Love Thy Neighbor

I want my children to grow with love. To grow with kindness. To be genuine. To be full of heart. I see it in their eyes. It glows through their skin and radiates through their smiles. It shines in their laughter, and their shenanigans and goings on.

I had an experience tonight that quite frankly scared the shit out of me. I’m not going to go into detail on it, but it was all too similar to a year I had in high school. That year, through loss, I learned how to truly value your friends. Tonight, through grace, there was no loss. But the memory of the fall of 1999 is still too close to the front of my mind. It still hurts. But tonight, I cry mixed tears. Tears of joy and relief. And tears of sorrow and regret. And I thank God that I am able to sit here and write this through blurry eyes.

And I do some serious thinking.

What are we doing to teach our children about the value of another person? What are we doing ourselves to seek out the value in other people?

What am I doing not being the example of one who does these things?

I want my children to grow with love. To grow with kindness. To be genuine. To be full of heart. I see it in their eyes. It glows through their skin and radiates through their smiles. It shines in their laughter, and their shenanigans and goings on. That is what I want them to live in. I don’t ever want to see that light and that love fade.  Yet, I know where life can bring us to at times, and how that light can burn too strong, for too long, and eventual begin to fade.

The power in life is knowing how to truly cherish that kindness, heart, that laughter, and those shenanigans. How to carry that light to the darkest of places, knowing it will always light the way. I really don’t think it can be that simple. It’s not just a capability we develop as we grow older It is a test of our strength and our weakness. Of our souls, our hearts, and our minds. It is an epic battle of sorts that we must fight from time to time. It’s a battle we fight for our fellow man, woman, child.

I think I lost the last skirmish.

But tonight is that turning point. Tonight is when I sharpen the swords, rally the troops, and prepare for the surprise attack at dawn. How far will I let the darkness blind me in my walk? Or, will I choose to kindle the flame that burns so brightly in my children’s faces? I can see it in them. I know it’s there. And I know that it is my duty to protect it at all costs, and to no end. That duty calls for me to show that same light in myself.  A journey I think I am ready to take on once again. I am willing to fight for my fellow man, woman, and child.

The world is in pain. The world is in vain. The world is losing that light from the inside out. As we grow older, it is a fight that our children will inherit from us. An environment that we will create. The question now remains: How are we prepping them for battle? Are we just playing defense? Or are we going to start the revolution?

So THIS is What Being “Dad” Is

That’s the job though. That is what I am called to do. I put myself aside because I am not as important as those that I love, and those I am called to serve. They are my family. My wife, Little Man and Little Girl. That’s my life.

Often times you read through parenting blogs and read about the great and wonderful things that being a parent can mean. For the most part, it is true. Having kids, being a dad, this feeling of love and adoration is next to nothing. It is an incredible thing to be a dad and I would not want my life to be any different.

Here’s the catch though: Being a dad can also be frustrating, angering, and upsetting. I know what you are thinking, “Yeah, I know this dude”. Let me take it one step further and say that being a dad also has the capability to completely and totally suck. Not all the time mind you, but that is just words of truth. Let me break it down for you today.

Everyone has a different definition for what being “dad” means. To me it means being a playmate, a friend, a doctor, a teacher, provider, protector, leader, and guide. Six of these sound great to think of yourself as and two of them sound like great professions. Then there is one that is great to be, and sucks to be, both at the same time. Provider.

In the end, I know I will be a better person for it. Recently I have looked at having to make a lot of really tough decisions. I am looking at stepping out of a comfort zone and into something new. Not because I want to, but because I have to. I realize that there are some dreams and hopes that will just have to continue to wait. To me personally, it’s just not fair.

That’s just it though. When I became a dad, I gave up those rights in a lot of ways. It’s not about what’s fair to me now. It’s about what my family needs me to do in order to provide for them and keep us safe. This would not be the first time I have done it, but for some reason, it seems harder. So close to so many dreams and now… Now I will just keep on dreaming for a while.

That’s the job though. That is what I am called to do. I put myself aside because I am not as important as those that I love, and those I am called to serve. They are my family. My wife, Little Man and Little Girl. That’s my life. Does it hurt? Hell yeah it does. I cried today. But those tears will dry. The redness will wash out of my eyes, and my feet will carry me where I need to go. That’s what I need to to. That’s what I have to do. That’s what it means to be “dad”.

Fabulous Film Fathers

With the snow and cold weather out, my boys and I have been taking advantage of Netflix and our local library to watch some movies.  I’ve noticed a couple that showed some good examples of fatherhood.  Just a warning: Spoilers Be Ahead.  If you haven’t seen Despicable me or Shrek Forever After yet, you might want to bookmark this article and come back later.  Otherwise, dive on in.

