Tag Archives: children

Defeated Again

Do you want to know my win / loss record lately?

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.

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Blueberry Muffins on Father’s Day

Like almost every Sunday morning, we made blueberry muffins for breakfast. I brewed a cup of coffee, set the oven to 410 degrees, started some music on my phone and got the paper cups into the muffin pan. For new readers, making blueberry muffins is a foundational part of my family’s life and a running metaphor for this blog.

Today is also Father’s Day. As my playlist switched to the song “Wild Horses” by Gino Vanelli, I thought about how music and specific songs defined moments for me as a father. I thought it would be fun to share some of those moments and music as a celebration for Father’s Day. Grab some headphones as I share some good vibes about being a father.

“Arms Wide Open” was a staple on radio when my first child was born. Once I held my son for the first time, I understood this song, completely. The feeling of wonder and responsibility never faded for any of my children’s births. Fatherhood is not easy, but it is the greatest gift I’ve received in my life. Honestly, I believe the world can change from the home. I want this post to be a celebration, so I will simply say that I can not fathom how anyone, father or mother, can treat their children in so many horrible ways… Anyway, this song captures an honest view of the start of fatherhood.

There could be a number of songs here, in fact the song “Wild Horses” could be placed here, but this is a song my daughters like to dance to during our dance parties. Which we have done for about 20 years. On any random night we might have a dance party. We play music and dance. The fun part has been the change in music over the years. The boys had The Wiggles and “Jessie’s Girl.” Now, the girls have Imagine Dragons, Minecraft parody songs like, “Skelly Heart,” and SpongeBob. But the dance party has stayed, filled with music, laughter, and sweet dad moves.

This song started our family’s connection to the stage. My oldest son was 10 years old when he wanted to try out for Charlie in the musical Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory for our youth community theater production. To audition he had to sing and dance to a song of his choice. He decided on “Cave In.” He decided to dance literally to the lyrics. He was auditioning against older kids who had been in theater for a while. Did I mention he had never performed in a play or musical before? He got the part. Watching my son on stage was my first taste of fatherly pride.

That moment when your child finds a place in the world and you get to experience it.  But also help foster it and be there through the rough spots. I will admit it is hard to not get caught up in that feeling. My children’s talents are theirs to develop and to reap the rewards from them. I am there to support them and enjoy the ride.

My oldest son isn’t the only one to enjoy the spotlight on the stage. My youngest daughters have been involved in our youth community theater program, too. Not to mention my adventure last year on the stage (What I am Learning). But it all started with my son using this song for his audition. And honestly, his last performance in high school as Tevye in The Fiddler on the Roof, was my first taste of knowing how much it hurts to let them grow.

We are also a basketball family. Yes, my youngest daughters play basketball, and also volleyball and tennis. My oldest son played basketball through junior high. But basketball has been an area for my second son (who did do some summer theater when he was younger). My second son started playing when he was nine years old. We have traveled thousands of miles to tournaments and practices. Each season my son would have a song or two we would listen to before we arrived at the gym. Those songs changed every season, but “The Show Goes On” has been a staple for him through the years. The message rings true for me as a dad as I continue to drive miles for him and his sisters now.

This song is one of my oldest daughter’s favorite songs from the show Good Omens. She is the artist, the wild soul in this world. Her taste in music, art, literature, and other forms of media is different, and that is awesome. I remember sitting in her room listening to this song and others from the soundtrack. Something I would do as a teen with my friends. She has influenced her younger sisters in some of the shows they watch, but she has taught me the importance of allowing my kids to have their own interests, to foster their own views in this world. She brings a beauty and wider lens to my world. The depth of fatherhood is found in the uniqueness of each child and the path they follow.

For the last song, I wanted to find a song that came the closest to my view of what it means to be a dad. My view of fatherhood has changed as my children have grown. Each age brings a new understanding of what it means to be a father. The needs and demands change with each year and each child. The joys and pains are unique for each of my kids. I know that they have their own battles in this world, and it only gets harder for them as they become adults. But I will be there for them, for as long as I can.

