A Star Power Shower

I confess that I have spent the majority of my life living hand-to-mouth.

In addition, and somewhat related, I also acknowledge that a lack of personal vision regarding my own life’s potential often limits my ability to perceive the more limitless potential in the visions of others.

Not in a million years did it ever occur to me that I would someday be involved in planning a baby shower – much less my baby’s shower. Nevertheless, one amazing day there I was. The mamas and I sat chatting about how we wanted to bring our loved ones together to celebrate the coming birth of our son – Hudson.

Yes, sometime prior to the shower we had decided on a name. Near the end of the baby naming game we had pared down the final list of possibilities to three potential contenders: Gus, Jaxon, and Hudson. From what I remember, the Gus option was related to Mama’s fondness of the chubby, energetic, and endlessly optimistic mouse from Disney’s animated version of Cinderella. Jaxon was a name that Mommy and her sister – who was also pregnant at the time – were both considering. I think that none of us are quite clear where the idea of Hudson came from. In retrospect, however, I am happy that for me it has become an unintentional tribute to the first close friend I lost to AIDS, Tony Hudson.

As the shower planning talks progressed, most of the festive details we discussed were easily agreed upon. We did not want any frivolous games, fizzy punch, or the like. We all liked the idea of setting up a table where our guests could use fabric paint to create one-of-a-kind artworks on plain, white onesies. There would be music, of course, and the menu would be simple. All was going smoothly until we began to seriously consider the best location for the gathering.

At the time, I was still living with my sister and her husband, and Mommy and Mama were in the process of finishing up a fairly extensive remodel on their home. I was leaning toward my place which offered ample street parking and a large backyard. In addition, it was close to my family and it was an option that fit nicely into my overall vision of what was comfortable and appropriate. And then, at some point later in the discussions, another possibility was suggested.

Mommy told us that a friend of hers had very graciously offered us their Beverly Hills home as an alternative location for our shower. This friend happened to be an A-list celebrity (who I will call TJ) that I had never met. Mommy, however, had been acquainted with TJ and family for some time and she seemed excited at the prospect of having the baby shower at their house. Mommy had visited their home on a number of occasions and thought it would be a beautiful setting. Also, situated in the hills between downtown and the San Fernando Valley, the location seemed convenient for our family and friends who would be coming from both the north and the south. It all sounded so wonderful. And I was immediately opposed to the whole idea.

You see, from mommy’s description of where the house was located, I had some concerns about parking. I pointed out that people would likely need to park far away, walk to the house, and then trudge up a rather steep driveway. I noted that it would be particularly difficult for my parents. When it was suggested that we could hire a valet parking service to help ease access for our guests, I reminded them that I was still in a very tight financial bind in the aftermath of graduate school. Mommy and Mama assured me that any costs that came up would be covered. We continued with some additional, half-hearted hemming and hawing, but I had learned by now that mommy could be tenacious when she sensed the prospect of something super amazing. And so it was that I eventually gave in to the idea that our baby’s shower would be hosted by a movie star.

In retrospect, I feel the need to come clean. The need to more honestly unpack my reflexive condemnation of an idea that was rife with generosity and full of fabulous potential.

First, the money thing. It was true in the moment. I was living hand-to-mouth after graduate school. My credit card debt was increasing by the month as I struggled to make ends meet. The thought of paying for someone to park cars seemed like a frivolous allocation of precious funds; especially when there were going to be so many necessary expenses once Hudson arrived. But the truth is that I had lived on the brink of financial ruin for most of my life. I had even declared bankruptcy back in the 90’s when my death seemed eminent. Through that process, I was able to legally discharge a total debt somewhere in the neighborhood of $12,000. Crazy! But that sum of money seemed like a fortune to me at the time, and I did not want to leave any unnecessary messiness for my family and friends. Hindsight – as they say. By the time we were planning the shower, however, I was consciously trying to cultivate a more healthy and affirmative relationship with money. The law of attraction – yadda, yadda, yadda. So looking back, attempting to use my fiscal dysfunction as a martyrly crutch in that moment was just plain punk. Punk, I say!

