No Thanks, Hallmark

Sunday marked the 20th time that I was fortunate enough to celebrate Father’s Day as a father. It also marked the lamest Father’s Day that I can recall. But that’s okay. I’ve come to accept that reality. All day long my Facebook newsfeed was filled with dozens, if not hundreds, of friends writing beautiful posts that honored the men in their lives as wonderful and amazing fathers and husbands. Many of my friends in the blogging community wrote marvelous pieces about their own dads in the weeks leading up to this Hallmark holiday. If you’ve read my blog you know that I’m not much of a fan of these contrived holidays that try to guilt people into buying Mom or Dad expensive stuff or cards as the way to express their love. Instead, I’m all about actually telling your loved ones how you feel and spending time with them. Gifts are not necessary if you’re showing your loved ones how much you care more than just one day a year!

That said, I think it’s nice to recognize moms and dads and to make them feel extra special and extra appreciated for all that they do for us. Again, it’s not about the commercialization of it, but rather about meaningful and purposeful interactions. The commercial lead-up to Mother’s Day is all about giving Mom a break, pampering her with a trip to a spa, showing her how much she means to her family. By contrast, it seems as though Father’s Day is all about Dad spending time with his family. Grilling. Going to a ball game or the beach. Hanging out at the pool. Doing “manly” stuff with the family. What’s interesting to note, though, is how we Stay At Home Dads are treated on Father’s Day. For many of us, Father’s Day is just another day. We still do our regular day-to-day things. Cooking. Cleaning. Laundry. Childcare. Same old same old. My wife remembered that it was Father’s Day shortly after we woke up and wished me a happy Father’s Day while waving our one year old’s hand at me. My other kids each verbally told me the same when they saw me the first time that morning. But that was pretty much the extent of any “celebration” at home. Lots of people at church wished me a happy Father’s Day and said some very nice things about me as a person and as a father. And then it was back home, where I fed the kids lunch, changed more diapers, unloaded the dishwasher and finally sat on the sofa, holding my baby in my arms as she fell asleep for her afternoon nap. My wife arrived home from work mid-nap so we chatted for a little bit, which was nice, considering it’s not often that all the kids are quiet at the same time and we’re awake and able to converse. Once my baby awoke I loaded and started the second load of dishes in the dishwasher. Then I made a spectacular dinner of cedar plank grilled Alaskan salmon and noodles to go with freshly-picked sugar snap peas from our garden. As we were eating our dinner the kids were discussing the tasty salmon.

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This is really good. Almost as good as a restaurant. Don’t you agree?

My wife actually indicated that it might have been even better than any salmon she’s ever had from a restaurant. It was as close to a compliment that I was going to get, and it made me feel so much better. Of course, running through my head moments later was the long list of stuff that still needed to get done before I went to bed. Among them was unloading and reloading (for the third time in 24 hours) the dishwasher. Putting away the dinner leftovers. Doing the hand-wash dishes. Tidying up the rest of the clutter on the main floor. Oh, and helping my daughter put the finishing touches on her World War I diorama. And, I really wanted to find some time to write since it had been a week since my last post. I was actually starting to resent the fact that no one was making a big deal about me today. I working up some seriously (self-) righteous indignation about my “perceived” injustice of this lame Father’s Day. It was after helping with the diorama that I showered my baby and then snuggled her to sleep on the sofa (again). Since I was immobile then, I checked in on Facebook. I read a thread to a group of SAHDs, some of whom were also having to cook and clean and take care of their kids on this Special Day. Then I read a post from Chris Routly of Daddy Doctrines blog, a fellow SAHD and blogger, a guy I’m fortunate enough to call a friend. Here are his words, used with his permission.

Just want to wish all of you, my stay-at-home-brothers, a huge Happy Father’s Day. I hope you’ve been spoiled and showered with encouragement and recognition for the important role you play.

That said, I know that for many of us, today is a bittersweet day, where what we contribute EVERY day of the year is mostly overlooked while we see dads get honored for being breadwinners and providers, not for their ability and willingness to put the needs of their child before their own. For some of us the only difference today was we maybe got a card, but not a lot of specific thanks of recognition. Somehow many of us still ended up cooking and cleaning and minding the kids.

And so I just want to let you know that WE all see what you do. WE appreciate your hard work and sacrifice and the often thankless nature of this role you’ve taken on.

The truth is, we’re a lucky bunch. Many, many working dads look forward to Father’s Day not so much for a gift or a steak or maybe a little action between the sheets, but because it means he gets to unabashedly delight in his kids for a day.

Us? We get to do that every day.

Happy Father’s Day, brothers.

