Five Photos, Five Stories. Day 2: Water Polo

I was recently nominated by my fellow Stay At Home Dad and Dad Blogger friend R.C., who writes at Going Dad, to participate in a challenge called Five Photos, Five Stories, in which I post a photo and story (fiction or non-fiction) daily for five consecutive days. (Note: I had good intentions to do a post on five consecutive days but I chose time with my kids and sleep over blogging. And I’m okay with that.) It sounded like something that would be a fun to share with my loyal readers here on my blog. If you would like to be nominated please leave a comment below and I would be happy to oblige.

Day Two: Water Polo

Back in mid-March I wrote a post about how proud I was of my second daughter, E, for her hard work to improve her water polo skills from her freshman to her sophomore year. It was written right after her first game of the season in which she happened to also score her first-ever goal on a sweet shot from the left side. E went on to become a starter for the majority of the games on her JV team and I was fortunate enough to be in attendance for almost every game. I watched her grow in strength, speed and confidence into one of the key contributors on her team. She worked hard and listened to her coach and kept a positive attitude throughout the season. Her team won all but a couple of games and E ended up scoring about 10 goals but also made many assists and played physical defense, often frustrating opposing girls with her long arms (it doesn’t hurt that her daddy’s arm-span is over 7 feet long). I watched with a lot of pride and contentment seeing her take on some leadership within the team while keeping away from most of the drama. Water polo definitely dominated our family calendar for the months of March and April. The regular season came to an end in early May and all that remained on the schedule was the JV State Tournament on May 9th.

E reaching save

The long arm of the law minding the net at JV State.

As the regular season came to an end E’s coach announced that the JV goalie would be playing on the Varsity team so she would not be available for the JV Tournament. Since E had spelled the goalie a couple of times during the regular season her coach asked E to take over that spot at the upcoming tournament. E wasn’t particularly happy about that request as she was looking forward to continuing her strong play in the field. She and I talked about it quite a bit that week before state and I convinced her that playing in the goal would be a great help to her team even though that meant having to sacrifice her personal stats for the good of the team. She wasn’t 100% on board with that but, to her credit, she told the coach that she would play wherever she was told/asked to play. She did communicate that she would enjoy some time in the field, if at all possible. It made me really proud to see her embrace something that wasn’t exactly what she wanted because it was the right thing to do as a teammate.

E’s team played the first game of the tournament and she was in goal to start. She played well although, to be honest, the defense in front of her was stout, only allowing a handful of shots, none of which found the back of the net, thanks to E. Her coach switched her out of goal in the second half as her team cruised to a victory. The same thing happened in the second game, although E allowed one goal before switching out into the field for the second half. Interestingly enough, the girl who replaced E in goal in the first two games had never played as a goalie prior to that day. While she gave a great effort, she did allow a few goals. I commented to my wife after the second game how much better E’s team looked and played when E was in the goal. I bit my tongue and didn’t interfere or suggest to E that she should stay goalie for the whole game. Yet, that’s exactly what happened in the third and final game of the “pool” play. E stayed in goal the entire game. She made a few nice saves and ended up with a clean sheet, meaning a shutout! Are you kidding me? Shutouts are not that common in JV water polo (Until this one I had not seen one in the two seasons E had been on the team), but to do it at the State Tournament? Clutch.

The championship game went roughly the same as the others as E’s team jumped out to an early lead, played suffocating defense and the won the title 10-2 against one of their biggest rivals in the area.  As the final horn sounded I was able to see E’s face and it was pure joy. After the post-game handshakes between teams, E’s team received medals for their accomplishment and the smile on her face stretched from ear to ear. As I gave her a hug and congratulated her she told me that she had asked her coach to stay in goal for the second half of the last two games instead of switching out into the field. I was stunned, because I knew how much she had wanted to be in the field. Yet, it also made me even more proud of her for putting her team ahead of herself. It showed a maturity beyond her 15 years that will serve her well as she continues on in sports and life. I look forward to her final two seasons of high school water polo.

Note: A few days ago I took part in a “men’s masters” water polo at E’s high school pool after receiving an invite from the varsity coach. Holy cow! So much more respect for what the athletes go through to play water polo. I mean, I knew that they’re constantly swimming and that I’m NOT a swimmer (I know how, but I’m not one) and that I’ve never played the sport before. I think I made it up and down the pool three or four times before I needed to sub back out. In that short time during the first game I did, however, manage to take AND MAKE! a shot on goal. (Beginner’s luck!) I played most of the second game in goal before my knee cramped up and I was done for the night. I learned that I’m not a water polo player and gained a whole new level of respect for the strength, skill and conditioning of the athletes.

The Days After Earth Day: 10 ways your family can be more eco-friendly all year long

April 22nd was Earth Day, the one day each year that we pause to really think about how we could take better care of our beloved third rock from the sun. Maybe your kids had a little “Earth Day” program or lesson at school. Maybe they sang “Happy Earth Day” and colored a nice picture. Or even took a pledge to be better conservationists. But when the calendar turns to April 23 and beyond, what will we really do to make a difference that lasts beyond one day? Well, if we all made a few simple changes it could have a profound global impact. Here are ten easy ways that my family celebrates Earth Day…every day of the year!

