Family Fanatics

It’s past 2 am and I should’ve been asleep hours ago. Instead, I’m sitting on my sofa typing this blog, still internally wired after my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, won a thrilling game to advance to the Final Four next weekend. For those who are unaware or don’t care much about collegiate sports, this is a pretty big deal for both the team and their fans. The only other time the Wisconsin Badgers made it to the Final Four was 14 years ago. While I was fortunate enough to be living in Madison at that time and had connections that secured tickets for me to attend the Final Four with three friends it’s a bit different this time around. We no longer live in Madison, having moved almost 2,000 miles away to the state of Washington over two years ago. We now have six children, in March of 2000 we had an almost 5 year old and a 7 month old. In 2000 my wife knew I was excited about the Badgers but didn’t really care about the basketball team herself. My 5 year old also didn’t really care about sports, although she likely noticed my happy demeanor when the team surprised everyone and made their run to the Final Four. This time around, my oldest two kids are now almost 19 and 14, and neither one really cares about the Badgers basketball team. But my next two kids, ages 12 and 9, are quickly becoming my basketball buddies. Both of them have now played organized basketball for two seasons and seem to enjoy the game. It doesn’t hurt that they both were the tallest on their teams. But what’s been fun for me is to see the passion for the game begin to develop in them, just like it did in me when I was their age. I have fond memories of watching buzzer beaters and upsets in the tournament, although my team was never one of the “good” ones. So, it’s been an extra special treat to experience these games with my kids. And it’s not been limited to basketball. We’ve enjoyed many games cheering on our beloved Green Bay Packers over the years, following them to two Super Bowl wins in 1997 and 2011. While I’m still a Packers fan at heart, I’ve always liked the Seattle Seahawks second best because I was born in Washington state. So, now that we live close to Seattle I’ve been able to attend several Seahawks games and they even won the Super Bowl just last month, much to my delight and the chagrin of my kids. Interestingly enough, my 3 year old daughter now loves the Seahawks (more than the Packers!). She even requested a Seahawks hat that she proudly wears with her princess dresses. Image

So, what’s the point of me sharing this with you? It’s the shared memories that I’m making with my kids as we cheer for (or against) teams. It’s memories that I hope they will cherish as much as I do. I hope when they’re older they will fondly recall that time that Dad (me) jumped and screamed like a crazy guy when the Packers or Badgers made a big play. The memories I have of my own father watching sports on TV are not so great. He had a hard time watching the bumbling Packers of the 1980s because he grew up in the glorious Lombardi-era when the Packers were the best team in all of football. I remember him being so frustrated by the poor play that he would change the channel in the middle of the game or start shouting at the TV (like it would somehow help). While I’m passionate about my teams, I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job of not letting the disappointment of a loss bring me down too much, if at all. After all, I simply look around and see my wife and kids and realize that there’s so much that I’m thankful for that makes a win or loss by my team pale in comparison. After all, it’s just a game. Still, being a little bit crazy for a few moments while we’re watching our team in a close game is so fun. Tonight, while the game was finishing, I was feeding my 9 month old while keeping an eye on the end of the Badgers game. In the adjoining living room my son and daughter were cheering and groaning with each basket. While I didn’t know if our team would win in the end, I was excited to see that they were coming down with a severe case of March Madness! On Wisconsin!

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Repeat after me…

Over the past few weeks I’ve been intrigued by both the NFL and Lean In attempting to persuade people to not use certain words. According to reports, the NFL is considering making it a penalty for a player to use the N-word on the field. Sheryl Sandberg of Lean In and others have started a campaign to #banbossy. I know of other campaigns to ban words from our daily usage as well. While in high school, my oldest daughter alerted me to the campaign Spread the Word to Stop the Word in relation to the term retarded. I know there are other words that people or groups have tried to ban, also with perfectly legitimate reasons. However, I don’t want to debate the merit of any of these campaigns. I’d rather look at childhood language development since I’m viewing this through the lens of a dad with young children.

As a parent, and specifically as a SAHD (but this applies to any At Home parent) because I’m around my kids so much, I have a huge influence on the development of my children. I am fully aware of this critical role I play in their lives and that’s one of the many reasons I chose to become a SAHD over 13 years ago. One of the biggest areas of influence is in the words I choose to use with my kids. And in front of my kids. They learn how to talk and what words to use from how I speak around them. Back in 1998, when my oldest was only three years old, my younger brother brought his girlfriend to meet us all for the first time. At some point during their visit his girlfriend said “stupid” in a playful manner about something. My daughter heard it and told her very seriously, “We don’t say that word in our family.” To this day they still joke with my daughter about that incident (my little brother married her despite her potty mouth). I wish that I could report that the term “stupid” is never uttered in our house. The point of that cute story is to illustrate that language is learned and can be guided. I go back to my own childhood for a not-so-cute memory about the word nigger.