There is was. TRUTH. PERSPECTIVE. I needed the reminder that I don’t do what I do for the recognition from others. Not even my own family. Yet, I do it for my family. It’s the role that I chose 14 years ago and choose to continue to choose now and for the foreseeable future. I am blessed with a hard-working wife who has a great job which allows me the opportunity to be home with our children. I get to be active and involved in the lives of my kids. I am exponentially closer to them because I’m a SAHD than I would be if were going off to work every day outside of the house. And the reality is, I do delight in my kids every single day. We laugh and love all the time. I am constantly entertained by them and their silly senses of humor. So, Hallmark can keep its cards. I don’t need any card or t-shirt to tell me that I’m the “World’s Greatest Dad” or “#1 Dad”. Nope. All I needed was right in front of me the whole time. I just wasn’t seeing it properly. Snuggling with my baby like that while she napped was exactly where I needed to be at that moment. Truly, I’m blessed beyond belief to be called “Daddy” by my six wonderful children.

Five Days in June

At 7:29 am, on June 5, 2013, our sixth child entered this world and officially became a part of our family. Five days later, almost to the minute, our oldest moved out. What happened in between was a flurry of emotions and pomp and circumstance. Literally. That fifth day in June, a Wednesday, was our oldest daughter’s last day of school at Stadium High. She was excited to be finishing this chapter of her life even though she didn’t have definite plans for her future. But before her final day could even begin my wife began having contractions at 4:30 am. She woke me at about 5:00 to inform me of the immediate change of our plans for that day…and if I wanted a shower NOW was the time to take it. After getting dressed I helped her pack the bag for the hospital, alerted my sleeping mom (who had just arrived the previous day from Wisconsin) and escorted my wife to the car for the drive to the hospital. That drive to the hospital was supposed to take about 12 minutes. It took us closer to 30 minutes because I had to pull over every 2-4 minutes so she could get out of the car and endure the next set of contractions. I’m pretty sure her shrieking really freaked out some guy sitting quietly at a bus stop about 20 feet away during one of the stops. Being a doctor herself, my wife didn’t want to go through the “normal” route to Labor & Delivery, instead choosing to park in the doctor’s lot and walk through the basement to the elevators. Several contractions and concerned looks from hospital employees later we found ourselves at the L&D desk. After a few minutes in the waiting room, where we shrieked out another family, we finally got roomed. Baby J didn’t wait very long to make her appearance once we were settled there. In fact, the doctor on call barely made it back to the room to catch her. Even though I’d been blessed to be a part of five other deliveries, I teared up when she was born and thanked God for the health of mother and child. There is something truly beautiful and miraculous about childbirth. Amazingly enough, this was the first and only delivery in which it was only the two of us in the room with our new baby (and medical team, of course). For each of the other five births we had a gallery of family and friends in the delivery room with us. Pretty sure one of them was standing room only. So, there was something particularly tender about sharing this moment with just my wife and our new baby daughter.

Baby J only a few minutes old.

After a few minutes of gazing at this new child, I called home to tell the good news of Baby J’s arrival. I texted a picture of her and our almost three year old was rather unimpressed with the “cheese” on her new baby sister. We assured her that it would wash off and that made her feel a little bit better. The rest of the morning was spent resting in the room, recovering from the early start and the physical exertion of shoving out delivering a 10 pound baby! After lunch, my oldest (remember, she was at school) texted me, wondering if I was going to pick her up at 2:15 as usual. Since her school was visible from the hospital, I told her that I could drive the few blocks to get her but that she’d have to come back with me to the room. She was excited to meet her baby sister and pleased with the knowledge that she would be the first sibling to make her acquaintance. Her friend Blanca wasn’t too upset to be along for the meet and greet. By about 4 pm we had been given the clearance to go home, so we slowly made our way back down to the car and packed our baby in for the much shorter ride home.

Bringing Baby J home to meet the excited family.

We were greeted at home by four extremely excited siblings and two equally excited grandmothers. It was certainly fortuitous timing that they both arrived (one from Wisconsin and one from Florida) the previous day in advance of my oldest daughter’s Saturday graduation. It’s mostly a blur for me, but I know that we ate an early dinner before departing for my daughter’s softball game about an hour later. It was kind of odd to be watching her play not even 12 hours after watching my baby make her grand entrance. I’m pretty sure I slept well that first night. Thursday and Friday passed without major events. In order to give my wife and baby quiet time together, I took my toddler and our visitors out for much of each day to see some of the local sights. I felt a little bit guilty, that somehow I was neglecting my duties as a SAHD, but my wife assured me that peace and quiet were much appreciated so that she could nurse and nap, uninterrupted. I guess the biggest event was the gradation dress rehearsal for my oldest at the Tacoma Dome. We were spoiled by the presence of both grandmas, who took over cooking, cleaning and childcare while they were visiting. That allowed us to focus on bonding with our new baby. I believe I bonded with her a few times in the form of her napping on my chest while I napped on the sofa. Even now, she’s still Daddy’s girl. Don’t tell my wife.

