Fight Like A Girl: Update on Frehley

As many of you will recall, near the end of May I shared the story of Frehley Gilmore, the daughter of my friend AJ. She has been fighting brain cancer for the last three years and her parents had just received the devastating news that the cancer was spreading and that there was nothing more that could be done for her medically. At that point they decided to make a “bucket list” with Frehley to help make as many memories in whatever time they had left with her. I’m happy to report that many items were crossed off her list. A week long trip to California in June included a visit to the San Diego Zoo, Legoland and Disneyland. She also got to meet Hank the Milwaukee Brewers dog, go to Chicago for a few days, see a show at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center, and attend Summerfest in Milwaukee. Her family even hosted a birthday bash for her on her golden birthday, July 12, that ended with a spectacular fireworks display (I wasn’t there but I saw video and photographic evidence). 

Frehley at Summerfest

Frehley at Summerfest

Unfortunately, as expected, the medical news is not so good. With AJ’s permission, I wanted to give you all an update on Frehley. He wrote this in a message to me a few days ago.

Her tumors have grown and the cancer is progressing. Though her spirit continues to fight, her body is wearing out, and her battle is nearing its end. Please pass on to your readers that we would like to thank all of the people who have been thinking kind thoughts and saying prayers for Frehley. She rests comfortably.

And here’s the latest post on the “Stay Strong Frehley Facebook Page“, composed by her mom, Lisa.

I am in awe at all the love and support we are receiving, I want you all to know how much we love each and every one of you and only wish the best for all the amazing people supporting my little girl! Hugs from Frehley and her family. Frehley continues to rest peacefully and is continuing to hold on. My husband said something that makes some sense the other day. She continues to fight because that is what she has been doing for 3 years battling and fighting and we think she just doesn’t know how to stop fighting. I just want her to be at peace and know that it is ok to stop fighting and continue to bring her spunk and wittiness to heaven and always show us that we know she will be ok with spreading her wings and bringing us rays of sunshine!
 
Take a moment to reread what her mom and dad wrote. About their twelve year old daughter. But, look deeper. Look at the courage they’re showing in how they’re dealing with this. To the very end both of them are focusing on the peace and well being of their daughter while looking at how she’s going to spread her wings in heaven. Please, if you’re of the praying persuasion, please keep this family in your prayers. Now and in the weeks and months to come. Frehley, you are loved by many who will never meet you. God bless you, sweet girl, as you prepare to make your final journey…to heaven. You will be missed but not forgotten. 
Frozen Lake at Mt. Rainier National Park

Frozen Lake at Mt. Rainier National Park

PS-I made this sign and took it with me on a hike at Mt. Rainier with my son on Saturday. The mountain is a sacred and spiritual place for me. I could think of no better way to honor the inspiration that I’ve drawn from Frehley’s courageous fight than to bring her message to the mountain. Stay Strong, Frehley.

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Wait…I’m a Feminist?

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I had this interesting thought when I was in the shower this morning. It occurred to me that I might just be a feminist. I’d never really thought of myself like that before, but, as I was contemplating my roles as husband and father, it dawned on me that I’m a feminist. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. According to the World English Dictionary a feminist is “a person who advocates equal rights for women”. I’ve tried to live my life in a way that treats all people with the same kindness and compassion, regardless of their gender. But, it’s more than just kindness and compassion toward women. It’s also about changing the way that women are treated and perceived by society. I would guess that most of us would say that women should be given the same social, political, legal and economic rights as men. While much progress has been made, there is still more work to be done to truly level the playing field. One area that has recently been getting a lot of attention on social media platforms is the use of the phrase “like a girl”. There’s an ad by Always which beautifully illustrates how many of us, often unknowingly, contribute to the negative connotation of doing something like a girl. (Click here to view the ad.

As a dad of five daughters I don’t ever use that phrase. I want my daughters to believe that they can do anything they choose however they want to do it. And I will support them 100%. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I didn’t always have such an enlightened view. Growing up as a teenager in the 80s it was common for boys to throw around the phrase like a girl as an insult when someone did something “weak”. For example, “Billy, you throw like a girl” or “Phil, you run like a girl“. It was mean-spirited teasing that implied that doing something, anything,  like a girl was inherently inferior to the way that a boy would do it. I even complained to my mom one time that my little sister, who was probably 6 or 7 at the time, was throwing the football like a girl. Instead of lecturing me, my mom stated the obvious that she IS a girl, and that if it bothered me that much I could teach her how to throw the ball better. So I did. My sister still throws (and catches) like a girl BOSS! She throws a better ball, with a tighter spiral and greater accuracy, than most guys I know. 

