Category Archives: Family

A Sonic Mint and Holden Caulfield

I sometimes consider taking a picture to catalog all the weird things I see on my walks. I’ve found money, seen lost toys, socks, gloves, you name it. Each item gets me wondering about how it found its way to that place on the street. This morning I found a Sonic mint.

I wondered what the story was of the mint. I imagined a car load of teens making a late night food run, not unlike my son and his friends. Easter break started on Thursday. My son and his friends made a McDonald’s and DQ run that night. How do I know? Because the family room where they hangout was littered with McNugget boxes, McDonald’s bags, and DQ cups with red spoons in them. Normal teenage behavior. 

I continued down the street thinking about the Sonic mint. Did they search the bag inside the house wondering where the mint went? I smiled at that thought. I started to think about how crazy life is. Whoever lost the mint had no idea that I discovered it. That I would write a blog post about that mint. 

Then Holden Caulfield came to mind. And I stopped for a minute because my eyes started to tear up.

I had one of those deep moments of understanding brought on when your life experiences connect to a book, or song, or other media. I understood why Holden didn’t want time to move on. Why he didn’t want to grow up. But standing in the middle of a street a few yards away from a Sonic mint I felt the weight of change Salinger was writing about in The Catcher in the Rye

Especially over the last year, I have walked the streets of my neighborhood a lot. During the lockdown last spring, I would walk a few times a day. Sometimes with my kids, sometimes alone. It felt like the world had stopped… but life didn’t. Each day I was different. Today, I felt it. I understood how heavy life’s change is. Simultaneously, I felt joy and sadness. 

Joy because life is an adventure. Each day brings opportunities to grow, to discover new things, to learn, to laugh, and to love. Yes, there are negative things that happen each day, but we can learn from them, too.

The wave of sadness was the strongest, though, standing there. Rationally we all know that time doesn’t stop. My second son will graduate in May. My youngest daughter is seven. I will turn 50 this year!. We all know the truth about time, but what hit me was the reality of all the good things that have ended. This morning there were only 5 Easter baskets, instead of 6. I will never watch my son wear number 15 in a varsity game. I will never be 18 again. I felt all those endings this morning.

I’m not sharing this to paint a picture that life is sad, on the contrary, those endings mean there were beginnings, middles, and stories to tell. But Holden was right. Every day we are different in some small way, even if you see a rainbow, it is sad knowing that rainbows have an end, too.

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Estimated Miles Per Gallon May not Represent Actual Life Lived

On Saturday I pulled into the garage after returning from Lincoln. The odometer read 171,201 miles. And that was just for this minivan, which we purchased in 2014 when we found out that we were having our sixth child. At the time it was the only minivan that had 8 seats. Our first minivan had over 80,000 miles on it.

My heart was full of memories driving home from watching my son’s basketball team play in the state title game. The team earned the runner-up trophy, but the hardest part of the day was knowing that my son’s career was over and that we wouldn’t be traveling for his basketball games. My wife and I talked about how many times we traveled I-80 to Lincoln, or Omaha, or Minneapolis, or Chicago, because of basketball. 

But those 171,201 miles represent more than basketball trips. They represent college visits two years ago, traveling on mini family vacations to the Omaha zoo. My wife and I have traveled to marching band competitions, honor band performances, and art award ceremonies.

Yes, part of parenthood is spending time on the road to support your children’s activities, and we have spent a lot of time on the road. But many of the miles also represent our Saturday trips to the library where we would play games before we checked out books. We rack up miles every weekend grocery shopping. There are miles on the odometer that are from simple date nights of DQ treats and parking at the lake to talk.

Over the last seven years, the minivan has taken us 171,201 miles. What that number doesn’t show is the memories of the places we have been. You can’t feel the panic of driving in all the different weather conditions, or the near miss of an accident in Chicago. The miles can’t show the funny view of every child asleep with their heads at odd angles in the back, or see us all jamming out to the song playing before a basketball game. Every season there was a new song. 

The miles don’t express the love between me and my wife. We have traveled most of the 171,201 miles together. We have laughed, cried, and been exhausted as we’ve traveled these roads, but we have driven them together.

171,201 miles is one way to measure a life lived. 

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An Open Letter to Basketball from a Parent

Dear Basketball,

I wanted to say a few things to you today as a basketball parent. I am writing this letter the day after my son’s last game. His career ended with the runner-up trophy at state. A bittersweet moment for sure. But I’ll come back to the ending later.