Saturday was sunny and warm, perfect weather for an indoor graduation ceremony. We arrived at the venue all dressed up and ready to cheer on our graduate. After finding 10 seats together (no small task) we sat down, unprepared for the emotions that were about to seize us. It was quite surreal for me to watch my oldest walking with her friend into the arena while holding my three day old baby almost literally in the palm of my hand.

The graduate holding her baby sister

The graduate holding her baby sister

It was like two worlds colliding. Both filled with so much hope and excitement yet at such different places in life. At some point during the ceremony I made eye contact with my wife and noticed that she, like me, was quite teary. For me, it was a combination of relief and pride and hope. Relief that our daughter had graduated. It’s no secret that her math class (which was needed for graduation) was a major challenge that wasn’t fully resolved until a few days before graduation. And pride. Pride knowing that our daughter had made it this far and pride in successfully raising and guiding a smart, secure and talented young lady to this point in her life. And hope. Hope for her future, as uncertain as it was a year ago. Hope and a belief that she would successfully find her own way in life. After the graduation ceremony we took lots of pictures and then went out for dinner at our favorite local Mexican restaurant to celebrate our daughter’s accomplishment.

Since both grandmothers were in Washington at the same time and our oldest daughter was still “home”, we were allowed a special baby dedication ceremony at our church on Sunday morning. It was a special opportunity for our church family to meet our tiny bundle of joy and rejoice with us. After church was over we said our goodbyes to Florida Grandma and her husband and returned home for more rest and relaxation for mom and baby. I took my mom (Wisconsin Grandma) and three of our kids to Northwest Trek wildlife park. We had a great time learning about and observing the many animals. Perhaps the highlight of the visit was my almost three year old losing her Croc shoe in the water of the bobcat exhibit. It was retrieved for us by a park ranger and returned with the warning, “This should be sterilized before anyone touches it.” But, I digress. While we were at NW Trek, our graduate was busily gathering her belongings and packing what she was taking with her in some large canvas duffel bags. Her plane was scheduled to leave the next morning. It was getting real. My oldest was moving out. There was no stopping her. No last minute change of heart. I don’t even remember what her “last supper” was but I do know that we finished off that evening with s’mores over the campfire in the backyard fire pit.

We hit the road relatively early on Monday morning to get my oldest daughter and Wisconsin Grandma to SeaTac Airport on time. I was determined to not lose it until she left. I almost made it. As I was unloading the last of her bags on to the curb I could feel the tears start to build. We posed for a couple last pictures together before she headed into her future.

So long. Farewell.

So long. Farewell.

It was not lost on me that I dropped her off at almost the exact same time that her baby sister had been born five days earlier. As I pulled away from the curb my emotions washed over me like a wave crashing on the shore. I pulled off at the end of the drop off area and cried. Just. Cried. Through the tears I had the presence to thank God for allowing me to be her Daddy for those first 18 years. And now, with her leaving the safety of our home, I was releasing her into God’s care. While I know that she’ll always be my little girl and that I’ll always be her daddy, there was such a fierce emotion that was released when the finality of her life at home came to be a reality. After a few minutes I had gained my composure enough to drive home where I held my baby and kissed her head.

Fight Like A Girl: A Matter of Perspective

Monday night I opened up the laptop and sat down to write a blog entry. I’d been kicking around a few ideas for a good rant. I thought about writing my thoughts about the terrible shooting in Santa Barbara, California last Friday and the related issues of misogyny, mental illness and gun control. I also considered going off about my lousy backyard neighbor whose puppy escaped his yard and attacked several of my chickens in my backyard earlier in the day. I even considered unloading some thoughts about parents who shout and scream at their children in public as their form of discipline. Yet, nothing really worked for me as I sat there. My heart and mind just weren’t in it. Instead of trudging onward I closed the laptop and went to bed. As I laid there, I realized what I needed to write about; what was bothering me. It was the status update of my friend, AJ.

