What About Dad?

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Through the course of recent history, there are thousands of photos that would be considered iconic. There’s the photo of a navy sailor kissing a girl in Times Square following the end of WWII; the girl running down the road after having been napalmed in Vietnam; three fireman raising an American flag over the debris of the World Trade Center following 9/11. Those are just three examples from a list that could go on and on.

The photo at the top of this post is never going to be widely seen outside of our family and so it will never belong in the same conversations as those photos noted above. But for the Ryan and Shannon Rapier family, this photo has already become iconic.

It represents so much. But for me, more than anything it represents the day our family died.

Now, I can already hear the voices out there. “Whoa, dude! Slow down. I know it hurts, but don’t you think you’re overreacting just a bit? Your family’s fine and hundreds of thousands of families have gone through this. Dial back the melodrama already!”

And trust me, I get it. I am fully aware how over the top my statement of familial fatality is. But let me explain.

I’m talking about my family of children. Now some could argue it had already died and I would concede that it had been on life support for three years since my daughter, Abby, graduated high school. But she still lives nearby and I see her regularly.

This was different. On Monday, June 6, 2020, I watched my son walk away from us for two years. To make it worse, that boy who walked away isn’t coming back. Ever! On top of that, if all goes according to plan, Abby will leave Thatcher within the next few months and I will have two children gone from beyond my regular sphere.

I know it is the natural order of things. I know that from a religious perspective there is no place I would rather have him be. I know it’s supposed to be the best/worst day ever. Except it mainly it felt like the worst.

Now before anybody reaches out to me and tries to console me with insights meant to make me feel better, please know that I already know. I know that if he had not gone, I would be sad in a whole different and probably worse way. I know that he will be better for having gone through this experience. I know it all. For those who aren’t clear, I actually did it myself almost 30 years ago and I am familiar with the outcomes.

I just miss my son.

You see, unlike most teenage boys, this kid actually seemed to enjoy being around me. Our Rapier male bonding road trips across the country these past two summers were carried out at his request, not mine. He would wander into Shannon and I’s bedroom at night just to talk and we would have to beg him to leave so we could go to sleep. Long story short, he’s my friend. One of my best friends.

And what sucks is that when my wife posted the picture associated with this post on her Facebook page, that post was inundated with comments of friends telling her it was okay to have “mom cries” or something like that. Tons of female supporters expressed to her how difficult it is to be a missionary mom on day one and expressed sympathy while offering support. It was wonderful. For her.

I posted that day too. You know what I got?

“He’ll be a great missionary!” Or some variation of that sentiment.

No offense folks, but thanks a lot! I actually already know that. What I want to know is where’s my permission to cry? Heaven knows I did far more of it standing there in the middle of an airport than I’m comfortable with. Especially in front of people I don’t know.

Where’s my support group of dads who are there for me in case “I just need to talk”?

I’ll tell you where they are. In the same place I would, and will be. Looking at the pictures of families crying and thinking, yeah, that sucks. But…whatcha gonna do?

Sometimes it just bites being a man. Not being able to express your feelings out of fear that you will appear weak. Not being able to cry like a dang baby when your world gets flipped on its head because…I mean, c’mon. We’re men!

I experienced every emotion conveyed in my wife’s face as she clings to my son in the picture above. I desperately wanted to keep him here, take him home and tell the Church that, I’m sorry, Braden Rapier is apparently not available until further notice. Which made it suck even more when I had to be the one to say it was time to say final goodbyes. To be the one who forced the end upon everyone else. I despised not being able to give in to the selfish desire to sneak one more hug in after Shannon was done because I had to adhere to the unwritten rule: Mom goes last.

In short, I hated having to be the Dad.

So, to make up for all that, I decided the best thing to do was throw myself this pity party on my blog and document what I actually have felt and not a bunch of platitudes conveying what I should be feeling. Does that make me weak? Probably. Do I care? Not so much.

Now before anyone reaches out to me based on what I have I written, let me just say: Please Don’t. In this situation, I will truly be fine with letting the thought count.

In the end, I am a guy and in many ways I have already retreated into my natural male tendencies of suppressing my feelings and focusing on the logistical and mundane as a coping mechanism. I’m fine with that.

Also, the only thing worse than not being able to talk about my feelings of sadness over my son leaving would probably be talking about them. It sucked! I miss him like crazy already. What more is there to say?

Finally, I know the platitudes are correct. I’m glad he’s where he is. I am so grateful for the experiences I know he’s going to have. I can’t wait to meet the man who is going to come home. It will be wonderful. And the family that died on June 6, 2020 will be reborn, like a Phoenix, into something greater and more wonderful.