Runner-up 2021

First, thank you, for so many things. See, I’m a football guy. I played basketball in junior high and my sophomore year in high school, but football is my game. Yes, I thought my sons would play the game I loved. But they found you instead, especially Dante.  Basketball became a central part of our family for the last 10 years, and our family is stronger because of it. Let me explain.

Both of my sons started playing basketball in elementary school. In fact, they played together on the YMCA’s 3 / 4 grade team. My oldest son stopped playing after junior high because he found his passion on the stage, but basketball became a part of Dante’s journey of becoming a young man. And what a journey it was for him and us. As I write this through the flood of memories, I have to laugh because my son was at the top of the zone on that first team, and would be the main player at the top of his high school’s 1-3-1 zone. (He ended this season with over 70 steals.)

But, this letter is about what you gave to use as a family. Basketball, you gave us moments together. From heartbreaking last second losses to incredibly joyful wins. You showed us the best in people, and sadly the worst sides of people. You brought friends into our lives, and revealed how connected our own personal journeys are.

It started with Saturday morning trips to get coffee and then to a local gym, sometimes with good seating, other times parents would be shoulder to shoulder standing against the wall trying to keep little ones from stepping onto the floor.

As my sons got older we traveled to elementary tournaments. We would pack snacks, drinks, try to plan when we could eat. By this time, the boys were on separate teams, and we would sometimes have to decide who went to watch who, let alone timing the games because we only had one car. My wife and I would send game updates and pictures to each other. We strengthened our communication skills for sure.

Then, when Dante earned a spot on the Bison team (Nebraska Basketball Development Association) in junior high, you took our family to another level. In fact, I am a better father because I messed up during a summer tournament.

Bison Game

The tournament was in Omaha. We traveled back and forth from home to Omaha like we usually did, I was tired. Any parent who travels for AAU knows the bone weariness that comes with traveling. It was an early Sunday morning game and I did something uncharacteristic. I yelled at my son during the game.

OK, basketball, you know that fans and parents, especially, can be harsh and disrespectful. We have always tried to be respectful of the game, teams, and officials. In fact, except for this year, I was pretty quiet for a sports dad. This year, I just had to cheer loud! But back to that Sunday morning, Dante committed a turnover, and I hollered something in frustration. Honestly, I can’t remember what I said exactly, but it hurt my son. I knew it right away, too. After the game it took him 30 minutes to come to us and he gave me the cold shoulder. He wouldn’t walk with us to the car. I apologized to him, but it took awhile for him to forgive me. I have never crossed that line since then. Even though it was one of the toughest lessons to learn, I have to thank you for it.

You are also responsible for another tough lesson as a father, maybe not a lesson but a milestone all fathers have; that moment when a son is better than their father. I don’t know how many hours we have spent playing basketball on our driveway. When the boys were young it was them against me. As they got older, the games became tougher to win for me, so we would play Red, White, and Blue (One-on-one where the person who makes a basket stays and the other player rotates in). Then came the day Dante straight-up beat me, you can read the poem about it here: Driveway Basketball.

Again, as memories flood my heart, our driveway hoop had a hand in building Dante’s other passion, photography. He would experiment with creating cool images of him shooting. He would set his smartphone on the concrete and make shots, then blend them together. Basketball, you have been an inspiration, even for art, for my family.

3 on the driveway

The biggest thank you, though, is for all the awesome memories, and not just on the court. As mentioned before, you have given our family opportunities to be a part of other families’ lives. On Championship Saturday we got to share in the victories and defeats of former Bison teammates. We understood their basketball journeys on a level the casual fan couldn’t. We appreciated their game because we knew their life off the court. Because of basketball, our lives are richer with friendships and stories we can share when our paths cross in the future.

And some of those stories are just for our dinner table. Because of the opportunity to play basketball, our family has created our own memories, from grandpa meeting us to drop off forgotten shoes, to having our engine basically rebuilt in two days while in Chicago. (Thank you, Brett!) You have strengthened my family by allowing us to experience life, both on the court and off. Thank you, basketball, even as my son’s career ends and I feel the pain of never watching him drive to the basket again, my heart is filled with joy for being the father of a basketball player.

Dante Dunking

P.S. My elementary daughters have enjoyed the game, too. My second daughter plans on playing next year in junior high.

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The Power of a Father

I have over six different drafts of this post. I have different introductions, pop culture references, links, and music in the rough drafts. The issue I want to talk about is the power of fatherhood. More specifically the devastating power of not having a father in a child’s life.