Well, results of Frehley’s MRI last Friday have shown that the tumors are continuing to grow…. It was our last visit at children’s hospital today, there is nothing more they can do on a medicine point of view. We will truly miss the oncology team at Childrens, they have been our saviors for the last 2+ yrs. They did say they may come for a home visit. As of today we will discontinue chemo meds and continue with just keeping Frehley comfortable. Lisa is taking the summer off of work to be with Frehley, She is doing ok….. we are working on a bucket list of things to do this summer. We will keep you posted on all our adventures. We continue to be in awe of all the support we receive from our friends, family and community. Please STAY STRONG FOR US we are going to need it.
Frehley is his 11 year old daughter. For more than two years she’s been bravely fighting a brain tumor. Her family and friends have rallied around her as she has received many treatments. Her friends started a Facebook page called “Stay Strong Frehley“. T-shirts were sold with the slogan “Fight Like a Girl” across the front. She even got to meet her idol, Selena Gomez. All in an effort to give Frehley encouragement and strength in her battle. While I’ve never met Frehley, I can tell you from following her story these last few years that she is one tough kid. Along with countless others, I’ve been praying for her to beat this. But, barring a miracle, she’s not going to win this battle. I cannot begin to imagine the wide spectrum of emotions AJ and his wife, Lisa, are experiencing right now as they are coming to terms with the fact that there is nothing more that can be done medically for their daughter. For me, as a father of six, I couldn’t imagine anything worse. I guess it took reading this terrible news about Frehley to shake me a bit, to help give me a little perspective. Those other blog topics can wait. They’re not really that important. I can write about them another time, if at all. But, for me, what really matters right now is thinking about what’s important in my life. It’s far too easy to take things like health and loved ones for granted. Sure, we’ve all lost loved ones, maybe even watched them die. We’ve all experienced times of sickness, maybe even extended sickness. But, for the most part, we’ve recovered and moved on with life. It would be easy to get depressed thinking about how sad it is that this young girl is going die way before her time. Instead, I’d like to challenge each of you, including myself, to use Frehley’s story as inspiration and motivation to shake out of the day-to-day routine and refocus yourself. Live. Love. Laugh. Appreciate. Make a family bucket list and start crossing items off as you make memories together.
While I’m not going to pretend to be close friends with AJ and his family, I can assure you that I’m going to continue praying for them as they go through this difficult time. Please note that I asked for and received permission from AJ before sharing Frehley’s story with you. Please share this story with others so that Frehley and her family may be encouraged. I’m sure that they would appreciate knowing that you’re staying strong for them, as well.

Water into Wine

I witnessed a crime before it happened but I didn’t do anything about it. Okay, maybe I’m getting the cart a little ahead of the horse, but not by much. Let me explain. On the way home from a doctor’s appointment I stopped at a market to pick up some locally-grown apples and pears. As we (my two youngest children and I) were driving out of the parking lot I happened to notice a man standing next to his car opening a bottle of wine (probably purchased at this market). What made this unusual sighting almost criminal was the empty water bottle sitting on the roof of his car next to where was standing. It didn’t really hit me as to what he was doing until I was almost a block away waiting to turn into traffic. Putting two and two together, I surmised that this guy was going to get behind the wheel of his car and drink from his water bottle while he was driving. Only he wasn’t going to be drinking water. This realization made me really mad as I immediately thought of my childhood friend Beth, who was killed by a drunk driver when she was only 12.

Sitting at a red light a couple of blocks later I thought about going back to confront the guy before he started driving. I decided not to go back for several reasons: he might already be gone; he could react violently and maybe pull out a gun; I had two young kids in the car with me; I had a lot to do in the next 2 hours before heading to the airport to get my brother; blah blah blah. But it didn’t feel right. As I thought about it more on the rest of my drive home I started to question why I chose to not say or do anything…and what that might say about me. I consider myself a person who is able to distinguish right from wrong and who is action-oriented. If I’m at the park with my kids and some teenagers come and start behaving obnoxiously or inappropriately, I don’t hesitate for a second to speak up. I do what I need to do to protect my kids. This situation was no different, really. While I didn’t technically witness any crime being committed, that man’s actions could have potentially injured others, including my kids. And yet, I was silent. Inactive.

I posted this scenario on my Facebook page and talked about it with my brother later on that afternoon. I think the consensus among them was that I should have intervened discreetly. Simply drive by him a second time, take a picture or video of him and his car and license plate, drive away and call 911. Inform the police and let them choose to get involved or not. It’s times like this where I find myself being more reflective as a parent and a human being. I’m not beating myself up over this situation but I’m learning from it. Hopefully it will better equip me for action down the road. What would you have done in this situation?

(This happened about six months ago and I wrote this post that evening but saved it as a draft…until now.)

