I need to tell the story about what happened at the park with my dad and the pit bull.  And in order to tell this story properly, and it must be told properly, I might need to use a few swear words.  Consider yourselves warned.

I recently returned home from a week of family reunions.  Whether you like it or not, you can learn a lot about yourself at these kinds of gatherings.  You come together with people who share your blood and your history, who might share your eyes and your laugh, and you have some turkey and potato salad.  You contemplate who you are and where you came from.

I like Malcolm Gladwell and I have read all of his books. In Outliers he talks about cultural legacies that are passed down--and not just one or two generations--but over many generations, and that these legacies have a strange and powerful effect on us.  I have come to believe that this is true.  I agree that the traditions and attitudes of our fore-bearers cast long shadows in our lives.  I think that most of the time we don't even realize it.

Sometimes our cultural legacies come exploding out of us whether we like it or not and we find ourselves kicking the crap out of a pit bull at the park while our children and grandchildren watch in amazement.  I'll get to that in a minute.

My dad recently wrote a memoir about his childhood.  I absolutely loved it and came to know him and his family in ways that I never had before.  He describes a rough and tumble life in the small town of Victor, Idaho--a tiny and beautiful town that sits on the edge of what is still wild in this world.  But the story of how the Jones family came to settle here is a actually an unlikely and winding tale--and the version that I will briefly tell here I have pieced together thanks to the help of the extensive Mormon genealogical resources, church history, my dad's narrative, and my own creative imagination.

If you trace the Jones family history, it goes back a long long way, all the way back to Charlemagne and beyond.  If you don't know who Charlemagne is, I suggest you consult wikipedia, but to sum up, he was the first Holy Roman Emporer and is often called the father of Europe.  Lots of people can trace their lineage back to Charlemagne, so I don't think that this is particularly unique, but I do find it interesting how we get from Charlemagne to the Joneses of Victor, Idaho.  If you follow Charlemagne down through William the Conqueror and then down through King Edward I of England, also known as Longshanks and who you will fondly remember as the terrible king from the movie Braveheart--you start to head towards the Joneses.  After Longshanks there are no more kings in this particular branch of the family history. I guess we didn't like England anymore since we weren't running the joint because as soon as we could we set off for the New World and a few generations after that we ended up Mormon.

I don't know what you picture when you picture Mormon pioneers, but I usually think of long dresses and bonnets and faithful people singing hymns as they walked and walked and walked across the plains.  As Mormons, we make bronze statues to honor these kinds of pioneers and put them up all around Salt Lake City.  Most of the pioneers were a faithful, peaceful, long suffering people--my ancestors included.  Well, at least the ones on my mom's side of the family.

My dad's side of the family?  They were all bad asses.

You know the stories that the Mormons don't like to talk about in Sunday school?  Yeah, that was us. I figure that as much as the Lord needed the good, soft, gentle, spiritual people, he also needed the mean and ill-tempered ones, otherwise the Mormons were never going to survive to make it to Utah.  You want to burn down one of our farms?  Well we were sure as hell going to burn down two of yours.  And let your cows loose just for spite.

In his manuscript, my dad lovingly, and I'm guessing accurately, refers to our progenitors as "surly bastards."  They were gritty and tough and smart and resourceful.

My ancestors were close to the prophet Joseph Smith, and fiercely loyal to him and to the Mormon faith.  As fervently as others worked to kill Joseph Smith, my ancestors worked to protect him and keep him safe from harm.

Eventually we ended up in Utah with the rest of the Mormons.  When the leaders of our Church asked members to go settle other areas of Utah and Idaho, mine chose the frozen and ruggedly beautiful Teton Valley, probably so all the other Mormons would leave them the hell alone.  When they arrived they promptly started "cleaning out the grizzlies."  I guess there isn't enough room in one valley for grizzly bears and grizzly people all at once.

My dad's family wasn't particularly churchy.  Meaning, they never went.  But somewhere along the way the legacy of faith that he had inherited from my ancestors caught fire in my father's heart.  And so he put down his beer and his cigarettes and went on a mission, married my mother in the Idaho Falls temple, and made sure his four daughters made it to church every week.

While my mom, my sisters, and I have tried very hard to domesticate my father, he is still Jones to the core, and if you get in his business his gut instinct is to take care of it by kicking your ass.

