The Brotherhood of the NAHDN Convention

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I’m currently in Denver, Colorado, attending the 19th annual convention of the National At-Home Dad Network. This is my second convention, having attended my first one last year, also in Denver. While my experience last year was incredible in and of itself, attending this year as a returning member has taken it to another level. I looked forward to attending again this year because of the Stay At Home Dads that I met last year who became my friends at the convention. Unlike summer camp experiences I had as a kid where you’re buddies for that week but that’s it, there’s been a kinship building that extended throughout the year. There’s a private SAHD-only online group that exploded in membership over the last year that allowed us to continue to build our friendships that started in Denver in 2013. It also afforded me the opportunity to virtually meet other SAHDs and encourage them to attend the convention this year. That online group deals with some pretty heavy topics (shockingly, most are NOT sports related) that are important to dads in a safe and supportive environment. Guys have shared about marital troubles and successes, births of children and loss of parents or other loved ones, cancer diagnosis and treatments, school issues and child-rearing challenges. While that online support is nice, what really is important is making the personal, face-to-face, in-person connections. And that, in a nutshell, is what this convention is all about. This is a brotherhood of such intimacy and transparency. My only regret is not knowing about the NAHDN convention for the first 12 years of my SAHD career.

The cynic might suggest that this so-called convention is just an excuse for dads to drink beer, play golf, take in a baseball game, go out for dinner (without kids!) and drink beer. While all of those things have happened these last few days they all lead to what keeps guys coming back. The brotherhood of this group is the real thing. Last year I came to Denver not knowing a single guy here. I left with a few new friends. This year, almost every single guy greeted me with a hug. Not one of those lame “man” hugs. A real, genuine, bear hug that expresses the emotion of the bond of this group. And it’s not at all weird. At least not for us. Last night after the opening afternoon session closed and our Dove Men+Care sponsored meet and greet finished we headed out in smaller groups to local restaurants for dinner. Some guys continued on to local establishments while others returned to the hotel to get some sleep. I was in the latter group, looking to take a shower and get some extra shut-eye…or so I thought. Instead, upon entering the hotel lobby, I noticed an empty spot on the sofa among a group of guys that I hadn’t had the opportunity to catch up with in person. Our conversation lasted for over two and a half hours. And I don’t think we talked sports at all. We talked about marriages. Children. Challenges. Success. Failures. Real stuff. We listened. We shared. We supported. We cared. As we parted ways at almost 1:30 am I realized that this, THIS, was exactly why I needed to be here again. This group of guys gets me like no one else on this earth. We all face the same challenges and the fact that we can share the burdens of one another while celebrating the successes together encourages me that I’m normal. I’m not alone. And that it’s all worth it.

I woke up Saturday morning ready to write this blog post about the brotherhood while kind of listening to the keynote speaker. I got as far as the title before I realized the mistake I would be making if I ignored Barbara Colorosso’s presentation entitled “Kids Are Worth It“. She’s an author of five books and speaks around the world about parenting, teaching and social-justice issues, drawing on her own experiences as a parent, classroom teacher and university instructor. She skillfully drew us all in with her rapidly-paced (she’s an incredibly fast talker) presentation that included a lot of audience participation. We enjoyed her humor and style of delivery and her message. But it got really intense in a very good way when one of the guys, Lorne, had the courage to reveal that he suffers from clinical depression. While Lorne is an amazing blogger, he is a first time attendee and doesn’t know that many of the 106 guys in the room, yet he bared his soul for us. He made himself vulnerable because he knew the strength and support of our brotherhood. I think most of us were brought to tears not only by his courage and candor but also by the response of other guys in the room. No less than six other guys spoke up to say that they, too, face that same challenge. They told him that he’s is NOT alone. Not a single person judged him. It is these types of real moments that make this convention truly special.

While having fun is an important part of this weekend away from our families it is more an opportunity to strengthen the bond of the brotherhood of this remarkable group of guys. I’m a better husband, dad and man for knowing them. And for that I am truly grateful. Thank you, gentlemen, for allowing me the privilege of calling you brothers.