Funerals Are Fun

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Over the last couple of weeks I’ve seen several friends post on their blogs or Facebook pages about funerals and it caused me to think about my own experiences with them over the my 41 years of life. For me, funerals are fun. I mean, if it wasn’t for someone dying, I love enjoy going to them. Before you think I have some sort of weird and darkly morbid personality, consider my reasons for such a statement. First, it’s a family reunion of sorts. Nothing brings family together like a wedding or funeral. It’s an unfortunate chance to see and visit with many relatives who live in other parts of the country. In most of the funerals I attended in small towns in Wisconsin the actual ceremony was followed by a meal in the church’s fellowship hall. It was then that the gathered family (and friends) started to reminisce about the good old days with the dearly departed. Which is my second point. The sadness of death becomes a celebration of life as people share why or how they remember the “guest of honor”. I’ve learned so much family history from just listening to long-lost uncles from Milwaukee or Manitowoc tell their stories, each one trying to top the other. The amount of laughter was almost inappropriate considering it was at a funeral. I guess it was an early lesson about how to remember that a funeral doesn’t have to be a sad and somber time if you can use it as a chance to tell the story of the one you loved and miss. By the way, I don’t mean to diminish anyone who is sad and somber at a funeral. People grieve and mourn in different ways and speeds.

Third, you get to see how many lives are impacted by just one person. When my dad died seven years ago, I was amazed and a little surprised by how many people showed up for the visitation and funeral. I expected the family and friends…but I was blown away by the number of people who knew my dad professionally through his career working as a city employee in the public works department. Several guys came through the line and shook my hand, telling me that they never worked with someone who had such integrity. Others praised his tireless work ethic. Even former neighbors that hadn’t seen him in 20+ years showed up and shared nice memories of him. During the luncheon that was held after the ceremony, there was a microphone available for anyone to share a memory about my dad. It was moving to see people stand up and tell how he had impacted their lives.

Fourth, one word. HUGS! In case you missed it, I’m a big hugger. Literally and figuratively. I suppose it took the deaths of the two most important men in my life, my grandfather in 2005 and my father in 2007, for me to realize the power and importance of human touch, particularly the hug. For some reason, people don’t approach tall guys like me for hugs very often. But, hey, giants are people, too! Hugs are good for the body, mind and soul. Don’t wait for a funeral to give someone a hug, though.

Finally, funerals are inspirational. Hearing the stories and seeing how many people are impacted by just one life inspires me to be a better person. It makes me consider what I’m doing with my life and why I’m doing it. And any time I take to look inward and reflect for a few minutes is time well spent. It also gives me a chance to look around and see how many blessings I have in my life and to remember to not take them for granted. After all, you never know when your time is up, so say what needs to be said and live your life!

Honestly, Do The Right Thing

While at a local park last week my three year old daughter learned the hard way why it’s best to leave her toys in the car. Not even 15 minutes into our time there she had her purse full of goodies (lip stuff, a wooden fan and some hair things) stolen. She had set it down while playing on the swings with her friend and it was gone when she looked for it again a little later on. I’m assuming that another chid took it out of curiosity or envy. That doesn’t bother me as much as the idea that her parent was willing to basically condone that behavior by allowing the child to keep the purse that didn’t belong to her. If my child had done that, you can bet that she would have returned that purse the moment I discovered what she had done. Along with an apology. I’m a good teacher when it comes to apologizing. Lots of practice. Just ask my kids. Or my mom.

A friend of mine, Adrienne, posted on Facebook last week that the cashier at the gas station accidentally put her $45 in the wrong pump. No big deal, except that the person who benefitted from that mistake gladly pumped the extra gas before taking off. $50 of gas for only $5! Merry Christmas, right? Thankfully, my friend kept her cool with the cashier (way to go!) and eventually got reimbursed, so at least her story has a happy ending. During the two and a half years that we’ve lived here in Washington my wife’s car (a small SUV) has been hit three times by hit-and-run drivers while her car was parked. And there was not even as much as a note left. Just the calling card of the hit-and-run artist. I could go on and on, as I’m sure all of you readers could as well, sharing stories of times that we’ve been wronged, victims of other people’s inability unwillingness to do the right thing.

So, what’s the big deal? Why is it important to be honest and do the right thing? Does it really matter? I would argue that it does matter if we live lives of integrity and honesty. In general, as a society we depend of the decency of others in order to make it through our daily lives. Following traffic laws is a pretty easy example. Sure, I go 27 in a 25 zone (not in Fircrest, WA or Rosendale, WI, but that’s another story!) or slightly over the posted speed limit when I’m driving. But I stop at red lights and stop signs and such. You get the idea. And, for the most part, so does everyone else. And as a result, we can get around without too many problems. But I’d rather focus on the opportunities we have, as parents, to show our children how to live and how to do the right thing. After all, they’re always watching us, whether we like it or not.

