Do you play basketball? Tall Tales from the world’s tallest SAHD

“Do you play basketball?” is probably the second most common question I’ve been asked in my life. I guess it’s just part of the territory that comes with being a giant in the eyes of most other people. I’m 6’8″ tall. 80 inches. 2.03 meters. “Five-foot-twenty” if I’m feeling snarky when asked the most common question. This is my 14th year as a Stay At Home Dad and the one year anniversary of being a “dad blogger” and I’m laying claim to the dual titles of “Tallest SAHD” and “Tallest Dad Blogger” in the world. I’m friends with a couple of SAHD/DB guys who are 6’7″ but have yet to meet a guy who is taller. Please, prove me wrong. (Actually, don’t. I like my self-proclaimed titles!) At any rate, now that I’ve established my stature for you, let me tell you about some of the joys of being tall that you might not have ever considered.

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I didn’t fit under the eaves at this tourist spot in Germany, much to the delight of the rest of my tour group.

How tall are you? Seriously. I get asked this question a lot. Maybe not every single day, but a lot. Complete strangers will see me and and feel free to inquire. I’m not ashamed of my height. In fact, I love being tall. But, could you imagine if people felt compelled to ask or comment about other bodily traits as freely as they do about height? How much do you weigh? How short are you? How big are your feet? Oh, wait, I get that last one a lot as well. Size sixteen if you’re wondering. It’s not that big considering how silly I would look with tiny feet. Makes going as a clown for Halloween much easier. I remember when I was 18 and at Opryland USA, a now-defunct theme park in Nashville, Tennessee, having my first experience of a complete stranger tapping me on the shoulder to ask about my height. I ended up chatting with the elderly couple for a few minutes while we waited in queue. Afterwards, my friends who were there with me (we were part of a Spring Break trip for our high school symphony) were incredulous about that exchange. Little did I know that it was the first of thousands of such experiences. It even transcends languages and cultures. Just this last summer, while on a three week trip to Europe with my daughter, a man came wandering through the platform in the train station in Munich, Germany, asking everyone for money. When I responded no (pulled the “I don’t speak German” excuse) he moved on but a moment later came back to me and gestured wildly about my height with a silly grin on his face.

Do you play basketball? Not every tall person is also gifted with coordination. Or a competitive nature. Or coordination. Or desire to play sports. Or coordination. But, yeah, I do play basketball. And thanks, to my older brother who was always older (duh!) and a little taller than me (at least until I was 16 or so), I developed a decent outside shot. Which means I’m that big man who thinks he should step outside and shoot three-pointers instead of staying in the lane close to the basket where I belong. I really do enjoy playing basketball. But, due to a back injury from 7th grade football, I couldn’t play competitively in high school. In fact, I never played any sports in high school. Yet, while in college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I played pick-up games several times a week with and against many of the guys who were on the Badgers basketball teams (men and women) as well as football players. I love to play hoops. I even used to be able to dunk before I got arthritis in my knees and left foot. One time I even broke both my arms after making a dunk. (I’ll have to blog about that. It’s a good story.) But, back to the question. If you ask me if I play basketball, is it okay for me to ask if you’re a jockey or if you play mini-golf?

School. Just because I’m tall doesn’t make me blind or deaf. I especially love walking into schools with my kids. The reactions of the other kids is hilarious. They see me and immediately start to point and then realize that might be rude. So, then they start to whisper to one another. He’s soooo tall! How tall is he? Is he (name of my kid)’s dad? Look! He had to duck under the door! It cracks me up because middle school kids are many things, but quiet isn’t usually one of them. Even high school students have weird reactions. Years ago I was a football game, waiting in line for concessions behind two girls who were getting their food. Upon completing their purchases they both whirled around quickly and started to walk only to notice that I was standing there. Instead of saying “excuse me” or something like that one of them exclaimed “Holy S#%& you’re tall!” and then ran off. I looked at my buddy and we both laughed it off. I’m mostly immune to it now, but if you’ve never walked next to a freakishly-tall person before you’d be surprised at how many people point and gawk at you as if you had a unicorn horn protruding from your forehead. Before my SAHD career I was a teacher. During my first day teaching 7th grade, a girl name Celia, a self-confident redhead, proclaimed that I looked just like the BFG. Since I hadn’t read the classic book by Road Dahl I didn’t know that the BFG was a “Big Friendly Giant” and that she meant it as a compliment.

