5. Rifles, Roller skates, and Recovery

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5. Rifles, Roller skates, and Recovery

*** Did you arrive in the middle of the story? Start at the beginning ***

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You know me as “Paul Duane”

Truth is, Duane, is not my last name… it’s my middle name. My Father’s first name. There are a number of reasons I’ve chosen to go by my first and middle name…  Among them, is the pure badassery that is my Dad…

Duane Huber Jensen.

I want you to meet my Dad.

I’ve got to be honest with you though – I didn’t always feel this way. There were times in my life when having you meet my Dad was really challenging.

Every teenager thinks their parents are dumb.

My situation was a bit different: my Dad actually… was… dumb:

This is the story of my dumb dad.

His brother, Al, always said, “Duane had the world by the tail.”

Every girl in school swooned over him. Apparently, roller skating was hot back in the 50’s. Look at how effortlessly he holds her up.

He was a brown belt in karate.

My dad took his rifle to school.

Yeah. Read that again.

He was the captain of the ROTC rifle team and one of the top marksmen in the state. It’s hard to believe the that this was not only okay at some point, but celebrated. How far we have slid. I digress. This is not meant to be a treatise on gun laws and schools, but it’s worth noting, this is how it used to be, back when America was truly great.

He enlisted in the Army and went to basic training, narrowly missing being activated during the Korean War.

He served an LDS Mission in England for two years. To this day, we still have the 10 speed bike he rode around in England (he disassembled it and shipped it home)

Upon his return home, he had a university scholarship in electronics waiting for him. My Dad was an all American young man. Not just a bad ass by even today’s standards, but a kind and happy guy who made friends everywhere he went.  In the words of his brother Albert, “Duane had the world by the tail.”

“Ok, great, your dad was basically Wally Cleaver, a handsome strapping young man that had everything going for him. What does that have to do with motorcycles or anything else? What does this have to do with me? TELL ME ABOUT ME. MAKE THIS ABOUT ME I’M GETTING BORED.”

Okay, dear reader, I will. Stick with me for a moment.

He returned home from his mission to a lovely girl that he had been dating for a long time whom he planned to marry. He started working at the Bear Lake Marina in northern Utah.  This required him to commute through the often treacherous Logan Canyon every day. He bought a Honda CB450 motorcycle to make the commute on. He had to order a helmet in. In his typical bravado, he didn’t wait for the helmet to arrive before he started making the daily trek on his CB450.

On June 15 1965, he was coming over the summit of Logan Canyon from Bear Lake, and something went very wrong. The sheriff’s investigation was inconclusive – the two theories are that he failed to negotiate a turn and slammed into the mountain side, or that someone hit him from behind and took off. The rear fender on his bike was dented in at the height of a car fender, lending credence to the hit and run theory.  One way or the other –

Someone found him nearly dead in a ditch.

Authorities were called, he was hauled off in an ambulance (there was no such thing as life flight back then). The nearest hospital that was sufficiently equipped to handle the severity of his injuries was two hours away in Ogden.  Upon arrival, my grandmother and grandfather were told that he would probably not make it through the night.

He made it.

The doctors told his parents that he would probably not make it another 24 hours.

He made it.

The doctors told them if he made it through the next 48 hours, he would live the rest off his days in a coma.

He made it.

The doctors told them if he made it through the next 72 hours, the most they could ever hope for is that the would be a vegetable in a wheel chair.

He made it.

My Dad’s injuries were so severe, the doctors kept setting very low expectations.

He kept making it.

He was in a coma for a few months. When he emerged, he was essentially completely paralyzed.  He emerged into the vegetable state that was predicted.  A whole book could be written about what happens from here, but for the purpose of this story, I’ll summarize it:

One near death experience, one miraculous faith healing experience, countless prayers, untold hours of care by hospital staff, doctors, family, and one godsend of a physical therapist and a few years later – he learned how to do everything again. He had to learn how to walk, how to eat, how write, and even how to think, all over again. He emerged from those years of rehabilitation with only one remaining problem:

His tongue was paralyzed.

For all intents and purposes, he couldn’t speak.

He could not control his saliva, either.