I’ll admit that first gender-equity lesson from my mom didn’t penetrate my thick teenage skull very deeply. A few years later, at age 22, I was excited to become a father for the first time, as my wife was pregnant with our first daughter. Only, we didn’t know her gender until she was born. So, in the months leading up to her due date many people asked me if I thought we were having a boy or a girl. Without hesitation I always answered that I was hoping for a boy, since I was under the impression that boys were better. That I would be more fulfilled as a father if I had a son. I couldn’t have been more misguided. Thankfully, my wife, the oldest of four girls, kindly pointed out that girls could play sports and do pretty much anything that boys could do…and that I was being a sexist jerk for thinking like that. Which was totally true. Thankfully, pregnancies are nine months long, so I was able to realize before our daughter was born that praying and hoping for a healthy baby of either gender was the correct way of thinking. 

Still, I hadn’t fully let go of the phrase “like a girl“, even though I had a daughter of my own. That moment arrived a couple of years after the birth of my daughter, when I was teaching 7th grade and coaching the 7th grade girls basketball team. During one of the practices the girls did something (I don’t recall specifically what it was since this happened in 1997) that frustrated me and I blew my whistle to get their attention and started to tell them that they needed to throw better passes, to stop throwing it like a ________ . And I caught myself before I said it. That last word on the tip of my tongue. All 15 of the girls looking at me, waiting for me to finish. And then it dawned on me just how much of a male chauvinist pig I was going to be if I said that last word as girl. So I said baby. And right then, and there, I promised myself that I would never, ever, use the phrase like a girl to put someone down. I also started getting on people who used that phrase as a pejorative. Maybe that’s part of the reason why I’ve been blessed with five daughters…to show them and others that it’s great to live like a girl.

When my second daughter was born in 1999 we found out her gender before she was born. I was excited to have another daughter. There was not a shred of disappointment in my being. Sadly, though, many people assumed that I would want a boy and even had the audacity to suggest that I would be disappointed to have another daughter. The sexist comments were even worse when we found out we were expecting a third daughter in 2001. I was completely satisfied with being a DODO (Dad Of Daughters Only). I felt that God had truly blessed me with three daughters and I was excited to be their dad. In 2004, when our fourth child was born we didn’t reveal his gender to anyone else until he was born, although we knew. Once he was born, pretty much every friend and family member commented that I must be so relieved to finally have a boy. And, “are you done having kids now that you got your boy?”. Again, why would I be more or less fulfilled as a parent or man if I had only daughters or only sons? I was appalled by the overarching sexism that was so predominant in people’s well-meaning comments. And most people never even realized how awful the message was that they were conveying even if it wasn’t intended. I made a mental note to never make such a sexist comment to any parent. Ever. 

While I’ve never attended any political rallies for women’s rights or done anything like that, I have tried to instill in each of my kids (including my son) that all people deserve equal rights and equal treatment not only under that law, but also socially. And that starts with my own attitudes and those of my children. I even had to reprimand my own daughter (I won’t name which one) for using the phrase like a girl to try to insult her brother. I pointed out that she was actually insulting both him and herself (and her gender) at the same time. And that there was no room for that kind of attitude in our family. It’s a tough battle sometimes, but I believe it’s worth it. And as a Stay At Home Dad, I get the opportunity to reinforce the gender comments while correcting any negative ones that might slip out of my kids’ mouths. It’s a role that I embrace. Literally and figuratively. So, does that make me a feminist? You make the call.

Still Crazy After All These Years

A few weeks after I graduated from high school in June of 1991 I was on an airplane with 11 other people from my hometown to spend nearly a month in Europe. We went to Sweden, Denmark, England and Scotland, making new friends and memories along the way. That trip also marked the last time I saw my friend Andy who lived in the small town of Witham, a short train ride northeast of London. Andy and I had become friends a year before when he traveled to America with a Witham Boys Brigade group that was hosted by the Brigade in Neenah, Wisconsin, where I lived. We had hit it off immediately in 1990 as both of us were athletic and competitive, not to mention exceedingly good looking! We both looked forward to renewing our friendship the following summer when my Brigade group made the long trip across the pond. We shared many memorable moments over the course of just a few short weeks during the summers of 1990 and 1991. Since that was before widespread email and Facebook we were forced to keep in touch the old fashioned way…by writing letters. That worked for a while but, as we were both attending university, the frequency of our exchanges slowed until we lost touch completely.