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Happy Birthday to Me! (42 Things For Which I Am Thankful)

It’s almost 1 am here in Washington and my four year old is still going strong thanks to a long late-afternoon nap. If you’re a parent you know the double-edged sword of such a nap. My wife told her that she could watch a movie if Daddy stayed downstairs with her (um, thanks?). She unloaded the dishwasher and practiced writing her name (part of the deal) and ran to the sofa, requesting me to get Netflix on for her viewing pleasure. While she’s snuggled in her sleeping bad watching My Little Pony I decided to make some late-night Mt. Dew lemonade out of these here lemons. Oh, and it happens to be my birthday today. Thanks, Mom, for having me on this date in 1972, just a few miles away from where I now live. Crazy how life works like that! Back to my lemonade. I’m going to try to stay awake to compose a list of things for which I’m thankful, one for each year I’ve been alive. The order is going to be pretty random as it’s now past 1 am.

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Just past midnight birthday selfie. That’s our family’s birthday hat. (Obviously.)

Forty-two things for which I am thankful.

  1. My parents. Duh. They had me! Thanks.
  2. My wife. She’s put up with  loved me for over half my life.
  3. My children. All six of them. They fill every day with so much love and laughter.
  4. Being tall. Usually a pretty good thing. Except when I hit my head on a door frame. Or take out a light fixture on a cruise ship.
  5. My English teachers (I must be tired) who told me that I wrote well and encouraged me to write. Even if it took me over 20 years to heed their advice and start writing regularly here.
  6. Netflix. I’m too tired to actually parent right now. Thanks for the small break.
  7. Headphones for my iPhone so that I can listen to my music instead of the awful music and dialog of My Little Pony.
  8. Sunshine. You won’t hear me complain about the sun and heat (even now in mid-September) because I know the cloudy and rainy season is coming soon enough.
  9. Rain. Seriously. I don’t have to shovel it like all that snow that I had to take care of when we lived in Wisconsin.
  10. Football. I know, there’s been a lot of bad press lately about some awful actions by some players. But, I still love to watch my Green Bay Packers. Glad my kids like to watch with me as well.
  11. Christmas music. Guess what I’m listening to right now? Pentatonix PTXmas. Amazing any time of year.
  12. Trains. Just heard one blowing its horn. Reminds me of growing up in Neenah, Wisconsin, and hearing trains at all hours of the day and night.
  13. My bed. Where I should be now. It’s so comfy and warm. And long enough for me. Unlike this comfy sofa.
  14. My sense of humor. I crack myself up daily. I’m hilarious. Seriously. (See what I did there?)
  15. My church. I look forward to going every Sunday and am so glad that my kids also are excited to go with me. Speaks volumes about the kind of community and ministry there.
  16. Leftovers for dinner. That means that we are so blessed to be able to have extra food from a previous meal. It also means that they kids are guaranteed to complain about the menu of “leftovers for dinner”.
  17. The dishwasher. It was broken for six weeks when we first moved here almost three years ago. Enough said.
  18. Dishes, pots, pans, or knives that can’t go through the dishwasher.
  19. FaceTime. It’s not the same as in-person, but it’s a great and affordable way to catch up with family and friends.
  20. Indoor plumbing. I cannot imagine how horrible it would’ve been to have to use an outhouse every day. I mean, where would I find any private time to read? (I’m laughing. Told you I was tired.)
  21. Camping. Ususally at a state park. Although, my son is currently in our large family tent just outside our house. For the 10th night in a row. Accompanied by our dog.
  22. Sleep. Yeah, I went to bed. Well, fell asleep on the sofa while my child watched My Little Pony. Woke up at 4:39 am and trudged up to my comfy bed for two more hours. Hopefully the crink in my back and neck from sleeping on the sofa goes away in a day or two. At least I made it halfway through my list of 42 before crashing.
  23. Reliable transportation. I take it for granted that my car will start every time I turn the ignition. Except that one time that one of the kids left some of overhead interior lights on overnight.
  24. A pile of laundry that needs folding and a dish full of dishes that needs to be loaded into the dishwasher. Even on my birthday, I’m thankful for these things because that means we are blessed enough to have a dishwasher and clothes washer/dryer.