How’s the weather up there? Yeah, that’s original. How’s the weather by my armpits? I’ve been tempted to spit and say it’s raining. But, I’m not mean. When riding trains and buses in which I need to stand I am reminded that being tall can have its advantages. In many of those instances there’s a slight breeze of fresh(er) air that I can enjoy because I’m literally a head taller than everyone else. I remember a bus in Rome this summer that had one of those air vents on the ceiling and I got to stand directly underneath it. Actually, it was because of the extra few inches of that vent that I was able to actually stand up straight without hitting my head. Headroom is really a major issue for us tall people. When I’m driving I have to lean forward sometimes to see if the traffic light has changed since my eyes are much closer to the roof of the car than you normal-sized people. Doorways. Standard door frames are 80 inches. Yeah, I’m 80 inches tall. Without shoes. So, I pretty much have an automatic head-bob whenever I walk through a door. I’d rather bob and look silly than not bob and whack the top of my head. One time, about 10 years ago, I was bringing a basket of laundry to the basement when I forgot to bob. I literally scalped myself on the exposed beam. After spending a few minutes on the floor I finally stood up and saw a nasty collection of skin and hair that had previously been on the top of my head moments earlier. I wish that was my only story of head whacking on door frames or beams.

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Standard “legroom” for me when riding in an airplane. This was before the person in front of me leaned their seat back.

Public transportation. Not designed with the freakishly tall in mind. Buses. I cannot sit on a standard school bus and face forward. The length from my hip to my knee is usually greater than the distance to the back of the seat ahead of me. Coach buses are not much better. And those seats recline. And you’d better believe that I’m calling shotgun if we’re taking a car somewhere. Unless there’s a bench in back that offers more leg room. And don’t even get me started on airplanes. Headroom? No. I usually have to walk to my seat hunched like Quasimodo so I don’t whack into the EXIT signs or overhead storage doors. I will always check to see who is seated in the emergency exit row seats and it seems like it’s almost always people who are short. And by short I mean anyone who is less than 6’3″. There should be a rule that tall people get the exit row seats before anyone else.

Yeah, I know I could pay extra so that I could get that seat. But, I’m too cheap. Besides, it’s fun to sit on the aisle seat with one leg blissfully stretched out into the aisle…until it’s rammed at full speed by that bloody beverage cart. Excuse me, sir, please put your legs under the seat in front of you. How much time do you have? Since my leg won’t fit under the lowered tray table I have some rearranging to do. And those bathrooms. Do you have any idea how hard it is to try to pee standing almost sideways because some genius engineer thought it would be a brilliant idea to have the bathroom ceiling slant like that. And no, I can’t sit. My legs are too long to fit with the door closed. Good thing I don’t need to go #2.

Theme parks. I waited with one of my daughters to go on a ride several years ago at the Mall of America. I think it was called Paul Bunyan’s Axe, but I’m not sure. Don’t even know if it’s still there. At any rate, for this particular ride, you had to sit down and a harness of padded metal bars came down over your shoulders and locked into place. Only, not for me. My torso was too tall. The bars hit my shoulder and there was no way for me to slouch down so the harness would fit. In countless roller coasters I’ve had the pleasure of contorting my legs uncomfortably so that the lap bar would hold me in place. None of that is as terrifying as riding a roller coaster and feeling the need to duck every time the coaster goes into a tunnel. Even though I know it’s not going to happen, it feels as though I’m going to get my head whacked off when the track goes under and through the wooden trestle. You better believe I’ll keep my hands in the car at all times. It was also pretty uncomfortable to ride some of the small kid rides at DisneyWorld with my daughters when they were younger.

Hiking. You want me to be the leader. Not because I’m blessed with some superior skills. Nope. One word. Spiders. Okay, maybe two words. Spider webs. I clear the path of all spider webs. I catch the ones that most of you miss. You know, the big ones that drape across the trail between trees, about 75″ above the ground. I call that eye level. Nothing quite like walking through the woods and having to wipe off spider webs from my face and head. And, no, it doesn’t taste like cotton candy. On the other hand, spelunking may not be the best activity for me. I recently went with two of my kids to Ape Cave, a lava tube near Mt. Saint Helens in Washington. At several points during the hike I realized that I almost didn’t fit through some of the openings in the rock. I’ve been in other caves that had similar pinch points and/or low ceilings, which are far less forgiving than wooden door frames. I think caving is cool (cool, get it?) but I realize my limitations.

Around the house. I’m your go-to guy if the lightbulb needs replacing. Or you need something from that top shelf. Or anything that would require a ladder or step-stool. Just call the tall guy over. He’ll be more than happy to assist you. I normally don’t mind helping you vertically-challenged people out. Just don’t be offended if I ask you to get something from a lower shelf, okay? I will admit that painting can be pretty fun because I don’t need a ladder to reach the ceiling of standard rooms. That said, I once broke a ceiling light fixture with my head. I mean, who puts a light directly outside of an elevator? I ducked my head to exit the elevator only to raise it into the fixture. Granted, it was on a cruise and not at home, but, still. If I recall, the cruise staff were pretty impressed by how I broke the light and several even posed for pictures with me. Counters are too low. Kitchen and bathroom. Cutting food for meals means that I either sit on a stool or risk making my lower back sore from bending over so much. And yes, like many tall people, I have back and knee issues. It’s the blessing and curse of being tall. My wife, a physician, says so sympathetically, “The human body wasn’t designed to carry such a large load.” Um, thanks, honey?

