Thoughts of a millennial Dad from the intersection of work and life.

20 July 2014

 
It's a drop past 4pm here at Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma City. As the canard goes, it's not lost on me how ironic it is to name a state citadel of aviation after a man who died in a plane crash. 
 
Airborne
 
A few hours ago, I said goodbye to Gwyn, Clark and Fan after a bittersweet farewell in Walters with Dad, Mom, Papa, Andrea, Jacob, Garrett, Seth, Chelsey, and our sister Randi Lynn and her son Drey. I made this latest trip home to see exactly this set of people. If there's anything one can count on at all in matters of Comanche culture, it's the opportunity to see family when one comes home. 
 
And so it is at the Comanche Homecoming Celebration, going strong some 63 years after its first incarnation welcoming home veterans following their service in the Korean War. 
 
Last night, sitting at our camp, with a canopy of stars under the dark Oklahoma sky, I was able to sporadically reconnect with friends and family alike - some of whom I had not seen since the last time I attended the Comanche Homecoming Celebration in 2005. Soaking up the moment, I was pleased to chat with long-time family friend, Tom Kavanaugh, a former Anthropologist and Curator of Collections at the University of Indiana's Mather Museum. Tom is nothing if not friendly and blessed with a keen sense of storytelling, wrought from forty-odd years of accumulating insights into the history and culture of the Comanche People. His knowledge and enthusiasm is infectious. 
 
After listening a good while, I asked what someone with his experience would miss the most about the old days of the celebration and the old ways of doing things. True to form, Tom answered without hesitation, "I miss the people. They Keewainais (keh-why-nighs) who are no longer here but should be."
 
I didn't have much of a reply. It's sometimes hardest to respond when a person is so strikingly correct. 
 
Later that night over cigars with my brother Lucas Davis of Houston, TX (a distinctly Comanche brother who shares neither my tribal identity nor even my ethnicity), I thought about the event and its ability to pull together so many people, from so many places, and allow them to be a family. 
 
While I watched the crowds of people milling about the dusty creek bottom, I found that I couldn't escape my conversation with Tom. A small place in my heart pinched at the thought of families and friends forever seared into my heart and mind - the ghosts of celebrations past who are forever sitting around the arena in Sultan Park. 
 
My son Clark received a Comanche name earlier in the day, one of the principal reasons hastening my return home. Such events are rare in life, watching one's firstborn and his ascent into the ranks of warriors past. Fortunately, Clark was well-served in his naming by family friend/relative and my personal mentor Bernard Kahrahrah - a former Chairman of the Comanche Tribe. After much prayer, Bernard gave Clark the name Thaiori (Thy-oh-rē), which translates to the sun is rising.
 
Denver
 
I didn't realize this at the time, but Clark's name gives me a great deal of solace as I struggle to make sense of life, and all of the changes and opportunities that lie ahead. I think that even when one becomes melancholic for the ghosts of the arena, perhaps it's wise to follow their example and pray for the generations that are to come, rising like the sun in the east, calling us to embrace the future of a new day.  
 
It's always a good thing to come home - no matter how difficult it is to leave. 

18 July 2014

Changes

Today finds me in the sterile confines of Denver International Airport en route to Oklahoma. After only a few days on the job at the University of Wyoming, I am traveling back to Walters for the annual Comanche Homecoming Celebration. 

To be sure, I realize the benefits of air travel. I'll be reunited with friends and family from near and far in a matter or hours, traversing great distances that even a car ride would take north of 14 hrs to compete. 

And yet, flying is certainly an abominable way to travel. Just a few minutes ago, I was comfortably seated at the far end of seats near gate A49, when a middle-age woman sat uncomfortably close to me. 

True to form, she immediately popped open her laptop, fired up her cell phone, and began yelling into the receiver. In the course of ten minutes, I heard every detail about the new house she and her husband are purchasing, right down to the interest rate of the mortgage, and the need for her husband, David, to be very careful in making sure that all of the paperwork gets filed in a timely manner. 