  25. Safe travels. Driving my daughter to school this morning we saw an SUV blow through a stop sign at about 35 mph. Had we been about 5 seconds farther along on our way to school that vehicle might have ended my life. Thank you, Jesus.
  26. The National At Home Dad Network (NAHDN) and the upcoming convention in Denver later this week. Looking forward to seeing my fellow SAHD brothers again. The support and friendship from that group of guys this past year has been nothing short of amazing. My only regret is not knowing about such a network for the first 12 years as a SAHD.
  27. Mountains. I love going to the mountains for recreational purposes. I also appreciate their beauty on clear days as we have a beautiful view of the Olympic Mountains across Puget Sound from our house. I love how the rising sun wraps them in a blanket of pink.
  28. Siri. Yeah, that sometimes annoying iPhone/iPod voice. She’s hilarious. Especially when she mistakes a request to play Jingle Bells and states, “I’m sorry. I’m not familiar with Vagina Bells.” Actually, neither am I.
  29. Good health. Ever since I was a child I’ve been blessed with a strong immune system. Even now, as a long-time Stay At Home Dad who gets exposed to all sorts of germs and such I seldom get sick. I joke that I have a deal with God. In exchange for not complaining about caring for or cleaning up after my wife and kids when they are sick, I don’t get sick.
  30. Computers and technology. Sometimes it seems like we depend on them too much, but overall I enjoy having them in my life. And I’m not even that tech-savvy. I’m sure I’m just using the tip of the technological iceberg, but it sort of works for me.
  31. Credit cards. Really. I use them for most everything that I don’t carry much cash around. So convenient.
  32. Airplanes. Making long-distance travel so much easier. Even if I often feel like a sardine squished in my seat I still don’t mind it.
  33. America. Or ‘Murica. Despite being a flawed Republic with a messed up political system that can’t get out of its own way, there are still a lot of great things about our country. We enjoy a lot of freedoms and privileges that the rest of the world envies.
  34. Being a SAHD. Despite basically working 24/7/365 I love my job. And, for the love of everything, don’t call me “Mr. Mom“. Really. It’s not as funny as you think.
  35. Words With Friends. Scrabble. I enjoy playing word games. Keeps my brain working. I think.
  36. The Bible. God’s word. I’m constantly challenged and encouraged by His words. They’re just as relevant today as they were 2,000 years ago.
  37. Music. I love to sing, play/perform and listen to music. Still cannot dance. And I’m okay with that.
  38. Facebook. Yeah, they keep making those annoying changes. Why can’t we just go back to the 2007 settings? Really, though, I enjoy keeping in touch with all of you. Okay, maybe not all of you, because of the weird metrics that screws up my newsfeed so that the sponsored stuff gets shown more. But you know what I mean. The love I’m feeling today from all of the birthday greetings is so uplifting. Yeah, that was a little cheesy, even for me. I really do appreciate the friendship,networking and support from social media.
  39. Netflix. Thanks for the quality shows to watch when I’m cleaning the kitchen or folding laundry after everyone else is asleep. Did I mention that I finally watched LOST last December? Only a few years too late.
  40. The silly humor that my kids inject into my daily life. Like my 10 year old son. This morning he came into the kitchen (while I was making his lunch sandwich) and sat at the table. He set his iPod down and asked Siri, “What is my name?”. Her reply made me laugh until I cried. “Your name is Cornelius. But since we’re friends, you asked me to call you Junio Ten Why Cheo.” WHAT?! (I might still be a little slap happy from the lack of sleep. But that was crazy.)
  41. Perspective. Counting my blessings instead of my shortcomings. Over the last year or so I’ve known far too many people who have gone through some tough times, losing loved ones to cancer, car accidents, and other causes. Life is too fragile and short to focus on anything else.
  42. Friendship. Not just the virtual kind but the people I see in real life. Just this summer I was able to reconnect with a few friends that I had not seen in years, in one case it was a friend who I hadn’t seen since 1991. Even if I have not seen my friends in person I love being able to call or virtually reach out, knowing that our friendship remains. And, I do not mean to ignore the new friends I’ve made since moving here almost three years ago. My life is so much richer for knowing all of you.