In the bedroom. Not like that. Don’t be rude. I’m talking mattress size here. At 80″ tall I’m too long for a King size bed, which is also 80″. Instead, we have a California King, which is 84″ long. And we still don’t tuck in the sheet on the end so our feet are free from pinching. You can imagine the fun whenever I sleep in a bed not my own. I barely fit diagonally across a queen. Standard twins are a joke. The funniest was just last year when I volunteered as a cabin leader for my church’s week long junior high camp. Thanks to a triple mattress stack I was able to hang my feet over the end of the bed despite a short footboard. A close second was our wedding night. We were gifted a stay at a lovely old B&B mansion and were excited to check out the in-room jacuzzi and King size bed. Only the jacuzzi wasn’t really long enough to actually get my whole body in the water and the beautiful “sleigh” style bed frame meant that it wasn’t long enough to sleep in. No big deal, it was my wedding night, after all. (nudge-nudge, wink-wink…)

Dating. When I was in high school I was researching for a report at the local library. (For those of you not old enough to remember, before the internet and Google and computerized everything, students had to actually go to a library to do research. We used things like card-catalogs and actual books and note cards. And microfiche machines.) While I was quietly minding my own business an elderly man (guessing mid-70s) approached me and looked me up and down and leaned in real close and half-whispered to me, “I suppose you go for tall girls, right?”. I kid you not. I didn’t know this guy and he was really asking me about my preference for tall girls. I think I stammered some sort of “Yessir” response that was enough to send him on his merry way, chuckling to himself for being so clever. I also recall the awkwardness of dancing with girls who were not very tall. At one camp in particular, a week-long co-ed camp for high school seniors-to-be who were interested in becoming teachers, there was a dance on the last evening. Of the nearly 100 attendees that week there were only about a dozen of us guys. Talk about the odds being ever in my favor! Needless to say, I had girls asking me to dance with them. And anyone who knows me knows that I can’t dance. I’ll try. I’ll embarrass myself. But. I. Can’t. Dance. But I can slow dance. That’s relatively easy and hard to mess up. Except if the girl is 5’1″ and the guy is 6’6″. (I grew 1 1/2 inches in college.) Then it’s a little on the weird side. Tough to dance without looking inappropriate. I love that my wife is 5’11”. Interestingly enough, people that knew her before we started dating thought that she was tall. Until they met me and saw me next to her.

Guess what? I'm in the very back row!

Guess what? I’m in the very back row!

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One of these is not like the others!

Pictures. I’m always in back. I could probably wear only underwear and no one would ever know by looking at 95% of all group pictures in which I’ve been a participant. (Why can’t I write like I talk and not care about using a dangling participle?) “Line up shortest to tallest” is the easiest directive for this guy. Walk to the back and laugh at everyone eyeing up who is taller/shorter. I’ll be in back. Always. I also sometimes forget just how big I am compared to “normal” sized people. Just last month at the NAHDN Convention in Denver I had the opportunity to mingle with over 100 other SAHDs from around the U.S. and Canada. My buddy Chris (SAHD and blogger at DadNCharge) is 6’7″ and we decided to take a picture with our friend Lorne (SAHD and blogger at Raising Sienna) at the request of his family. Lorne isn’t tiny as much as Chris and I are really, really tall. We literally dwarfed poor Lorne. After more than 20 years of being so crazy tall, I guess I sometimes forget that I’m probably the tallest person most people actually know. Sure, you might see a random really tall person somewhere or on TV, but to actually be right next to that person and interact with him/her is a bit different.

I hope you don’t get the wrong message about being tall. I absolutely love it. Sure, there are challenges in being crazy tall. I didn’t even discuss stuff like buying clothes, driving cars, finding “hidden” junk on top of people’s fridges, accidentally crashing into others with my long limbs, having tall kids, and the expectation of leadership just because I’m tall. It comes with the territory, I suppose. As a people-person I love that my height can serve as an ice-breaker and I often see the humor in such encounters with people I might not otherwise interact with. (I left it dangling!) I know that this post was really long, but, considering the source, you would’t expect anything shorter, right?

If you made it this far and found this post even remotely entertaining and worth your time, please consider leaving me a comment, liking it or, gasp, sharing with your friends. Thanks!