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It’s okay to leave the lights on if this is your house

10-Turn off the lights. When you leave a room turn off the light(s). Yeah, if you’re a parent, you probably feel like you’re constantly following your kids around and turning off the lights after them. I’m mean enough to make my kids (once old enough) to go back and turn off the lights themselves. It builds a good habit for later in life. Also, if there’s enough natural light then maybe use that instead of the overhead lights. Or just use one lamp instead of a larger fixture. Small changes will add up quickly.

9-Programmable thermostat. For just a few dollars you (Yes, you! I’ve done it myself a few times and it’s easy.) can install a thermostat that you can program to automatically set back to a lower temperature when you leave the house or go to sleep and then raise it when you return or wake up. Not only is it good for the environment, but it’s also good for your wallet. If you’re really into it like I am, you can even keep it a couple of degrees lower during the day and wear a sweater or sweatshirt.

8-Compost food scraps. Toss those peels and other discarded food scraps in an outdoor composter instead of the trash or sink disposal. You can do the same thing for leaves in the fall if your city doesn’t collect them. After a little while you’ll have some excellent organic fertilizer to spread in your garden.

7-Use re-useable containers for left-overs. Of course it’s obvious to do that at home. But why not take them to a restaurant? Even though it makes our teenagers cringe from embarrassment, we’ve used them when going out to eat as a family, as our little ones often don’t finish their meals.

6-Reusable bags. Because I often forget the bags at home (hey, at least I remembered my kids!), I actually keep a stash of reusable grocery bags in my van. My wife recently got six mesh bags for produce items that would usually be placed in plastic bags. They’re washable and easy to use. Our kids each have their own lunch bags for school lunches so that we’re not going through hundreds of paper bags each year.

5-Cloth diapers.

Cloth diaper baby

Cloth diaper baby

My oldest turned 20 a short time ago. So, that means that we’ve been cloth diapering our six kids for over two decades. With our first four we used the old cloth, safety pins and vinyl wraps. The modern cloth diapers are pretty slick and don’t involve pins. For the record, I never once pricked my kids with a pin while changing thousands of diapers as a Stay At Home Dad these last 14 years. Too bad the same cannot be said for my fingers.

4-Recycle. I know it’s obvious, but just do it. We even take it to the next level by bringing items not collected on the curb to the local recycling center. That also includes plastic shopping bags (see #6 above) which can often be dropped off at grocery stores. It’s worth the tiny bit of extra effort to keep these items out of the landfill. On a recent three-day road trip my 13 year old was looking for a place to recycle an empty box. Finding none, she asked if we could bring it home to recycle it. It’s second nature if you start early with your kids. Bonus: my 10 year old suggests using the empty plastic shopping bags as a trash can liner.

3-Pick up litter/trash. As a parent, I recognize that my kids are always watching to make sure that my actions match up with my words. With that in mind, I routinely pick up trash that is lying around when we’re out in public. It’s especially rewarding when my kids see me doing it and then excitedly copy my actions. Tip: carry a pocket-sized bottle of hand sanitizer with you. Update: I was telling my 10 year old son about this blog and he told me that on our recent trip he picked up an empty water bottle from the ground at a park and put it in our trash/recycling bag to bring home. I didn’t see it happen but it makes me proud to know that my kids are following the example of my wife and me in picking up trash.

2-Buy local. Grow local.

Eating sugar snap peas right off the plant. Yummy!

Eating sugar snap peas right off the plant. Yummy!

Even though it sometimes might cost a little bit more, I like to buy items made or grown locally. We’ve purchased a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share from a local farm for each of the last 13 years. Visiting the CSA farm creates an opportunity for our children to see where some of our food comes from so they can begin to learn that it doesn’t magically appear in the grocery store or in our  fridge.

In fact, we also have a modest garden of sugar snap peas, strawberries, beets, herbs, tomatoes and lettuce/chard/spinach (not sure which of those last three will actually grow). The kids help me to build the garden boxes, prepare the soil, plant the seeds, water and weed as needed, and then harvest the crop. I love it when they walk out to the garden and help themselves, knowing that they (literally) had a hand in growing that food.

1-Reuse. Repurpose. And reuse some more.

My baby painted that cardboard M as part of a Mother's Day gift.

My baby painted that cardboard M as part of a Mother’s Day gift.

We reuse things over and over. I used to think it was weird to save old moving boxes and packing paper. Guess what? The kids love to make forts and tunnels with the boxes and both the cardboard and packing paper work great for painting and other art projects. Then the painted paper can be repurposed as wrapping paper for friends or relatives. Our kids get new clothes when needed, but there’s certainly no shame in admitting that some of the outfits my 20 year old wore as a child have made it all the way to kid number six. It’s pretty impressive in my mind that some of the stuff lasted that long. My wife also is a queen thrift store shopper with a keen eye for high-end brand-name clothing for dirt cheap prices. Why pay the crazy amounts for a brand new outfit that your kid may or may not like or wear when you can save money by reusing? Sheets, t-shirts, towels and other fabrics can be washed and repurposed as rags or wipes. We haven’t had paper towels in three years. We made reusable wipes for our baby that work just as well as disposable ones. We bring water bottles on road trips instead of buying plastic ones. And then we often refill them at rest stops and gas stations along the way. Starbucks and other coffee shops often have reusable cups that both save the environment and your pocketbook.