Fast forward fifteen years to 2006. I received an email from someone at Brigade in my hometown that a guy by the name of Andy from England had contacted them, asking about me. That email included Andy’s contact information, so the ball was in my court to reestablish contact. A ton of memories flooded my mind. Camp Onaway (the week-long camp Andy attended with me in 1991), Six Flags Great America, Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame tour, jokes and pranks, touring London, and, of course, a little bit of guilt for falling out of touch with my friend. That evening I sent Andy an email. He invited me to check out this new thing called Facebook so that we could share pictures of our families with one another. I had heard of it, and, even though I didn’t know much about it, I thought I’d check it out. Well, you know what’s happened with that platform since then. I even invited Andy to participate in a Fantasy Football league that I run because I knew of his passion for American football. Even though his favorite team is the Miami Dolphins I figured he’d be a good addition to our league. Besides, who wouldn’t want to try to engage a British bloke in a bit of trans-Atlantic smack talk? It was bloody brilliant! I’m pretty sure he won the league title in only his second or third year in the league…defeating me in the playoffs along the way. Both of us talked of wanting to get together again but both of us were married and had young children, meaning that a trip would likely have to wait for some time.

That time just arrived with my trip with my daughter to Europe. We’re currently 38,000 feet above Canada on our way back to Seattle after three weeks on holiday. Andy and his wife, Melissa, graciously opened their home to my daughter, E, and me for our last weekend in Europe. While I certainly enjoyed my time with E seeing sights in Germany, Austria, Italy and France, I was always most looking forward to catching up with Andy and meeting his wife and three children. Andy had agreed to pick us up from the train station closest to his town after he finished work that Friday afternoon. Through the wonders of free wifi at a local fro-yo place we exchanged texts that pinpointed the location and time where he would get us. As we waited for him I began to wonder if we would be able to pick up our friendship after 23 years. Would it feel natural or forced? As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about.

Andy pulled up in his car and put out his hand which I ignored and gave him a hug. Not sure if the Brits hug much, but this American is a hugger. After a short drive we arrived at his house and were greeted by his family. While he had warned them that I’m tall, I guess seeing someone have to duck under the door elicits giggles of amazement just like in America. Once past the initial greetings we started in on our wonderful feast of pizza. The best part of the evening was just visiting with my friend and his family, who welcomed us warmly. Even better, Andy’s oldest daughter and my daughter seemed to click, just like he and I had 24 years ago. After the youngest two kids went to bed, the girls (mom included) watched a movie in another room while Andy and I kept on catching up. We talked about all sorts of things, silly stuff like sports (he taught me about cricket and I taught him about baseball) and serious stuff like the passing of our fathers (mine in 2007, his in 2010), how our moms were doing and the joys and challenges of being a father and husband. The conversation flowed naturally and easily as if we had been friends since childhood. And that was just the first evening.

We spent all of Saturday doing things as a large group. Touring an old English estate and taking in an outdoor performance of “La Boheme” opera. Our families continued to bond as Andy’s four year old daughter took a particular liking to E and spent much of the opera snuggled in her lap. Near the end of the performance she grew of being there and started to collect sticks from the ground. I decided to intervene and invented a game where she and I took turns lining the sticks up in a row. She took to it immediately and was no longer bored. Andy seemed bemused by my game and I was glad that my dad instinct was able to help entertain his four year old until the show was over. It was a similar “game” that I’d successfully used at restaurants using sugar packets. Score one for the SAHD bag of tricks.

After a delicious full English breakfast prepared (for the second day in a row, I might add) by Mel on Sunday morning, we left for a day of sight seeing in London. Andy and his daughter accompanied us as we saw many of the iconic London sights: Buckingham Palace, St. James Park, Horse Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Houses of Parliament and Trafalgar Square. Again, both the dads and the daughters got along splendidly. The girls had, without planning it, dressed almost identically. They laughed and posed for countless pictures together. They had fun teasing each other about their failed attempts to talk with an American or British accent. Finally, though, it was time to wrap up our wonderful time together. We took the Tube to the station nearest our hotel and walked up the stairs together. As we walked both Andy and I grew quiet. I know that I had a rush of emotions welling up inside of me. I stopped a couple of blocks short of our hotel and suggested that Andy and his daughter could head back to his wife and kids, that we would be able to get back easily. I wanted to say much more to my dear friend about how much his friendship over the years had meant to me, but I couldn’t get the words out. Instead, a heartfelt hug conveyed the message between two misty-eyed blokes. I choked out the sentiment that we shouldn’t let 23 years pass between our next visit. For the sake of our friendship and that of our daughters!

