As many of you know, my word for this year is MILES, and I have fulfilled that word. Roughly, I have traveled 5,000 miles so far this year. I have traveled for sports, college visits, and a small family vacation. What is interesting about all my travels is how I’ve learned more about the idea of HOME.
Home is a house. A building that I start and finish my day at. A building that protects me and the family from storms. A place where we gather to eat dinner and to play Mario Kart. A place where we rest our heads and our feet. This house becomes a home because of the stories we share at the table, the protection we get from the emotional storms in our lives, and the laughter we share as dad comes in last again.
But home is not just this house. Home is our history. I went home this summer to visit my parents. It was just me, a few days to be their son and to walk down memory lane. One night we walked to the letter hill and found that my name, football number, and hand prints were still set in the concrete D on the hill by the high school.
For a few days I was simply their son. We talked about life, family, and recalled funny and emotional stories. The house was basically the same and so was the sense of home, especially the routine of gathering in the kitchen to talk. It was always the place we would gather before we went off on adventures (maybe someday I’ll share how we had to heat up the oil pan in the car with a waffle iron one winter).
Home is a routine. My wife and I make blueberry muffins every Sunday. Growing up we had bacon and eggs almost every Sunday. Home is the traditions we create. When I traveled with my daughter to Atlanta, it was funny how we still followed some of our normal routines, like eating at a certain time.
But what I’ve really come to realize is that home is actually the people we love and have a strong relationship with. One of the best things about the trip home was how easy it felt to talk and be with people that I hadn’t seen in years. It was like being home with them. I sat with my high school guidance counselor on her back step and just talked. Yes, we caught up on life, but there was no awkwardness to bridge because of the years. That is home.
If for some reason we had to move from this house, we would still have our home. You would find us eating dinner (at 6 p.m.) sharing stories at the dinner table. We would be home no matter where we were in this world.
For a minute, or two, consider how captivating bridges are in our lives, both physically and metaphorically.
In physical form bridges represent our ingenuity of getting over obstacles. Whether it is a river or two mountain tops, we design bridges to help us on our journey. And then to return home. The wonder of them expands when you consider the style, the personality of the bridges we build. From the simple log laid down by a child to get over a stream, to the The Danyang-Kunshan Grand Bridge in China that covers over a hundred miles, each bridge is unique. Not only in the material used or the architectural design, but also the environment it was built in; the obstacle it was built to overcome.
As I’ve traveled over the years I’ve come to appreciate the bridges I’ve seen and used. I don’t think I am alone in this joy because the idea of a bridge is ingrained in our lives. We understand the importance of reaching the other side of an obstacle, even when it is in our relationships, our opportunities in life.
We are always told not to “burn any bridges”.
The advice is good. All of our relationships are metaphorically connected by the bridges we build, by the obstacles we overcome in the relationships, and each connection has its own style influenced by the moments we share together. Burning a bridge is a devastating step in any relationship. (I will acknowledge and confess that there are bridges that do need to be burned down, but that is for another time.)
Then, there are the bridges we build that we never get to see in use. I know because I build bridges. I am a writer.
Like all artists I create a bridge when I write a blog post, a book, or a poem. I construct a way for readers to find their way to my side of the moment. We connect through the words I use to build a bridge between our shared lives, our shared moments, or to allow the reader to explore a new view from my mountain top.
All artists do this. How do I know, because I am a reader. I listen to music. I visit museums. I have walked on bridges created by all kinds of artists. I go back in time when I read Wordsworth’s poem “The World Is Too Much With Us,” and feel the same angst about society today. I could spend all day at any type of museum. As part of our honeymoon my wife and I went to the Art Institute in Chicago. (Yes, we went to a Cub’s game, too.)
I always get choked up when I hear this line from the song “Humble and Kind”:
Consider for a minute, or two, how powerful bridges are to the fullness of our lives. Whether we are driving on a family vacation, listening to a new song by our favorite artist, or even reading a blog post by someone new; each bridge is built with care and a unique style. I know because I build bridges, I am a writer.