Bonus-Backyard chickens. IMG_2590We’ve kept a flock of backyard chickens for about six years now and I love it for many reasons. The quality and freshness of the eggs is amazing and store bought eggs pale in comparison in color, taste and health benefit. The chickens are good for the environment because they will eat a lot of our food scraps that would either be trashed or composted and repurpose it into wonderful eggs.IMG_3297 They also naturally eat pests, aerate and fertilize our lawn, and further our children’s understanding of where our food comes from. Keeping chickens is far less work than I had feared and quite a rewarding experience with my children.

With the exception of the backyard chickens, the rest of the ideas listed above are pretty easy to incorporate into your daily routine if you make it a priority and a habit. If you have young kids make sure to explain what you’re doing and ask them to help keep you (the parents) accountable. Not only will they learn the new behaviors but they’ll be watching you extra close and will love to playfully remind you to shape up. Let me know if your family does any of these ideas or if you have additional ideas of your own.

I Beat My Kids…and they like it!

RELAX. I’m talking about beating my kids at board games. H-O-R-S-E. Cards. Footraces. Arm wrestling.

Still smiling even after a massive defeat

Still smiling even after a massive defeat

While I was playing my son, C, (age 10) tonight in a couple of games of Carcassonne,I asked him if he wanted me to take it easy on him. He looked at me kind of funny, with a weird expression on his face, not understanding what I was asking. So I rephrased it, “Do you want me to play nice so that you’ll have a better chance to win?”. His response? “NO! I don’t need you to go easy on me. I can win on my own.” Bingo! I couldn’t have said it better myself. We played two games tonight. I won them both. He has yet to beat me in this particular game and we’ve been playing it for quite a while now. He doesn’t complain. In fact, it drives him to get better. The margin of victory was a lot less in the second game. His strategy improved along with his score.

I’ve been a parent now for nearly twenty years, but I’ve been a competitive game-player for as long as I can remember. I can recall long games of Monopoly with my older brother that maybe got a little bit over the top competitive. One in particular, in which I had him basically beaten, so he said he “died” and flipped the game board over and huffed away. I’m especially fond of that win. While my parents didn’t really play a lot of board games with us I have a lot of very fond memories of playing games with both sets of grandparents. My dad’s parents taught us how to play Sheepshead (although they called it the German name). I routinely lost but as time went on I learned the game and became a decent player. Same for my other set of grandparents who taught me all sorts of card, dice and board games: cribbage, backgammon, chess, checkers, king’s corners, sollitare, burn, acey-deucy and pinochle. I grew to cherish the times that we would spend playing those games, often for hours at a time. Never once do I remember them letting me win. If they did, they did a great job of hiding it. What I do remember, though, is learning to win and lose with grace and humility. There was no dancing and hooting and hollering. Maybe a tiny hooray but nothing extraordinary. Of course, whenever I would beat my grandpa in a game head-to-head I got a certain sense of accomplishment, knowing that I had beaten someone who I considered a really good player.

With our oldest child, I remember when she was maybe four years old, letting her beat me in a foot race across the front yard. The next day her best friend was at our house and my daughter challenged her to a race, boasting about how she had beaten me every single time the day before. Her friend roasted her every single time because my daughter was so slow. I realized that maybe letting her win all the time wasn’t the best idea. It would be okay for her to learn that she wouldn’t always win and that losing might just fuel her to do better the next time. Right now, my fifth child is almost five years old. She likes to play card games like UNO and Spot-It and even Dutch Blitz (with some help). In some of those games where speed is an important factor, I take it easy on her to level the playing field a bit. After all, no kid wants to lose all the time. That’s not fun and would just turn her off to games completely. Yet, at the same time, I don’t go so easy on her that she wins every time. She’s learning how to win and how to lose.

Proud winner of his first game of Monopoly

Proud winner of his first-ever game of Monopoly

Three years ago I took my son, C, then age 7, on a week-long cruise to Alaska. Since we were “at sea” the entire first day of the trip we spent some time in the game room, where I taught him how to play Monopoly.I warned him that it was a game that would eventually bankrupt one of us, and it would likely be him since he was just learning the game. As it turned out, he had lucky dice like I did when I was a kid (see board-flipping story above) and won his debut Monopoly game. When I asked him tonight if he remembered that game, he beamed, proudly recalling a lot of details, including the fact that he ended up with $4400 to my ZERO!

My older kids, three girls that are all teenagers (for another week until one becomes 20, yikes!) all enjoy playing various games with me, despite my competitive nature. I have not taken it easy on any of them when we’ve played H-O-R-S-E or “Around the World” in the backyard. Or bocce ball. Or Dutch Blitz (a fast-paced card game). Or board games like Ticket to Ride or even Disney Trivia Pursuit. I’m scary good at the Princess movie questions. Don’t judge. In fact, a few years ago, my oldest and I had a running competition in which we played Dutch Blitz for money, a penny a point. Talk about a way to motivate my daughter for pennies. It was so much fun. I think I might have made $5 off her that summer. But, the point is, she didn’t suffer emotional trauma because I beat her (and maybe taunted her, but, in my defense, she was a teenager at the time) and took her money. It was a valuable, if not cheap, lesson in not running your mouth about how good you are in a game if you can’t back it up. To this day we still joke about that competition.