And so last week we found ourselves at Julia Davis park in Boise.  My sister Katie had brought along her golden retriever puppy, Winston.  The adults were seated along the sides watching the children. I was next to Katie and Winston. Nearby was a rough looking group of people, the tattooed, wife-beater- wearing, smokin' some cigs kind of people.  They had a pit bull.  I had first noticed the dog because of the way he was sitting back on his haunches.  He was sitting in a way that he backside didn't fully touch the ground and I found it to be funny and thought it would make a great Snapchat photo.  I love a good snap.  But I thought better of attempting to covertly capture the snap, but now I really wish I would have just gone for it.

Eventually the people got up to leave and came towards us.  A teenage boy was managing the leash, and for some reason he thought it would be a good idea to bring his dog over to meet ours.  You know how people who own pit bulls always insist that they are just the sweetest dogs ever?  Don't believe them.

As they approached my sister sat up a bit and asked the boy, "Is he a nice dog?"  And of course the answer was yes.  What is he going to say? "No he's a killer, but let's make friends."  Before this conversation had really finished the dogs started sniffing each other's backsides and the leashes wrapped around each other and went tight.  And when the leash went tight, the pit bull got aggressive.  He started snarling and biting Winston, going for the throat.  I had heard of legends about pit bulls and how strong their jaws are, but this was the first time I had ever seen one in action.  I thought we were going to watch it tear Winston apart in front of the kids.  Katie was screaming and kicking it with her little flip flopped foot.  She may as well have been kicking a boulder.  Those things are tanks.  I was down in there too with my hands very unsuccessfully trying to pry them apart.  And then suddenly my dad was there and grabbed the pit bull and threw it like it was a bale of hay.  As it landed he was there and kicked it smack in the chest, lifting it in the air and moving it back a couple feet.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.

Now I don't know if my dad was the kicker for his high school football team, but if he wasn't that coach really missed out on some talent.  I think he would have kept going indefinitely but I was starting to feel for the poor pooch and so I yelled, "Dad!  Enough!"  My dad is not afraid of many things, but I think he was slightly afraid of getting a long lecture from his daughters over dinner, and so he stopped and walked back to us and folded his arms in submission. The dog's owners were of course very unhappy with this turn of events and the profanity was flying.  They were threatening my dad with all sort of things and getting up in his business.  One guy was really getting in his face and my dad had that look in his eye--that calm, focused stare that meant, "I am going to rip your head off."  And as the guy got closer I could tell he had no idea who he was dealing with.  All he saw was a white haired old guy. He didn't know that my dad has ruthless instincts inherited from the Crusader turned Conquer turned pilgrim turned Mormon mercenary turned grizzly hunter.  You don't pick a fight with that.

And so I stepped in between them, put my cute little wedge down, a forearm on each of their chests and  said, "NO." They backed off.

The pit bull people left and my dad came and sat down with us.  We had caused quite the scene.  Everyone was staring.  I am not used to getting into brawls at the park.  It was a bit awkward.   A few bystanders came and thanked and congratulated my dad for doing the right thing.  Other people glared at him.

And then I saw the pit bull people regrouping and coming back.  I could tell that they were wanting to get into it with dad, and so my sisters and I decided suddenly that swimming was sounding really good.  And so we left.

On the way to the pool I put my arm around my dad and thanked him for saving Winston.  I think he still wasn't sure if he was going to get in trouble with his daughters or not.  I winked at him and said, "Dad, you know your surly bastard is showing."  He laughed and felt better about things.  He loves being a surly bastard.

When we got to the pool my dad relaxed into his grandpa routine.  Katie and I put him in charge of fetching floaties while we worked on our tans.

I'm still not sure what all of this means for me, or how this cultural legacy will present itself in my life.  I am grateful for the grit and determination that I have inherited.  I guess I should start warning people not to get on my bad side.  I just might kick your ass.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Free Dating Advice (and some thoughts on shopping for jeans)

From time to time, people ask me stuff. Like for actual advice. Crazy, I know. For example, I received this email yesterday from a former dance student:

My boyfriend of 2 months and I are taking a short break to try to work through our differences. I’m having a hard time figuring out what kinds of differences are trivial and insignificant, and what kinds of differences are fundamental and red flags. And how do you get past the small annoyances that aren’t deal breakers? I decided to seek advice and counsel from men and women who are more experienced in relationships (who are married or engaged)...I’d appreciate any thoughts you have to offer!