I have been working with the idea of doing a series of posts about what it is really like to be a dad, but an episode of Happy Days got me thinking about the effects of not having a father in my life and the effect it has for other kids. I had never seen the episode of Happy Days before. My youngest daughter likes the show Happy Days. We watch the show on MeTV. One Sunday afternoon the episode, “Arthur, Arthur,”  was playing. The episode is part of the last season of the show. By the end, I was in tears.

The story line of Fonzie and his dad is highlighted in season 6 with the episode, “Christmas Time”.

My story is different.  I have shared parts of that in a past post (Life Lessons About Fatherhood). The feelings of abandonment, anger, and questions of why are similar, though.  But in “Arthur, Arthur” there is a moment that rocked my soul. I have tried to find a clip of the episode, but there is not one to be found. In the episode Fonzie finds out his father has died. That changes everything. Fronzie expresses how he always hoped that someday he would be able to see his father. That while his dad was alive there was always a chance to understand why his dad left. A chance to heal the emotional wounds. With his dad passing, that opportunity was gone. Fonzie would never get to know why. The wounds would never fully heal.

The episode ends with Fonzie showing the broken gold watch his father wanted him to have. He wasn’t going to get the watch fixed because it represented his dad the way it was. A broken watch for a broken relationship.

I understand how Fonzie felt… in my own way. But that specific pain of a son (or a daughter) not having a father in their life is almost universal.

This song was released my senior year of high school. By that time, I hadn’t talked to my father for about eight years. But had lived with three step-dads and a few boyfriends that my mother had. The lines “I didn’t write these pages / And my script’s been rearranged.” expresses one of the perspectives children have when a parent leaves them.

Being abandoned by people who are supposed to guide you in this life is devastating. I know I am focusing on fathers, but the same holds true for mothers. 

There are too many kids trying to navigate this life on their own. And they write their stories with a foundation of loss, of uncertainty, and a deep sense of not being enough, not being loved because their parents are not there. 

I am not a perfect father or husband. But I try every day. And maybe that is the hardest part of looking back. I am raising six kids. Even though I make mistakes, I try to make sure they know they are loved. It is not easy, but I am proud of my kids. I am proud of the home I have built.

But everyday I wonder why wasn’t I worth the effort?

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Reflections Jan 27, 2021

The girls are settling down. The house is becoming quiet. My headphones are playing some of my favorite songs as I build a writing playlist on Spotify. Earlier I wrote a poem for my personal challenge to write a poem in 100 different forms. It was poem 81, a haibun titled, “A Father’s Gift.

But the writing muse is still burning. I am not sure where this post will end up, but it should be good (it will be musical).

I am tired. I am tired on so many levels, from the perpetual cycle of hate expressed in our culture, to the perceived apathy of living from people around me. I could link to any number of news articles to reveal how much pure negativity there is in this world, but I am tired of viewing those stories. If I took a random picture anytime during the day, it would show people staring at their phones. As if the height of living is text messages and photos saturated with filters.

In some ways, life is pretty simple. It is who we are and what we do with our time. A simple concept, yet filled with possibilities. Maybe it is because I am just months away from my 50th birthday, but time is a constant force in my thinking. I swear I can hear the grains of sand when all is quiet. I still have goals and aspirations I want to accomplish… the time to complete those is running out.

Again, maybe it is because I’ve been living for 50 years but I know that love works. I do believe that we have the choice on who we are. We are in control of how we treat people. What I don’t understand is how we keep thinking hate and pain make this world a better place. What saddens me the most is how deep this has gone. How many kids aren’t loved by their parents. How mean we can be to someone sitting next to us. How easy it is to tweet venom.

I have faith, though. Love is more powerful. Love is strength. I know I can’t change the world, but I can build my world, my home, my life with the foundation of Love. That is a start.

And then there is the pursuit of dreams… if I could figure this part out… Would I like to make a living from writing? Yes, I would. Will I? I don’t know. Money is not the main goal of my writing aspiration, respect or recognition is. To know that when someone says my name, they consider me a writer, a poet. I understand that most of that falls on my shoulders. How I present myself to the world. I know I am a good poet. My words do make an impact for readers. Yet, I feel like the world views me as someone who has a nice hobby. And I don’t know how to change that…

A final note as I wrap up this informal and somewhat musical blog. Even in these troubling times, this life is wonderful. There is pain, troubles for us to overcome. That is what makes the next day better than today. Tell your friends and family that you love them. Have a good cup of coffee and turn up that jam and dance.