He drooled constantly and could not form words very well.

His former athletic prowess was gone, too. Being able to walk and ride a bicycle was the pinnacle of his physical abilities from that point on.

And though she tried,  his fiancé could not abide this new version of Duane.

She left him.

This magnificent young man had been completely humbled. He lost everything but life itself.

This was all taking place in the late 60’s; I was born in 1976. During the ensuing time, my Dad got to work reinventing himself with the cards he had been given. He met a woman named Ann, and they got married. He got trained as a draftsman and took a job working in a cabinet shop. The details were never clear as we never talked about it, but after 5 years of marriage they divorced, setting the stage for him to meet my mother. They met, dated briefly and got married. His doctors set very low expectations about one last thing – and again,

He made it.

Specifically: Me. 

Nice hair, Mom.

What’s the point of all this?

My hope is to give you a glimpse into why the word “motorcycle” was such a forbidden word in our family.

It wasn’t at his behest though…

Just my mom.

And his mom.

And his siblings.

And anyone else who was remotely close to him through the process.

For all of his congeniality, my Dad was a stubborn sonofabitch. Once he decided he wanted something, nothing would deter him, much to my Mother’s chagrin, and if we are being honest, much to the chagrin of the Grim Reaper. My Dad had an indomitable will.

One of my early childhood memories is of my Dad and a couple of his friends riding their 10 speed bikes (yes, the one he brought home from England) from Logan to Bear Lake, all the way through Logan Canyon. For those of you familiar with the geography, you know that the only people you see doing this are extremely committed cyclists who are training for the Tour de Something….

…and Duane.

Aside from the pure physicality of this bat-shit-crazy, punishing ride, it is a symbolic one.

It’s the place where he lost everything.

I’m not sure if it didn’t phase him, or if my Dad has the most bad ass poker face and penchant for beating odds, but here’s a picture of him and his friend Lynn on one of those rides. (He did it a few different times).

Nevermind that he essentially lost his life on two wheels in this canyon. He’s now going to go wag his dick in the face of his past, in the face of death, and in the face of his disability:

My Dad was not an athlete anymore. He was basically a functional cripple – riding his bike through Logan Canyon.

On many occasions, my Dad did things that just weren’t supposed to be possible: a heritage I hold sacred.

When I use his name as part of mine, I pay homage to his legacy.

Every time you say my name, “Paul DUANE”, there is a part of me that bows in reverence to this magnificent giant of a dumb man.

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Next: No Fear, No Guile, No Regrets

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4. One way or the other, Moms know things

*** Did you arrive in the middle of the story? Start at the beginning ***

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“I know. Someone already told me. They asked me not to tell you who it was.”

There is a very short list of people who this could be, and within seconds, I’ve narrowed it down with 99% confidence.  I’m pretty certain it’s my Aunt Maureen – she means well. If only I could have had some knowledge that my Mom already knew. This would have saved me from all of that stress.  I’m both frustrated and relieved.

I’m glad that the memory I’ll always have of this day is of her wry and conflicted smile that said, “How did I ever give birth to you – oh that’s right, you are 50% your Dad and that explains everything”.

I thought it would be horror and tears. I much prefer this version of reality.

For the next hour, I told her about how it all came to be. I told her about the Motorcycle Safety Foundation rider’s education course I took. I told her about my experienced rider friends who have been coaching me.  I told her about hours and hours of practice in empty parking lots.  I told her about all of the safety skills I’ve been learning in a nearly frantic effort to calm her nerves. I showed her all of the nice, thick leather riding gear I was wearing: leather boots, chaps, quality leather coat, leather gloves, and helmet, of course. 

We talked about all of the people we know who have whole careers of riding safely on two wheels.  She wasn’t mad, and honestly, she didn’t seem terribly surprised.  Definitely nervous, though. 

“I just lost your Dad… I don’t know if I can take another loss…”

(note: My Dad passed away last year of causes incident to his age and condition, which I’ll explain to you in the next chapter. While his death has made a huge impact on my life, the focus of this story is his life.)

To know who, and why, I am, you have to know my father: 

The original Duane. 

