This is the eighth year my family has chosen their one word to focus on for the year. This year we decorated a paper mache letter; the first letter of our first name.
As you can see my word is MILES.
There are a number of factors that are connected to my word, from wanting to walk more (putting miles on my shoes) to taking another family vacation (putting miles on the car). I also have goals for my writing (putting miles on my computer and pen) and sending my work for consideration to more places (couldn’t think of a clever ‘putting miles on’ saying for this, so consider thinking of your own play on words here).
I’ll try to keep you updated on the miles I travel, in some form, this year. Here is to a great year ahead and the scenery I’ll encounter as I travel from this day.
The most important lesson I have learned in half a century is that there is joy in every day. I can have a horrible day at work but come home and have a dance party with my kids. This lesson took years to understand, and takes strength to accomplish. I have to leave the bad day at work to fully enjoy dancing with my kids.
I know that this list will not surprise anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis, I’ve touched on these in different ways through the years. But hopefully this post will remind you of the things that bring you joy.
I love learning. School was my escape from all the craziness I was going through. Even when I was the new kid so many times growing up. Each school provided opportunities to grow. For the last couple of years I have participated in the challenge to read 60 books in a year. I don’t get to 60 every year, but I spend the year learning and I love that.
When I thought about the role walking has had in my life, I thought back to all the times my best friend and I would walk by the river. How, especially in junior high, we walked all over town. And how I was the only senior that had to walk to school everyday… the consequence of me wrecking a car my junior year. Walking is good exercise, but the joy is in sharing with others. I take the girls on snack walks, we have nature walks, there is a certain joy to sharing the moment and world with others as I walk.
One of the best parts of being a dad is watching my kids in activities: elementary concerts, basketball, soccer, and science fairs to name just a few of the activities I’ve spent enjoying, my wife at my side, and sometimes a coffee in my hand. It matters to me, in part because my father never saw me compete in anything. I swear I tear up every time one of my kids sees me in the crowd and they wave or nod their head at me.
I park the minivan facing the lake. My wife and I people-watch as we enjoy a Blizzard. Cookie dough for my wife. I usually will try the special flavor of the month. These small moments intertwined joy into life. And if we pay attention, not getting lost in the routine of life, every day is filled with these small moments. Talking with my kids before bed. Letting them help make blueberry muffins. Holding hands with my wife as we watch Miami Vice. Yes, I believe joy is the thread that determines the way we live.
This is no surprise for anyone. Writing brings a level of joy that ignites my soul. When the thoughts in my head and feelings stirring in my heart find their way to the page, I feel powerful. I feel complete. I feel vulnerable because the words I write are honest reflections of who I am.
Thanks for sharing your time with me as I start the next half century. Do something that brings you joy today… because if we are not here to feel joy, to love others, to sing badly to our favorite songs… then I don’t know the meaning of life.
Being in education I see too many students carrying the weight of the world in their backpacks. Their faces straining as they drop their packs next to their desk. They sit at their desks, rolling out their shoulders. Sometimes they hold their head in their hands, trying to gain the strength to learn how to write a compare and contrast essay.
I know how they feel, I was that student. In some ways, this post is written for them. These are the top five foundational characteristics to a good life.
Curiosity. This world is filled with wonderful things. Staying curious about the world will open new opportunities. Curiosity is the willingness to be adventurous, even during a routine day. To not close your mind to the beautiful and cool things around adds depth to the ordinary aspects of life.
Goals. I know some people might disagree with this idea, but goals do not have to be grand, they can be simple to-do lists you make for the day. They can be grand, though. Any level of goals creates action. Goals develop purpose for our lives. Even during the roughest moments, we can take steps toward the goals we have set.
Others. I’ve said this before. “Life is a team sport.” This is the most complex characteristic. Creating the right team is critical to achieving a good life, but it is hard to create that team at different times in life. I will acknowledge that (see number one characteristic). You don’t need a big team, you need a strong team that supports each other.
Love. This might come as a shock for some of the faithful readers of this blog because I have written about Love in a number of different ways. Love is a foundation for a great life, no doubt. Keeping an open heart, being vulnerable to receive love, opens up a powerful way to live. I do believe that Love is the only way we create an incredible society and world. But…
Strength. Every characteristic listed needs, in some ways, strength to accomplish. Strength to make hard decisions. Strength to keep your heart and mind open. Strength to choose to love others, even when they hurt you. Strength to endure when your backpack feels like it is carrying the weight of the world. You build strength by working on keeping your curiosity of the world, striving toward goals, finding the right team, and choosing love… you’ll find you are stronger than you know.
Tomorrow I will share the top five things that bring me joy in this life.
