fatherhood

Some are less and some are more : An update, of sorts.

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It seems about once a year or so I go through a phase of questioning my writing and the purpose of this blog. This past phase was a bit longer than normal, but also a bit more clarifying. That is, once I was asked to clarify why I was backing off, “Because I’m trying to be more healthy.”

“That’s pretty ambiguous,” my friend said, shaking his head, “explain.”

So I did. It went something like this:

Two maybe, but never three:

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For the past several years, I’ve been working hard on writing more consistently. “One post a day,” I promised myself. Even if it was simple and short, I had to write/publish something on my blog or work on a chapter for my book.

Then we moved (again), I started Grad classes, kids entered sports, and then, and then, and then. Somewhere in there was my marriage, social life, and gaining a few extra unneeded pounds. My life was busy and certainly productive, but it was not healthy.

So I gave up writing for a while.

“But that was really good for you,” my friend reminded me. And he was right, it is. Writing is not only therapeutic, it’s clarifying and inspiring and something I truly love. But so is my marriage, my kids, and the many other things that take up time and demand thought.

Then, my wife posted this:

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Do you know the good years when you’re right in them, or do you only recognize them after your future is the past, and it’s all come and gone? 
I took a small break like I always do this time of year because it is work, heart-life-work, this bittersweet pursuit to hold on to time just so. If I get too distracted, if there is just too many things and I hold it too loosely, life slips through my fingers and falls to regret. But if there is a desperate clenched grip, it squeezes through anyways. Grip too tight? Not tight enough? These are the days, the good days. 
It is finally Spring, which means lamb kisses in barns and sports are over. It also means road trip camping season has nearly begun. 

I’m terrified. Terrified of wasting time, of missing out on opportunities, and of one day looking back with regret. But more than anything, I’m terrified my kids will grow up without great memories of their father. If they one day, many years from now, described me as hard working, loyal, and a man of character, I would be happy. But also a bit disappointed because, as much as those qualities mean to me, I also want my kids to one day look back at the life their dad lived and say, “He inspired me to live.”

Which is why, recently, I ran The Spartan Race with my son.

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If you follow me on social media, you’re probably tired of this photo. But I’m not. This photo, to me, is a reminder to get out more, to try new things, to push boundaries, and to endure. It’s a reminder to prove I’m alive, to myself for sure but even more so for my kids who are watching, day in and day out. “Prove you’re alive!”, I tell them, but they don’t always listen. Because they’re kids. But when I live it, when I put the phone down, the computer away, and the books back on the shelf, when I take a weekend (with the support of my loving wife) and break out of the norm and and run a race with my oldest son, they see it, they experience it, and they want to live it too.

“Can I do it next year?” my two daughters asked.

“You bet,” I said, “And I’ll do it again with you.”

“Me too,” Judah yelled from the backseat, “And next year, I’m gonna beat my time.”

Me too.

I may not be writing as much lately, which, if I’m honest, is frustrating and sad. But because I’m writing less lately, I have more time for other things, for life things, and for the moments that are fleeting quickly. And I don’t think I’ll ever regret that.

So that’s one reason why I haven’t been writing as much lately. It’s also why I haven’t listened to or posted about podcasts either.

Because . . .

Podcasts are cool and all, but sometimes . . .

I listen to a lot of podcasts. Most of the time it’s because I enjoy them and often find inspiration from them. Sometimes, though, it’s because I like being the guy who listens to a lot of podcasts. So when the other day, while heading out for a morning run, my podcasts wouldn’t play, I was super annoyed. I even considered not running at all because, how boring would that be, running in silence? But the Spartan run was nearing and I knew I needed the training, so I headed out anyway. Soon after, I started thinking.

The night before, I didn’t sleep well because I had this thing with one of my students earlier in the day and it was bothering me. A lot. We’d been going around this misunderstanding for some time and that morning it had came to a head. We argued, yelled even, and refused to see the situation from each other’s perspectives. By the end of the conversation, he walked off and I threatened suspension. It wasn’t great and I wasn’t proud, but I was pissed. At him, myself, and the situation. It felt like all my work with him and his fellow classmates was suddenly lost because I handled the situation poorly and because I didn’t know how to fix it.