Despicable Me

The main character, Gru, is a villain.  He’s first introduced noticing a little boy crying over a dropped ice cream cone.  He cheers up the boy by crafting a balloon animal… and then shows his true colors as he pops it making the boy sadder than he was to begin with.  Not quite your ideal father figure, right?  Especially when his motive for adopting three girls is to gain access to another villains lair so he can steal a shrink ray that he plans on using to steal the Moon.

In flashbacks, we are shown Gru constantly trying to please his mother to no avail.  He says he’d like to go to the Moon.  She responds by telling him they stopped sending up monkeys.  He shows a spaceship design, she dismisses it.  Even a working model fails to impress her.  He hasn’t exactly grown up learning how to be a loving parent.

As his plans for stealing the Moon progress, the girls pry open Gru’s cold heart.  He supports them against a carnival worker who tries to cheat them out of a prize.  (In typical villain fashion, he trades the baseball to be thrown with a giant plasma cannon.)  He finds the girls becoming less of a chore and annoyance that get in the way of what he really wants (stealing the Moon) and more of an experience that he looks forward to.  The movie leaves open the question as to whether he has turned completely from his villainous ways and become a hero.  In any event, he is definitely a good father in the end, gladly giving up his stolen prize to save his girls and then risking his life to save them.

This movie shows how parents often find themselves at conflict between what they wanted to do before having children and what they want to do after having kids.  Your priorities shift and things that previously seemed like the most important things in the world fall to the wayside.  Other activities that would previously make you want to run away screaming turn out to be the happiest times of your life.

Shrek Forever After

Shrek has definitely undergone a lot of changes in the four movies he has appeared in.  In the first movie, he fell in love.  In the second, he learns to love himself.  In the third, he comes to grips with his impending fatherhood.  In the fourth film, Shrek is shown to be living the hectic life of a parent.  And a famous one no less.  Every day is the same routine over and over and over again.  Every quiet moment he gets to himself is interrupted by someone or something.  He can’t even go to the bathroom in peace without a local tour group pointing out his potty activities.

By the time the triplet’s’ first birthday party rolls around, he is a raw bundle of nerves.  (Not so good for any parent, even worse for an ogre parent.)  He blows up at the party and storms away.  At this moment, Rumpelstiltskin steps in.  He offers Shrek one day of freedom.  Just one day where he doesn’t need to worry about being a husband and father.  He can go back to his old life for 24 hours.  The offer sounds glorious but, even in his at-wit’s-end state, Shrek senses a catch.  The catch is that Rumpelstiltskin will take one day from Shrek’s past.  A day from his childhood that he wouldn’t even remember.  Shrek signs the contract.

Suddenly, his world is turned upside down.  Shrek finds himself a feared, single ogre again.  He’s able to terrify villagers and do whatever he wants, whenever he wants.  But his happy romp takes a terrifying turn when he sees his home deserted (in fact, it looks like it was never occupied at all) and he is captured.  Donkey doesn’t remember him at all.  It turns out that Rumpelstiltskin’s taken day was the day Shrek was born.  This means he never existed, never rescued Fiona and never became a father.  Once his 24 hours of freedom are up, Shrek will fade away and this topsy-turvy world (where Rumpelstiltskin rules instead of being a vagabond) will be cemented in place.  This only chance to get out of the contract is to find Fiona and share True Love’s Kiss before his time runs out.

What follows is a series of desperate attempts by Shrek to find Fiona and get her to fall in love with him.  At one point, she even kisses Shrek but it has no effect.  Shrek realizes that, in this reality, she never fell in love with him.  Simply being there isn’t enough.  He needs to take an interest in her and support her to get her to love him once more.

The lesson here is twofold.  First off, being a parent can be stressful.  Any parent who tells you that they never feel any stress at all as they raise their kids is lying.  There will be times when you wish that you could just run off for a day and forget about being married with children.  But even in these darkest times, a parent will still love their kids.  They might want some time for themselves, but they would never truly wish for their kids to vanish completely.

The key is small doses of “kid freedom.”  Go on a date night with your spouse while the kids are with a trusted friend/relative/babysitter.  Have your spouse watch the kids while you run some errands alone.  Or have your spouse run the errands while you stay home alone and enjoy some solitude.  These little breaks will help keep you from an ogre-sized blow up.

The second lesson here doesn’t involve the kids as much as it involves the parents.  You can’t simply just “show up” and expect that your spouse will stay in love with you because you are you.  You need to constantly work on making your spouse fall in love with you all over again.  This can be with a previously mentioned date night or kid-break-period.  It could also be simply listening to your spouse when they are talking about something that interests them even if your couldn’t care less.  The little things can build up and help to strengthen a marriage.  And a healthy, happy marriage can lead to healthy, happy parenting.