IMG_6038Last summer we managed to clean up our Rec Room enough to actually use the air hockey table. The kids had fun playing it together and my son made the mistake of challenging me to play against him. I told him I wouldn’t take it easy on him, that I would play to win. If memory serves me correctly, it took him 18 games (over several days) to finally beat his old man. But when he finally broke through, the excited hooting and hollering were music to my ears. He knew that he had earned that hard-fought victory on his own accord. We all had so much fun playing king-of-the-table tournaments. I think the longest streak was five wins in a row for one person. We also figured out that it was pretty fun to put all five air hockey pucks on the table at the same time and play.

I’m currently the household king of Trivia Crack and am proud of my trivial knowledge. I love nothing more than to accept the game challenges from my kids, only to crush them swiftly in one or two rounds. Except for that one game last week in which my 13 year old beat me. I ran into some questions about TV shows and movies that I’ve never seen and, obviously, don’t know. After she beat me she told my 15 year old about it. “You beat Dad?! No way! Prove it!” Sure enough, she had the proof on her device. Let’s just say that the games between us have been decidedly one-sided since that blemish on my record.

My ten year old just came near the computer and saw what I’m writing about and smiled. He told me, “It’s okay to go easy on your kids until they’re about six or seven. Once they’re that old you have to go hard on them!” Bring it…and let the games begin!

She shoots…she scores!

Please permit me to brag about my 15 year old daughter in this proud papa post. Tuesday evening was my daughter E’s first Junior Varsity water polo game of her sophomore season in high school. While she’s always been a swimmer and started on a swim team early in grade school, last year was her very first time ever playing water polo. By her own admission (and with her permission to share here) she was pretty clueless last year. The few minutes that she played last season were mostly a jumbled mess of mistakes along a pretty steep learning curve. Her lone highlight came in the end of season tournament in which she took a shot on goal only to learn the pain of hitting the crossbar. I remember telling her then that I was proud of her because at least she had taken the shot. Despite not experiencing much success in the sport last year, E refused to give up. In fact, she made it her goal at the end of her freshman season to be starting JV in her sophomore year. She played and practiced water polo with a club team over the summer and winter seasons. She continued to show up with a desire to learn and improve. She swam on her high school’s swim team again in the fall season. She gained confidence in herself as she began to increase her strength and sharpen her skills. She watched as her time trials improved and her coaches approved.

The 2015 season began in early March and E was excited to compete for a starting JV spot. I can admit this now, having seen her improvement from last season, that I was a little leery of her ability to attain this goal. I supported her 100%, but there were doubts in the back of my mind since I had not seen her play at all of those practices from last summer and winter. Still, after just three practices during that first week she proudly announced that her coach had selected her (along with a few other girls) to continue to practice with the Varsity girls, to compete for a spot on the varsity squad. WHAT?! Needless to say, E was ecstatic and I was blown away at the news. I’m pretty sure she was somewhere around cloud nine dreaming about the possibilities. After a few more practices it became apparent to her that she wasn’t quite ready for the varsity level and she was feeling a little down about that after one practice. It was at that moment, while driving her home from practice, that I told her just how proud I was of her. We took a little stroll down Memory Lane and reminisced about her freshman season. I reminded her that her goal had been to crack the JV, not varsity, lineup. I felt that she needed to know how much she had grown and improved from the end of last season to the beginning of this one. She had to know how impressed I was by her dedication and perseverance. I finished my pep talk by reminding her that she had already accomplished something that her old man never would. She had already played on not one, but two, high school sports teams.

E is #12, playing some stellar defense

E is #12, playing some stellar defense

Well, last Thursday was the Intra-squad Scrimmage and E played one quarter. She was on defense from the very first play and her aggressiveness and tenacity were remarkable to everyone there and her coach even pointed it out to all of the parents in attendance. It was a marked change from the timid player E was during most of her freshman season. While she wasn’t in for a long time I was pleased to see such obvious growth and improvement in her game. Those hours shuttling her to and from practices at the different pools were beginning pay dividends. All of this buildup set the stage for the first game against another team.

I didn’t know this but E didn’t make the starting lineup for the JV squad. Even so, she was among the first subs for her team, unlike last year when she was among the last to get in, if at all. Her first game action was the start of the second quarter and I noticed immediately her aggressive confidence as she played swarming defense and swam harder than I remembered her doing last year.

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Pass to #9 or shoot on goal?

A short time later E received a pass and advanced it toward the goal. As the defenders closed in on her she deftly passed to an open teammate who buried the shot for a goal in the wide side of the net. While I was cheering her for making the pass and garnering an assist I could only marvel at the growth from last year. But the best was still to come as E was just getting going. A minute or two later the other team turned it over and E swam hard into the offensive end where she received a perfectly placed pass. She swam the ball forward on a 2-on1 break and surveyed her options: try a risky pass over a defender to her teammate or take the shot on goal herself. All of this happened in a matter of only seconds as the defenders were closing in and her coach was shouting instructions from across the pool.

She shoots...she scores!

She shoots…she scores!

As I held my breath (and snapped pictures!) E made her choice and took the shot. Her powerful toss beat the goalie to the near post and she had the first goal of her career. As she swam back toward the center of the pool she looked up at me, absolutely beaming. If I could have leaped over the railing and jumped into the pool to hug her I would have (but that would’ve been a bit awkward and a tad embarrassing for her).