I spent most of my day with a dead radio. Not because it was stolen like in the song, but I’ll get to why I couldn’t use the radio in a minute. Driving in silence allowed me time to think about the crazy day I was involved in, and also some of the more abstract aspects of this life (just like the song). Warning, this blog post will be all over the place and take some time… just like life.
First, let’s begin with how the day ended. Besides me writing about it, the girls stayed up a little later than normal so they could play Super Soccer with their oldest brother because he was heading back to college tomorrow.
The living room was filled with laughter, and outbursts of “Kick it!, Kick it, NOW!” Both games went to a shootout, and big brother lost both games. His sisters were excited.
I sat with my youngest daughter in the kitchen as they played. We had snack and played Would You Rather. I was asked if I would rather die by drowning or be killed by a giraffe. It was a rough game, but we added to the laughter.
I soaked up the moment and felt grateful for our home. The day did not start so smoothly.
My wife had an early, 6:15 a.m., appointment for a few medical procedures. I took the day off because she would be put under anesthesia for the procedures. We were ready to head to the surgery center at 5:45. My son was going to handle dropping off everyone at school, then he would go to work. I would be able to pick up my four daughters from school at the end of the day.
I go to start the van to warm it up… van is dead. No lights on the dashboard when I turn the key… nothing.
I grab the keys to my son’s car and take my wife to the surgery center. I drop her off to head back to the house. I have enough time to try to jump the van before the girls need to get to school.
Did I mention it was only like 4 degrees outside this morning?
I get the jumper cables attached, start my son’s car and let it charge for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes… nothing. The van is still dead. I unhook the cables, it’s time to get the girls to school. I take them. There isn’t room for my son, so he stays home. I’ll be back to get him to work on time.
By this time, I am consciously making sure I keep my frustration under control. It’s not that I can’t feel frustrated, but I can’t let the frustration take over to cause the morning routine to be filled with negativity from me. The girls are already worried about mom, their schedule has changed, and they understand that dad is improvising because the van is dead.
I finally got back to the hospital. My wife was in the surgery room. The receptionist explains to me how the TV board will keep me updated. I watch as my wife’s patient number changes color (each color is a different step in the procedure). After a while, I was escorted back to the recovery room. Everything went well and we headed home.
I decided to try jumping the van one more time. It’s not as cold, I am not hurried, and there is more light. I make sure I get a good connection on both batteries (which isn’t easy to do with new cars, there are so many things connected to the terminals). Success, the van starts after 5 minutes.
Here is where I spend time with no radio. We have an XM radio. When the battery dies or is changed, you have to enter a code to use any part of the radio, even to play a CD. (Which we do have, the van is about 8 years old). We have the code written down, which I would find later. One of my daughters would get the honor of activating the radio! But that is later in the day after I pick them up from school.
As I run errands, I am alone with my thoughts. And my thoughts got deep when I learn about the death of someone.
We have been in the market for a new car, but it is hard to find a car that matches our needs and our price range. We had been working with a sales person Dewayne for a few months. He helped us when we replaced a car that hit a deer. I had last spoken to him in person in August about our car situation and what inventory the dealership was expecting. As you do with people, we talked about personal things. He let me know he would be taking some time off because he was having heart surgery to clear a blockage in an artery, but I should contact him in December.
Well, I didn’t call in December. I called today. The receptionist was taken aback when I asked for Dewayne. She informed me that Dewayne had passed away the first day he was home from the surgery.
The first day home.
Dewayne was not a close friend, yet our lives intersected. And was supposed to continue to intersect. He was helping me find a vehicle. We had shared stories and talked about how the pandemic was causing havoc in all different aspects of life. Dewayne had a wife and kids. He had a big laugh.
It’s a cliche, not to take life for granted. But honestly, maybe it should become our code to live our life by. What would we change if we treated today like the only day we have? No matter if it starts out with a dead battery, or your coffee order getting mixed up (yeah, that happened too). How would we treat people? How would we treat the people we love if today was the last day we would see them?