The deeper truth is that I was afraid. And not due to my lack of cash. No. My fear was related to my growing realization that I felt like I should be living hand-to-mouth. Like that was all I deserved. In addition, I was afraid of how I thought I might be perceived, or judged by others. With my own hiccup of an acting career quickly becoming a disappointing and distant memory, would my friends and family think that I was trying to portray some tragically, trumped-up façade of an alternate reality where I had actually succeeded? Also, I was afraid that we would be setting the initial celebratory bar in our baby’s existence too high. Would any experience that I would be able to provide him in the future ever rise to the occasion of his spectacular, star-studded baby shower? Our baby wasn’t even born yet and already he would be hobnobbing with the Hollywood elite. In addition, with all of the monetary gifts that he had received for college funds and such, in utero he was already financially in the black. Our son would soon be here, and I felt that I was nowhere near enough. And most frightening of all was my belief that I might never be.

Yucky. When I really take the time to examine the pathetically sad underbelly of my insecurities, the self-centered ugliness of it all is often still shocking. Even to me.

More and more I understand why I came to value myself so cheaply, and subsequently why my aspirational sights were seemingly set so low. For many years I allowed school bullies, spiritual charlatans, and flag-waving homophobes to have a say. I let their darkly influential taunts, prayers, and orations enter and echo in the sanctuary of my developing spirit. I listened to all of that noise. And it was telling me that I was not worthy. Perhaps at the time I let those voices in to fill a silence. Perhaps the sound of a toxic message was better than no message at all. In any case, accurate or not, all of that is merely a possible cause. These days, I choose to focus on the cure.

In the end the shower was perfect. Our growing family mixed, mingled. We made art out of onesies. TJ and his family not only opened their home, but TJ personally took charge of entertaining the small pack of wee ones that were in attendance. There was no valet. And honestly I have no recollection of how we solved the parking challenge. With time, all that is immaterial seems to fade. What I do remember and cherish are the unparalleled blessings that were heaped upon us that day in Beverly. Hills that is. And before the celebration ended, I sensed a coming revelation.

The promise of my pending enlightenment was deftly woven into the words of a song that mama wrote for the occasion and performed during the shower. Hudson’s Song. She picked up her guitar, sat down, and prepared to play. I quickly found a spot where I could crouch and lean against a tree. In a picture that I have of the occasion, mommy’s hand is on my shoulder and I seem to be looking at the ground. Undeniably it is a somewhat closed and overly pensive posture. But the whole of my existence felt very precarious in that moment. Like I was perched on the edge of a great precipice. Peering into a mysterious abyss and trying to imagine how I might survive the fall. Considering all of the doubt and emotional turmoil I went through over the simple decision to accept TJ’s offer to host our shower. If that was me, how could I possibly be a capable father or a worthy role model? As mama began to strum, I worked very hard to hold back a flood of emotions – lest anyone should see me cry. And then the lyrics came.

“When you put your weight upon this world, I’ll be there to greet you. And I’ll say, it’s nice to meet you. Then we’ll sit and talk for a while. You’ll tell me all the things you came to say. And Lord let me listen.”

Goosebumps. There it was. Such a profoundly simple prayer. “You’ll tell me all the things you came to say. And Lord let me listen.”

On that day. In that gloriously gifted setting. While the weight of our son’s life was still safely stowed in mommy’s belly. I clung to that prayer. Lord let me listen. And so I do. Every day, Lord. To the best of my ability. And I hear. In our son’s laughter. In his nonsensical chatter. In the questions he poses that I struggle to answer. I listen to all of that beautiful noise. With gratitude and humility, I allow it to enter and echo in the sanctuary of my healing soul. And it tells me that I am worthy. A work in progress? Yes. But worthy nonetheless. And not in spite of who I am, but because of who I am.

I will not lie. My continuing fall into the abyss is sometimes frightening. It is also exhilarating, however, and full of unimaginable surprises. As for living hand-to-mouth? I am at peace with the reality that my net worth will forever be in flux. Easy come, easy go. But when it comes to my self-worth, I am gathering riches beyond my wildest dreams.