I’m such a sucker for feel good stories and this one ranks right up there for me as a parent. I’m blessed to be with my children 24/7 as a Stay At Home Dad. I get to witness some pretty amazing things like first words, first steps, first crushes and so on. Now I get to add to that a first goal in water polo. But, more than the physical first-goal itself, it is the sense of accomplishment for my daughter that comes from working hard to improve herself and seeing firsthand the fruits of her labor. I’m so proud of her for sticking with it and for finding the resolve to push herself even when others doubted her. I look forward to watching many more of her games…as well as how it will inspire her younger siblings.

Finding Nora

My oldest daughter, Nora, age 19, is no longer with us. Not that way not with us. Just not here.

My three redheads just before Nora left with her guitar for Toowoomba

My three redheads just before Nora left with her guitar for Toowoomba

I brought her to the airport in Seattle on January 20th and watched her saunter off through security to her airplane that would take her first to San Francisco, and then across the Pacific to Sydney, Australia. Her final destination was Toowoomba, Australia. To get there she flew from Sydney to Brisbane and then took a bus to Toowoomba. (Go ahead, say it out loud. You’re guaranteed to smile. It’s a fun word to say.) She’s on a semester-long quest to find out how God wants to use her and her amazing musical talents. She even started a blog to share her journey with others. You can check it out by clicking this link to Nora’s Blog. Here’s a quote from her first entry.

I’m part of a program for the next five months called “Music and Worship Discipleship Training School” (DTS). The DTS is run by Youth With A Mission Toowoomba (YWAM). For the first three months of the DTS, we’ll be studying the Word and diving deeper into a multi-faceted understanding of God. The remaining two months will be spent serving the city of Toowoomba as well as going with an outreach team to evangelize and be the hands and feet of Jesus in Southeast Asia. My DTS consists of 34 students from all over the world and 24 passionate leaders who give generously of their time and resources to teach us. I’m blown away by the fact that our leaders took up unpaid positions just because they genuinely care about us and want to spread the word of Jesus.

Youth With A Mission believes in championing young people everywhere. Orientation weekend was so great because I was able to connect with all of my fellow classmates and learn about the various cultures represented here in Toowoomba. Our leaders have emphasized that God doesn’t called the qualified; rather, He qualifies the called. No matter what place we come from in society, whether we have a degree or not, God qualifies us to do His good works. We can glorify Him in any job, any country, and in all circumstances. 

I’m guessing that some of you are wondering why I’m putting such religious stuff in my blog about being a Stay At Home Dad. Well, I’m not trying to push anything on your or preach. Nope, I’m just a proud papa sharing some really great news about his oldest kid. As a parent, and specifically as a SAHD, I’ve spent countless hours with Nora since she was born almost 20 years ago. I’ve had moments of success and moments that were learning experiences of how not to parent. We’ve shared thousands of laughs, many tears and many more triumphs. As the eldest, Nora was the one who blazed the trail for her five siblings. And by blazed the trail I mean bore the brunt of my parenting learning curve. Yet, miraculously, it appears I may not have screwed her up as badly as I thought. She’s a pretty awesome person and is following her heart and her faith by going to Australia. I’m grateful for the young woman she has become and excited to see what will be her next step after this semester. If you’re of the praying persuasion please keep her in your thoughts and prayers these next few months. I’m sure she would be encouraged by a positive word on her blog as well.

Ultimately, what’s really enjoyable for me as a parent is to watch my children grow and become more independent, knowing that I played a significant role in their development. Sometimes I get to see it when my youngest (19 months old) listens to me and doesn’t reach into the toilet while I’m rinsing her soiled cloth diaper and sometimes I get to see it from half a world away when my eldest (19 years old) is attending school in Australia. It puts the daily ups and downs of parenting into a little bit broader perspective, especially if you’re a parent of only younger children. What you’re doing now is worth it! Keep it up! G’day, mate!

Moments before Nora left for her journey to Australia

Moments before Nora left for her journey to Australia. Time for one last selfie!

PS-If any of you are interested in sending a care package to Nora, the only address I know for Australia is:

P. Sherman

42 Wallaby Way

Sydney

I guess you’d have to contact her through her blog (or message me) to get the actual one.

The Hug That Defined My Teaching Career

“Can I give you a hug?” It was a simple question, really, spoken by a person who was trying to extend compassion to someone who was hurting. Yet, simply asking that question meant taking a huge risk, possibly putting a young career in jeopardy. It was 1996. I was barely 24 years old, just over a month into my second year as a teacher. I had gotten to school early that morning to prepare for my first hour science class. It was 7:15 am, which meant that I had roughly 35 minutes of peace and quiet before students were allowed in the building. At about 7:25 I heard some crying from the hallway just outside my classroom door. I discovered a girl standing in front of her open locker, sobbing uncontrollably. This girl was in my first hour class, and I asked her what was going on. She was barely able to communicate through sobs that some of the kids on the bus that morning had been making fun of her and said some pretty mean and hurtful things to her about her appearance. I had flashbacks to my own childhood, in which a lot of my classmates had made some pretty mean comments about my big ears and about that one time I had been mean to a classmate. I knew her pain all too well. I invited her to come into my classroom to get herself together before everyone else arrived. I handed her a box of tissues and kept on getting ready for the lab we were going to do that day in class. After a few minutes her sobs became more sighs, but she was still obviously hurting. As a young teacher I thought that I was ready and able to take on whatever challenges I would face in the classroom. I was wrong. There had been nothing in my own education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to prepare me for this particular moment.

