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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
P.S. My elementary daughters have enjoyed the game, too. My second daughter plans on playing next year in junior high.
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 Daysgot 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?
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.
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.
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.
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…
I was thinking about life the other day while I waited for my daughters to finish their first day of practice for Cinderella Jr. So many little ideas bounced inside my head. I will be turning 50 in a few years. It is nice to have summer break again (been four years). The story lines of the Star Trek movies my wife and I have been watching (one through five at the time). This floor is hard. The idea of time presented in the movie, Arrival. Amazement at making it to this moment in my life. The new band Haevn I discovered.
Ideas like that, then something clicked in my head. Life became an acronym. Each letter represents an aspect of how to live a great life. I ran with the idea, jotted down some notes, and decided to write a blog series on this idea. After this introductory post, I will dedicate a post for each letter.
My goal of the blog series is:
To be inspirational for you, the reader
To satisfy my joy of dealing with deep ideas
To satisfy my drive for writing
So join me over the next two weeks as I discuss the acronym of LIFE. I will share my ideas, share some book or media recommendations, and hopefully give you, even if it is just one idea, something that will help you live an awesome life.
Just a warning, I may be writing this blog for me (life is stressful at the moment)… but I think you might like it.
Welcome to #dadlife.
Welcome to time being a single piece of pie left and 14 people wanting it.
Welcome to money being a battlefield. Bills are tanks that slowly advance but hit you from far away with loud shells that leave holes in your landscape. Making it difficult to outrun the tanks; see they run on continuous tracks.
#dadlife has no filters to make things look better. It is filled with vomit, bags under your eyes, dirty dishes and loads of soiled laundry… so many loads of laundry. #dadlife is filled with frowns, a fading body, and carpet worn thin from the family routine.
Welcome to feeling like your dreams are expired spices in the cupboard. Always in sight, thought of when cooking, but no one likes their scrambled eggs with seasoning. So your dreams sit in the back, stale and out of date.
#dadlife is being last in line at the zoo. Making sure everyone sees the tigers while you answer the questions and making sure that a little one doesn’t wander off. You get the last drops of water and few chips left in the bag.
Welcome to finding strength you didn’t know you had. #dadlife builds your heart and mind, it is crossfit training for every aspect of your life. Every day is a rep for life, building strength to handle your children’s heartaches, while striving to build a home. #dadlife teaches you how to move in 12 different ways. You become limber and agile, being capable of handling different situations at the same time.
#dadlife breaks your heart with joy and then heals it with love as you watch your children shine, on a stage, with a colored pencil, or on the court. Your heart cracks as they express their talents, fulfilling their dreams. The cracks are then healed when they catch your eye with a smile that says thank you.
Welcome to #dadlife. It is like trying to find a treasure with a faded map. You can just make out the directions, but many times you forge your own way. Finding unique coins along the unexplored paths. After awhile you can read the next landmark, make a slight adjustment to stay on track. But soon find that the map is hard to read again. So, you decide which path to take on your own. Finding small treasures along the way.
#dadlife is just a hashtag, but through all the hurdles of this dad’s life, I am happy to share both the sorrow and joy of a life lived.
I have been commuting for sixteen years. I have blogged about driving a few times (Cruise Control, We Can’t Always See). My oldest child will be a senior this year. Commuting has given me time to think about how fast the coming year will go and about all the things I want my son to know. There is so much about life I hope he is ready for. While driving I had this crazy thought, “Life is traffic.” This post is my fatherly advice for him.
Understand that traffic laws, signs, and stoplights are designed for the safety of everyone on the road. The rules are not meant to hinder you, they are in place so that everyone will travel safely to their destination. Even the unwritten rules are meant to make the road safe for everyone. You are not the only driver. Be respectful of everyone else on the road. That is one of the reasons people lose their cool driving. Other people break the rules and disrespect the other drivers. It is true for life, too. We are all just trying to drive our own lives. Respect other people’s journeys.
Use your turn signal, and turn it on before you are actually turning.