I remember being in the back seat of my grandpa’s large Buick sedan as we drove from Lake Michigan back to his house across town in Racine, Wisconsin. To get back to his house we had to go through a part of town that wasn’t middle-class white. Being born in 1902, my grandpa used the term nigger like it was no big deal when talking about black people. Although, in this particular instance he was using it in a rather derogatory manner because he probably felt threatened by the black people “taking over” his beloved city. Was he racist? Most likely. He died in 1990 when I was only 17 so I can’t really speak to his thoughts about black people. But, I can say that his use of that term was very jarring for me. It wasn’t a word we used in my house. Looking back at that memory makes me appreciate the fact that I never heard my own father use that term even though he grew up with a father who used it. My father chose to break away from the pattern of his childhood in how he raised his family. I’ll be forever grateful to him for that choice. I know plenty of people today who still use that term to try to express their hate and vitriol for black people. It’s probably one of the most loaded and vile words in the English language. Even typing the word nigger for this post makes me very uncomfortable. (My guess is that it makes you equally uncomfortable to read it and that’s the point!) It is a word that I don’t use and have never even typed before because it is so terribly offensive and hurtful. My nine year old son had never heard of the term when I asked him about it before writing this post. So, I explained a little bit about it and made him promise to never use that word and to speak up if he ever hears someone else use it. While a small piece of his childhood innocence was lost in that conversation I hope that I’ve begun to instill in him a sense of moral and civic responsibility to speak up when people use words like nigger (or retarded, faggot, homo, etc.) which are meant to hurt and demean others. I asked my 14 and 12 year old daughters if they knew what the term meant and they both told me that they learned about it in school from teachers. My 14 year old said, “I know it’s bad. Besides, it’s not like you and mom ever use that word.” So, since I don’t use the N-word at all, much less around my kids. I must be a great dad, right?

Not so fast! I’ve been fortunate enough to be a SAHD for many years. One of the things I get to do is drive my kids to/from school and all over the place as we do stuff together. While I don’t swear at all or beep my horn much, I do enjoy venting a little bit at the stupid (we don’t say that word, either!) drivers who are constantly surrounding me. It’s not even on the scale of road rage or anything like that. Just some good sarcastic humor to help me cope with their stupidity (sorry again). Only problem is that I’ve got ears in the back seat with a mouth that repeats. This point was illustrated not too long ago when my adorable three year old noticed the Prius ahead of us not moving when the light turned green. Naturally, she admonished the driver to go, saying “Come on old lady, find the gas pedal!”. While I was proud that she was contextually correct in the application of her language, I was appalled at what I’d just heard. When my daughter opened her mouth, I heard myself. Pretty sobering. It was at that moment that I decided that I needed to curb my comments, although once in a while a “Learn how to drive!” or “Roundabouts just aren’t that hard!” flies out of my pie-hole before I realize it.

By sharing these different stories I’m trying to raise awareness about the importance of the words we each choose to use. And yes, it’s a choice. How we talk to and in front of our children can, does and will influence what words they choose to use. It also tells a lot about the kind of person we each are on the inside. If we, as parents, would choose to use our words to build up and encourage one another instead of to tear down, then we wouldn’t need to have campaigns to ban certain words. And that starts at home with us, setting expectations for our children while being mindful of the influence that we have on their development. They’re always watching us and absorbing like big sponges. The bottom line is that our words have power.; the power to build up or the power to tear down. I’ll leave you with one last anecdote that just happened today. As we were driving, one of my older kids said the word “stupid” and my three year old said, “Oooh. You’re going to get in trouble. My daddy doesn’t allow his kids use that word!” Message received and delivered.

Climbing the Mountain

In May of 2012 I took my then seven year old son, Cornelius, on a week long cruise to Alaska. As a full time SAHD I spend most of my time with my family, but I was looking forward to some great one-on-one time with my only boy. After two days at sea we arrived at our first port, the capital city of Juneau. We were both excited to be on dry land again and were ready for adventure together. We took an interesting and informative, 2.5 hour long bus tour of the city and Mendenhall Glacier, led by a native Alaskan Tlingit…which bored my boy out of his mind. I felt badly that he didn’t enjoy the tour and wanted to find something he would like for our remaining hours in Juneau.

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We looked at our options and decided to take a tram up to the 1800′ level on Mt. Roberts, where a promise of spectacular views and hiking trails intrigued us. Cornelius could barely conceal his excitement when he saw snow on the ground at the top of the bluff. Apparently there had been a late-spring snowstorm so the trails were still covered in snow. But, we were told, adventurous types could still hike around if they didn’t mind the snow. Despite wearing only a t-shirt, sweatshirt, shorts and tennis shoes, Cornelius begged me to hike in the snow. So, off we went.Image

Just over the ridge from the nature center at the top of the tram landing was another steep bluff, with a series of switchback trails leading to another ridge about 200′ above. The problem was the fact that the entire bluff was covered in several feet of snow, rendering the trail impassable. The only way to scale the bluff and reach “Father Brown’s Cross” would be to climb straight up the face. Cornelius took off running while I cheered him on. He made it about halfway up before losing his momentum and sliding back down. Three times. Each successive attempt was a little slower and more disappointing for him. After his third attempt, he walked over to me, cold (he was wearing shorts) and dejected, almost to the point of tears. I put my arm around him and we took a couple of steps toward the tram area. Then I stopped.

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Mustering a combo of courage and craziness I didn’t know I had, I asked him if he wanted to try one more time. Only this time I would try to go with him. I didn’t know if I could physically do it, having had knee surgery only 8 months prior. He immediately perked up and took off toward the bluff, with me eating some serious dust (or snow, in this case). About halfway up we chanced upon a small hole where we could rest for a few moments. It was there that I began to seriously question myself for doing this. Cornelius must have sensed this because he took off before I could say anything. I managed to get back to climbing just as he reached the upper ridge and started hollering for me to hurry up. Spurred on by his cheers, (I noted how the tables had turned) I scrambled the rest of the way to the top. Once there I was greeted with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen. We hugged. We took pictures. We high-fived. And the view of the surrounding mountains, water and city of Juneau was, indeed, spectacular. After a few more minutes to enjoy the satisfaction of our accomplishment we were left with a fun trip down the steep bluff. It was a wintertime slip-n-slide that capped our mountain-top experience.

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Note: This is an essay (without pictures) that I’ve submitted to be considered for inclusion in an upcoming book some friends are writing that’s going to be published in June. If you have any suggestions to help me improve this piece please comment below or send me an email at bigcheesedad@gmail.com.

Thanks, Carl, aka Big Cheese Dad