calvin hug

Not knowing what else to do, I sat on a chair near her and asked her if she wanted to talk about it. She didn’t. Yet, when I looked into her eyes I could see that she was barely keeping it together, the tears still welling up. I couldn’t just let this girl suffer like this. What was I supposed to do? In that moment a bunch of thoughts whizzed through my head. It was obvious that this girl needed a hug, some reassurance, some humanity. But, if I gave her a hug I could get fired for “inappropriate contact” with a student, right? Or maybe get hauled off to jail? Bye-bye, teaching career. Bye-bye wife and young daughter. Seriously, those thoughts were going through my mind at that moment. Instead, I looked at this girl as someone’s daughter who needed some help to get through her own teenage crisis. So, I pushed the negative thoughts aside and mustered as much courage as I could as I asked her, “Could I give you a hug?”. She nodded and we embraced. At that time my own daughter was only two so I had never known what it was like for a young adult to literally melt into your embrace. After what seemed like several minutes but was actually probably only 15-30 seconds she took a big breath and sat down again. Only, she looked at me with what appeared to be a slight smile, a marked change from moments before. She excused herself to the bathroom to wash off her face and returned a few minutes later all ready for the school day to begin.

I was glad that she was feeling so much better but still very nervous about what had just happened. Had I crossed some line by giving her a hug? I reassured myself that I had done nothing wrong by showing her some kindness and compassion in her time of need. I was actually feeling pretty good about it when I received a voice mail from her mother the next day. I nervously played the message from her and was greatly relieved when she thanked me for being so kind and understanding. It put my mind at ease that I had done the right thing. A few weeks later I met her parents in person at Parent-Teacher Conferences. The first thing that they brought up was this specific incident and thanked me again for my thoughtful actions. As we talked more I learned that their daughter’s Bat Mitzvah was coming up in a few weeks. Having been raised in a Christian home I had no idea of the amount of preparation by the child that goes into such an event. They graciously extended an invitation for my wife and I to attend the ceremony. It was an eye-opening opportunity for me to learn more about my students and another culture that I doubt would have happened if not for “the hug”.

Looking back on this incident from nearly 20 years ago I think that “the hug” was really a career-defining moment for me as a teacher. It showed me the importance of being real with my students. I had heard some professor during undergrad talk about the importance of developing rapport with students and he tossed out one of my favorite quotes

People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. -Theodore Roosevelt

This particular experience perfectly illustrated his point for me. I had been told by some older, more veteran teachers, that I was being too “real” with my students. That they would only respect me if I kept them at arm’s length. Don’t ever let them really know you. Yet, that wasn’t me at all. One of the things that I loved about teaching was the relationships that I could build with my students over the course of the year. I truly wanted to make a difference in their lives and I felt that would only happen if I showed them my humanity; showed them that I cared.

Before writing this post I contacted the girl I wrote about above. Of course, she’s no longer a “girl” because, well, that was 1996. We talked on the phone about this incident and how it impacted her life. She agreed to let me use her first name but I sensed some hesitation so I’m not going name her. Interestingly enough, she is a teacher herself. She told me that there were three teachers, one in elementary school, one in middle school (guess who?!) and one in high school that really impacted her in a positive way. She lives in a major city on the East Coast and teaches third grade. She said that she, too, has discovered the importance and value of being real with her students, something that she learned way back in middle school. I have to admit that it made me a little nostalgic for my teaching career. I miss the relational aspect of it. But not enough to give up my current gig. (Not even close.)

Finally, while I believe that “the hug” was a defining moment in my teaching career, I know that it has also impacted my career as a Stay At Home Dad. I try to show my kids how much I care every single day. Sometimes it’s a hug, sometimes an encouraging word, sometimes just a safe place to let them vent. All I know is the importance of being real with them. I’ve worked hard to establish a trust and rapport with them so that they will feel comfortable with bringing big stuff to me for us to deal with. Together.

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Do the Right Thing: An Apology 30 Years Too Late

“Dad, what was the meanest thing you did when you were a kid?” That simple question by my ten year old son set in motion an apology that was 30 years overdue. It was really an innocent conversation last month with my son while we made some cookies together in the kitchen. He asked me that question and immediately I thought of the only time in my life when I was truly mean to someone else. I shared with him two incidents from when I was in sixth grade. Upon hearing the stories from my past, my son immediately asked, “Did you apologize to her for that?“. I told him that, well, no, I hadn’t apologized back then because I never admitted to her what I had done. “You should do it now, Dad.” I agreed and told him that I’d try to find her on Facebook and see what I could do about it. After all, it’s never too late to try to make things right…even if it’s 30 years later!

So, I checked on Facebook. No Kelly. I Googled her. No Kelly. I looked on whitepages.com. No Kelly. As a last resort, I posted on Facebook to see if any of my friends from high school knew of her now. To my surprise, a few of them knew of her whereabouts, as she was still living and working in the area. I reached out to one of the people who had responded, Carrie, my childhood friend and next door neighbor, to see if she would be willing to deliver a letter from me to Kelly. Thankfully, Carrie agreed and I composed my letter and emailed it across the country from Washington to Wisconsin. I’ll admit that I was more than a little nervous about actually contacting Kelly after all these years. Was I going to cause her even more pain by bringing up the past? Would she respond? If she did, how would she respond? I told my son (and my other kids, for that matter) that I had sent the letter and that Carrie was going to deliver it a few days later. Here’s the letter that I wrote.