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Next up: My Dumb Dad: Rifles, Rollerskates and Recovery

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A Mormon Family that Drinks Together, Stays Together

I was born of goodly Mormon parents. Sometimes, it takes getting drunk around them to realize just how good they are.

When I call myself the “Crossdressing Mormon Anarchist”, I’m only partially kidding around.  Like any Jew who carries the card but only attends Synagogue during Yom Kippur, Mormonism is my heritage. It’s basically an ethnicity. They are my people. My parents, and grandparents on both sides of my family all served missions for the LDS Church. My great great grandfather is a famous Mormon pioneer; he was one of Brigham Young’s hit men. The foundational stories of my parent’s lives as individuals, and as a couple, are rooted in The Church. Mormonism runs thick in our blood, which means that as far as orthodoxy is concerned, things like alcohol, should never run in our blood.

One of the main tenets of Mormonism is the idea that via Temple marriage,  families can be together forever – after death, in heaven. As a kid, that failed to make sense to me in several ways, but the foremost reason was that I really didn’t like my family that much. I regarded them as bunk mates assigned by the drill sergeant of life circumstance – and as soon as bootcamp ended, I’d leave and probably not give them a second thought. The Mormon Church attempting to incentivize righteous living with the reward of an eternal family felt like my mom trying to bribe me to clean my room by promising that she’d take me to have a root canal as a reward.

As adults, it was no secret that my brother and sister had left Mormonism by the wayside. My mother used to call me her “last hope” for having a kid that would carry on a legacy of “righteousness”.  Many years ago, my own falling away became known to the family. This was ushered in one Christmas night as we were wrapping up a family party. My parents went home, my daughters returned to their mother’s house, leaving just the three of us kids together. Wine emerged from Camille’s cupboard. Glasses were poured, glasses were raised and we partook of the goodness of the grape together for the first time. Something shifted in a way that’s difficult to account for – it may suffice to say that we found ourselves three grown adults with things in common that only we could have. It’s like some kind of pretense disappeared and left us honest. I found new friendship in my brother and sister. From that day forward, I’ve enjoyed their companionship in a way that starts to give ironic legitimacy to the promises of the church.

You need to know right now that my mom prays for me every night. And Camille. And Mikey… not just that we’ll be happy and safe, but a particular kind of happy & safe: In my Mom’s experience, Orthodoxy in the church is akin to getting enough vitamin C. I’ll say this – that absolutely IS her experience, it is her reality. The Church, the community of people that are the church – have been really good to my parents, and they’ve been good to it. I would never want it to go away, for their sake… it defines and supports their lives –  but that’s another story for another day. My sweet mother prays for us with the energy of a good mom whose sole desire is that her offspring thrive – thrive in the only way she knows how. She means really, really well. I seriously adore my Mother.  Every week that Camille, Mike, and I do not engage with The Church, I imagine she must feel like a failure. How can she not? Her purpose in life is defined in terms of dedication to The Church.

I have dedicated my life to authenticity. There are many rewards that come from living authentically (again, another story for another day). One of the dark prices I pay for living authentically is the knowledge that I regularly disappoint my mother, break her heart, even.

During a recent trip with the whole family to visit Camille, her husband and her awesome little boys in Mesa:

Mike and I decided to let everyone take a rest. We took over the kitchen to prepare a feast for our family. In preparation, we hit the grocery store.

One of the things I love about shopping outside of Utah is the experience of being treated like a true grown up.  The Kroger store was just like my beloved Smith’s at home, but had a very large isle of wine and liquor that echoed the candy isle in any Utah grocery store (we don’t drink our feelings away, but we eat them away like a motherfucker. Diabetes is our religion’s disease of choice).  IT WAS GLORIOUS. Mike bought thin sliced pork chops, whiskey, and a 30 rack of beer. I stocked up on  garlic, tomatoes, onions, basil, pasta, bread, and wine.