One time a few years ago while out to eat, my son took his water cup up to the soda fountain to get more water but came back with a cup full of lemonade. Instead of looking the other way, he and I went to the cashier and he explained what had happened and paid for his drink. Once we got home he paid me from his own money for the drink. He no longer swipes drinks from the soda fountain unless it’s been paid for. Lesson learned. There have been numerous times over the years that I’ve been a Stay At Home Dad when I’ve received too much change back (on the rare occasions that I pay with cash) and I always give it back. Even if that means hauling the kids back into the store if I don’t catch it right away. There was one instance, back in 2003, when I was early in my SAHD gig that I bought two items on my way to the airport to go out of town for five days. Problem was, when I got to the airport, I looked at the receipt and realized that I had only been charged for one of the items. The day after I returned, I brought the items and the receipt (along with two young kids) and explained to the customer service rep what had happened and wanted to pay for the item. She looked at me like I was crazy and told me that she didn’t know how to do that; that I should just keep the item for free for being so honest. I insisted that I rightfully should’ve paid for the item in the first place and didn’t want to contribute to price mark-ups to make up for stolen items. She shook her head and got her manager, who exclaimed that she had never seen anyone ever! return an item trying to pay for it. After several minutes of furious typing something into the computer at the checkout they finally took my money. I still think of that experience every time I wear that Packers hat or my kids toss that talking Packers football. While it did cost me a few bucks, doing the right thing wasn’t too painful or costly. But that’s not always the case.

A few months after moving here I took an out of town guest and some of our kids to play in the snow at Mount Rainier National Park. While leaving the mostly empty parking lot I managed to back into the rear quarter panel of an unoccupied car that was parked in the lot. It would’ve been easy to check it out and leave. But that thought never crossed my mind. Once I calmed my kids down I wrote a note with my contact information and left it on the person’s car. Later that evening I received an email from the car’s owner. She was very upset (understandable) and a little bit rude to me about my accident. I kindly responded that yes, I did hit her. But she should be thankful that I was raised well by loving parents who taught me good values. So, instead of leaving the scene I owned up to my mistake and did the right thing. I explained that we had been hit-and-run victims multiple times in the first four months of living in Washington, so karma clearly wasn’t working for us in that situation. While it was an expensive mistake to make, the fact that I was able to keep my composure, be honest and do the right thing in front of my children was a priceless lesson for my kids to learn.

Every day we’re faced with situations that are often unpleasant and sometimes even out of our control. I’d encourage you to try to be honest and do the right thing. Even if your kids are not there to watch you, chances are that someone else is. Besides, it feels good. So just do it. (Sorry, Nike.)

Good Bye, Dad. See you in Heaven.

Holding Dad's Hand

My dad passed away seven years ago today. It’s hard to put into words how much I miss him or how often I think of him. Like all of us, he was not a perfect person. He was flawed. Yet, I knew without a doubt that he loved me and was proud of me. How did I know that? Because he got pancreatic cancer that ultimately took his life. But, in the six weeks between his cancer diagnosis and his passing I was able to spend a lot of time with him. At that time I lived two hours away, so I was able to make frequent day trips with my two year old son (pictured) to visit him. y dad was about 10 days from his death, and his body was being ravaged by the effects of the cancer. His skin was turning orange. He lost so much weight that he looked like a concentration camp survivor. And his once-sharp mind was failing, leaving only fleeting moments of lucidity. It was so hard to watch this man I loved all my life suffer while there was nothing I could do to help him. It was during one of those visits at the Hospice facility that my dad had a brief but oh-so-meaningful conversation with me.

He awoke from his sleep and smiled upon seeing me at his bedside, not remembering that I had been there for several hours already that day. I didn’t know if he was going to talk or go back to sleep, but he spoke, asking about how my family was doing. After my reply he proceeded to tell me that he was very proud the man I had become; of my choice to become a Stay At Home Dad six years before. He continued to tell me that he thought I was a good husband and father and that he was pleased with me. This was new to me, as he had not been very verbally supportive of either my college major (Elementary Education) or my career change (teacher to SAHD). He finished by looking me in the eyes, pulling me in for an embrace, and whispering faintly into my ear, “I love you, Carl.” It was the last meaningful conversation I would have with my dad.

Nine days later, on the evening of May 12, my mom called to tell me that the Hospice staff had called her to let her know that they didn’t think my dad would live much longer. Since the next day was Mother’s Day, I was already planning on driving up to see my mom (and dad). But, after her phone call, I left a bit sooner, arriving at the Hospice center around 11 pm. I entered my dad’s room to find my mom and younger brother (and his wife and young son) already there by his bed. We exchanged hugs and kisses and chatted for a few minutes. After a couple of minutes of silence, we decided to sing a few hymns that were among my dad’s favorites, as music had always been a big part of his life. Once the songs were sung, my brother left to take his family back to my parents’ house so they could sleep (my brother would return). My mom and I sat quietly on either side of my dad’s bed, each of us holding one of his hands as he lay in an unresponsive slumber, the silence only broken by each of his labored breaths. We knew that his time was near. As it was already well past midnight by this time, I quietly noted “Happy Mother’s Day” to my mom.