Because when it is all said and done, today is the only day you have. It’s worth living for.

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2021 One Word

Well, somehow we survived 2020.  To be honest, though, I’m not sure how we will do in 2021. There is too much hate, apathy, and disregard of the sacredness of life for me to be fully hopeful that 2021 will be any better.  I know this post is starting out on a negative vibe, but it is honest. No, HONEST is not my word for this year, but being honest with myself did lead me to my word for 2021.

LIVE, as in live music, is my word for 2021.

There are a number of factors that influenced my choice.

First is my poetry.  As soon as possible, I will be attending open mic events.  I also have some social media ideas that I will be investigating to share my poetry.  As much as possible I want to present my works to the world.  Where will these steps take me?  I don’t know… and that is the exciting part.

Second, I want my everyday life to be more live.  Meaning that this year I don’t spend valuable time behind a screen.  I am live in my own life.  I am there for my family and friends.  I am there for my goals.  It is too easy to feel like I am doing something when I check my Instagram feed, or Twitter.  It feels like I have accomplished something when I complete a level on a match-three game.  But, honestly, I have done nothing. 

Maybe because I will turn 50 this year, but the third aspect of my word is to be thankful for this life by living it… yes, this connects to point two, but is deeper than just putting down the phone. There is a spiritual aspect to living.  No matter what you might believe, we only get today.  And our life is the collection of these days.  Making sure I am live each day is one way to pay respects to this chance I have.  To be thankful for the love of family and friends.  To make this world a better place, even if it is just in my home…it’s the best place I know to start.

So, here is to a new year, 2021. 

Here is to new poems and opportunities.

Here is to today being lived in front of a live audience.

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An Open Letter to a Dream

My intentions were to write a scathing, angry letter to you. To address all the failures and heartache this dream of being a writer has caused me. I wanted to tell you about the sinking feeling I get when I read another rejection email. How my stomach becomes a rock that pulls my confidence down into a dark hole. Even the edges of my vision go grey like an Instagram filter.

I wanted to ask what the purpose is for having this dream. I have been writing since the fifth grade. My personal blog, It is all Connected, has over 100,000 words. My creative blog, Creative Corner, has 187 posts, most of them poems. I participate in the Twitter very short story (#vss365) community. I have self published five books.

For what?

If I stopped writing, nobody would care. 

But I have this dream of being a writer. That when someone says my name, they mean poet. I have this dream of someone recommending my book to a friend. That a poem I wrote is someone’s favorite poem. 

But instead of an emotional letter, I am caught again in the tangles of writing. I feel the joy of articulating my thoughts onto paper. The power of creating an emotion or thought through words for the reader. I am looking forward to creating the blog post for this letter. I will create a cool title banner for this. Maybe find a video to end with…

But what you have done is light a fire in my soul. I am thankful for this dream. Even with the frustrations and rejection emails I will experience in the future. I have this dream of being a writer, even though I know deep down that the dream has already come true. These words prove it.

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I took out the trash today.

I took out the trash today.

I filled my daughters’ water bottles. I made one lunch. I started the dishwasher. I had my one cup of coffee. My morning routine is predictable. There are activities I do every morning, like spend a few minutes in meditation. Other activities happen as needed, like making lunches for my daughters.

Today, I took out the trash.

Let me back up to the start of the day. My alarm went off at 4:50. Groggy, I put my feet on the floor. I was already dreading the day. The health department set their COVID dial to Orange. The school routine would be amped up. Cleaning every period. More temperature checks. No visitors to the school. Let alone, the daily battle of wearing a mask. That’s all I will say about that situation.

A bad mood was brewing before I even started my coffee maker.

And it just got worse. Especially, when I had to fight the trash container to get the bag out. We have a cylinder trash can that creates a vacuum when the trash bag is too full. Fun times.

I wake my daughters at 5:55. Get them breakfast. We are usually ready to head to school at 6:30. This morning, we were actually a few minutes ahead of schedule. My mood was darkening, that’s when I took out the trash.

The clip above is from the movie Peaceful Warrior, which is based on the book, Way of the Peaceful Warrior.

I waited for the garage door to open so that I could put my bags in the truck of the minivan. After setting the bags in, I stepped out on to our driveway and took in the stars. I heard a side door open so I turned to see my second daughter waiting for the door to stop moving. I asked her to come see the stars, especially the constellation, Orion.

