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.

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.


Six lessons I’m learning from my kids right now

All six kids from last summer


As I was sitting in church this Sunday morning I looked over at my wonderful ten month old baby daughter who was sleeping soundly in her car seat, completely oblivious to the music and singing all around her. It was at that moment that I was inspired to write this post about the lessons that my children are trying to teach me right now. My wife and I have six children together in six very different stages of life. As a long-time Stay At Home Dad (and former teacher) I’m usually the one teaching my kids about life while my wife is busy bringing home the bacon. But I realized that, if I’m paying attention, each of my six kids are trying to teach me life lessons if I’m paying attention.

1. Follow your heart and chase your dreams. My oldest daughter is 19 and moved out two days after graduating high school last June. She’s a beautiful and talented musician who is not attending college right now. Instead, she’s working three jobs, volunteering at her church and living life on her terms. She has a heart for missions and music and recently was accepted to a school in Australia for next year. She’s teaching me that it’s okay to do things out of the ordinary…because they just might lead to something extraordinary (like school in Australia!). I’m so proud of her.

Sister love when she was home for Christmas

2. Challenge yourself mentally and physically. My second daughter is 14 and a freshman in high school. She is a hard-working student and is doing her best to earn a 4.0 for the entire year. She is doing that on top of participating in two seasons of high school sports and honor society and the required service hours each semester. I really admire her dedication to academic excellence and her sports teams. She wasn’t particularly interested in team sports as a younger child (although she did excel on swim team) so it was a bit of a surprise when she decided to be on both the swim team in the fall semester and water polo team in the spring semester. While she’s not a superstar at either sport she has shown grit in doing whatever the coach has asked of her even when not being rewarded with much playing time in games. She’s determined and improving every day.

That’s her swimming with the ball.

In just one year she’s participated in more high school sports than I did in all four years of my high school experience. Well done!

3. Have a sense of humor and creativity in every day life. My third daughter is 12 and in sixth grade. While it can be a tad taxing at times to deal with her humor and creativity I have to admit that she’s pretty clever. Besides, I think it’s from me. She helps me to see that life is more enjoyable when you laugh a bit and think a bit outside of the box. Last year she designed and made a small chicken coop to house a couple of baby chicks. On her own. My only help was supervision of her use of the electric saw. Her love of pranks is evidenced every April first and many other times throughout the year.If I’m stuck with something or need a different way to look at a problem I can talk to her and she often thinks of solutions that blow my mind. Just the other day she saw a bag from my wife’s recent shopping trip and exclaimed how cool it was for stores to have a “time-you-bought-it bag”. She didn’t believe me that the name of the store was actually Tuesday Morning.  I love the way she thinks.

4. It’s okay to get messy and dirty. My favorite son is 9 and in fourth grade. Need I say more? Those of you with boys will understand in ways that those with only girls probably won’t. I didn’t believe it myself until he came along just how different boys and girls are. While my daughters had instances where they got messy or dirty he has taken it to a new level. He loves to be outside, rain or shine. And that’s a good thing because we live in Washington state, where today we had, at various times, sunshine, pouring rain and pellet-sized hail. He’s the one who “discovered” that his leg would sink almost to his knee in the wet and muddy corner of the yard. There have been multiple instances of him coming to the back door in various states of undress because he’s covered in mud and needs to go straight to the shower. It’s okay because it makes him happy and it washes off just fine. With him every day is “Earth Day” in my kitchen


Digging a hole to plant a tree


5. Jump into life with complete abandon. My fourth daughter is 3, going on 13. She is currently in the throes of the “princess” stage that each of my older girls went through at about the same age. Almost every day involves some sort of dress-up and sometimes even a tiara or wand. Or a baby named “Peanut Butter”. Whenever my son has a friend over this is the daughter who gushes about how handsome that friend is and how she’s going to marry him some day. I suppose that really does fit the mindset of a Disney princess not named Elsa from Frozen. But I digress. She’s a bundle of energy and enthusiasm for life and trying all sorts of new things. Right away. I guess I really noticed it this morning when I asked her to come give me a hug. She turned and ran toward me (I was sitting on the sofa). She launched herself at me from about two feet away, landing a perfect flying hug in the process. Thankfully, I was able to catch her and wrap her up in a hug.