A little after t 1 am that night I noticed that my dad’s breathing had slowed considerably. I held my mom’s hand while we both held my dad’s hands and said a quick prayer, asking God to take my dad home soon so that he wouldn’t suffer any longer. Minutes later, while we were singing a solemn “Amazing Grace” between tears and deep breaths, my dad breathed his last breaths and entered his new home. It was the most sacred and solemn moment of my entire life, to be with a loved one, praying him into the Kingdom. I take great comfort in my faith, believing that I will see my dad again, only this time it will be in Heaven and he won’t be suffering. Later that day, while talking with my kids on the phone about what had happened during the early morning hours of Mother’s Day, one of my kids said something that changed my perspective about the sadness of him dying on Mother’s Day. “It’s okay, Daddy. Now Papa gets to spend Mother’s Day with his mommy in Heaven.”

Good bye, Dad. See you in Heaven.

Thank you, Mom

Dear Mom,

Today is Mother’s Day and I didn’t get you anything. Not even a card. And I’m not sorry. It was suggested that I order some flowers for you but I couldn’t do that after what I wrote just a few days ago without being a complete hypocrite. Mother’s Day isn’t about giving your mom flowers or jewelry any more than Father’s Day is about giving your dad a new tie or tool. I’ve come to realize it’s about showing genuine appreciation in honoring someone who has loved me since before I was born and continues to love and support me to this day.

As a child I don’t think I ever really appreciated the hard work and sacrifices you made in order to make my childhood so enjoyable and positive. As the stay at home parent these last 13 years I’ve really grown to understand the enormity of what you did for us. I know it wasn’t always easy or enjoyable for you but I loved having you as my mom. I know that you sacrificed your career to be at home. Thank you for providing the loving environment which allowed us kids to grow and thrive. I can’t speak for my siblings, but I’m glad that you were home with us. While I’m pretty sure you weren’t perfect, I can’t remember a time where you ever lost your patience with us or even yelled at us. And I’m certain that we were angels pretty challenging at times. Remember that time I got Dave and Liz to race around the house but had them crash into each other on purpose? Or when you were in the kitchen and we kids were in the living room slapping our own legs and chests so loudly that you came in ready to punish us for fighting only to find us laughing? Yeah. Sorry. But thanks for being patient with us.

Because of you I have a treasure trove of amazing childhood stories to tell my own kids. Possibly my favorite childhood memory is coming home from school to find the aroma of freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies wafting through the air the moment I opened the front door. I’d set my backpack down and hurry into the kitchen to give you a hug before scarfing down a dozen, give or take. To this day I think of you every time I make cookies with and for my kids. I hope that they will have positive cookie memories like I do. Even if sometimes I recount the time that my 4 year old brother put some of his chewed gum inside a cookie dough ball and I ate the baked result. Good times.

I always knew that you loved me and were proud of me. I have a distinct memory of you telling me in church one Sunday when I was maybe 10-11 that you liked my singing. Ever since that day, no matter what anyone else might say about my voice, I feel the confidence of your words. Thank you for that boost of confidence, Mom. You were so encouraging in whatever I wanted to do. When Dad didn’t see the merit in my desire to become a teacher you encouraged me to follow my heart, saying that you could see how I’d make a great teacher, citing the example of how I taught my younger sister how to throw a football with a tight spiral. A few years later you were one of my biggest supporters in my decision to quit teaching and become a Stay At Home Dad. Thank you for believing in me when most others doubted.

Finally, thank you, Mom, for being my friend. As a child I never really appreciated you as a person other than “mom”. As an adult and parent myself I have a different perspective. Yes, you’re (obviously) still my mother, but that’s not all. You’re my friend. I love doing stuff with you. I’m glad that we were able to go to a couple of incredible Wisconsin Badgers football games together. Remember that win against #1 ranked Ohio State and how we got to go on the field after the win? UW OSU in stands

Or watching Russell Wilson lead a 4th quarter comeback as Wisconsin won the first Big Ten Championship in 2011? Those big games and wonderful memories associated with them pale in comparison to the many phone calls and in person visits we’ve shared over the years. Going to games and other places or events are nice, but a true relationship and friendship is so much more valuable. Thank you for all of your advice, encouragement, love and support over the years. Even though we’re separated by almost 2,000 miles I don’t know if I’ve ever felt closer to you, Mom. Thanks for all you’ve done for me. I love you. I hope you’re not upset about a lack of card.