But in the short term, when I am alone and I allow myself to dwell on what is missing in our home, I can’t help but fight back tears. I know what is happening is a good thing, but I was under the incorrect impression that all the painful growth of a mission was supposed to happen to the missionary, not the family. I didn’t sign up for that.

So I guess in the end, I’m telling everyone to ignore everything I have written in this post. These words are the just the irrational ramblings of a crazy man who is struggling to process what has happened to him in a world where men are expected to do that kind of thing on their own. I both hate that and completely understand it all at the same time.

To finish, I guess what makes this whole process most difficult is that I know what he’s going to face. I know how hard it’s going to be. Nobody else in my little family understands it, but I do. And there are going to be things that happen during the next two years to my son that I wouldn’t wish on an enemy, and there is nothing I can do about it. That, more than anything, hurts so very bad. I know it will be for his good, but my natural instinct is to protect him from things like that, and I can’t. I mean, I could…but I can’t. And I’m having trouble dealing with that. I know there will be wonderful things that happen as well and for those life-changing events I am so excited for him. But as he goes to bed tonight in a place that is foreign to him and he is finally left to himself to deal with his thoughts and feelings, I have an inkling of how he feels. Like I said, I did it myself 28 years ago this month. It’s a very lonely place. And it doesn’t matter how much you know the Lord is with you or that you are where He wants you to be, it’s not home. And that’s when the reality begins to sink in that the life you left behind isn’t going to be there when you return.

He’ll be fine. He will survive the hard times like literally hundreds of thousands before him have. But I’m a parent. And I can’t help but worry. However, as a male parent (this blog post aside) I will do it quietly or with as much faked bravado as possible. That’s just what we do. But every great once in a while, I find myself wishing there was a manly way to break down.

Until then, though, we’ll go with everything is fine. We’re all good and there is nothing to see here. I am proud of my son and I am praying for him morning, noon and night. And I know for a fact, he will be a fantastic missionary. He better be. Because his mom didn’t give him up for two years to be anything less. And because I’m a dad, that’s the last thing I told him before we watched him walk away through the gateway to adulthood.

That Walt Disney’s Full of %@*#

This week is the week leading up to Easter. If I were a good religious person I would write something Easter related. But I guess I’m just an average religious person who is more concerned about how we are going to survive this crazy weekend than focusing on the truly important things like I should be.

This week has been the week of historic Supreme Court arguments regarding same-sex marriage or marriage equality, your name choice depending on where along the political spectrum your personal seat happens to reside. If I were a truly committed civic-minded person, I would weigh in on this topic with keen insights that have probably only been shared 972,084 times already. But my committment to civic-mindedness is tenuous at best.

So instead, I’m going to be the truly self-indulgent person I am and talk about something that matters only to me.

In actuality, this week has been one of deep introspection for me, but sadly, it has little to do with Easter. The reasons for my introspection are two-fold. One, my wife and I recently discovered we are expecting our fifth child. Why this is a big deal is because, never in my wildest dreams did I expect to expect another child, period. And yet…here we are.

The second thing on my mind has been my good friend’s son leaving on a mission. In fact, his parents put him on a plane Wednesday morning. Both of these events have been causing me to think…a lot…about a lot of different things.

And one of the things that came to my mind was of a night almost 19 years ago in Manchester, England. That night, over 20 missionaries serving in the England Manchester Mission gathered at the mission home in Altringham-and after a wonderful dinner and a tear-jerking, heart-rending testimony meeting, a large group of us huddled around a television to watch the famous missionary video, Called to Serve.

I wish I could say it was a deeply moving expereince that reduced us all to tears as we reflected on the wondrous experiences we had all been a part of for the previous two years. But, in fact, it was nothing like that. Within minutes, we were all laughing at all the things the video left out. The things that had we known about them before we came…might have made us question whether we had the nerve to come at all?

Like what you ask? Well…

– The companion who revels in every last one of the 178 monstrous farts he produces each morning before you can get out the door at 9:30.

– The weekly dinner appointment with the lady who owns a number of cats well into the double digits and whose cats enjoy sampling your food while it sits on the kitchen counter waiting to be served.

– The Rain! The never ending Rain!! The Rain that causes you to think that every rainbow you’ve ever seen in your life is just a cruel “Gotcha” from God as you knock doors while the world’s second great flood descends upon you.