“Hard choices are often hard because they impact other people’s lives in meaningful ways,” Steven Johnson writes in Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions that Matter Most, “and so our ability to imagine that impact - to think through the emotional and material consequences from someone else’s perspective - turns out to be an essential talent” (pg 122). But because I was constantly distracted by work and kids and podcasts, I was unable to think or consider my student’s side of the story. Only mine. Until I ran without a podcast. Then and only then, I had time to think.

“When we are left to our own mental devices,” Johnson continues, “the mind drifts into a state where it swirls together memories and projections, mulls problems, and concocts strategies for the future” (pg 79). It solves problems. But only when it has time to do so. Listening to podcasts every chance I had never allowed my mind to sit and rest, to mull problems, or concoct strategies. It was always busy.

Just like my students.

Recently, after watching and talking and listening to staff and students around my school, we’ve made a few changes for next year: no cell phones during class time and block scheduling. When asked by a few students, parents, and board members, “What is the genesis of these changes?” I answered with, “Because life for our students is too busy, too distracted. We want them to slow down, to dig deeper into their classes and content, and to be more cognizant of their thoughts, emotions, and surroundings.” (Okay, I didn’t say it exactly like that, but more or less the message was the same). The morning my podcast didn’t work and I had to run in silence, I was convicted of this for myself as well because, for me at least, I can get a bit snooty about kids (and adults) playing video games or wasting time watching television. “They’re a waste of time, a distraction,” I find myself thinking and often times saying.

Yet, how often do I allow myself - my brain - to sit in silence and think, consider, and drift? How often do I play with memories and projections, mull problems, and concoct strategies for the future?

In the same way I want my students to slow down, to rid themselves of distractions and to wrestle with the intricacies and complexities of life, I must be willing and able to do the same. Podcasts, although better then gaming, can still be a distraction that quickly pulls me across the surface of thoughts and ideas, preventing me the opportunity to stop, sink, and struggle.

So that’s why, along with writing, I haven’t listened to as many podcasts lately.

But also, I don’t have time. Or perhaps energy is a better way to say it because of course I have time - we all do, if we really want something. We just need to make time for it. But energy? Yeah, I’m pretty low on that.

Here’s why.

For the Eulogy, not my Resume:

I’ve written a few times about the difference between eulogy virtues and resume virtues. It comes from David Brooks and his book, Road to Character, and it is something I think about quite often.

Resume virtues, Brooks explains, “are the {virtues} you list on your resume, the skills you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success.” Eulogy virtues, on the other hand, are the virtues that people talk about at your funeral, “the ones that exist at the core of your being - whether you are kind, brave, honest or faithful; what kind of relationships you formed.” They describe how you used your resume.

Recently, this concept has challenged me more so than ever because, for various reasons, I have been presented with the possibility of pursuing a doctorate, and for many reasons my answer would have been and very easily could have been “no.” But then my wife got involved in the decision making process and her simple reasoning stuck, “because it will open doors”, which, on the surface is pretty common and not all that groundbreaking. Because that’s what resumes do. They open doors. But my wife didn’t end there.

“Because it will open doors, which will potentially allow you greater opportunities to serve.” And she’s right! Not only will furthering my education (ideally) allow me to better serve my here-and-now local community, it will provide me the opportunity to help others too, if the moment or opportunity should arise.

Or, as Chef José Ramón Andrés Puerta would say, “an opportunity” to help.

José Ramón Andrés Puerta is “a Spanish-American chef often credited with bringing the small plates dining concept to America. He owns restaurants in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Las Vegas, South Beach, Florida; Frisco, Texas; Mexico City, and Dorado, Puerto Rico” (via). He is also credited with dreaming up and creating World Central Kitchen which travels the world and serving 150,000 meals daily to those in need.