And if they ever come home, blueberry muffins will be ready for them on Sunday morning.

 

 

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I used to

I used to get up at 5:00 a.m. to get ready for the day. One cup of coffee, yogurt, and a banana. I would get back into bed (on my wife’s side) for a few minutes as my wife would finish getting ready for the day. I would shower while she ate breakfast.

But now, we get up at random times.

 

I used to teach in front of students. I could tell who was having a bad day. I could tell if my hyper class would have to be reined in because the lesson needed focus from them. My day was a roller coaster of grading, answering emails, and teaching.

But now, I answer emails and grade assignments as they are completed online.

 

I used to believe that I would live forever. That I had time to do everything I wanted with my life. Life was an open highway.

But now, well actually, I’ve realized that my days are numbered for some time now. This moment in time dealing with the COVID-19 situation has reinforced the reality that life is fleeting. As a society we are forced to deal with so many factors we take for granted in our everyday life. A handshake, eating out, graduations, and just the joy of an open highway.

 

I used to distrust people. OK, to be honest I still do, but that is a personal journey.

But now, I wonder what the effects of this pandemic will have on our culture. We were already dealing with anxiety, depression, and feelings of loneliness. Dealing with screen time and its connections to these emotions.

 

I used to go to church with my family, shake hands with others during The Liturgy of the Eucharist (Peace Be With You).

But now, we watch Mass on TV. Hearing the echoes of the few people in attendance during the filming of the service.

 

I used to make one box of blueberry muffins. When the boys were young, 12 muffins were enough for the family.

But now, we have added scrambled eggs and bacon or sausage, and we will have to start making 24 muffins as my oldest son has moved back home to finish his semester of college online.

 

I used to believe in love…

But now, I still do… There is no greater force in this life than Love. Oh, I know hate and other negative forces seem to gain more attention and seem to be more powerful. That the world is falling apart… but Love is what will rebuild the world.

 

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Skip a Rope

I am a sucker for countdowns. Every weekend I listen to the top 40 countdown from the 80s on XM radio as I run errands. Over the last couple of days XM has been broadcasting their top 1000 country songs of all time. So of course I’ve switched over to that channel at times just to listen to the countdown for awhile. I’m not a huge country music fan, but I enjoy certain songs and artists. I flipped to channel 30 and Tim McGraw’s “My Next 30 Years” was playing, so I left the radio on the countdown. Next was Tracy Lawrence’s “Time Marches On”.  I was enjoying the countdown. As the next song started, I could tell it was a classic country song. Since I was into the countdown I decided to listen. I’m glad I did, it got me thinking about life.

The song was the only number one hit for Henson Cargill, “Skip A Rope”.

I had never heard the song before. It was released in 1968. Besides the music, sadly, this song could have been written today.

Can’t we do better?

Seriously, I could share so many links to news articles about kids being abused or neglected by parents. There is a never ending supply of examples of the hate we generate in our society.  Links to heartache. Examples of cheating.

Can’t we do better?

I know that I can not save the world. It’s hard not to get downtrodden with the never ending negative examples on the news.

What I can do…

Is read a book to my daughters tonight before bed.

Is say hello to a stranger with a smile.

Is return the shopping cart to the cart corral (even the ones sitting between cars around me).

Is smile when I see my wife at the end of the day.

What I know for sure is that I can try every day to live this life with love. To be a little more humble and kind (yes, this was on the countdown).

 

 

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Life Lessons About Fatherhood

Life has hit me with some serious dots lately… dots that reveal the importance of fathers. Let me share the dots with you in an honest and vulnerable post…

Dot 1. We are reading the book Night by Elie Wiesel. One of the themes is about family that develops into the father-son relationship.

Dot 2. I am preparing for a local poetry slam. One of the poems I have decided to use is about an old photo of my father and me.

Then in a single night, life hit me with three dots. Two of the dots are surface level moments, but then the last dot shook me. I’ll get to that.