Dear Kelly,

I’m writing you today as a result of a conversation I had with my ten year old son a few days ago. He asked me to tell him about the meanest thing I did when I was a kid. Without hesitation my mind raced back to a couple of choices I made as a twelve year old at Wilson Elementary School in Neenah. I shared with him two stories of how I mistreated you. Actually, I didn’t just mistreat you, I was downright mean, cruel and hurtful. The first incident I recalled was how I purposely left you behind when my mom was driving a group of us to Neenah High School for a district-wide choir rehearsal. In an attempt to gain favor with the “popular” kids I lied to you about where to meet so that you wouldn’t be in the van with us. At school the next day I had to lie to you again to cover up my original lie. The second incident was how I discovered your locker ajar (it was next to mine, I think) and saw a tampon on the shelf. Instead of simply shutting your locker I took the tampon and placed it on your desk for everyone to see upon our return from lunch and recess. Again, I chose to purposely embarrass and hurt you. Even putting these awful actions from 30 years ago in writing makes me feel like a huge jerk all over again.

And that brings me to the present. My son was shocked that I could have been so mean, cruel and hurtful. Quite frankly, so am I. He asked me one question, “Did you ever apologize to her?”. Regrettably, the answer to that was “no”. I told him that I was so ashamed of myself that I never admitted to you that I had lied to you about the choir trip or confessed about putting the tampon on your desk. I decided that I needed to own up to it and, through the connections of old classmates on Facebook, I found you. So, Kelly, I want you to know how sorry I am for making those awful choices. Will you please forgive me for choosing to be mean, cruel and hurtful to you. I know that I cannot erase the hurt that I caused years ago. I’ve taught my children the importance of both apologizing and seeking forgiveness and this is an opportunity for me to do that, albeit 30 years too late.

I understand if you don’t want to contact me about this. If you would like to contact me you can call or text me at xxx-xxx-xxxx or email me at xxxxxxx@gmail.com. I live in Washington state with my family (wife and six kids) and get back to visit my mom in Neenah once in a while. I’d love to hear about how you’ve been if you want to reach out. I wish you and yours peace and joy.

Sincerely,

Carl

Kelly responded a few days later in an email.

Dear Carl,

Imagine my surprise at your letter being delivered to me at work today. I hadn’t thought about those things in many years. Of course I forgive you. The reason being Jesus forgives me my wrongs against others as well. While I cannot deny those things hurt, and yes some one told me in a rather mean way I had been left behind a bit later. I know that the in crowd can be a huge pressure at that age. After a time you learn to be yourself no matter what others do. School that year was rough but it was used in ways that built a heart of compassion within me. That awkward kid figured out that God loved her very much as the years went by, no matter what others may have done. Even then I knew God saw the tears I tried so hard to hide from others. It built in me compassion for others, to treat others as I wish to be treated.

Fast forward to now. Twenty-one years of marriage, a son soon to be twenty-one, an eleven year daughter. Life is never boring here. I work my secular job while being an assistant pastor at a small church for the past few years.

May God bless you and keep you well.

Kelly

When I received that email I was snuggling my 16 month old daughter in my arms as she was falling asleep. Through tears of joy I said a silent prayer of thanks to God for such an amazing response. Later that evening I replied.

Dear Kelly,
Wow. I am completely blown away by the grace and kindness of your message. I’m so thankful that God was able to turn such a difficult time in your life into something positive for you. I actually learned a similar lesson about compassion and kindness for others as a result of being mean to you. Reading about how God has used you for his good despite hard circumstances makes me think of how God used Joseph for His greater purpose after the terrible treatment he received from both his brothers and Potiphar’s wife. I’m glad that you have such a strong faith. And, honestly, I’m even more disappointed in my own shortcomings from years ago because I, too, grew up in a Christian family and I knew that what I was doing was wrong.
I told my kids yesterday that I had written you a letter and that Carrie had delivered it before getting your response. I’m excited to share it with them because it’s really why I did this in the first place. To show that it’s never too late to do the right thing, even if it’s 30 years later. I’m also eager to show them, through your gracious letter, how God can turn hardship into a beautiful testimony to His enduring love and faithfulness.
Blessings to you and your family,
Carl
As I shared with my children that next day about Kelly’s amazing letter I realized that I wanted to blog about this experience of seeking forgiveness but would only do so with Kelly’s permission, which she graciously granted. I’m glad that my son asked me that question last month because, without it, I probably wouldn’t have sought out Kelly to apologize for my poor choices 30 years ago. I didn’t share this so that you all would think that I’m some sort of saint because I apologized for something I did a long time ago. Nope, I’m human and just as flawed as anyone else. I shared this because it shows that it is possible to try and make amends for mistakes from the past. I would encourage you to not wait 30 years, though, before seeking forgiveness. However long it takes, it’s never too late to do the right thing!

Spanking the Time-Out Away?