There we stood, father and daughter under a morning sky that was filled with wonder. I pointed out Mars and how it had a reddish shine. We found Venus, too. We circled looking at the different constellations. We heard the rest of the family getting situated into the van, but we stood there a few more seconds.

“Pretty cool, huh?” I said.

“Yeah, the stars are beautiful,” she said.

We smiled at each other, then got into the van to start the day.

My daughter helped me take out the trash today.

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An Open Letter to the Pandemic

Dear Pandemic,

I got it. I cry uncle. You win. Whatever it takes for you to leave, I’m ready to do.

I’m not sure you understand the destruction you have caused. You have killed us, divided us, and have brought us to the verge of total chaos. You win. I’m done.

I don’t know why you appeared. Was it to teach us a lesson about the butterfly effect? I already blogged about that in 2012 (“The Butterfly Effect”) in a more positive light.

Maybe you just wanted to stir things up. To teach us a lesson. The lesson I gained was that we need each other more than we will admit. You took everything that brings us together away, concerts, sporting events, weddings, birthday parties, and even simply eating out. At the moment we as a nation may be the most divided we have ever been. There are so many lines drawn in our culture. If you wanted to see us fall, I fear you might achieve that.

Why? Why are you here?

I will admit that personally, you have forced me to reevaluate some things. There have been some positive effects from you being here. I wrote a book, April 2020. The whole family plays tennis now.  We have some new recipes for dinner (also a few that we won’t make again). I do appreciate the time and the people in my life.  But the negative outweigh the positive.

There is an underlying current of fear and anger that perpetuates our everyday existence. There is a sense of mistrust of everyone. That connection of energy from a smile or laugh is gone. Not knowing if someone is positive with COVID weighs down every interaction. The list goes on for us as a country and my personally. You have had an effect on every single person in this world.

Is that the lesson? By taking away our connections, even the simplest gestures of a smile, you are showing us that we are all connected?

If so, this is the toughest lesson I have ever had to learn… I hope we all pass this test, together.

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An Open Letter to Happiness

Dear Happiness,

I used to think of you as a rabbit.

You would appear just a few feet away, nose twitching, ears up. Always at least one eye on me. It was always cool to see you appear, but as soon as I would try to touch you, to feel your fur, you would dart off. Zig-zagging away. Your fluff of a tail waving goodbye.

RabbitEven when I would stumble onto a moment, unplanned, unexpected. You would be gone in a flash. I could never get close enough to catch you. To hold you in my arms. Feel your breathing, or smell your untamed spirit. You were too quick for me, even in my prime.

I know better now. I know that you, Happiness, are not a rabbit.

I know now that I was chasing other people’s expectations. The rabbits are social definitions of you. Rabbits that I can never catch. I’ll never have enough, or be enough, to catch them. It is still cool to see them in my yard. They still appear, nose twitching, eyes looking at me as if to say, “You can catch me this time! Really, you can.”

It’s hard not to give into the urge to chase them. To finally know how their fur feels, to feel that sense of pride after capturing one. But, I am so glad I finally saw you, Happiness.

I’ve heard the best place to hide is in plain sight. Happiness, you did that well. I remember when I discovered you were there, right by the front door. I laughed out loud because you were there every time I chased a rabbit. The day I figured it out, you were a pair of black Nike running shoes. I was headed out to take a walk to deal with the tension in my soul. And there you were, my shoes.

I see you, Happiness, all the time. You are my dress shoes I wear as a teacher, or when I go on a fancy date with my wife. You are the grass stained, worn out shoes in the garage I use to mow in. Once I figured it out, I knew you were there all the time. You were my football cleats. My track shoes. You were the shoes I bought when I started playing slow-pitch softball. You were there on my first day of kindergarten; nice clean shoes for the first day of school.

red shoesI only wish that I figured it out sooner. Even so, thank you Happiness, for being there every day. I understand that you are not a moment to be captured. You are the moments I live. Even in the rough spots, you are there. I found you in the ditch after my first car accident. I wore you as I boarded that Greyhound bus leaving my biological family behind. I was wearing a pair of Nike IDs when my second son was rushed out of the delivery room. I understand that you are there in everything I do, rain or shine.

I may never catch a rabbit, but I know I’ll have a great pair of shoes on when I run. Or even better, I’ll wear them as I sit on the front porch with my family watching the rabbits play.

 

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