When you read this, it will be today. And today is the only day that matters, so decide how you will live it.
I’m not sure where this blog post will end up, but it will cover coffee and Christmas lights. The idea for this post comes from the book Coffee: Philosophy for Everyone: Grounds for Debate, which I recently finished. I loved the book! It got me thinking about lots of things, but mostly coffee.
I proposed to my wife at the local coffee shop, The Blue Moon. We even had wedding photos taken there. I helped create their signature drink, The Silken Moon.
It is past 9 o’clock in the evening and I have a cup of coffee next to me and the Christmas lights on. I’m drinking a holiday flavored coffee. The cinnamon mixed with the warmth of the coffee fills my soul. The Christmas lights make me smile.
The house is quiet. The coffee cup has a tangible weight to it, like the serenity of the darkness at the edge of the colored lights. I know I am here. I know the world is moving outside the house. There are moments happening right now that are breaking people’s spirits. I hate knowing that. It is sad to feel helpless to change it.
But I am here.
I take a strong sip, the coffee flows down my throat in a warm wave. A blue Christmas light is flickering, but staying lit. And I am doing what I love to do, writing. Creating a moment through words to share with loved ones and strangers. I may never change the world, but I can create a moment that helps build up someone instead of tearing them down.
I can share a symbolic cup of coffee with you. Share a moment of peace that shines like a Christmas tree. This post will be a connection between us, even if it is for just a few minutes. I hope it warms your heart.
My cup is empty, the hour is late, here is to a new day and a chance to feel loved.
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.
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.
Now that summer has started, I’ve been walking everyday. I’ve also been writing everyday. I’ve gone back to writing with pen and paper. I can feel the weight of the past school year starting to ease from my shoulders. It feels good. I like listening to music while I write and walk, so I thought it would be fun to share with you the top five songs I’ve been listening to lately. Kind of a small soundtrack of my life at the moment. A fun blog, but no guarantees that I won’t get deep in this post. Enjoy!
Track One: “Something Here” by Day Wave
Even though this song was released four years ago, I recently started listening to Day Wave and this is the song that got me hooked. What makes it a song I have on repeat is how much it connects with this time in my life. As the pandemic is starting to turn for the better, a tough school year is over… I feel like life is starting over, that “there’s something here” and I can’t wait to see what it is.
Track Two: “I Would Die 4 U” by Prince
Another older song, OK, a classic even. Besides me being a Prince fan, this song lifts my spirit. Not only because it is a great song to dance to or to sing karaoke with my daughter, but also the spiritual subject matter. The song is from Jesus’ point of view. The line “I’m your conscience / I am love / All I really need is to know that you believe” gets me every time.
Track Three: “Mercy” by Ayron Jones
This might be the soundtrack for our country right now. I happen to get into Ayron Jones’ music because I started following him on Instagram during the pandemic. Ayron would do these small live concerts at random times. I love his honest energy on this song.
Track Four: “I Guess I Just Feel Like” by John Mayer
You know when you feel down, so you play music to match that feeling and somehow you feel better because of it? That’s what this song does for me. The second verse hits home for me:
I guess I just feel like good things are gone
And the weight of my worries is too much to take on
I think I remember the dream that I had
That love’s gonna save us from a world that’s gone mad
I guess I just feel like
What happened to that?
I still believe that honest Love will save us. I just don’t know how to share enough of it in this world to make a difference. Almost everyday Hate or Apathy seems to be the course of action we choose. I do feel like giving up… but I don’t.
Track Five: “Anywhere Without You” by Whole Damn Mess
Another band I discovered on social media. This song feels like summer to me and it mirrors my own feelings for my wife. For the last 20 years we have been a team. Traveling to our kids’ activities, grocery shopping, even helping out by taking tickets with me at school, we have been together. Oh, we have had those “lightning” moments, but overall spending my days with her builds my strength and brings me joy.
So, I hope you enjoyed the mini soundtrack for my life at the moment. Share your soundtrack with me in the comments.
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 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?