For a while now, we have been listening to the top 40 countdown on the 80s channel on XM radio while making blueberry muffins. We get to hear the top 10 songs, with breakfast usually ready while the number one song for the week plays. This week in 1986 was “Holding Back the Years” by Simply Red.
This morning, the kitchen was full. My second son had returned from a trip with his friends, and my oldest son’s girlfriend was visiting. Everyone was filling their plates: scrambled eggs, blueberry muffins, glasses of milk, and bacon. It was a typical Sunday morning.
Earlier in the countdown was the song, “Like a Rock” by Bob Seger (I don’t remember what position on the chart it was). There is a verse in the song about how 20 years have flown by:
Twenty years now
Where’d they go?
I don’t know
I sit and I wonder sometimes
Where they’ve gone
Mixed with the sad vibe of “Holding Back the Years” I thought about how bittersweet our Sunday routine is.
In one way, our blueberry muffin breakfast holds back the years because it brings us together as a family. Every tradition a family participates in is a way to stop time. It strengthens the bond of love and joy that creates a timeless bubble for everyone to live in, no matter how much time has passed or how much someone has grown.
Because time does pass, we do grow older, we do change. Sitting at the table, it was bittersweet to know that in a few months both of my sons would be out in the world. My youngest daughter doesn’t need my help taking the paper cup off of her muffin anymore. My children were growing, time was moving forward.
There was nothing I could do about it, but yet this morning, we were together, family. That will never change. Contrary to the lyrics of “Holding Back the Years”, our tradition of blueberry muffins is a chance for something good to happen, for love to happen.
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.
The video was produced by my son. This is our first poetry video. We are working on a new video as I write.
My third daughter is teaching herself how to play songs on her keyboard. She learned the opening to “Purple Rain” for me.
I took my daughters to a crane viewing site by the river to learn how to draw landscapes.
I know life is challenging right now. I am teaching English online. My kids are attending college through kindergarten on line.
It is tough in so many different ways. But maybe this is also an opportunity. An opportunity for you, for your family, to do something you didn’t have time for… to do something outside your normal routine before the pandemic. Maybe, just maybe, now is the time to build your skills to go after your dreams.
Earlier this morning the scene in our kitchen was the same as it is most Sundays. The family eating blueberry muffins, eggs, and sausage. Except we were eating at 8:10 a.m. We usually eat around 7 a.m. so that we can attend church at 9 a.m. Today, we are watching the service on TV.
Our oldest son was not at the table, he was heading back to college to get stuff from his dorm because his college was going online only in a week.
The mood in the kitchen was joyful and tired. We were less than 24 hours from watching our second son win the consolation game for state basketball. We were tired from all the emotions we experienced during the tournament. From winning the first round game, losing in the semifinals (a tied game with 6 minutes left), and winning the third place game. But only family was allowed to watch the games.
In a time when we are supposed to be practicing ‘social distancing’, I saw sons hugged by fathers and mothers after the semifinal loss. Hugged for minutes. Tears shared by all. And I saw the same after the team’s victory yesterday, just with a different emotion. Of course the senior parents held their sons the longest during the celebration.
This morning life felt normal while outside our doors things are crazy. Uncertainty fills the air as we wait to see what changes come next. What I do know is that next Sunday we will have blueberry muffins as a family, no matter the changes that occur in the world.
In 2018 I wrote a blog about twenty years of marriage based on songs. I enjoyed writing that blog, so I thought it would be fun to revisit 2019 through music. So, grab your headphones and travel with me as I share 2019 through songs.
One of the biggest moments in 2019 was when I decided to audition for the musical, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. I wanted to step out of my comfort zone. And I did because I got the part of Vice Principal Douglas Panch. I had a blast. (Here is the blog post about that experience: What I am Learning.)
His name is Brett, and he is a service tech at the Honda dealership in Joliet, Illinois. Long story short; he got us home after our mini van broke down during a basketball tournament in Chicago this summer. Brett is a good person.
Staying with the basketball theme, this is one of the songs my second son likes to listen to to get ready for basketball. After the Chicago trip, his team went undefeated for the rest of the summer. Through all the miles and hotel rooms, ponds, and fruit smiles, the show goes on… and as a dad, I couldn’t be prouder of his accomplishments.
My oldest son ended his high school acting career playing Tevye from the play, Fiddler on the Roof. I cried. As a father, there is nothing that breaks your heart more than the joy of seeing your children shine doing what they love. My oldest son has been acting since he was 9 years old. Watching his last performance was one of the best moments I’ve had as a dad.
