Five Photos, Five Stories. Day Three: Kissing Daddy

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

Day Three: Kissing Daddy

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Butterfly Kisses

This picture is just over two years old and I chose it for today because that lovely little girl giving her daddy (ME!) is celebrating her fifth birthday today. There really is no story behind this picture other than my daughter decided to plant a kiss on my cheek when we were at Titlow Beach on Puget Sound in Tacoma, just south of the famous Tacoma Narrows Bridge. My mom happened to be visiting from out of town and thankfully had her camera at the ready. This wasn’t a staged shot and I didn’t even know that this picture existed until months later when I happened to see it on my mom’s Facebook page. All I can say is that I love everything about this picture. In fact, I’m going to simply let this picture carry its weight in words (it’s worth a thousand of them, right?) and gracefully bow out by wishing my sweet and sassy little girl a happy birthday. I love you with all of my heart, for ever and ever.

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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!

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.

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

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Digging a hole to plant a tree

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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.

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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.

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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.

Reach out and touch someone

I like to hug. There. I said it. I’m a giant and I like to hug. And that weirds a lot of people out. Even my own kids at times. I wasn’t always a huggy kind of a guy. I used to be more of a hearty handshake and maybe a man-hug. Make sure to lean at the waist and don’t linger. That could be uncomfortable. Personal bubble invasion issues. The only people I gave “real” hugs were my parents and my wife. That worked for me reasonably well until I became a father at age 22. After my baby was born I showered her with all kinds of affectionate hugs and kisses and life was good. My wife and I were blessed with two more daughters over the next seven years. During that time I quit my job teaching and became a full time stay at home dad. Our daughters were affectionately loved and cared for by us. We held hands while walking together to the park. My girls climbed into my lap to read stories. They started giving me “fall-over” hugs where they would get a running start and leap into my arms and we’d fall over and laugh and hug. By the time my son was born in 2004 my oldest daughter was nine and had already started to pull back ever so slightly from the hugs and hand holding. She was growing up. Determined to still be affectionate with her (and my other kids as they grew up) I made an effort to give them each a hug at bed time. They didn’t really like it. Unfortunately, I didn’t persist. It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized I wasn’t really having as much physical contact with my kids once they became 8-10 years old as I had when they were younger. As I thought about it some more I realized that was kind of the way it was with my own dad when I was a kid. My mom tended to be more affectionate and my dad would be more of the disciplinarian. I knew he loved me but he certainly wasn’t super huggy or physically affectionate. I didn’t really know what to do with my own kids, how to change our attitudes and perceptions about hugs and other physical affection without it being “awkward”.

Then my dad got sick. In early 2007, at age 66, my health-conscious and fit father, was diagnosed with pancreatitis and was hospitalized several times over the course of a couple of months. Turns out that first diagnosis was a little off, because at the end of March, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Weeks to live. Maybe a few months. We were all in shock. But what happened to me as a result of that awful experience was that I rediscovered my inner teddy bear.

As I said before, I’m kind of a giant. I’m 6’8″ tall. I have to duck to avoid hitting my head when I go through most doors. I’m a nice guy but (apparently) a little intimidating when others see me. But cancer didn’t care. My dad’s cancer and six week journey through hospice leading to his death that May six years ago transformed me in many ways. Perhaps the most significant was the power of human touch. As my friends learned of my father’s condition they often expressed their concern and support and asked what they could do to help. That was all very thoughtful and much appreciated. One friend, a neighborhood mom that I’ve known since our oldest daughters started school together, saw me at the grocery store and asked about my dad. Upon hearing my grim report, she simply walked over and gave me a hug. No words needed. Not sexual. Just one human comforting another. Beautiful. After my dad passed away there were many people who offered their condolences at his service. While the memories people shared were nice to hear, it was the physical touch – holding hands and hugging – that were the most comforting.

Recently I came across an article on http://www.goodmenproject.com that talked about how we, as men, are missing out on the benefits of gentle, platonic touch with other people. That struck such a chord with me and stirred up my memories that I just shared. And it caused me to examine my own life and how I parent my kids. Why is it that my 3 year old daughter excitedly holds my hand when we’re walking but her older sisters and brother wouldn’t be caught dead doing that? Is there something that I could do to change that? Why does one of my older kids ask me to give her a hug many nights before going to bed when another one literally almost punches me if I try to hug or kiss her? I don’t have the answers. Interestingly, though, my only son is nine. And he and I have a pretty close relationship. While he doesn’t hold my hand, he wants me to put him to bed every night and allows me to hug and kiss him (cheek only!) before sleep. But he won’t let my wife hug or kiss him.

One of the many things I love about the church my family attends is the real sense of community there. I noticed it from the first moment of the first day we walked in. In the ensuing 20 months since that first visit I’ve gotten to know a lot of the men who also call that their church home. While I’m not particularly close to a lot of the guys what’s really struck me is the level of the brotherly love at my church. And the hugs. Not the awkward hugs like I described in the first paragraph. Real hugs where you actually embrace the other person and hug. It’s amazing. Once in a while I’ll forget where I am and extend my hand to a guy only to have my arm practically yanked off as he pulls me into an embrace. And that was my buddy Rob who is maybe 5’6″ but with a huge heart. Going to church each week and getting hugged has really helped my emotional and spiritual well being. I’m forced to be real. About a month ago my buddy Kyle greeted me and I half-heartedly gave him a hug and pulled back. He looked at me and admonished me to “Do it like you mean it, bro!”. And gave me one of the biggest bear hugs imaginable. I guess I should mention that Kyle is a former offensive lineman and stands about 6’4″. He’s almost as big as the senior pastor (another former O-lineman) who also gives great hugs. Until becoming a part of this particular church community I had rarely experienced the brotherly love and support from others that comes from physical touch.

As a SAHD I have the unique opportunity to literally touch the lives of my children in both a figurative and literal sense. I want them to know the power of human touch in a positive way. I need to challenge myself to empower my kids to express their feelings and emotions through positive platonic touch. Follow AT&T’s advice from the 80s and “reach out and touch someone”.

No go find someone to hug.