The list could go on and on, but I remember one elder commenting on a scene of two sister missionaries (I think) walking along in a light rain with their umbrellas more than adequately filling their water-redirecting needs. I remember he said something like, “Rain like that wouldn’t have been so bad. Where are the shots of me and Elder _____ holding our umbrellas out in front of us like shields as the rain pounds us for the 23rd straight day in winds up to 40 mph?” I remember thinking, “Fair question.”

Had I only known then that life is full of things like this. Life changing events we go into thinking we have some idea of what we are doing, only to realize we couldn’t possibly be more clueless. You know, the things that come after, “And they lived Happily Ever After.”

If you had told me at 22-years-0ld about some of the things my future would hold because of marriage, I would’ve smiled and nodded very apprehensively before turning and running to report you to the nearest mental health facility. Some examples:

– Owning both a VHS tape and a DVD copy of both The Sound of Music and Sense and Sensibility.

– The sheer number of hours I have spent clothes shopping. The total amassed time should have been enough to last me well into my 80’s.

– Buying tampons and pads from a teenage male clerk because I had the misfortune of passing a Walmart on my way home from work.

None of these, nor countless other examples were ever mentioned in the job interview. My wife has suffered similarly. She is mortified that one of my favorite passtimes is sharing her most embarrassing moments at family reunions and other social gatherings. And I suppose she’s right. But really, she has the best stories.

Now, what she probably sees as the ultimate bait-and-switch from that magical wedding day is that my favorite story of hers is (BLATANT BOOK PLUG APPROACHING) now captured for posterity’s sake in THE RELUCTANT BLOGGER (available now for pre-order on amazon.com or at Bookworms Bookstore in Thatcher. Like how I slipped that in? Of course you do.) So anyone familiar with the “Kyle McCain story”, be on the lookout, because it is in there.

But the most aggregious example of not knowing what you are getting into is child birth. Oh My Gosh, the things I have done. The Horrors!!! The volumes of books that could be filled with poop and spit up stories alone. It is almost impossible to comprehend. And then they start to grow up. There is a family joke about how my oldest daughter can coat every surface of an entire bathroom in vomit when she’s sick. At least it’s a joke to everyone except the person who has had to clean it up every time. For some reason, I still don’t find it that funny.

But when you have that first one, it’s all dreams of good smelling babies and cute little pictures of adorable children on your perfect family vacations. When the rest come along, you’re so delirious from the chaos, you hardly notice their arrival. But then…a day arrives when you put the high chair and crib away and you no longer have to shell out that $40 a paycheck for diapers and formula. It’s like a ray of sun cutting through the murkiest fog. Overnight, your life gets a little easier. Well, maybe not easier, but different. Raising a child is a young person’s game. And suddenly, you can sit back and smile lovingly (mock relentlessly) those young parents who are going through those stress-filled days that you have happily left behind.

Which brings me back to my friend’s missionary son. When I returned from my mission, I would have dreams about receiving a call to go back and do it all over again. These continued well into the early years of my marriage. I haven’t had one in a long time, but I still remember them vividly. For some, these dreams are a happy thing. For me, they were a nightmare. My mission was one of the most rewarding times of my life, but I would not jump at the chance to do it again. It was simply that hard.

Just like having a baby.

When we discovered our latest news, I panicked. To this day, I’m still scared. Because unlike my 25-year-old self, I know what’s coming. Not only that, I have had a glimpse of what life would have been like had we been done. It wasn’t a bad vision.

But then something happens like my experience yesterday. I came home from a business trip to Tucson and as I walked through the front door, each of my children greeted me with hugs and happiness. Even my too-hip, too-cool oldest. It was a good feeling. And I can’t imagine that scene playing out without each and every one of them there. They are by far, the most rewarding things I have ever done.

So I think I’m going to be okay. I still dread the exhaustion that will arrive in September. I can already feel the weight of having to argue with my wife over whose turn it is to change the latest poop-filled diaper. But I’m starting to remember other things. Like the unique feeling of holding a sleeping baby on your chest as you recline in a chair. There’s nothing like that. Or the cute things they say because their mouths won’t work right. Or eventually, experiencing a child’s first trip to Disneyland. Barring the unforeseen, I’ll get to do that one more time…and I can’t wait.

But that doesn’t mean five years from now, I won’t roll my eyes when I hear some first-time expentant parents prattling on about something of which they have no clue. It will be my mid-forties equivalent of watching Called to Serve. And I will laugh and I will laugh at the naivety.  And why will I laugh? Because I will be done. And I can guarantee you one thing. We will not be doing this again!