Taking a Step Back: The Beauty of Simply Watching

They were quietly playing separately, back to back, and both smiling away. It was such beauty, such magic in catching that moment in my eyes. A memory forever to be engraved in my mind as an image of innocence.

Today? Yes, today was one of those days. We have all had them. Nothing seems to go right, you can’t seem to get motivated, and all you want to do is go home to your family. That was my day today. I’m not going to go any further on that note. Let’s skip to the fun stuff!

I finally got home to the family, and I was ready to unwind. The wife had some things to do, I had to wake Caleb up from his nap (a task for only a strong man), and I really couldn’t wait to have them both downstairs so we could play and get our sillies out. I have found that it is always good to just get down on their level, and get your sillies out. If you haven’t tried it, then do it! You won’t be sorry.

After getting Caleb up and bringing him downstairs came the game of quickly entertaining before the grouchies set in. Nobody likes a three year old with the grouchies. Calm comes across the living room finally, and it’s time to get geared up for serious play time. Only thing is, I am tired, I am drained, and I can barely stay sitting up on the couch. Then I caught a glimpse of what my kids were up to in the short time that I was tweeting about my laziness. They were quietly playing separately, back to back, and both smiling away. It was such beauty, such magic in catching that moment in my eyes. A memory forever to be engraved in my mind as an image of innocence.

As always, I take a moment to think about what I just witnessed, and reflect on the beauty of childhood. I know we all want to be engaged with our children, we want to be involved. There is definitely nothing wrong with it. Sometimes though, it is good to just step back and watch. At a time when my body was wearing out and when I was feeling my roughest, I just stepped back, and watched. Seeing that moment, my two little kiddos, my world and my heart, made all my pain go away. My mind was full of thoughts of them, my heart beat strong with love for them. I smiled, I think I even laughed out loud. A simple time when the role was reversed and I wasn’t the one trying to bring a smile to their face. They didn’t have to try, and I will be smiling for days

The simple things can be the biggest memories. Little things we may miss if we don’t take the time to just step back every now and then. You can be the dad your children need you to be and you can be the dad you want to be. Your children will be grateful for your efforts, I can assure you. Just remember though, your children are their own. They are little individuals, with separate feelings, separate likes and dislikes. Sometimes just letting them be them, they become the children we hope they will be, and much, much more. They become heroes of our days, with just a simple smile.

Looking Closely at the World Around Us

In March of 2005, I got a macro lens for my digital camera and was introduced to the wonderful world of macro photography. Since then, I’ve used flowers, toys, insects (both alive and dead – hey, at least the dead ones don’t move!) and many other items as macro photography subjects. I even made a poster using a macro photograph I had taken of a flower. When I took the photo, I liked it, but upon examining it on my monitor, I spied a pollen covered ant crawling through the surface that I hadn’t seen when I looked at the flower itself.

What does this have to do with fatherhood? Well, I’ve longed to share my love of photography with NHL. As he approached his fourth birthday, we learned of a then-new product called the Fisher Price Kid Tough Digital Camera. My parents got one for his birthday and he went to work taking photos like crazy.

On Sunday, NHL, JSL and I were outside playing when I decided to turn outside-play-time into a lesson of sorts. We looked at a tree that he has passed a hundred times. On the tree were some round buds. Pulling one off, I showed him how it was a seed and told him how an animal (but *NOT* a kid!) would break these off to eat and how the seed inside would eventually get deposited (one way or another) on the ground. I told him that this seed would grow into another tree. He decided to take one of the buds I had plucked and plant it.

Next, I showed them a flower and took a macro photograph of it. Bringing the photo up on the camera’s LCD display, I zoomed in.  Here’s the photo (unzoomed). Do you see anything besides the yellow flower?

Zooming in, we can not only see the flower’s structure better, but we can see an ant crawling across it.

Next up was a favorite of NHL and JSL’s. A dandelion. NHL was amazed by how he could see the details on the seed, something he would normally overlook as he blew the “puffs” away.

Finally, we got down to the pavement to watch the movement of the ants. I showed him how these tiny creatures were working together to move sand away from the opening of their hole. He suggested we stomp on the hole, but I asked him how he would feel if a giant came along and stomped on his house.

Overall, NHL realized that there are interesting things all around us, if one takes the time to look. In our busy lives, we’ll often pass these things without giving them a thought. Pointing them out to kids can teach them to be inquisitive about the world around them.