6. Life is simple. Sleep. Eat. Fill your pants. Play. Laugh. Snuggle. And repeat. My fifth daughter is 10 months and busy exploring her ever-increasing world. While it’s my job to meet her needs every day she is quickly becoming her own unique person with her own personality and voice. And, based on the many interactions during the service at church, she is becoming quite friendly. I especially treasure our nightly routine of snuggling on the bed so that we can read a few stories together before she goes to sleep. Sometimes life just needs to be more simple.


Happy baby

What are your kids trying to tell you? If you’re like me, it’s easy to make yourself too busy to learn from them. There are loads of distractions, from cell phones, work, cleaning, cooking. etc. But, take time to celebrate your children and whatever stage they’re  at in life. Just be present and in the moment. It’s simple, really.

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!

Actions Speak Louder


Once in a while something happens to me that rocks me to my core and I become a blubbering mess of emotions as I process what I’m feeling. That happened to me just a few days ago thanks to my 19 year old daughter, Nora. She graduated high school last June and two days later moved almost 2,000 miles away. Over the last 10 months I’ve seen her in person three times but almost daily thanks to FaceTime on our iPhones. So, while my “active parenting” with her is over, I’m still able to be close to her and maintain a pretty nice relationship with her. It was during one of our chats last week that she told me she was writing a song about something that I did over four years ago, when we were still living in Madison, Wisconsin. Here’s what I did back in September of 2009. I bought a bunch of sandwiches and curly fries from Arby’s and brought it down to State Street in downtown Madison to share it with the many panhandlers who worked the area. I told my kids what I had done (they were all in school at the time) and they thought it was pretty cool. I suppose we had a few minor discussions about why they’re asking for money and why they don’t work and stuff like that as well as why it’s nice to be able to share something real like food with people who need it. And that was about the extent of it.

And then Nora told me that she wrote a song about what I did and how “actions speak louder than words”. She sent me an audio file of her new song and I began to cry as soon as I heard it. (I was driving at the time and had to pull over to the curb for a few minutes.) The beauty of her voice and the guitar and the meaning of the lyrics pierced my soul and reminded me that my years of hard work and dedication as a SAHD and parent for her were not in vain. What really got to me was hearing her telling others through her song the exact message that I was trying to convey when I helped out the street beggars that time. More lyrics: It’s not what you say…because you show your love when you give it away. It was a touching reminder to me that my kids are watching me all the time to see if my actions match my words. If nothing else, I hope that my children will know the importance of living a life of integrity and compassion and love…and that I can inspire that in them if my actions are in tune with my words. I know I’m not perfect, but I’m trying!

Playing Hooky

Yesterday I played hooky from my job as a Stay At Home Dad and my kids loved it. After saying good-bye to my wife and three school age kids I had the rest of the day planned out in my head for my younger two kids. We were going to have breakfast, go to gymnastics class at the YMCA and then return home for naps so I could catch up on folding a few loads of laundry. But all of that changed with a text. My buddy Mike, who, like me, is a SAHD, texted me just as the gymnastics class was finishing up. He wanted to know what we were doing on such a beautiful day…and did we want to meet him and his two children at the park? It took me about a second to realize that our plans were going to change. The laundry would just have to wait.

So, I buzzed home, grabbed some food and then drove to the park with my kids, arriving just moments before Mike and his kids. We spent the next couple of hours together, chatting about life and the challenges and rewards of being a SAHD while our kids happily played together. The sunshine and mid-60s temps combined with the freshness of the woods and water to make it just about a perfect afternoon. We capped off the spontaneous play date with a short walk through the woods. It was fun to point out to the kids the various signs of spring such as flowers popping up, moss growing all over trees and mud puddles. LOTS of mud puddles. I look forward to many more opportunities to play hooky with my kids and make memories like we did yesterday.


Repeat after me…

Over the past few weeks I’ve been intrigued by both the NFL and Lean In attempting to persuade people to not use certain words. According to reports, the NFL is considering making it a penalty for a player to use the N-word on the field. Sheryl Sandberg of Lean In and others have started a campaign to #banbossy. I know of other campaigns to ban words from our daily usage as well. While in high school, my oldest daughter alerted me to the campaign Spread the Word to Stop the Word in relation to the term retarded. I know there are other words that people or groups have tried to ban, also with perfectly legitimate reasons. However, I don’t want to debate the merit of any of these campaigns. I’d rather look at childhood language development since I’m viewing this through the lens of a dad with young children.