Every time you have a disaster, you bring the different experts into different areas for the reconstruction, for the relief process. So you need to understand that if you have to rebuild homes that you'll bring architects. If you need to take care of people in the hospitals, you bring more help with doctors. If you have to feed people, it's only very normal and logical to me that you will bring cooks. And that's what we do. Kitchens, restaurants are chaos. And chefs, restaurant people - we manage chaos very well. After a hurricane, it's a lot of chaos. And people go hungry, and people go thirsty. And what we are very good at is understanding the problem and adapting. And so a problem becomes an opportunity. That's why I think chefs more and more - you're going to be seeing more of us in these situations. We're practical. We're efficient. We can do it quicker, faster and better than anybody (via)

Because of his resume and his intense training, Chef José Ramón Andrés Puerta not only gains access to kitchens around the world, he gains access to people in need around the world. He uses his resume as a foundation to live his eulogy virtues.

And that has been continually convicting to me.

I want to learn and grow and develop my resume as much as possible so I can be as helpful as possible, here in my current job, but also anywhere at any time. When there is a crisis or a need, I want to be ready and available and not stuck behind some bureaucratic red tape. I want access, a seat at the table, so I may best be able to serve and remember the poor.

That is why I’m writing less, listening to podcasts less, and working more on my resume.

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Open Thoughts  :  On Parenting

Dead Dad's Porno Tapes, directed by Charlie Tyrell

To be clear, this isn't my dad. He didn't die nor does he have porno tapes. Also, this video isn't really about Charlie's dad's porn collection.

It's about forgiveness. 

When his father died, Charlie Tyrell realized he knew next to nothing about him. Tyrell and his reticent father hadn’t been close; as a young adult, Tyrell had been waiting for “the strange distance he felt between them to close,” (via).

Then, rather suddenly, his father passed away, and Tyrell was left to discover who his father was, by looking at what was left behind.

“I had this lingering impulse to make a film about him that looked at our relationship. Then, I found [his] porno tapes,” Tyrell told The Atlantic. “I thought it would be an absurd and funny way to approach the subject. It's hard to talk about a deceased loved one without sucking all of the air out of the room. So, by approaching it with a sense of humor, I found a way to invite people into the story in a less weighty way.”

And it works.

For Tyrell, the making of this video "was emotionally draining at times." Which isn't hard to imagine, but it was also healing.

“This was me exposing mine and my family's relationship with our dad. But the process of looking at our relationship and shaping it into a story for a film allowed me to articulate my thoughts and feelings in a way that I wouldn't have been able to do otherwise.”

Gene Roddenberry, the mastermind behind Star Trek, once said, "All art is an attempt to answer the question, 'What is it all about?'" 

I think Tyrell's answer might be, "Assume the best. Look for the good. Before it's too late."

 

Thanks for reading!

 

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Humanity

Exhausted. Together.

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Last night was our first night in our new home. We've been slowly moving in all week, but with Judah away for a two-night school trip, we decided to wait till Friday for the official ceremony.

The first night felt like camping; the first full day felt like the very opposite of camping. It felt like work. Hard work. And a whole lot of selfishness.

Just before Judah left for Malo Camp, we sat them down with ice cream and thanked them for their flexibility and easy attitudes because, truly, they have been pretty great. They've moved from room to room and house to house all summer long, they've shared a king bed since school started, have had to brave new schools, and are now moving away from Grammy and Pappa's house and all that they know. Life has been a shaken rug for them, and they've endured it and embraced it with smiles and obedience, even though, at times, tears run from their eyes. 

But this morning, I didn't care about any of that. All I cared about was getting work done and working hard, with a good attitude of course. Judah had other plans, and from the beginning, he and I butted heads. By 2pm, I had had enough.

Ever since this house became an option for us, I've looked forward to the day we would move in. I envisioned us sleeping on the floor together, watching a movie and making a memory, and I fantasized about the good time we would share making this place our home. 

I envisioned a blog post about family and beauty of creating something together. When it became abundantly clear that it wasn't going to happen, I found my spirits flailing, my temper shortening, and Judah sitting next to me while I drove to Home Depot, listening to me yell about respect, role of family, and the characteristics of men. When he started to cry, I made things worse. "Stop crying," I yelled, "You are a ten year old boy, you don't need to cry about consequences that you rightly deserve" (I don't write these words proudly, just honestly).

He choked back his tears and tightened his jaw as I pulled into my parking spot. "Stay here," I said, "And when I come back, I want to hear an explanation for your actions." I closed the door then poked my head through the window, "And I don't want to hear, 'I don't know.'" 