I look forward to whatever God has in store for me this coming year. In parting, I leave this passage I just came across last night while finishing my Bible study. I hope it encourages you as much as it did me. It’s from Isaiah 43:1-4, paraphrased by me.

This is what the Lord says…Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze…Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you.

If you’re bothered because this is a “religious” quote from the Bible, I would encourage you to reread it, but this time think of it as a father (or mother) talking to his (her) child. The love that drips from that passage is what I’m striving for with my own family. While I’m certainly not perfect, I am trying to be the best husband and father that I can be for them.

9/11 Memories

West Pierce (Washington state) 9/11 memorial

Thirteen years ago today, September 11, 2001, I woke up early before work to play basketball with some other men at my church. After basketball was over I drove to Kromrey Middle School in Middleton, Wisconsin, where I was a 7th grade science teacher. I taught periods 1, 2, 3, 8 and 9. In between I had meetings, supervision and planning time. At 7:50 am the bell rang and the students entered the building and made their way to their first period class. In Science that day I was giving them their first quiz of the young school year and then preparing them for the next day’s lab. Since all of my science classes included children with varying special needs there was an adult para-educator present each hour. As the 8 am start of the day neared the “para” for 1st hour asked if I’d heard the news about an airplane hitting the World Trade Center in New York City. I was shocked that something like that could happen and had not heard the news since I’d been playing basketball or at work since 5:15 that morning. After the bell rang to start the day and the Pledge of Allegiance and announcements had finished over the speaker I welcomed my students to class and handed out their quizzes. While they were quietly working I quickly retrieved from my storage closet in my classroom the TV/VCR cart that the other 7th grade science teacher and I shared. I placed it near my desk, facing me (away from my students) and turned it on. I was curious to see what was going on in New York. What I saw on the TV screen horrified me. By that time, maybe 8:15 am Central time, both of the WTC towers had been hit by jetliners and black smoke was billowing out of the buildings. The para and I stood there speechless as the network announcers tried to keep their composure, watching along with the rest of us at the unfolding spectacle. Little did we know how much more would happen over the next 90 minutes. We had no idea we were witnessing one of the most significant events in the history of our nation. As my students turned in their completed quizzes they started to watch the news along with me. Once all of them were done, I turned the TV off for a moment and explained, as best I could, what had happened in New York that morning. I made the decision to scrap the rest of that day’s lesson plans and allowed my students to watch the news, as that was clearly of great interest to all of us. Just before the class was to be dismissed American flight 93 slammed into the Pentagon. I think I had NBC on, and they scrambled to show footage as best as they could of both the twin towers and the unfolding scene at the Pentagon. At this point I knew that this would be a day that none of us would ever forget.

8:50 am. Second hour kids entered more quietly than usual. Word had spread that something was happening in New York…and that Mr. Wilke had a TV in his room showing it. Once passing time was over I turned the TV away from the kids and told them that we were going to still go ahead with the quiz but that the rest of the lesson for the day had been scrapped so we could focus on the current events. They seemed to understand and started their quizzes. That gave me an opportunity to glance at the news again. It was about 8:55, and the crew was still in disbelief over the three hijacked planes and the subsequent attacks. They were trying to calmly talk about the rescue efforts going on in both locations when suddenly the South tower of the WTC collapsed. I’m pretty sure I made some sort of gasp or whelp because my students all looked up at me at the same time, wondering what I had just seen. I wondered the exact same thing. What had I just seen? Did that massive building just disintegrate before my very eyes? Oh, dear God, please help them. This is beyond terrible. All I could do was robotically turn the TV to face them so that they could see for themselves what had just happened. The sound was off but the picture was clear. This was destruction that none of us could ever comprehend. I collected their quizzes (I guess, although I don’t really recall doing it) and we all watched together. Then, not even 10 minutes later, United Flight 93 crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. More chaos on the TV. I was only 28 at the time and couldn’t make sense of it. I knew that my students couldn’t either. As the time wound down for second period I did something that I had never done before. I encouraged my students, “If you’re of the persuasion that believes in the power of prayer, now would be a good time.” I told them that I was not saying this as their teacher, but rather, as a fellow human being who was having trouble understanding what was going on. I don’t know if any of them prayed or not. I know that it’s all that I could do at that moment. As that class was being dismissed the second WTC tower collapsed. We all just stood in place for a few moments in stunned silence. Trying to process.