Poor David. I suspect there will be hell to pay when she gets home. Seems he misplaced the documents amid the sea of folders in their home office. 

When I could no longer take listening to the details of a perfect stranger's life, (keep in mind I had no choice in the matter), I moseyed toward the restroom for a brief pit stop prior to boarding. 

And even in that hallowed sanctum, I could hear a voice from the stall next to mine, barking complaints into his cell phone about the poor planning that went into the entire trip. Apparently, he wanted a direct flight to begin with and couldn't countenance having a layover in Denver.  

All of which leads me to conclude that the golden age of air travel had to have been in the 60s and 70s, when flights were cheap, the cocktails flowed freely, and cell phones weren't yet thought of. 

Even so, it's nice to be going home. I'm enjoying my new job in Laramie and excited for our future there. But the allure of home in Walters is never far from my mind. Change is afoot in my life. But Walters, I suspect, will always be my true north - no matter how far south I have to travel to get there. 

04 July 2014

I'm writing today from steamy Carnegie Park, home of the Kiowa Gourd Clan's annual celebration. While an American flag is prominently displayed in the middle of the arena and scores of veterans line the rows of chairs behind it, the event is decidedly not a celebration of America’s Independence from Great Britain. 

Somewhere around the time that the Kiowa Indians came to call this part of Oklahoma home, the early days of July coincided with the ripening of the skunkberry, indicating that the time for holding the sun dance was near. As Kiowa warriors came to defend their territories in the infamous “Indian Wars” against the U.S. Cavalry in the late 1800s, trophies of battle were proudly displayed in the literal center of the annual ceremony. Given its origins, the event became more a celebration of tribal insurgency than a celebration of American Independence from European powers.

Yet, it is impossible to discount the appreciation for our country here marked by a plethora of red, white, and blue, along with the deep admiration expressed repeatedly for the young men from Kiowa Country who have fought with honor on distant shores. It’s also noteworthy that Native Americans have the highest record of military service per capita of any ethnic group in the United States. It is fair to say that American Indians are a rather patriotic lot all things considered.  

But if there’s a conclusion to be drawn from the Kiowa Gourd Clan celebration and its implications for the nexus of culture and country, it is that America’s relationship with its tribal nations is rife with complexity. And though it may be surprising, it is exactly this complexity that makes the annual celebration here in Carnegie a quintessentially American affair.

A couple of years ago I wrote that America is like a large dysfunctional family. I think this is still mostly true. Consider the hullabaloo surrounding the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby opinion. Proponents of Obamacare and those who generally support the mass availability of contraception have bemoaned the “dangerous implications” of the Supreme Court’s “radical” decision. Meanwhile, faith-based organizations and those opposed to family planning have hailed the ruling as a profound “victory for religious freedom.”

Given our divide, it’s clear that both our internal relationship with other Americans, and America’s relationship with tribes, are complex things. And yet, like a marriage on the rocks, America somehow manages to hold it together year in and year out, providing relative stability for the world and bags of cash when good will isn’t good enough.

It’s true we can do more to cooperate and solve big problems. We can be more united and less inclined to bickering. But as a society we seem to hold our collective paradox rather well.

With our population so divided on so many issues, perhaps celebrating our cultural disconnects really is the best we can do.  

27 May 2014

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It's a quiet morning here on the farm. My Wife, Son, and Grandfather have all made the trek down the road and up the steep hill to church. I've opted for a somewhat less holy morning of coffee and Emails. Not nearly as uplifting but we all have our spiritual needs I suppose. 

Despite my morning of zen, a lot has happened in the past few weeks. Most recently, my baby sister graduated from high school, thereby ensuring my parents an empty nest if they ever permit her to leave. For now, her college plans include attending the local university and commuting from home at their insistence. 