I adore the process of drinking, conversing, and cooking with, and for, people I care about.  Mikey and I spread out and started chopping, cutting, simmering and searing a spread of ciabatta with balsamic vinegar & olive oil; marinara from scratch over penne; seasoned & breaded pork chops . We took our time. Meal prep included a first course of cold beers, followed by whiskey. As dinner neared completion, I opened the wine and had a couple of glasses.  Four drinks just while cooking? Hell yes. We come from Viking stock and can handle our liquor. Let’s pour a fifth as we dish up and consider it an apéritif, shall we? Cheers!

I paused and took inventory:

Beers: 2

whiskey shots: 1

glasses of wine: 2

crusty looks / lectures from parents: 0

There were my parents – enjoying time with us, loving us, without conditions – IN the conditions of us kids flagrantly behaving in ways that offend some of their deepest sensibilities, hopes, and dreams. This was a defining characteristic of Christ – he was criticized for breaking bread with sinners. Each week, my parents partake of bread and water (used to wine in the early days of the church, but any liquid will suffice for symbolism) that has been blessed in the following way:

O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it, that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them; that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.

They were, in the most literal, and possibly painfully personal sense, about to break bread with sinners. Not a single lecture nor word nor gesture nor any hint of disapproval. Just love. We had a wonderful dinner, told stories, and truly enjoyed one another’s company in a way that exceeded every lofty and empty idea of “family time” from my cold hearted childhood.  I raised my glass of wine to my lips and partook of my own personal sacrament of gratitude and witness that my parents were, in that very moment, not just claiming Christianity, but DOING Christianity. This is what it looks like to take up the name of Christ and always remember Him, and this is what it’s like to have His spirit.

Mom, Dad, you’ll probably never read this, but if you do, I hope you can see that the quality of your character has not been lost on me for a second. I’m profoundly grateful. Not everyone has been blessed like I have with parents as exceptional as you. To everyone else  – this is it. This is what it looks like. This is how it’s done.

much love –

Paul Duane

 

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When Mormons Doubt: Jon Ogden

Have you ever had one of those awkward conversations with someone who grew up the same way you did… but… YOU’VE changed?  Maybe they are still in the same mode of thinking and living, but you’ve shifted in some way. It could be politics, religion, sexuality, career, school related… whatever. We’ve all been there.  Author Jon Ogden wrote a great book called “When Mormons Doubt: A Way to Save Relationships and Seek a Quality of Life”. It’s a great book about how to navigate those critical conversations while preserving those important relationships. Order your copy of it today by clicking on the book cover below:

when-momons-doubt-john-ogden-cover

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Hilly Jon & Jag

I don’t often photograph families, but when I do, it looks like this:

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(L to R): Hillary, Jag, and Jon Kirkman are a beautiful family.

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Though she’s spent many years as a wonderfully ambitious career girl, Hillary is doing the mom thing, full time – and loves it.

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A man can have a lot of great things in his life… a nice car, a prestigious career, a fat bank account, 6 pack abs… but personally, I hold in highest regard the man who has attracted a brilliant woman, created a joyful life with her, prepared well for a child and then manifest one into the abundant world he’s created.  This is masculine finesse at it’s finest.  Jon Kirkman is one such man; Jag Kirkman is a very fortunate little guy.  He’s got a brilliant life ahead of him.

.   .   .   .

Family portrait booking inquiries can be submitted here.

Banana Hands and My Stories

Tony Robbins and Jack Black in Shallow Hal

Remember the elevator scene from Shallow Hal?

Last night I watched several episodes of a TV show called “Breakthrough with Tony Robbins”.  It’s a simple premise: this world famous author / life coach finds people who are on the brink of major personal crisis. He mentors them for 30 days, and their lives totally change.  In one episode, he worked with a couple from NJ who were on the brink of foreclosure, the husband had been laid off, money was tight, they were fighting, and the wife was about to leave him and take the kids with her.   Tony intervened.  He did a bunch of counseling with them, gave them several challenges to work on together.  For their key challenge, he sent them to live on the streets on Skid Row in Los Angeles for a week.  This upper middle class couple HAD to rely on each other to survive – both emotionally, and physically, because they truly had nothing else.

One of the constant themes throughout the many episodes is this: Stop living your story, take responsibility, and start living your life in the present.   What does this mean? I’ll cut the bullshit pronoun “we” and make this personal. 

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