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10 Lessons from Two Weeks in Europe

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

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

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

Sharing is Caring

There are few phrases that annoy me as much as when one of my kids sings/says “sharing is caring” to a sibling in an attempt to get something from the other. It’s often related to candy or a toy. While I like the sentiment of the phrase, when my kids use it in such an improper context it grinds me a little bit. Makes me think that maybe I’m not really getting through to them about what it really means. So, I was really thankful that we’ve had the opportunity to host three different parties at our house over the last eight days. Not only was it a good excuse to get the house tidied and picked up, but, more importantly, it was an opportunity for our entire family to reach out and practice the concept of “sharing is caring” in a real and meaningful way.

The first party was a “team bonding” taco bar for my daughter’s JV Water Polo team. We had about 15-20 girls over for several hours. My wife had planned on taking our younger four kids out of the house but she got caught up at work for an extra hour so the party was in full swing by the time she arrived home. And our kids were already helping themselves to the plentiful taco fixings. Even though our house wasn’t immaculate it appeared to make no difference to our guests. They mingled and ate and bonded while watching Frozen together. There was one girl who had never seen the movie until that evening. Can you imagine? The rest of the girls belted out the songs…and I’m pretty sure my three year old was among the loudest and most excited! What struck me was how the girls were so dependent on their phones. Almost every single one of them was texting and/or snapchatting. The evening was concluded with a rousing game of Apples to Apples and the Mama Mia sing-along version. Even though it was a lot of work (especially on my part) to prepare our house for the party I was glad to be the host. Not that I’m controlling, but I like knowing that my daughter is safe and that there’s nothing bad going on.

That’s us. Complete with crazy faces from two kids.

The second gathering was for Easter dinner. I had invited three friends from church who I knew from volunteering with the middle school youth group. All three are in their early 20s and live too far from their families to make it back for Easter dinner. When I brought up the idea to invite them for dinner to my wife she was supportive but a little leery about my ability to get the house cleaned up and food prepared for our guests. I assured her that I could enlist the help of our kids, since they were on Spring Break that week. It certainly helped that the house was already on the neater side from the water polo party a few days prior. When Sam, Tasia and Terrell arrived at our house after church on Easter Sunday my kids excitedly ushered them in, showing off their freshly-dyed eggs and the chickens that we keep in our backyard. A short while later we all sat down for dinner and enjoyed a tasty dinner of honey-baked ham, cheesy hashbrowns, steamed carrots, strawberry pecan salad, apple pie and apple crisp. We shared a lot of laughter and some of our own memories of family traditions from Easter celebrations. Since we had been blessed with a spectacularly sunny and warm (for Pacific Northwest, about 65º) day we spent the rest of the afternoon doing a variety of activities inside and outside of the house. One of our family’s annual Easter traditions is a clue-finding hunt that ultimately leads the kids to their Easter baskets that are overflowing with goodies. Amazingly enough, the Easter Bunny brought baskets for our guests as well. We managed to play some basketball and bocce ball for a while before returning inside to serve up some tacos. (Yay for left-overs from the water polo party. I seriously over-estimated how much taco meat the girls would consume.) What was most meaningful for me was the genuine gratitude expressed by each of our guests for including them in our plans. My wife even suggested that we start hosting similar events on a more regular basis. It was so rewarding to watch all of the “kids” – ours and our guests – playing together. Sam played basketball with my 9 year old son for a while, teaching him some skills that he was able to put into practice right away. Terrell helped my 3 year old build her new (from the Easter Bunny) Lego house. Tasia seemed to effortlessly become the “big sister” to my older girls as they were hanging out and talking and braiding hair. It was a mellow and fun “family” afternoon and evening. A perfectly low-key and low-stress time of togetherness.

Checking out the goodies in the Easter Baskets

Sam’s tower won’t last long around my baby King Kong!

Playing hoops in the backyard.

The last “party” was Friday evening when one of my wife’s co-workers brought her two kids over for dinner. We had them over a few months ago but this time her husband wasn’t along as he was recently deployed through the military. It was an opportunity for her young kids to hang out while giving my wife and her friend a chance to hang out and catch up. Next time I’m going to tell them that they’re not allowed to talk about work-related stuff after the first 10 minutes. I’m pretty sure that we’re going to be seeing a lot of them over the next few months as our kids seemed to hit it off pretty well. Again, the chickens were a pretty big draw and the kids had fun feeding some of the chicks. And I have the utmost respect for all of the military families that keep on living while their loved ones are serving elsewhere. Sharing our home and food with this family is certainly one way that we can show them and our own kids how much we care.

While my house is never going to be Martha Stewart quality and what I serve likely won’t be featured in any magazines, I do enjoy sharing our home with others. I hope that we can, as parents and as a family, start a tradition of hospitality with our friends and neighbors by having them over on a more consistent basis. Maybe I’ll even resurrect the tradition that we had in my family growing up…inviting teachers over for dinner! Yikes!