Dots 3 and 4. Saturday night I was traveling to Lincoln to pick up my second son from his first job as an intern for Striv. He was working on the highlight videos for state volleyball.  He had been in Lincoln since Friday morning, shooting footage of games and then editing video for the introductions before the championship games. Dot 3 was just being a dad. A proud dad. The time on the road allowed me to think about life, about being a father. Dot 4 is a song. I grabbed some CDs to listen to on the road. One of the CDs was Lupe Fiasco’s Food and Liquor. The song, “He Say, She Say,” deals with the effects of a son without his father.

Then the last dot… Dot 5. A moment that has been scrambling my spirit, even today. I tried writing a poem… I have written a version of this post, like five times, what you are reading is just me deciding to write as truthful as I can.

I had to stop to gas up the car on my way to Lincoln. I pulled up to the second row of pumps. There was a white truck at the first row of pumps next to the store. From my angle I could see the front end of the truck and the driver’s side door which was open. I couldn’t see the person filling the tank because of the gas pump. I was going through the routine of filling up the car when I was struck by a voice from the truck.

A little boy said, “Dad… I’m sorry Dad!  Dad? I’m sorry…”

My chest collapsed. Tears stung my eyes. I could hear the sorrow and fear of abandonment. I could see him, strapped into a car seat. Eyes wide. Head moving back and forth looking for his father. Feeling alone. Needing to see his father’s eyes, to hear his dad say that he was still loved.

Then he said it again, louder, with a tearful edge, “Dad, I’m sorry!  Dad? Dad, I’m sorry!” (Yes, I am tearing up as I write this.)

His dad doesn’t respond. I know as a father that I have had to calm myself down at times before I interact with my children. So, I don’t think much about the child’s dad not handling the moment right then. I finish filling up the tank and get back into the car trying to handle my emotions.

I think about all my students who have rough family lives. I think about my own children who have said that they are sorry… but I can’t figure out why my heart hurts so bad… I get onto the interstate still dealing with the waves of emotions crashing in my chest.

When it hit me… The little boy’s voice mirrored my own pain. Even at the age of 48 I fight that feeling of abandonment and fear the boy reflected in his apology to his dad. Without getting into my messy life story, I haven’t had a relationship with my father since I was 10 years old. I know that part of the destruction of that relationship is my decision. But that doesn’t change the feelings of being lost and unloved that I battle with almost everyday.

If you are a parent reading this… Love your children. Hug them. Read to them. Tell them they are forgiven. Give them a foundation that allows them to follow their dreams. I know what it is like to grow up without these things… it hurts, even decades later…

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Throwback: Letters

Notebook with pen

As the new school year looms around the corner, I thought I would have a little fun by writing a small series on some of the differences between our times growing up. Aspects I feel my kids are missing in their lives that kind of defined my time in the 80’s. These posts will be published on Thursdays for the next couple of weeks. To start, I am going to discuss writing letters, with a slight lean to those awesome high school love letters…

Remember passing notes in class?

I always thought I was sneaky by scratching my neck and dropping the note down my back onto the desk behind me.

Or I would fold up the note and push it through the little vents of the locker of my best friend or girlfriend at that time.

Or the simple process of handing it to someone as we passed in the hall.

Today my kids just text, and most of that communication is emoji based, and that is the deeper aspect they are missing. Being able to express their emotions through writing. Now, I’m not declaring that my high school letters would make Ralph Emerson jealous, or that my best friend and I wrote about theories on how we could graph life on an X, Y, and Z axis… wait we actually did that… anyway… Writing letters was part of my everyday routine.

Social connections are an important part of the teen years. Writing letters helped build those connections before texting. It improved our connections (and writing) because the blank page called to us to fill it with meaningful things. A one line note was not worth writing or reading.  If the letter was for a girlfriend, it had to be romantic, if not kind of cheesy… (looking back now. At the time I thought I was suave).