Fears/Issues of Fatherhood

Have you ever really thought about what you are afraid of in being a father, or what issues really trouble you in fatherhood? For me, when thinking trying to think of eight main fears/issues that are difficult for me to cope with, I came up with the following:

Have you ever really thought about what you are afraid of in being a father, or what issues really trouble you in fatherhood? For me, when thinking trying to think of eight main fears/issues that are difficult for me to cope with, I came up with the following:

1) Bringing home the bacon – I am the sole income maker for my family. What would happen if for some reason I would lose my job, or become unable to work for some reason. I know that J-Mom could go back to work, but still it is something that weighs on my mind.

2) The safety and security of my family – I am constantly trying to think of the safety of my girls (including J-Mom). I know that I cannot always keep them safe from harm and cannot shelter my girls from the world, but there definitely are times when it seems like it would be so much easier to shelter them.

3) Being a good parent – I don’t think anyone is completely ready to be a parent until they become one, and then when they become one they constantly question whether what they are doing is right for the situation and for their children.

4) Caring for / Losing Other Loved Ones – This week one of our neighbors passed away and he was only 57 years old. This really brought home to me the fragility of life and how close to death we all are. I am not trying to be morbid, far from it, but this situation really made me think about the fact that I am an only child and that there will be a time in the future when I will have to deal with this myself in a much more personal way than I have had to in the past. I have been lucky to not have been touched by death too much in my life, at least not yet, and I hope to be strong enough when I do have to deal with this in the future.

5) Being able to learn and do Manly Tasks – I am not the most handy person. When I think of being a Dad and father and a man I guess to me it sometimes comes withthe package deal that one should be able to do some of these things. This is not to say that I can’t do these things, they just are more difficult for me than for some others. Come back though for my next Many Monday and you will see a project that my father-in-law and I made (well…a lot of it was him – but I did help!).

6) Maintaining friendships/hobbies etc. – I don’t know if this is unique to being a Dad, but I find it increasingly difficult to have times with friends or time to spend on hobbies or other fun activities. Much of this is due to work and then being Dad when I get home and then simply being tierd beyond belief from the combination of lack of sleep, work and play. But I wonder whether other Dads are dealing with this and if so how they are balancing this.

7) Balancing the many roles which is fatherhood – Speaking of balance, I find as a father, balance goes out the window. There are so many days when I say, I should work out, or do this, or that, but then life intervenes. I go to work and try to get all that I need to get done completed, and leave work the same day finding that I still need to complete many of the things that I hoped to complete the next day. Needless to say Balance is a hard thing to come by. Have any of you come up with some surefire ways to balance life/work and other such things?

8) The future for my daughters – The world right now seems to be crazy, the price of everything is going up, there are many issues that prevail on the world scene that are sure to eventually effect the US. I am constantly thinking of the future of my daughters and what it will be like for them. What will they be, will they be successful, what must I do to help them with this? Lots of questions, but the answers are still many years off.

What are your top fears/issues? And yes, Moms you can chime in as well!

Balance; A Concept That Is Not Easy For Most Dads

I ran across an older post over at 21st Century Dad that brought up some good points on what the challenges are for a dad these days. After reading his post I have to agree that though there are many challenges for a mom… yet as a Dad there are also many challenges that one may or may not think of…

I ran across an older post over at 21st Century Dad that brought up some good points on what the challenges are for a dad these days. After reading his post I have to agree that though there are many challenges for a mom… yet as a Dad there are also many challenges that one may or may not think of…

I especially can relate to the fact that as a working father in a job that has a demanding schedule…I have to continually make decisions on whether I will do things that will further my career or do things that maintain or build my relationships with my family at home.

These decisions are not always easy and are many times not in concert with one another…but they have to be made. I always try my best to balance the two…but find that I tend to put more time into work. Even to the extent of checking in on email when I am on vacation…I know, I know…work-a-holic…that is what J-Mom would say… I guess she is somewhat right…I do put a lot into work…but I feel that this is what brings good results to what I do as well, so I am in a bit of a quandary to this as I truly want to be a good husband and father but at the same time, I feel the need to be successful and thrive within my work.

This is at the crux of the challenge of working fatherhood…and I guess I would say working motherhood…how to balance both without sacrificing one (if this is possible).

For me, what I do is try my best to be present when I am at home. I also will do what I can to check in with the family at least once per day to say hello and take a pulse on the situation (Will I need to provide mommy CPR when I get home). I think though the largest issue for me has definitely been being present and trying to do special things with each of my girls when I am at home in the evenings and on the weekends. Sometimes these experiences are with J-Mom and sometimes I try and give her a break away from the kids. All-in-all I try my best, but I am sure that there are better ways to accomplish this balancing act.

What have you done to balance this? Have you been successful at your attempts? What other advice do you have for others struggling with this balance issue?