Cruise control is only good for the open road. Once traffic gets heavy, drive your car. This also holds true for life. At times life will feel like a routine, but don’t fall into the trap of the cruise control. It is easy to give up control to the car or to a job. Don’t. Cars are meant to be driven. Life is meant to be lived.
On that note, at some point, learn to drive a car with a stick shift. You will understand the true beauty of driving. You will feel the power of the engine, understand the art of shifting to higher gears. You will face the challenge of keeping the car running as you shift to first gear at a stoplight on an incline. An important part of life is learning to tackle the hard things so that we can live more fully. Step outside your comfort zone and you’ll find that there is so much more to experience in life.
As in life, give people space while driving. Don’t tailgate people, or swerve right in front of them. Why? Reread the first point. Also, don’t spend 10 miles trying to pass. Turn off the cruise control and drive.
Did I mention use your turn signal?
When you travel, plan ahead. Know where you are going. Know what route you are going to take. I know some people will argue that you should just follow the open road, but I have been lost. And that is scary. By knowing your destination, by planning, you can then actually be spontaneous. You can take the back roads, or spend an afternoon in a small town, because you know where you need to go. I am not suggesting that you plan out your whole life, I know how unpredictable life can be, but I have always known what dreams and goals I wanted to achieve. Those have been my mile markers. Being lost, whether driving or in life, is a scary place to be. Always remember to call me if you ever find yourself lost.
Accidents. Some will be your fault, but most will be the fault of others. You know that the two major accidents I have been involved with were because of someone running a red light. My advice is that you have to be alert while you drive. And then you have to be ready to handle the fallout from the accident: reports, phone calls to insurance, car repairs or replacements. Like many aspects of life, a single moment will cause a chain reaction for your future. Some of the effects are minor, others will set your life on a whole new direction. You will never see an accident coming. Don’t try to evade your responsibility, or responsibility for your life.
Don’t ever drink and drive. EVER.
Life is traffic. Respect people on the road and in your life. Try not to drive on cruise control for too long. Learn to drive a stick. Mom and I are here if you ever need a lift.
I was doing some digital cleaning of my files when I came across the rough draft of an old blog post. Due to job changes, most of my original posts are lost or in rough draft form. This post was not in the usual folder I keep for my writing so I was surprised to find it. It was written December, 1, 2010. I have made some small edits, but decided to post it as is. I hope you enjoy, “The Dash”.
Yesterday my wife and I attended the funeral of a family member on my wife’s side. We also went to the burial site ceremony. As the preacher talked, I could not help but to gaze at the headstone by my feet. The person was born in 1905 and died in 1988. Eighty-three years of life. Now; two dates and the dash between (Yes, I know the poem “The Dash”). I walked around after the services to look at other headstones. Some were so weatherworn that I couldn’t read the names, others had rings interconnected with wedding dates, and newer headstones had no death date. Waiting for the occupant to die so that the death equation could be filled in: Birth – Dash – Death.
It has been a hard 2010 for me. I have had friends move away, coaching positions removed from me, a handful of students who simply do not care but thought it was my fault for their educational experience.
I have had some great moments in 2010. Coaching a junior high girls basketball team that is simply talented. Receiving awards and opportunities to speak or present at conferences. Taking seven athletes to state track. Getting the opportunity to build a home. The continuing experience called Fatherhood.
2010 will be remembered on my headstone as a dash.
A dash. That’s it.
Life will go on without me when I complete my own death equation. Steve Jobs discusses this in his Stanford Speech:“…almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
Pearl Jam also expresses this idea in a simple line from their song “I am Mine”
I know I was born and I know that I’ll die The in between is mine
But do we?
Have I synthesized this information (reading strategy, I know. I am an English teacher)? Have I spent too much time in a bad mood? Have I spent too much time waiting for tomorrow to be better? Am I where I am needed and wanted?
I have been shown this year, in different ways, that life goes on without me. At the funeral service, the message was centered on the idea that our lives are our sermon to the world. My life, my sermon, will be a dash on a headstone, but I hope it is felt in the hearts of my family and friends.