Tag Archives: dadlife

Joy of Life

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. 

Number 5

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.

Number 4

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.

Number 3

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.

Number 2

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.

Number 1

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.

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Blueberry Muffins and a Number One Song

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?

Twenty years

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.

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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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Life in Boxes

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.

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Blueberry Muffins and the End of Everything

My three youngest daughters were all up early today. They were spread out in the living room. One reading, one drawing, and one on the iPad.

“What muffins today?” they asked. We have been alternating between blueberry and chocolate chip muffins, with a cinnamon option every once and awhile. 

“Blueberry,” I say.

They respond, “OK.” But I can tell they wanted chocolate chip muffins. But there were only two left at the end of the day.

Next week is graduation for my second son.

I turn 50 this year.

I completed the Writer’s Digest 2021 April Poem a Day challenge. (You can read the poems on my Creative Corner for Writing blog. I’ve been posting them when I can. I am on day 9.)

I just finished Kevin Garnett’s book A to Z. (Great book!)

And maybe I’m just waiting for the end of this pandemic, but I’ve noticed that there are more endings in my life lately. I understand that time moves on. That doesn’t stop my mind from considering how everything ends. By chance I learned that my stepmother died in November. I haven’t spoken to her or my father in decades. Of course learning of her passing brought back memories (not many were happy). The obituary mentioned that her children were by her side when she passed. No matter what happened while our stories were on the same path, her story is now over. 

I guess the aspect of endings I have been troubled by is the finality of most of the endings in this life. There is no way to redo moments in our lives. No matter how much we want to. That knowledge is the hard part of the ending, especially the ending of joyful moments. One of the lessons you learn as a dad. Letting go. Letting go of your children. Letting go of youth. Letting go of the past.

Yes, there is tomorrow and there are new beginnings. But a hard truth of life is that most of the endings in life leave you with only memories.

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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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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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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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