Today, though, my kids just text a face with a heart or something. What does that even mean? Because of technology there is no separation between people, meaning they never spend time wondering if their girlfriends are thinking about them right at that moment. They will never be pleasantly surprised when they open their locker to see a note.  As an English teacher, they are not challenged to write, to consider word choice, to bridge their emotions to the written word.

Do I text my family and friends? Yes, but at times I still write a card or note. There is something magical about receiving (and writing) a letter. I miss those days…

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Peace Be With You

Sunday morning. The sun brightens the stain glass windows, painting the floor in an array of colors. Everyone is standing as the priest talks through The Liturgy of the Eucharist.

“And the Lord’s peace be with you.”

“And also with you,” the congregation replies.

“Let us offer each other the sign of peace,” says the priest.

The church fills with the rumble of members turning to shake hands and say ‘peace be with you’ with their family and then with those around them. Now I am not Catholic, my wife and children are. This post isn’t about religion or beliefs. It is about the importance of being open as a person, even for a few seconds.

Again, I am not Catholic, and to be honest this moment in the service use to make me feel uncomfortable. I would shake hands with people with my eyes down and mumble something to them.

But as my family started to grow, and even to this day, my children have taught me the importance of this moment. When my oldest was about two years old and even now with my youngest daughter, who is three, started to shake hands with the people around me, I saw the beauty in the moment. But also noticed a sad truth.

My children can’t wait to shake hands with the people around us. Their little hands sticking out, waiting for the chance to make a connection. Over the years I have noticed how their eagerness and joy would affect the adults they shook hands with. The adults would smile and even lean down to say ‘peace be with you.’

But when they would shake hands with me, you could see the wall go up. There would be a hesitation in the moment and their eyes would go down. Now, I was the same way. I felt the same wall, would keep my eyes down. As if the person in front of me could hurt me in that 10 seconds of interaction. But I believed they could. And I think many adults feel something like that, too.

Why?

It is too simple of an answer, but I think the reason is because we have been hurt, we are afraid, and as adults it is simply easier to have a wall in place. And today? No doubt. Our society right now is in turmoil. We are disconnected from each other. Again, this is not a political post, but a chance for me to share with you a sign of peace.

My children have taught me that sharing a handshake is awesome. Society is trying to teach me different. This last Sunday I followed my children’s lesson. I made sure I looked at the person in the eye, smiled, and clearly said,

peace-be-with-you

 

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Hard Conversations

I’ve become a fan of Ben Rector. My second son, who is into electronic / dance music, actually shared his music with me. He said I would like it. He was right. Ben Rector has a song, “Like The World Is Going To End,” that has gotten me thinking. Well actually, it is a few lines from that song that got me thinking.

say-till-then

This idea runs through the song until in the last verse he sings that he would bring everyone he loved to California so everyone could say the things they were scared to say till then.

What really got me thinking was the idea that they wouldn’t be sharing secrets or past hurts, but speaking honestly about their love for each other. How scary is that?

How hard is it for us to tell someone how much you truly love them?  Now, I am not diminishing the power of saying “I love you” to family and friends. I’m talking about expressing our emotions openly to someone. That is hard for a few reasons. First because we have to remove all our defenses to that person. Our heart is out in the open and it bruises easily. Second, even for me, sometimes we just can’t find the words… or the words we have don’t even come close to revealing the depth of our feelings. Even as a poet, I can not tell my wife how beautiful she is when she smiles as she plays or interacts with our children. Or explain to my little girls the rush I get when they run to hug me when I get home.

Back to the song. Back to the idea that Ben Rector is sharing in the song. We should be telling our family and friends how much they mean to us, how much we love them. We should do this more than we do. No matter how hard it is. How scared we are to open up. Because I love how he ends the line, “till then.” In the song he is referencing the idea that the world is going to end. But I feel that he is also hinting at that once you decide to share your love with others you’ll wonder why you waited.

I hope you have some hard conversations today because

“Now that I think about it. Maybe we should always live like the world is gonna end.”
-Ben Rector

 

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