My son, who is a man worth knowing, revived my love of medium format film photography, last year. I have been wearing out the path to and from the film lab in effort to gain mastery of this dark craft. Along the way, I've made a few glaring mistakes of which I'm not proud. Each exposure costs money. It actually costs something to push the button on this thing.
That's not normal anymore. But, I think it should be.
For reasons unknown to me until now, I've avoided writing publicly.
Well, that's not entirely true. I've avoided writing, in large part, because I feel a burden of obligation to keep writing once I've started. Like the person in your life who feels obligated to stay talking once they've said hello. The fear of what silence might reveal about them propels their mouth to pump out sounds in effort to prevent the entry of penetrating questions.
Another thing is that now you know something about me and I still know exactly as much about you as I did before I wrote this.
It was 1991, the year I bought my own present: a crisp skate deck with immaculate grip tape.
California has nothing on Michigan when it comes to winter weather. The clouds promise something but don’t deliver, like friends who mimic the “shaka” phone as they walk away promising to get in touch but you never hear back. Some wind offerred a mild nose-chill temperature, just enough to warrant a sweatshirt and beanie.
I snapped ollies over the parking blocks layed out like matchsticks on the dirty asphalt skirting the Lutheran education center a few blocks from the house.
I don’t remember Christmas with my family. Is it weird that I can remember the deodoarant I wore in high school but not a single Christmas with my Christian family throughout my life?
It happened in less than twelve seconds.
I was rolling alongside a six-foot brick wall behind-which I heard a dog barking in the yard. My skateboard wheels ticking over the varied cracks between soiled slabs of cement. In the third second of this saga, I realized the dog’s bark was travelling with me on the other side of the wall, then broke ahead, fading slightly like the police giving chase. In the fifth second, the sound bounced over the wall at the short portion hemming the front yard and I saw the source; the gray fur looking like a collection of dirty hair after a Baptist outreach for the penitent homeless. It launched over the stone wall and immediately it was at my side in pathetic protest.
Small and furious.
I was about to laugh, but instead I snapped up my board in defense. My roaring and flailing prevailed and it shirked back behind the wall the way it came.
I swore revenge as I rolled home with two small puncture wounds in my left leg.
My story includes nearly forty years of fatherlessness, despite my Dad's presence in my family life. The more I ask about it, the more I'm finding other men who relate. Most men have a sense of that in their lives. I've journaled my unanswered questions and struggles resulting from fatherlessness since I was fifteen. Before that, I would talk to myself. Out loud.
Although, I love this book, I strongly dislike advertising, marketing and the world of, what I refer to as The Tower of Babel 2.x, the idolatrous culture of self-made kings, inside and outside of the Christian faith. So, I pass on opportunities to "help" things go viral.
This is what my questions have been about, literally, for the twenty years I've been a Christian.
As soon as I heard about the new book from John and Sam Eldredge, Killing Lions, I pulled the trigger, jumped, signed up, drank the cool-aid.
Here's my pitch: save yourself the sorrow of misinterpreting God's intentions and your role in His story. Buy the book.
Dear John & Sam,
I will thank you, repeatedly, for this book. So will my children and the many others who will raise a glass in your honor at the great feast to come.
"God is relentlessly determined to erase every suspicion that He is not good."
Lawrence J. Crabb, Jr., PHD, In the forward for Bold Love—Dr. Dan B. Allender & Dr. Tremper Longman III
This photo is a miracle in many, many ways. I'll begin with that and start telling you the stories as I go along. But, for now, I'd like to introduce my Dad, Alexandru Hotea. He's told me stories, matter-of-factly, where he chose bravery in the face of challenges that sound like fiction.
He was orphaned at the age of three. His dad passed away in his early 40's from health complications in Communist Romania. His disabled mom, my grandmother, raised him and two daughters—my uncles, his older brothers, were old enough to be out of the house, one in military service and the other married and working a job.
He recognized the vacancy in his life resulting from fatherlessness. It was a known issue. Something referred to throughout my childhood. But, until recently, I hadn't understood the full implications of it and how it affected my life, my approach and relationship to God as my Father, my way of relating to others in my life.
What we both needed long ago, and what I've come to believe every man needs, was the guidance and "fathering" of a man or men who have lived a life with God as their Father and who could pass on that life-giving "how-to". As I live and breathe, God is answering that longing and prayer through men who know him as Father. John Eldredge and his eldest son, Sam Eldredge have written a book documenting a conversation between father and son that climbs the hard miles of becoming and being a man Fathered by God.
I'm shamelessly promoting it. Shouting it from the rooftops. This is the book that men should read.
I packed my clan into the minivan at Mammoth before sunrise and headed north, hauling a borrowed tent-trailer and a stack of bikes strapped to a thirty-dollar rack I got on Craigslist. Deep quietness settled over me as we pushed up the 120 off 395, east of Lee Vining. The kids were sleeping. I was chugging Italian Roast from a Thermos watching the RPMs groan toward the 4's and 5's crawling up the road at 30-40 mph. The sleepy mountains watched me, like body guards, as I cut a timid trail through their muscular formations leading toward camp.
My heart swelling with coffee and mountains.
Beauty is essential to God. No—that's not putting it strongly enough. Beauty is the essence of God.—John Eldredge
The mountains are calling and I must go.—John Muir
Thankfully, I married into the legendary ritual of camp acquisitions established by my Father-in-Law. A process as solid and reliable as the granite formations that bring me back to Yosemite time and time again.
Madness does not come by breaking out, but by giving in; by settling down in some dirty, little, self-repeating circle of ideas; by being tamed.—G.K. Chesterton
This year's trip was new. It was new frontier because I had not been to Yosemite with an awakened heart until this time. I'd always loved Yosemite. The lush beauty of thick pine forests receding to expose the Earth's balding bulges of granite. But this time I had a greater awareness of God's playfulness and constant effort to engage me through beauty, through the outside. His shameless, persistent indulgence in extravagant beauty surprised me countless times throughout the week.
And it was more than (fill-in-the-blank). It was unpredictable. Saturated with life. Like a sponge that never dried out.
I still feel the residual rest, right now, while I'm writing about it.
Beginnings are sometimes difficult to trace.
In a way, I’ve been writing since before I could write. The function of it rather than the product, at least. I used to talk to myself as a kid. Externalize my thoughts. Interview myself in times of durress, of which there were many.
Tracing the origin of my reason for writing is like trying to explain a dream. Colors are interpreted as sounds or smells. Simultaneous, multi-sensory interpretation. All acceptable and reasonable to the dreamer.
Writing is me. It’s what I’ve done. It’s what I do.
I am writing.