Third hour arrived and quietly took their seats. I made the same announcement as before about the quiz and change of lesson plans. While they worked on the quiz there was a knock on my door followed by a student handing me a note from the office. Apparently, the principal had decided that the tragic events in New York were too much for the 6th, 7th and 8th graders to watch. The note was to all teachers in the building, asking us to refrain from talking about it any more. Don’t show it. Just go about business as usual. Stick to your lesson plans. I ignored it. For the only time in my six years of teaching, I purposely disregarded the wishes of my administrator. There was no way that I could possibly try to stick to my original lesson plan. Not with what was happening. This was historic. This was, in my mind, on par with the Kennedy assassination. Bigger than the Challenger accident. Bigger than the original Gulf War “shock and awe” in 1990. I wanted my students to see this in real time. This was an event that would change America. I showed the para in my class the memo and she agreed with me that we should keep watching. I told my students what the principal had written and explained why I wasn’t complying with his wishes. They began to cheer but I quieted them with a reminder that this wasn’t about me being a rebel but rather about the significance of the moment. I told them

Remember where you are right now. Your kids and grandkids are going to ask you about this some day. 

The principal never showed up to check on my classes the rest of the day to see if I was obeying him. That’s not surprising since he only actually came to my room maybe four times in my five years at that school. By the time my 8th hour class arrived there had been no new attacks or developments like there had been in the morning. The kids were still unusually quiet. I believe that the severity and significance of the events earlier in the day were beginning to register with them. The school day ended without anything more significant happening and I was eager to get home to my family.

At that time we only had two daughters, ages 6 and 2. My wife was six weeks from completing her final rotation of Medical School and eight weeks from her due date with our third daughter. As a first grader, my oldest hadn’t heard anything about the day’s events and I was glad for her continued innocence. I guess she picked up on a little bit of the news so we tried to explain to her what had happened. I remember holding my two year old a bit longer that night when I rocked her to sleep in my arms. I’m pretty sure I sang God Bless America while holding her body, tears streaking down my face. Mourning the events of the day, the loss of so many innocent lives and  loss of innocence and security for people. We all know how much has changed as a result of the attacks on September 11, 2001. Whether impacted directly through the loss of a loved one to the attacks or indirectly because we’re all part of one country and the human race, we must never forget what happened on that terrible Tuesday, September 11, 2001. Like I told my students 13 years ago, if you’re of the persuasion that believes in the power of prayer, now would (still) be a good time. Please take a moment (or more) today to honor the memory of those who perished, whether they were in the towers, on the planes or on the ground trying to help the victims. Even if you think it’s all too dramatic for your taste or that it somehow doesn’t affect you, at least have the courtesy to be quiet and allow others the space and freedom to remember in their own ways. If you have a memory of that day or a story to tell, please feel free to leave a comment. I’d love to hear what you experienced on this day 13 years ago.

God Bless America

 

Dear Kids…A Letter About Ray Rice

My dear children,

You kids know that I love to watch football, both college and the NFL. It’s something fun that we do together, cheering on our favorite teams and players. I’m so thankful that my passion for football is wearing off on you. Most of the time this is a good thing. Well, on Monday something bad happened in the world of football that spilled over into the “real” world in a messy way. You see, last February this football player named Ray Rice and his then fiancée, Janey, were at a hotel and got into an argument. As they got into an elevator their argument escalated and they got physical with each other to the point that he punched her with his fist and knocked her out. Cold. After she fell to the floor, he tried to carry her limp body out of the elevator into the hotel lobby. The police were called and they both got into a bit of trouble. Mr. Rice avoided legal problems by agreeing to undergo some counseling for his anger. The two of them got married a short time later.