As a parent, and specifically as a SAHD (but this applies to any At Home parent) because I’m around my kids so much, I have a huge influence on the development of my children. I am fully aware of this critical role I play in their lives and that’s one of the many reasons I chose to become a SAHD over 13 years ago. One of the biggest areas of influence is in the words I choose to use with my kids. And in front of my kids. They learn how to talk and what words to use from how I speak around them. Back in 1998, when my oldest was only three years old, my younger brother brought his girlfriend to meet us all for the first time. At some point during their visit his girlfriend said “stupid” in a playful manner about something. My daughter heard it and told her very seriously, “We don’t say that word in our family.” To this day they still joke with my daughter about that incident (my little brother married her despite her potty mouth). I wish that I could report that the term “stupid” is never uttered in our house. The point of that cute story is to illustrate that language is learned and can be guided. I go back to my own childhood for a not-so-cute memory about the word nigger.

I remember being in the back seat of my grandpa’s large Buick sedan as we drove from Lake Michigan back to his house across town in Racine, Wisconsin. To get back to his house we had to go through a part of town that wasn’t middle-class white. Being born in 1902, my grandpa used the term nigger like it was no big deal when talking about black people. Although, in this particular instance he was using it in a rather derogatory manner because he probably felt threatened by the black people “taking over” his beloved city. Was he racist? Most likely. He died in 1990 when I was only 17 so I can’t really speak to his thoughts about black people. But, I can say that his use of that term was very jarring for me. It wasn’t a word we used in my house. Looking back at that memory makes me appreciate the fact that I never heard my own father use that term even though he grew up with a father who used it. My father chose to break away from the pattern of his childhood in how he raised his family. I’ll be forever grateful to him for that choice. I know plenty of people today who still use that term to try to express their hate and vitriol for black people. It’s probably one of the most loaded and vile words in the English language. Even typing the word nigger for this post makes me very uncomfortable. (My guess is that it makes you equally uncomfortable to read it and that’s the point!) It is a word that I don’t use and have never even typed before because it is so terribly offensive and hurtful. My nine year old son had never heard of the term when I asked him about it before writing this post. So, I explained a little bit about it and made him promise to never use that word and to speak up if he ever hears someone else use it. While a small piece of his childhood innocence was lost in that conversation I hope that I’ve begun to instill in him a sense of moral and civic responsibility to speak up when people use words like nigger (or retarded, faggot, homo, etc.) which are meant to hurt and demean others. I asked my 14 and 12 year old daughters if they knew what the term meant and they both told me that they learned about it in school from teachers. My 14 year old said, “I know it’s bad. Besides, it’s not like you and mom ever use that word.” So, since I don’t use the N-word at all, much less around my kids. I must be a great dad, right?

Not so fast! I’ve been fortunate enough to be a SAHD for many years. One of the things I get to do is drive my kids to/from school and all over the place as we do stuff together. While I don’t swear at all or beep my horn much, I do enjoy venting a little bit at the stupid (we don’t say that word, either!) drivers who are constantly surrounding me. It’s not even on the scale of road rage or anything like that. Just some good sarcastic humor to help me cope with their stupidity (sorry again). Only problem is that I’ve got ears in the back seat with a mouth that repeats. This point was illustrated not too long ago when my adorable three year old noticed the Prius ahead of us not moving when the light turned green. Naturally, she admonished the driver to go, saying “Come on old lady, find the gas pedal!”. While I was proud that she was contextually correct in the application of her language, I was appalled at what I’d just heard. When my daughter opened her mouth, I heard myself. Pretty sobering. It was at that moment that I decided that I needed to curb my comments, although once in a while a “Learn how to drive!” or “Roundabouts just aren’t that hard!” flies out of my pie-hole before I realize it.

By sharing these different stories I’m trying to raise awareness about the importance of the words we each choose to use. And yes, it’s a choice. How we talk to and in front of our children can, does and will influence what words they choose to use. It also tells a lot about the kind of person we each are on the inside. If we, as parents, would choose to use our words to build up and encourage one another instead of to tear down, then we wouldn’t need to have campaigns to ban certain words. And that starts at home with us, setting expectations for our children while being mindful of the influence that we have on their development. They’re always watching us and absorbing like big sponges. The bottom line is that our words have power.; the power to build up or the power to tear down. I’ll leave you with one last anecdote that just happened today. As we were driving, one of my older kids said the word “stupid” and my three year old said, “Oooh. You’re going to get in trouble. My daddy doesn’t allow his kids use that word!” Message received and delivered.