Faithful readers know that I enjoy using music (and other videos) in my posts. I will share a mini soundtrack or look at life events through songs (“20 Years of Marriage”). So, the idea of my top five songs was a fun idea, until I tried to decide on the songs!
I thought about different ways to present the top five: by favorites, connections to memories, and even by the depth of the lyrics (an idea that I am saving for a later post). For this post I decided to share a favorite song from each decade that reveals something about me. A creative way to show you different sides of me. So, grab some headphones and get ready to listen to some good songs and get to know me a little bit.
Artist: Gerry Rafferty
Song: “Baker Street”
I will send a photo of the radio display to family and friends when this song comes on the radio. The lyrics for this song, especially the first verse, connect with me. The underlying idea that life will be better tomorrow is a universal theme, and so is the cost of living that way.
Artist: Living Colour
Song: “Cult of Personality”
This decade was tough to choose. Music is a big part of the teen years. Listening to songs before games, jamming out in the car while cruising, and in the 80’s making mixtapes (“Throwback: Mixtapes”). When this song came out, I was an instant fan. You could find me singing this song in the hallways of school (I still sing in the hallways).
Song: “The Love We Make”
Anyone who truly knows me knew Prince would make this list. Choosing the decade and the song has been the hardest aspect of this list. Prince has some seriously deep spiritual songs. “The Love We Make” is the closest song I know that reflects my own spiritual views. I had to share a live version of the song.
Artist: Lupe Fiasco
I would sing this song at bedtime to my oldest daughter. It was on the playlist for my track team when we would have to practice indoors. The song’s lyric, “If you are what you say you are, a superstar, then have no fear…” is a perfect line for all the activities I was involved in during the 2000s.
Artist: Thirty Seconds to Mars
Song: “Closer to the Edge”
This song started the decade and would highlight all the change that happened for me during those ten years. There were some really tough times for me, especially professionally. Yet, one of my best memories is dancing to this song in the kitchen with my second son.
Wow, this was a tough list. Going through the music brought back memories, both good and bad. Here’s to the next decade and all the good music to come.
Tomorrow I will write about the top five characteristics I think you need to live your best life.
In one way life is simply the collection of moments. Everyday has the possibility of pain or happiness, even in a routine day there is beauty and love. As I thought about the 18,252 days I’ve lived, there have been some life changing moments that are easily recognizable. But also, there have been small everyday moments that have proven to be foundations for me. This post has been a challenge, but here are my top five moments from the last 50 years.
Calling my wife back, who was then just a classmate, after I hung up on her the first time. I barely got up the nerve to call her the first time to ask her out. We were in the same college class, “Discipline in the Classroom.” We debated against each other, she was smart and presented herself well everyday. I was the kid in the back with a coffee and my hat backwards, always willing to give my opinion.
People still wonder how we make it work after 23 years, but it would have never happened if I didn’t squelch my fear and call her back after hanging up the first time.
Chasing my dream of being a head football coach and accepting a position that I had some reservations about. Those reservations turned out to be true. I was fired after one year.
So many changes happened because of that choice. Some of them were tough on me and the family. There were positive outcomes, too. That’s the complexity of moments.
I learned some hard lessons. I’ve let go of my dream of being a head football coach. I trust my gut instincts more. I learned that a strong family sticks together when things get rough.
Holding each of my children the day they were born, except my second son who experienced a medical issue. We didn’t get to hold him for a few days.
That moment when I held a son or daughter in my arms, the world disappeared. Their little hands clenched, eyes closed, chest moving up and down, the moment they start this journey of life. The weight of knowing that I was responsible for their foundation wasn’t heavy, though. That responsibility was the meaning of fatherhood, and I still enjoy fulfilling that role in their life.
One of the most pivotal moments in my life happened when I was 16 years old. I decided to take control of my life and essentially walk away from my family history. The moment was a decision that has been messy, filled with pain, anger, and a mix of other consequences. But I don’t regret it.
The moment happened during football practice my eighth grade year. At the time it was intense for practice, but looking in from the outside, nothing life changing. Until each day passed and moments presented themselves that reinforced the lesson coach gave me that day.
I wish I could give you my backstory up to that day in practice, but this is a blog not a book. Let’s just say I had gone through a lot of craziness already in life by the time I was in eighth grade. I was the tailback for the team, already a filling out as an athlete. On this day, I wasn’t running with much power. I was going down pretty easily at the first level (at the line of scrimmage).
Coach had had enough. He held my face mask as he ripped into me about my effort. I don’t remember everything he said, but the message was that I was too strong, too good to run like I was. I was in tears. He called a basic dive play. I was mad. We ran the play. I couldn’t see anything because I was crying so hard. Coach blew the whistle and screamed for everyone to freeze.