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10 Lessons from Two Weeks in Europe

I’m typing this from my comfy Eurostar train seat in the Chunnel under the English Channel, heading for London. My daughter and I have been away from home since 25 June and we go home again 15 July. We’ve had an amazing trip with stops in Brussels, Munich, Salzburg, Venice, Rome, Florence, Milan, Paris and London. Being a long time fan of a certain late night host (don’t want to name names in case it’s a copyright infringement), here are my Top Ten Lessons Learned from Two Weeks in Europe.

  1. Mass transit is awesome. We’ve used trains to get all over Europe and it’s been a pleasant and efficient way to travel. There’s no way we could’ve traveled to so many countries if I had been trying to drive us all over the place. While it’s not cheap, it’s nice not to have to drive or worry about finding parking. It’s also great to be able to take a short nap on the train, which is generally frowned upon while driving. Getting used to the nuances of each city’s system was another story, but we usually got the general hang of it by the second day.
  2. I really appreciate the availability of bathrooms in most restaurants and stores in the U.S. that are clean and free. Having to pay to use a Water Closet is overrated.
  3. Europeans smoke. A lot. Everywhere. It’s really annoying. Ok, let me put this in a positive light. I am so thankful for the “no smoking” laws in the States. While there are still many instances in the US where I encounter second-hand smoke it’s nothing compared to here.
  4. Holy cow is Europe ever expensive! Or, maybe the US Dollar just sucks. Either way, YIKES! How much would you expect to pay for a 20 oz. bottle of Coke in the US, maybe $1.75 or $2? Try double that (or more) over here. Drink water instead. Except…there are not very many drinking fountains (bubblers for some of you) to fill up water bottles. There were a bunch in Italy, but not so much in the other countries we visited. And I really don’t care for buying bottled water for my daily travels or even when dining out. Speaking of dining out…
  5. Ordering a meal from a waitress who doesn’t speak English is a bit difficult. And I wish it wasn’t so awkward to ask if the tip is included in the bill. I did find out from a restaurant employee in Florence (on our last day in Italy, of course) that “Italians never tip” since it’s included in the bill. Yet, in France it wasn’t. Or was it? I really don’t know because I got two different answers from two workers in the same Irish establishment in Paris. Come on Europe, make up your mind. I don’t want to be rude but I also don’t want to be a sucker and tip when it’s already been included.
  6. Tourists are easy marks. We stick out even if we try to blend in. There’s no way around it. Embrace it and be prepared to get asked for money by every beggar in every Metro station. And whatever you do, don’t accept flowers from a nice guy in a public area. He’s not being nice. He’s going to expect you to pay him for his, um, “niceness”. Same for the girl in the train station who will find you wandering in the station and ask you sweetly if she can help you. If you let her help you out then you can expect she’s not helping you simply out of the goodness of her heart. She’s going to expect to be paid for her 5-10 minutes of assistance. Although, if you look at it as a chance to skip the long lines at the ticket counter and a learning opportunity (how to use the automated ticket machine) then it’s not such a bad deal. Be warned.
  7. Sandals might not have been the best idea for a three week trip. Not because there’s so much walking. Nope, they’ve been just fine for all the walking. Because they stink. Literally. Probably doesn’t help that I’ve gotten them wet from the rainy places and they’ve never fully dried out. My shoes and feet are so smelly every evening that I have to wash my feet with soap and water and put the offending footwear as far away from my daughter as possible. I also douse them with baby powder nightly. Still doesn’t fully cover the smell. Oops. I’d consider buying some shoes but doubt I could find anything in a size 16.
  8. Basketball is a universal language. I saw some teenagers playing hoops at a park near our hotel in Paris and watched them for a few minutes. A few of them approached me and invited me to play with them. They were enamored with my height (over 2 meters!) and ability to dunk without much effort (yay 9’ rim) despite wearing my stinky sandals. One boy gave me the nickname of “Easy” because I kept making so many mid and long range jumpers without much (apparent) effort. They also wanted to know if I knew LeBron James because we’re both from America.
  9. Sometimes after waiting in line for an hour or two to enter a specific tourist attraction (that happens to be historical) it doesn’t live up to expectations. Yeah, I’m talking to you, Vatican/Sistine Chape, Mona Lisa and Palace of Versailles. Sometimes it does click (Eiffel Tower, Venice, David statue) and it makes it all worth it. You just never know.
  10. I’m pretty sure that people taking selfies EVERYWHERE is just about as annoying as all the smokers ruining the nice clean air I want to breathe. Of course, if you can’t snap your mug in front of whatever thing you’re seeing and post it on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter then it didn’t really happen, right?