Another Stay At Home Dad that I’m friends with posted a link to a TIME magazine article entitled Time-Outs Are Hurting Your Child, which essentially makes the case for eliminating the use of the popular child-discipline technique of the time-out. You can read the article for yourself by clicking here. That got me to thinking about all of the news over the last month covering Adrian Peterson’s arrest and indictment on child-abuse charges for beating his four year old son with a switch. Peterson has publicly stated that he uses that form of discipline because it’s the same thing he endured as a child growing up in East Texas and that it taught him discipline. Of course, there are plenty of studies that decry the effectiveness of physical punishment. In an article from the American Psychological Association it was noted that

Many studies have shown that physical punishment — including spanking, hitting and other means of causing pain — can lead to increased aggression, antisocial behavior, physical injury and mental health problems for children. Americans’ acceptance of physical punishment has declined since the 1960s, yet surveys show that two-thirds of Americans still approve of parents spanking their kids.

Interestingly enough, just last week I had a conversation with six other friends about this exact topic. I mentioned that I was spanked as a child and it didn’t cause me to become aggressive, antisocial or develop any other issues mentioned in studies like the one above. Interestingly enough, the five men and one woman in the group also all experienced some form of physical punishment as children and none of them (to my knowledge) had experienced problems related to their punishment. In fact, most shared stories of a parent or teacher or coach who laid down the law in a manner that wouldn’t be tolerated in 2014.

In my house on Quarry Lane my parents had the rod. It was a 2-3 foot long wooden dowel, maybe the diameter of a dime, that sat atop the refrigerator in the kitchen, ominously peeking at us from above. My parents believed in the Bible verse that says

Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them. (Proverbs 13:24)

When I was a child, I got spanked. Not often. But for the big stuff. Maybe a handful of times my whole childhood. And every single time I deserved it. I learned from it. I stopped the behavior that warranted the spanking and made better choices. I did not become physically aggressive as a result. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m anything but antisocial. But, that flies in the face of the quote above. So, why did that physical punishment not affect me so negatively? I’ve thought about this answer quite a bit, especially over the last month or so since the Peterson story broke. I think it’s because my father, at least when he spanked me (I cannot speak for my three siblings), did it the right way. He never did it out of anger or in the heat of the moment. Instead, what usually happened is that my mom (who was a SAHM) would catch me doing something really bad and I got sent to my room to wait until my dad came home from work. Once he got home my mom would talk to him about what I had done and then he would come get me from my room and we’d go to my parents’ room. Sitting on the edge of the bed my father would instruct me to lay over the flat area of his quads. Before he spanked me he told me a few things. “Carl, I’m doing this because I love you and want to correct  (fill in the blank bad behavior) . I know you’re probably not going to understand this until you have children of your own, but spanking you hurts me more than you.” With that he would tell me the number of spanks I would get (usually 5-6) and do the deed. He never pulled my underwear down and he never swatted my bottom more than the number of times he told me. And I never saw him spank me in anger. In fact, after the spankings, while my butt was still sore, I would give him a hug and then go and apologize to my mom or whoever I had wronged. Once that was completed my punishment was over. (Except for the one time that I was grounded for 10 days for making a fire on some rocks so close to the house that some of the aluminum siding was warped. But that’s another story.)

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From my spankings I learned a few things. First, I learned that what I had done was wrong and needed to never happen again. I needed to change my behavior. Second, I learned that my parents loved me enough to discipline me to correct my behavior. And third, I learned that I still needed to apologize for my actions after receiving my spankings. I didn’t learn that it was okay to hit other people or be physically aggressive toward them. I didn’t learn that “might makes right”. I didn’t learn that violence was the answer. I wasn’t damaged physically or mentally because of the spankings. But, here’s the thing. Even with my positive experiences with spanking my wife and I chose years ago to not spank our children. She didn’t have such a glowing experience with corporal punishment as a child and I also saw my dad spank my little sister one time the wrong way. She was a toddler and he was spanking her to try to make her stop crying. Obviously, it didn’t work and all it did was send him into further anger. Thankfully, he stopped before taking it any farther, but it was enough to scar/scare me to really question its effectiveness. Obviously, it was his problem and he wasn’t doing it properly. But, I believe it goes to show the slippery slope of physical punishment on children. All it takes is one time where the parent loses it – just for a few moments – and the spankings become beatings and a situation like the one Mr. Peterson is facing.

Please hear me when I say that in no way do I support what Peterson did to his son in beating him so severely with a switch that he left cuts on the boy’s back, arms, neck and testicle. I understand that he had good intentions but he lost it as a father when the discipline transformed into child abuse. He’s a small and very strong man who gets paid millions of dollars to play a violent sport. I’m a tall and very strong (not the same as Peterson, of course) man who gets paid millions of kisses to be a SAHD. Yet, I’ve come to realize that I can discipline my children without spanking (or beating) them. I think that the key to the success of my father’s spanking is the same as my success of not spanking. It’s relationship. Even while being disciplined, I knew that I was loved and could trust my father to not hurt me. Like my father, I’m not perfect. Sometimes I yell at my kids. But I don’t hit them. I love them. I take the time to correct their behavior when needed. We’ve used 1-2-3 Magic Parenting with some success since my oldest was a toddler. She’s now 19. I look at her and my other kids, ages 15, 12, 10, 4 and 1, and note with a great deal of humility and thankfulness that they’re all pretty good people. Sure, they have their moments of sibling conflict, but they’re all pretty polite and kind and helpful most of the time. I love them and I even like them! I’d like to think that being at home with them for the last 14 years has had an impact in shaping them as the individuals they’re becoming today. Helping to guide them through conflict into a place of peace can be difficult. Tiresome. Yet, in the end, it’s worth it. My kids are living proof of it.

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.

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