Then he said,“Jamey, turn around!”
I froze on his first command. I was staring at the tennis courts and the street that ran in front of our school, trying to catch my breath. I turned around when he told me to. There was a line of players on the ground where I had run through the line.
“That’s how strong you are,” he said. And we returned to practice.
At that moment I understood his message, but didn’t know how important it was for me until I found myself needing that reminder when life was tackling me too easily. I remember that day. I remember that lesson. Even now, at the age of 50 life tries to take me down. But I know I am strong because of an everyday moment. Thanks, Coach.
Tomorrow’s post will not be so heavy. Tomorrow I’m going to share my top five songs, which is difficult in it’s own way!
This morning we made blueberry muffins. My second daughter asked how it felt to be half a century old. Children can view the world in a different way. Half a century. Fifty years.
As always, I thought about how many crazy turns I’ve taken on my path. I thought it would be fun to share some fun “Top Five” blog posts over the next five days in celebration of living fifty years.
To start, this post will be my top five things that I am proud of.
Self publishing my poetry and fiction books. I have a few more projects in the works. It is exciting to create work that others enjoy.
Creating traditions for my family, like blueberry muffins on Sunday mornings. I’ve read books before bed for over 20 years. Other traditions have faltered, some are new, like deciding on a word for the year. But I think traditions are building blocks for a strong family.
Keeping an open heart even as the world and people let me down. Call me foolish, but I believe Love can save us.
Staying creative. Writing blog posts, taking photos, writing poetry. I try to listen to the muse when it hits. I’m working on a new short story right now. I have three new poems that are in rough draft form. Being creative keeps my spirit fueled.
Finding the courage to change the narrative of my family history.
Tomorrow I’ll share another Top Five post about moments.
For a while now, we have been listening to the top 40 countdown on the 80s channel on XM radio while making blueberry muffins. We get to hear the top 10 songs, with breakfast usually ready while the number one song for the week plays. This week in 1986 was “Holding Back the Years” by Simply Red.
This morning, the kitchen was full. My second son had returned from a trip with his friends, and my oldest son’s girlfriend was visiting. Everyone was filling their plates: scrambled eggs, blueberry muffins, glasses of milk, and bacon. It was a typical Sunday morning.
Earlier in the countdown was the song, “Like a Rock” by Bob Seger (I don’t remember what position on the chart it was). There is a verse in the song about how 20 years have flown by:
Twenty years now
Where’d they go?
I don’t know
I sit and I wonder sometimes
Where they’ve gone
Mixed with the sad vibe of “Holding Back the Years” I thought about how bittersweet our Sunday routine is.
In one way, our blueberry muffin breakfast holds back the years because it brings us together as a family. Every tradition a family participates in is a way to stop time. It strengthens the bond of love and joy that creates a timeless bubble for everyone to live in, no matter how much time has passed or how much someone has grown.
Because time does pass, we do grow older, we do change. Sitting at the table, it was bittersweet to know that in a few months both of my sons would be out in the world. My youngest daughter doesn’t need my help taking the paper cup off of her muffin anymore. My children were growing, time was moving forward.
There was nothing I could do about it, but yet this morning, we were together, family. That will never change. Contrary to the lyrics of “Holding Back the Years”, our tradition of blueberry muffins is a chance for something good to happen, for love to happen.
Tennis with my oldest son tonight 1 and 1. (He won the regular set, I won the shortened one)
Disc Golf with both my sons 0 and who knows.
Lightsaber battles with my second daughter 0 and like 28.
Pool basketball? 1 and too many to count.
Regular basketball? Against my sons? Haven’t won any serious games in years.
Chutes and Ladders (and other games)? I win sometimes. I’m a pretty good Pitch player.
Lately, I have been defeated in lots of different activities. And it is a bitter but mostly sweet feeling. These defeats are milestones for my children and for me. They are important for a number of reasons.
For my children they gage where they are in life regarding their mental and physical stages. I am, as a father, a measuring stick for them. There is a special joy they feel when they win against me. I see it in their faces, the way their eyes shine. I also see their frustration when I win. Either way, they are building strength, discovering what they are capable of. And not just physically. They have to handle their emotions, win or lose. Playing against dad (and mom sometimes with tennis) gives my children a space to develop who they are.
The second factor is that we build memories, win or lose, great shots are made, awesome hands are dealt, funny jokes shared, and sometimes bandages are needed (driveway basketball is not forgiving). Playing allows us to live life fully. The moments get retold at the dinner table. The disc golf shot on the first hole. The 9 bid because I didn’t have the 2. Switching to the other color of lightsaber but still losing.