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Ray and Janey Rice and their daughter, Rayven

The guy in charge of the NFL, Commissioner Roger Goodell, suspended Mr. Rice for the first two football games of this season. When the story first broke it generated a bunch of negative publicity as many people thought that the two games wasn’t enough of a punishment for a crime that violent. There was even a security video from the hotel that showed Mr. Rice dragging her limp body from the elevator. On Monday morning TMZ’s website obtained the entire video of the couple’s altercation, showing them entering the elevator, their ride down and their exit (which was already published). It was very difficult to watch the two of them in that elevator, clearly upset with one another, knowing what was about to happen. Seeing it unfold like that was simply shocking and disgusting. It unleashed a whole new level of public outrage against Mr. Rice, the NFL and his team, the Baltimore Ravens. Seeing what had happened removed any doubt about how it all went down. By the end of the day, the Ravens had fired Mr. Rice and the NFL announced that he was suspended indefinitely. Even the White House released a statement about it.

“The President [Obama] is the father of two daughters. And like any American, he believes that domestic violence is contemptible and unacceptable in a civilized society. Hitting a woman is not something a real man does, and that’s true whether or not an act of violence happens in the public eye, or, far too often, behind closed doors. Stopping domestic violence is something that’s bigger than football – and all of us have a responsibility to put a stop to it.”

Please pay attention to what I’m telling you here, kids. Hitting another person is wrong. Whether you’re a man or a woman, you have no business hitting another person. That is why I’m so serious about you not “playfully” hitting each other when you’re at home. It is a big deal. There has to be zero tolerance of physically violent behavior and it starts at home. I know that I’m not a perfect parent and that sometimes I even raise my voice and get impatient or irritated with something you’re doing. I’m sorry for that lack of self-control at times. But you’ll never see me hit you or Mommy or anyone else. And I won’t tolerate you doing that either. Hitting is not okay. Not even pretend. This isn’t just a “real men don’t hit women” kind of statement. While that is certainly true about men, I also want you, my daughters, to not hit other people when you’re angry. Don’t do it.

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Mr. Rice is a strong man. He is not very tall like I am, but he is very, very strong. While I may not be as strong as him, I am a foot taller than his 5’8″ stature. That said, I have to always be very careful of my body because I could injure someone with it because I’m so big, even if I’m not trying to hurt that person. Ask your mother how many times (mostly when we were first married, but still happens once in a while) I would “bonk” her with my arm or leg because I’m so freakishly large. I sometimes forget how strong I am compared to others. I’m not bragging. It comes with being a “giant” among “normal” people. I have to be careful not to hurt other people, especially little kids when I’m with you at the park or the YMCA. You kids are not small people. To my son, at age 10 you’re taller than many adults. By the time you’re fully grown you’re likely going to be close to my height. You’re going to have to show a lot of self-control with your strength. It is not okay to use your strength and bulk to intimidate other people. That would make you a bully and I won’t allow it.

To my daughters, I want you to know that it is never okay for your boyfriend or husband to hit you. Ever. Not even on accident. If that should ever happen I want you to get away from him right away. Call me. True love will never motivate someone to hit you. If he hits you he does not love or respect you as a person. He is toxic and will end up hurting you. He is not the kind of man you want to be the father of your children. Run away. Far away. Never look back. Don’t fall for his “Oh, baby, I’m so sorry. I promise it will never happen again. I love you.” If he really loved you he wouldn’t have ever laid a finger on you.

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Finally, let this awful incident be a reminder that our actions have consequences. Both Mr. and Mrs. Rice have made public apologies for their actions. Mrs. Rice even went online to defend her husband the day after this latest video surfaced. Yet, it is really a case of too little, too late. There is no amount of apology from either of them that can change the public perception of Mr. Rice as a violent man who knocked his wife unconscious with one punch. He may well be a good guy. He’s probably involved with charities. He even has a young daughter. Heck, he might otherwise be a good husband. But, right now, none of that matters. What matters to the public is that, in one awful moment back in February, Mr. Rice lost his cool and hit his wife. He lost all that he had worked so hard for over the years in just a few minutes. Let it be a lesson to you about the importance of always having self-control. All it takes is one moment out of control for you to experience some truly awful consequences.

Love,

Dad