So I thought I'd share my response to this question via blog post.  Because who doesn't love the chance to get on the "relationships" soap box?  Just kidding.  The real reason that I am sharing this is because choosing your life partner is, in my opinion, the most important decision you will ever make.  And I know that there are several more of my friends out there who are going through this process right now.  I'm not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but if my life experiences and thoughts are helpful to someone, then this post will have served its purpose.

When I was in college, and in high school for that matter, I went on a lot of dates. I loved going on dates, and I went out most weekends, and sometimes on the weeknights.  And, for me, the dating process was really important.  Looking back, I think it was a discovery process.  In some ways I was trying to figure out who I was, to get to know myself better, but more importantly, I was trying to discover how being with that other person changed me and made me feel. 

If I were going to compare it to something I would maybe compare it to finding that perfect pair of jeans.  (In the spirit of full disclosure, I don't think I've ever found a perfect pair of jeans, but I've seen other women do it on Oprah, so I suppose it is possible.)  But I have worn jeans.  Dozens of different pairs in fact, and I have to say, my butt looks different in all of them.  And some of them feel great and I want to wear them every day.  And some of them just don't work for me.  Too big. Too small. Wrong color.  Wrong pockets.  Whatever. 

So for me, dating was like trying on a bunch of different pairs of jeans.  Because sometimes you think that a pair of jeans looks so great folded up on the table in the trendy store.  And they might have everything you think you are looking for.  Just like that guy with the great dimples and the adorable sweater who is definitely pre-med in your chemistry class.  But until you try the jeans on, you have no idea if really they are just going to make you look fat.  And until you get to know the guy with the dimples and see for yourself who you are when you are with him, and who he is when he is with you, then you won't really know if your idea of the perfect guy really is the perfect guy for you.

So what I am getting at is that there isn't really a checklist of things that work for everyone.  Just because a certain brand or style of jeans really works for my body doesn't mean that it will work for yours.  Remember that when people are sharing relationship must-haves.

The other night I went to dinner with my dear friend Brent Mecham.  And we were talking about our relationships.  And he pointed out that his marriage to Katie had changed him.  And that he was a different person now because of having been married to her.  And that I was a different person than I otherwise would have been for having been married to Matt.  That we are different together than we are alone. Our togetherness fundamentally changes us. 

He's right.

So who are you when you are with your boyfriend?  And do you like her?  Does he bring out your best qualities and make you want to be even better?  Or does it feel not quite right? 

At one time in my life I thought I wanted to marry this guy.  And he was a great guy in so many ways.  He was cute and talented and smart.  And he was good to me.  And he loved me.  And I loved him.  But there was something about our relationship that when I was with him I wasn't able to be as freely independent as I now know I need to be.  Had I married him, I fear that I would have felt stiffled in the relationship, or that the expression of my independence would have made him unhappy.  Luckily, in the end I listened to my heart.  I ended up with a man who loves and celebrates my independence and supports me in becoming everything I need and want to be.  I am truly and deeply happy, and I try every day to make him happy too.

What are some core aspects I believe every relationship should strongly evaluate--the potenital deal breakers you mentioned?  Faith.  Do you belong to the same faith and do you approach it in the same way?  If you belong to different faiths, can you truly support each other?  Family.  Do you both want kids?  Do you have similar parenting ideals? How do you fit into each others families?  Finances.  Let's face it, it's not sexy but in the end this is a huge part of any marriage.  I recommend finding common ground on this as early as possible.

Since you asked about red flags, I will share one that I've observed in relationships over the years.  I have noticed that in serious relationships where many of the family and friends have a strong negative reaction to the significant other, that the friends and family are usually right in the end.  This can be hard and painful to accept.

How do Matt and I get past small annoyances?  We make jokes.  We laugh our heads off.  We make fun of each other all the time.  It is easy since Matt gives me so much material.  I'm practically perfect so it's harder for him to find anything annoying about me, but sometimes he makes stuff up.

I recently read a book where the author described the moment that she first saw her husband to-be and she said, "He looked like home to me."  I loved that.  If I could sum it all up, I would say that is what you are looking for.  When you find someone who, for you, looks like home and feels like home, you will know that you are home.