Bad Dad: Seeking Forgiveness


Saturday started out on the right foot. I woke up and went to the YMCA to hit the elliptical machine for a 45 minute workout while my wife fed breakfast to our youngest children. Upon my return home I was back in charge of them so she could shower. Without going into the details, some of my older children got into a conflict while I was “in charge”. In a few moments of poor parenting I made some choices that I wish I could take back. But, since there’s no “EASY” button like in those Staples ads, I had to endure the consequences of my poor parenting choices. The peaceful Saturday morning had been shattered, replaced with a tension and uneasiness because I didn’t handle the conflict between two of my children appropriately. I actually caused it to escalate by my actions. With one of my kids crying in a bedroom and another with me in the kitchen while I fed my baby breakfast I began to realize the depth of my parenting failure that morning.

I started to replay the events in my mind, trying to justify my behavior so that I wouldn’t feel so bad about how I’d (mis)handled the conflict. Before I could get too far into that line of thinking my wife came into the kitchen to let me know that I’d royally screwed up that morning. She didn’t say it exactly that way, but that’s the version I’m sticking with. And I knew she was right. Even in my defensive state of mind I was still able to recognize truth. I knew that I needed to apologize to both of my kids for the way I had acted in response to their conflict. As a parent, I’m usually able to keep my cool and respond appropriately. In this instance, I had failed to do that and had failed them. I knew better. And they deserved better. So, there it was. I owed them each an apology.

The good news is that when I was very young my parents taught me how to apologize and seek forgiveness whenever I wronged someone else. The bad news is that I’ve had way too much practice doing that over the years. In all seriousness, though, I’ve learned that most people will accept an apology if they can see and understand that I’m truly sorry. Many are almost caught off-guard when asked to forgive me. There’s a look that they give me that’s a mix of wonder, shock and gratitude. Unfortunately, as a parent I make mistakes. However, each time that I do I try to use it as an opportunity to grow as a parent and to model for my children how to apologize. This time was no different. I went to each child and explained how I had messed up and how I would handle the conflict in the future if it were to arise. Then I apologized and asked forgiveness. It’s especially hard for me to do that when I can see the hurt that I’ve caused in the eyes of my child. Thankfully, each of them forgave me and we’re moving on from it.

I guess that’s the other part of the “forgiveness” lesson I’ve learned over the years. While seeking forgiveness is important, being willing to grant forgiveness is truly the key. I could go on and on about the importance of forgiveness but I’ll try to leave it with this: Forgiving the mistakes of others is the key to happy and healthy relationships. Life is too precious to live in the land of UN-forgiveness.

PS-That’s supposed to be a “bad” or “scary” face. Don’t laugh. It’s the best I could come up with. It’s not like I was planning on blogging about a parenting fail. 🙂

Lego time

“Dad, will you please help me build my Lego airplane?”. It was a very simple request by my nine year old son as I walked by his room last night. I paused before responding, thinking of the kitchen that needed tidying and laundry that needed folding before I went to bed. But, instead of using those excuses, I decided that it was a perfect time for some father-son Lego building. The chores would have to wait. As I entered his room his face lit with a smile and I knew that I had chosen wisely.

The Lego plane he was building had a booklet of 51 steps for it to be fully assembled. Yeah, fifty one! To complicate matters slightly was the fact that he had taken apart all of his (previously-assembled) Lego kits and separated all of the bricks by color in their own plastic bins. So, for each step we had to open the plastic box (he’s very organized!) that corresponded to that brick’s color and find it. Think “needle in a haystack” for every single brick.


But, I had checked my attitude at the door and, instead of feeling frustrated at how long this was taking, I cheerfully worked with him on this project. What was interesting was how he started talking while we were working together, sharing his thoughts about school, friends and other stuff that was important to him. It reminded me again of why I choose to be a StayAt Home Dad: for a moment like this where I can simply leave everything else for a while and devote my entire attention to my child. No distractions.

After well over an hour of this easy-going time together I gave him a warning that it would be time to clean up and go to sleep in 15 minutes. Instead of the usual complaining and delaying, he nodded. When the time came, we worked together to quickly put the hundreds of Lego bricks away in their proper boxes. He didn’t complain even one time that the airplane wasn’t finished. Instead, he thanked me for spending so much time with him and requested more “Lego time” with me for the next day (today). After he crawled under his covers and we prayed together, I leaned over to give him a hug and kiss. He surprised me by not letting go of me as quickly as he normally does and told me, “I love you, Dad. Good night.”

I gently closed his door and stood there silently in the hall, wondering why I had even paused at his initial request. The chores were going to have to get used to waiting. This kind of quality time was far more important.