What I really wanted to do was spank his little butt until this attitude left or cowed into submission, but I knew that was wrong and probably wouldn't help. An afternoon of hard work, however, could accomplish much the same, so I bought him a pair of gloves and a long scraper, and by the time I got back into the van, I was a bit calmer and Judah had an answer: he was tired from Malo Camp.

"So Malo Camp is to blame for your attitude today?" I asked.

"No," he said, "I'm just more frustrated than normal, because I'm tired." He looked me in the eye, "Don't you act different when you're tired?" and my heart sunk. 

Since school started, we've been non-stop, working late evenings, living in two homes, wrestling with new schedules, bills, and emotions of moving, new schools, and life. We are exhausted, and I have been more than just a little impatient and "different." 

"Yes," I said, feeling like a bucket of ice water had just been dumped on my head, "I do." Then it was my turn to apologize. 

Some of the best memories I have growing up are from the times when I got into deep and serious trouble. Some of my worst memories are from those times as well, but looking back now, as a father, I can give a bit more grace to my dad for not always acting and doing the right and perfect thing (hopefully, someday, Judah will too). However, the times where my dad did take the time to be with me and not merely punish were the best. I remember splitting wood, working in the garage, and going fishing with my dad as all part of my punishment, and I could not be more grateful for those times because not only did they teach me how to work hard and endure, but they also taught me that my dad loves me, that he likes me, and that he truly and sincerely does care and want what's best for me. 

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So I put Judah to work scraping the back room of our new home. Beneath a sort of padded flooring is tile, and for almost five hours, Judah scraped and pulled and cleaned the floor while the rest of us worked on the house. Whenever he asked me for help because a particular section was too hard I told him he had to find a way, "This is your job. It has to be done." And for most all of it, he found a way. Until the end. Which was what I was waiting for. Because it's what my dad taught me. So, for the last bit, we worked together. Me scraping up places where the previous contractor thought it best to lay way too much glue, and Judah clearing away and pulling up pieces of flooring. When it was over, we high-fived and took a break, together. 

When Judah's aunt came into the room and congratulated him for all his work, he smiled his bashful smile and said, "Dad helped me too," and my heart was restored. The lessons from my father had passed to my son.

It's a pretty easy habit to get into, pushing everything and everyone away whenever things get hard. Because that seems to simplify things and makes them controllable. Which us why I found myself today, more than once, wanting to push Judah away and not be around him, because I was so friggen frustrated with his attitude and selfish demeanor that I just couldn't handle it! 

When I did this at first, our relationship and his attitude didn't improve, it only got worse.

My dad understood this when I was a child so he hung out with me, worked with me, and fished with me. He wasn't this way all the time, but he was this way enough of the time, and that was enough, and it's still enough. Those moments, more than any others, have lasted time, distance, and hardship. Not the great and perfect days, but the imperfect ones, the ones where Dad shrugged of the weight of disappointment and frustration in me and simply loved his son anyway.

Today, for Judah, I hope my scraping away a dirty floor was enough, even though it doesn't feel like it.

 

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :   On Parenting  :  Fatherhood

 

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Father/Daugher Beatbox Battle

This is friggin awesome.

I especially love how when the father is beatboxing, his daughter is sitting there, flipping her hair, looking all casual and cool. Almost as if she's rolling her eyes and saying, "Come on dad."

Then, when she takes off, her dad laughs, claps, and cannot contain his joy, like he's about to jump up and yell, "That's my girl!"

I love it.

A few years ago, I was speaking with one of my female students about some of the trips I had planned for Judah and I. I had just read the book, Raising A Modern-Day Knight and couldn't wait to start his training. She thought my ideas were great, but she also challenged me, "Don't forget about your daughters. Take them on trips too."

And she was right. 

I don't know who started this battle, but I love that they do it together. And that she's better. And that he loves that she's better. 

And I love the end, when they battle together, as father and daughter. 

This guy is inspiring. 

You can watch Battle Part 2 here.

 

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Lessons on Fatherhood  :  On Raising Girls :  The best beatboxer ever

 

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