For my friends and colleagues not from Southwest Oklahoma, the graduation ceremony itself would have been somewhat of a surprise. Like the one hundred and five Walters High School Commencement ceremonies before it, my sister’s graduation was punctuated by very public references to God and Jesus with one precocious valedictorian going so far as to share the gospel from rostrum, complete with pastoral inflections and Biblical passages. Naturally, he was a preacher’s kid - the scion of the First Baptist Church minister no less. As if this weren’t enough, the baccalaureate service was also prominently advertised, directly opposite the graduation agenda on the official programs issued by the school. It was enough to make even this God-fearing agnostic's head swirl. Suffice it to say, Jefferson’s wall of separation between church and state is in a bit of disrepair around here. 

On the other hand, such a melding of faith and state wasn’t all bad. After a spirited debate with the powers that be, my sister managed to secure permission to wear an Eagle plume feather from her mortar board. Granted, the permission didn’t not come readily or perhaps even willingly, but we were all pleased nonetheless that the situation didn’t escalate. Last year, a Native American high school senior from Alabama was fined $1000 for her exercise of religious expression. The matter would have been especially ironic given the overt displays of religious expression throughout the ceremony. Perhaps the event will mark a new era of religious pluralism here in sleepy Walters, OK?

First Amendment questions aside, being home has been rather nice in other ways. We returned to America unexpectedly at the conclusion of my contract with the University of Waikato at the end of March. Fundraising had been a perennial problem for my employer, the University Waikato's new Indigenous Governance Centre. But as you can see in the photo above, we returned to warm temps and mild summer evenings that provide ample time for walks down the narrow lane leading to our house. I enjoyed similar walks with my Son in New Zealand, but the area around our flat didn’t have the quiet, peaceful environs we enjoy here in the country. In a way, the biggest benefit to being home is how simple it really is. 

While I poked a bit of fun earlier at the overt religiosity here in the veritable buckle of the Bible Belt, there is something to be said for the stability and simplicity of life gleaned from the faith that guides most people around here - a faith I once had. This is particularly true when one considers the relative chaos that seems to pervade everything else.

Consider that in just the past week alone, people much more tech savvy than myself have said that the security infrastructure of our computers and computer systems is “held together with the IT equivalent of baling wire.” Similarly smart people have questioned whether the crisis in the Ukraine could lead to another World War. And not long ago, closer to home, our State so thoroughly botched the execution of a man that he died of a heart-attack some twenty minutes after state officials halted the entire process.

Given such a comedy of errors, it’s nice to have a place that’s insulated from the madness - if only for a short while. But more on that to come.

28 February 2014

 
We're seaside in Raglan, New Zealand today. The air smells of salt, and the sand is warm beneath bare feet. 
 
Our hosts today are a delightful Italian couple that we've become friends with through the University. It's an adventure traveling the countryside with them. We are driving an early 2000s model sedan with a manual transmission. It hasn't always been a smooth ride, but something about the fits and starts of the tired engine make the trek to the coast seem more appropriate. 
 
We had lunch earlier at a lovely, albeit overpriced, fusion cafe. The shops of Raglan were bustling this afternoon with locals and tourists alike. In the cafe, I had a chicken roti wrap that tasted rather like a quesadilla with bacon and potatoes than a proper wrap. The local beer on tap was a bit bitter even for me. But it was cold and wet, and that made it just good enough to satisfy my thirst before our trip to the beach. 
 
The roads to the shore from the village green weren't obvious. They tend to wind and meander along the cliffs and neighborhoods of the town, while the shore remains hidden just out of view. But after a couple of turns, we saw the sea gleaming far below the ridge. 
 
When we finally arrived on the sand not long ago, Clark immediately made a straight line for the water. Kids seem to have a fixation with water that I no longer appreciate as an adult. Still it's a beautiful love he has for the ocean. Perhaps if we lived here longer he would learn to surf, and fish, and swim in the sea. 
 
It's strange to consider that we'll be returning to America in the near future, leaving New Zealand and the black sands of Raglan far behind. It's time to go home, I think. But for Clark's sake, I hope we visit again sometime. We have too many friends here to never return. 
 
It strikes me that so much of life is like this. The three of us in isolation are like three grains of sand taken from a vast beach. We can exist just fine on our own, but we tend to thrive when in the company of the countless others that make life worthwhile.