As a father, I get to see my children grow. I get to teach them, through playing, life lessons that I know will be needed in their efforts to reach their goals. Yes, sometimes in the activity (like basketball) but also in the hardships that life has. I influence how they handle winning and losing. My children get tested playing with me before they are tested by life, tested by an opponent, tested by their own doubt and fear. They build their strength by defeating me.
And I love it.
I may never win a basketball game again. Or a lightsaber battle. But you better believe that I will be up to playing with my kids, no matter their age or my record. I’m their father, that’s what I do.
Did you know that we walk in circles? Without a visual reference to follow, we will walk in circles (“We can’t help walking in circles”), research has proven it. I learned of this fallacy in boy scouts. On the first weekend camping trip our Scout leader instructed us on how to use a compass, but also informed us of the tendency to walk in circles. Especially if we got lost and panic set in.
One of the reasons we walk in a circle is because of the imperfections in our gait. I personally know that my left foot hits at an outward angle greater than my right foot. Another factor that contributes to us walking in a circle is not having a clear visual cue to follow and adjust to. This was an important factor when I was in boy scouts and we would go hiking in the woods. Hard to see the sun, and the trees started to look the same, especially when we would be in a dense part of the woods. A compass was an important tool but we also learned how to use the landscape around us to stay on track.
I’ve been thinking about this phenomenon because I’ve noticed we can walk in circles in emotional and mental ways, too. I see it in students, adults, and the culture. Walking around and around, just repeating the same thoughts and emotions. People are in motion, so they feel like they are getting somewhere, but in fact all they are doing is covering the same ground. When nothing changes, panic sets in. Anger and frustration sets in. And then things just get worse, and someone can spend years, decades, covering the same ground, over and over and over.
The most important factor needed to keep from walking in a circle is having a clear visual cue. This allows you to adjust your path. The same holds true for our mental or emotional paths. These markers can be developed in different ways. My family decides on a word each year. I have constructed a vision board before. Or simply writing down a goal on a 3 x 5 card and taping it to a mirror is a cue. It allows you to adjust your path.
The marker has to be visible, though. Too many times we simply state a change we want in our mind, or we know we need to be a better person, yet we just keep that in our hearts. And then we walk in circles because we have no visual cue to help us adjust our steps.
Without any guidance we all walk in circles. Even if we are walking with someone. Our lives are meant to be traveled across the landscape. That is the beauty of life, the places we go and the scenery of the world around us. Same holds true for our mind and soul, for our emotions and wonderment. But we need a visual cue to keep us on track, whatever that cue may be. So find it, write it down, print it out, set it and start walking toward an incredible life.
I went out to the minivan to get the plastic containers so we could pack up our son’s graduation table. The last of family, friends, and other guests had sauntered off to enjoy the sunny Saturday afternoon. Graduation was still a day away but we held our graduation celebration a day early with two of his friends. Their families were tearing down their sons’ tables. It was a fun morning. We went through almost 300 breakfast burritos. Don’t know how many cups of coffee or slices of coffee cake we went through, but it was a lot.
There were old friends and new. Small moments of conversations. My son (and I’m sure his friends) had to answer the question, So, what are your plans for next year?, a million times. Slide shows were on constant loop, revealing how the boys have grown. A window into their lives in six second intervals.
I placed the container down that held all of his medals; sports, journalism, and science fair. Time to box it up all again. For a week my wife and I looked through boxes for material for the table (my wife more than me, but I had to lift the heavier ones). As I picked up this year’s second place medal and small trophy for basketball, I had to hold my heart together.
Not because I was sad. Just the opposite. No one ever tells you how joy can break your heart. Honestly, that kind of heartbreak is just as painful. Partly because on the edge of the joy is the realization that no moment lasts forever. Yes, we have the memories, the pictures and trophies to draw upon. But when you are in the moment, however big, like a state championship game, or small, like teaching your daughters how to play H.O.R.S.E. on the driveway hoop, is when we know we are living. Fully engaged with who we are, connected to those around us. Living life.
And then those moments pass. Many of them are captured in photos, medals, certificates, and home videos. Others are relived through stories told around the dinner table or at holidays. We laugh, we cry, we feel the moments again. Then we box them up. In our hearts. In plastic containers. In our phones.
I got all the medals, photos, certificates, and trophies packed up. We got the extra plates and cups gathered together. We divided the few breakfast burritos among the three families, and left the conference room to enjoy the sunny Saturday afternoon, ready to experience the next big moment: Graduation.