Carl

Boycott Mother’s Day?

Mothers_Day

It’s that time of year again where we’re all reminded to pay homage to moms. There’s even a whole day set aside in one week to recognize how fantastic and wonderful and perfect and amazing moms are and how lucky we are to have them in our lives. While it’s true that none of us would be here if not for our mothers, I find the whole idea of “Mother’s Day” to be quite ridiculous and contrived. Sure, the idea of stopping and showing appreciation for the countless hours and unconditional love is nice. Maybe it’s even something moms look forward to. I know for sure that Hallmark and Kay Jewelers are among the many businesses that pressure us to show our moms (or wives) how much they are appreciated by showering them with cards and expensive gifts and maybe even a special dinner that mom doesn’t have to prepare. But, why? Why only one day in May? I’m not suggesting that we have “Mother’s Day” multiple times each year. What I’m suggesting is that we show our appreciation and love more than one time each year.

How about instead of buying into the commercial aspect of the day we show true appreciation? Write her a letter. (Email doesn’t count.) Take mom for a walk in a park to look at the flowers while you engage in conversation. Make a photo collage or book and give it to her. Don’t buy her flowers or jewelry now (stores jack the prices now for suckers like us). Wait until some other random time (or times) and surprise her with flowers and a note of thanks. Do make her a nice dinner at home. Don’t overpay at some crowded restaurant. Take her out for dinner some other time. If you must eat out, maybe get it to go and make it a picnic at a park. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on your mom but you do need to spend your time with her. Celebrate her and help her to know how much you appreciate her. But don’t just do it next Sunday and then wait a whole year to do it again. I assure you that it won’t get old if you do it over and over and over…as long as you mean it. Thank you, moms, for all you do. You are loved and appreciated by this guy.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that anyone actually boycott celebrating Mother’s Day. Like most holidays (Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, etc.) it is the over-the-top commercialization in our culture that I’m railing against. Mothers deserve our highest honor and respect all year long and they don’t need a necklace to prove it…just like I don’t need a tie or some other kitchy thing to prove my worth on Father’s Day.

 

Moms-What do YOU think? Did I get it right or am I way off base? Please let me know. I genuinely am interested in your comments.

You won’t believe what my 14 year old posted on Facebook

Facebook

Yesterday afternoon my 14 year old daughter made me so proud to be her father that I’m going to tell you about it right now. Call it a “humble brag” if you want, but reading what she posted as her status on Facebook yesterday brought a tear to my eye for not only the truth in what she wrote but also because it’s the kind of leadership that I want for my children to embrace.

Here’s her status:

It honestly makes me so mad when I see people commenting on pictures telling their friends that they look Autistic. It makes me sad what our generation has come to. It’s as if people have no respect anymore for those who really are Autistic. Seriously, just put yourself in another person’s shoes. Think about how they would feel if they saw someone mocking the way they look. Think before you make the comment, because what you say really does hurt people. I don’t care if it was meant to be funny, it’s just not okay. Kids my age are always wondering why adults don’t have as much respect for them anymore, and this is why. Making fun of other people is not cool or funny, nor does it make you any more popular. It just puts people down and makes them lose respect for you. It also makes the many people who can see it lose respect for you. THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK. Sorry about the rant. I just thought it needed to be said.

To those of you with young children I want to encourage you to really think about the message that you’re sending them every time you open your mouth. They’re watching and listening and learning from your example. They’re also watching to see if you stand up for people who don’t fit within society’s awfully narrow definition of “normal”. Perhaps they will be encouraged and empowered to stand up for others in the face of potential backlash from their own peers. I remember a banner that used to hang at a school where I used to teach. It’s message was clear and very applicable to what my daughter did.

Doing what it popular isn’t always right. Doing what is right isn’t always popular.

Unlike many jobs where you can see tangible results of your efforts or your supervisor gives you an annual review, being a Stay At Home Dad (or Mom) requires a LOT of patience. You have to embrace the notion of delayed gratification and have faith that what you’re doing as a parent is going to work out well (or at least not screw up your kid so much that therapy can’t undo it). So, for me it’s a pretty big deal to see my daughter put such a post on her page where her friends can see it. I want my kids to be kind, considerate and compassionate people who are willing to be leaders when necessary. In this case, my daughter saw something written on Facebook and, unlike many of her peers, didn’t turn the other way and keep on scrolling. She stood up for what she knew was right and spoke the truth. Way to go!