I’ll end with this song from Macklemore… Even though it was released in 2017, this was a major song for me in 2019.
Share the song that best represents 2019 for you in the comments…
I push rewind for the fifth time on the left side player. Then rewind, then play, to hear the end of the song so I can stop the tape. There has to be the right amount of silence between songs, plus this is the last song on this side, so I have to make sure it fits. I have already recorded the songs on the paper cover, in pen even. This is the first mixtape for this girlfriend, so it has to be right.
Text message: i made u a playlist on youtube http:tube/s6dfe82jn
Text message: some obscure emoji…
My kids are missing out on making mixtapes. And that saddens me, here’s why.
One, a mixtape took work. You had to know if songs would fit each side. Had to have the tape of the songs you wanted. If you didn’t you had to borrow them, or try to get the song taped off the radio. And that was always a difficult situation. The DJ might talk right up to the first line of the song, or you were busy doing something when the song came on and couldn’t get to the radio to hit record.
When you handed that tape to her, you both knew the work it took to make it and that meant something.
Two, the challenge to pick the right songs. Depending on where you were in the relationship affected the song selection. So, you would have to listen to every song’s lyrics. You would have to evaluate if the lyrics were too serious for the relationship, while also deciding if she would actually like the song. There was some serious analysis put into song selection for mixtapes.
Third, the joy of sharing something about ourselves. OK, to be truthful this happens now, even with YouTube playlists. Right now my sons and I are sharing our top five songs at the moment (one song each day). A kind of end of summer thing. Over Christmas break we shared our top 10 important songs. My best friend and I have made various mixtapes (and then CDs) over the years. I have a feeling we will make a mix for when we turn 50…
A mixtape, or even a playlist, allows the other person to know us in a unique personal way. Yes, it is nostalgic, but I still think a mixtape is better than a playlist… there are no commercials, only music that I choose to share with you.
The photo above is a last second game winning 3-pointer in the championship game… for the other team. My second son is number 15 in the red uniform. He has never lost a game like that before.
The picture above is my oldest son, performing serious prose for Speech. At districts he got third in one round, but got sixth in another. He didn’t qualify for finals.
As a dad it was hard to lessen the pain my sons felt after each of these moments. Even harder to explain the benefit of losing (blog post from 2011). I want them to know that character is built on both sides of the coin, winning and losing. I want them to know that it is important to feel the pain of defeat because it means that their heart was in it. And honestly, I think that is the most important aspect to success.
Anyone can participate in a sport or activity. Some are even successful without ever putting their heart into it. I mean that they can win on talent alone, but that isn’t the only reason to be involved in an activity. Finding out who you are and expressing yourself through that activity is the greatest achievement.
No matter if we win or lose we have moments that reveal who we really are in our pursuit of our goals. Putting our heart into an activity allows us to become ourselves, to understand who we are. To be great as a person. I know I am their dad, but I am proud of the men my sons are becoming.
My oldest son got his first main role as a third grader. He was Charlie in Willy Wonka Jr.
This year he choose to perform Sweeney Todd, one of his favorite plays, during Speech season. Next year he hopes to perform an original piece, plus compete in Poetry. I am proud of his strength to perform pieces that are true to his heart and not sell out in hopes of winning.
My second son started playing basketball in first grade.
He has worked hard, from that first game when he would not move from his spot on the court when he was on defense, to playing with the NBDA Bison Green team. I am proud of his work ethic and focus on achieving his goals.
I am most proud of both of them for feeling the sting of defeat, because it means their hearts are in it, win or lose. And if they keep pursuing their goals with their heart, I know they will succeed, especially in life.
I am amazed by your talents. Each of you have unique gifts that make being a parent awesome. You are lucky to have discovered your talents at such a young age. Each day I see how your talent continues to improve. It is an honor to be a part of that process. As you stand on on stage, make a no-look pass, or draw a new animal, I see a glimpse of your heart. This letter is meant to help you grow and work with your talents in the future. Yes, it is parental advice, but that is a benefit of being your dad.
First, it is your talent. You are responsible for developing it. You are responsible for how you use your talent. You decide if you continue to work hard at being an actor, a basketball player, and an artist. No one else has that responsibility (we will talk about other people in a minute). And that responsibility means you can let your talent slide. My fatherly advice is don’t. I know the regret of letting a talent go… of not focusing on the development of a gift. You know that I quit football after my freshman year in college. I still wonder what I could have done on the football field. You know that I write now, but in a way I let writing slide for too long. As a senior in high school I received a Young Author’s award. I let too many years go… I will never get them back. I never got to put on a uniform again… It seems like life is forever at your age, but it is not. Opportunities to use your talent are limited. Don’t waste them. I believe there is a reason for everyone’s talent. Yes, I am about to go deep.