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Note: I typed this on 10 July but neglected to post it until now (14 July) because we were having so much fun in London.

We’ll Always Have Paris

Have you ever run into a friend from your past in an unexpected place? Maybe you went to an amusement park or concert and saw someone you went to high school with and one of you commented about what a small world it is. Try this one on for size. Walking from our hotel in a random neighborhood in Paris, France, my daughter and I ran into some friends that we went to church with nine years ago when we were living in Mason City, Iowa. Stunned doesn’t begin to describe what we were all feeling after I greeted them from about fifteen feet away by saying loudly, “I go all the way to Paris and who do I see but the Muyskens family?”. After all five of them (parents and three daughters) whirled their heads to see who just called their name out in Paris, we exchanged hugs and excited “What are you doing here?” silliness. Duh! We’re all on vacation. Yet, here we both were. I’d kept in touch with Dennis and Susan over the last nine years since we last lived in Iowa. The last time I saw them was in 2009, when I took my oldest went back for a weekend with one of her best friends there. While we remained on friendly terms (exchanged Christmas letters/photos) ours was more of a Facebook friendship where we kind of kept in touch but that was about it. And then, this.

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A chance meeting in Paris. They had literally just arrived that morning after taking an overnight direct flight from Minneapolis, Minnesota. They were on their first outing from their hotel, trying to find the nearby Metro stop. Only, they had gone the wrong direction (toward us). Likewise, my daughter and I had just found our hotel after taking the overnight train to Paris from Milan. After our showers we decided that we were hungry and the hotel clerk said that there were restaurants to the left or to the right from the hotel. We opted to go to the right since that was the direction of the Metro stop we would need later to go to the Eiffel Tower. It was at the corner of that street, a block from our hotel, that we chanced upon our friends. Since we were all hungry we decided to grab lunch together at the cafe which was across the street. What followed was a lot of head shaking and What are the odds?! moments. It was great to see my friends again. It’s amazing how quickly kids grow up when the last time you saw them was nine years prior. The Muyskens girls were just finishing 1st, 4th and 8th grades back in 2005 when we moved. Now the oldest is a college graduate, looking forward to teaching art in the fall. The next daughter is in college, a double major (bio and chem) looking at med school. The youngest is a junior in high school. Crazy! Of course, it goes both ways. Susan was my daughter E’s preschool teacher for two years. Of course, E, at age 14, didn’t realize that this was the famous Mrs. Muyskens from preschool and was even more shocked when I told her that fact. 

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Since we’d had so much fun catching up at lunch we decided to accept their kind invitation to tag along on their trip to the Eiffel Tower. (It’s what we’d planned to do anyhow, but better with friends!) I think it was especially nice for my daughter to be able to have this fun time with three other girls roughly her age instead of just me. We get along well but I’m sure she enjoyed the time with other teens. At any rate, the tower was huge. Bigger in real life that I thought it would be. So interesting to finally see such an iconic European structure. We had hoped to go to the top but the lines were about 3 hours long. No thanks! But walking underneath it was also pretty cool. Thinking about how it was built and all the iron needed to do it. What an engineering marvel. After a delicious ice cream/sorbet break and some cartwheels and bridges in front of the tower we meandered found some other impressive buildings – palaces and cathedrals and such – and just enjoyed our unexpected afternoon together. Seriously. If either of us had left our hotels 30 seconds sooner or later we wouldn’t have seen one another! 

At about 5:30 local time, which was 10:30 am Minnesota time, we decided to have dinner together before heading back to our respective hotels, as some of the Muyskens family were starting to feel the effects of jet-lag. After dinner we navigated through the Metro to the stop near our hotels. When we got to our parting spot we stopped to say good bye. Only this time my daughter had made three new friends so the “kids” also participated in the good-bye hugs. Being the clown that I am and not wanting to dwell in the sadness of the farewell moment too long, I spontaneously said with all the dramatic flair I could muster (which isn’t much, I might add), “We’ll always have Paris!“. It received the desired reaction and we left. Our separate European vacations forever entwined by a chance encounter in the City of Light. Au revoir!