Our talents gives us depth to our lives. It is not the only thing that makes life meaningful. There is love, family, friendship, but our talents add to that mix. Your talent will enrich your everyday experience. Your talent gives you direction in this life, if you have the courage to use your talent as a life compass. When faced with hard choices, ask yourself which options best benefit your talent. Yes, I am talking about things like alcohol or drugs or any other peer pressure situations. But also about situations life hands you, like friends, job opportunities, situations you have not encountered yet. Of course there are other factors in major decisions, but your talent is an important factor. If you make choices that help you develop your talent, you will find the right direction. I didn’t say easy… just that you will not regret a choice that is centered on strengthening your talent.
Here’s why: other people. Let’s deal with the positive aspect first. I also believe that there is another aspect to the responsibility of our talents. By developing our talents we can help other people see what they are capable of in this life. In a simple, everyday way, our talents make this a better world. You are a role model through displaying your talent. I was reminded of this through a few situations where my writing had an impact for people that I did not know were influenced by something I have written. Your talent shows others what can be. It shows others the beauty of this life, the richness of living. And you never know who that might be.
But here’s the flip side of other people, the haters. I wish I had an answer to this issue, but I don’t. And I know how powerful negative people can have on developing or showing your talent. Their comments and attitudes can make you feel like hiding your talents. Can you image what our world would be like if we lifted people up instead of trying to destroy someone simply because they are good at something? It would be amazing. I can’t stop the haters. But be strong, be courageous, at the end of the day you know mom and I will be here for you. Draw all the lions you want. Sing your heart out. Take the 3 or drive to the basket. Embrace your talents. Work hard. Prepare for the hard spots in life, they will come. But most of all enjoy where your talent takes you, it’s going to be a beautiful life.
At the dinner table last night my second son said he had a blog post for me. I said, “OK, what is it?”
“We are balloons.”
He continued to explain that most of life we are held onto by someone. But we can be let go and float up into the sky. When we are up in the sky we feel lost and just wander around. He moves his hand to emphasize how random we move through the air.
He continues to explain that after awhile we start to fall back to earth because we lose air. At this moment my first son asks what happens then.
My second son explains that hopefully we find another person that will fill us back up and hold onto us.
I told him I would write the blog. If you have a moment would you share a comment for him on his idea? Thank you.
I did ask him if he had seen the film The Red Balloon. My son said no, so I thought I would share it with his blog so he could watch it.
This morning was a reminder of one of the aspects of life I’ve learned. It started as one of those mornings. Trash and recycling need to be put out on the curb. Lunches needed to be made. Diapers to daycare. Movies to return. My oldest son overslept. My youngest daughter didn’t want to be put down. It was time for me to start my commute and I was nowhere close to pouring my coffee into my travel mug.
I multi-task, carrying the last of the recycling, diapers under on arm, movies clutched in a few fingers to put in my wife’s car. Both garage doors opening is an appropriate sound track to the morning, arrrrgrarrrarrr, clunk-clunk.
It is about 6:20 in the morning, dark, and my breath can be seen as the cold tickles my forearms. It takes three trips to get the trash and recycling to the curb. The constellation Orion is above the southern horizon. Mars is shining bright toward the east. Beautiful. I take a few minutes to star gaze (I don’t know why, but stargazing is special for me).
In those few minutes the stars reminded me that life is beautiful. No matter what is going on in life, “nothing dims these stars.” I know that life can be hard. I know even in good times there can be a grimy feeling to life. Diamonds can collect filth on them. But the shine is still there; the diamond will sparkle (like a star) with a little cleaning.
Minutes later as I was getting into my car, my sons came out to get into the minivan. “Did you guys see the stars?” I asked. We go out to the drive way and we stargaze together for a minute. For a moment life hits me, in a single moment I feel the beauty of life so true that it almost crushes my heart. There I stood with my two sons, in front of our new home, on the driveway that we play basketball. Life can be hard. I know this. There is pain and disappointment, tragedy that can also crush a heart.
It takes work, it takes time, but no matter how filthy a diamond becomes, it still has its shine. “Nothing dims these stars.”
“Dad, there is a new Clone Wars on tonight!” Both boys head to the minivan chatting excitedly about the show tonight. I smile. Everyone has their own set of stars. What allows you to know that life is beautiful?