To Georgia Jade, On the Occasion of Our Birthday, Year Three

I’m late. This is typical for me lately. I seem to run behind or put things off more than ever before these days.

I’m sorry.

I blame it on my recent inability to organize my thoughts in any sort of meaningful way. There are plenty of things I spend time thinking about, but the effort it takes to collect them, refine them, and commit them to print is something new.

Maybe the glut of information is to blame.

My health hasn’t been particularly awesome, so there are doctor visits to schedule and attend, numerous medications to organize and take as prescribed, studies in medical journals to read, treatment options to consider, and cumbersome symptoms old and new to endure. Getting old is no fun when you haven’t lived well while young.

And then there is the news. I remember a day when news was a once-a-day thing, over breakfast, or maybe dinner, for no more than an hour, and then you moved on with your life. Now, depending on how involved you desire to be, there is news at our fingertips at every moment of the day, with new developments on multiple fronts popping up with staggering speed. Maybe this too is an age thing. The longer I’ve lived and seen things happen, the more topics I find interesting or directly impacting my life. We are encouraged to personalize everything, often to our own detriment. And picking and choosing becomes more difficult when more and more of the headlines hits home.

So, I’m learning new things. How to limit what I feel. Who to listen to and trust. And what things really matters. In selectively choosing those things, one fashions new guidelines for expending energy and granting awareness.

Family has always been a priority of mine, but I find myself yearning more and more for the company of those whom I love. Your aunt Garsy and I often work opposite shifts, so our time together has dwindled. This makes the time we do have together more special. Even mundane things like watching British baking shows or eating out or just driving around town together become opportunities to reconnect. The same goes for my kids. Wyatt and I just spent a couple days in Chicago together. We were given tickets to see the musical Hamilton, one of Wyatt’s favorites. It was awesome, and our time together included much singing, dancing (both done badly on my part) and many laughs.

I’ve also been dwelling on things worth setting aside for the sake of unity and love. Convictions and boundaries are necessary, and healthy tensions and disagreements sometimes have their place, but not at the expense of kindness. When what we cling to becomes a wedge or an excuse for inconsiderate behavior, then we are doing it wrong. We must first always be kind, for kindness is the only safety net we have as we walk the tightrope of life. Without it, we crash ugly and hard.

I am forty-nine years old, sagacious, yet humble. You are three, rambunctious and vibrant. We make a good team, I think. I hope I live long enough to see you rock the world . . .

FTW

WTF – September, 1983

I’d never worn cleats before.  Pads either.  Or those goofy pants that ride just below the knee and squeeze your junk.  But there I stood, on the practice field of Kokomo High School, about to embark on my first season of football.

I did it to impress my uncle Jerry.  He had played and been a coach for many years in various programs at both the high school and college level.  He who owned his own gym and used to max all the Nautilus machines just for a warm-up.  He’d talked me out of playing the clarinet and into trying out for the team.  Horn players didn’t have the Eye of the Tiger.

I figured maybe I could be the center.  I had good hands, like to help people out by giving them the ball, and had played center on the playground in middle school a few times, once with a bloody nose.  I’ve got this, I figured.

I lasted three days.

FTW – January, 2012.

My son took the mat for his first junior varsity match of his second year of wrestling against a kid from Indian Springs.  Behind him, a pile of losses from the past year and hours of training for a new season.  I sat down my bag of popcorn, pocketed my cellphone, cupped my hands and shouted, “Come on, Beefcake,” his nickname now a matter of record.  They shook hands, locked up and tossed each other around for a minute or two.  And then my son pulled a move out of his bag of tricks, rolled the other kid over, flattened him to the mat and stared at the ref as he waved . . . waved . . . and then blew the whistle.  Sweet victory.

I cried.

***

Ethan didn’t win again that season, but he never quit.  Not even when the other kids on the team put shit on his backpack.  Not when they ignored him and walked away when he tried to scrimmage with them before each match.  Not when they ignored him as he tried to high five them after their own victories.  I screamed inside at the cruelty and arrogance of children, but wore the face of a proud and passionate father on the outside.

Ethan is no quitter.  Not like his dad.

***

In many other ways, however, he is exactly like me.  As I was as a kid.  He’s kind and compassionate, often to his own detriment.  He’s sentimental to the point of occasional tears.  Real, honest tears.  He has a few good friends who accept him, and many other acquaintances who belittle him for their own amusement, even as he laughs it off, the willing butt of the joke.  He’s solitary at times, keeping to himself when things get overwhelming or confusing.  At other times, he’s the life of the party, even if it means starting some trouble in order to get noticed.  Not all wallflowers are tame and easily put out of mind.  His shortcoming are familiar as well.

My wife and I discuss our children often.  Our dreams for them and our frustrations with them.  Ethan is the one that puzzles me the most.  Understanding him means understanding me, the way I was and the way I am.  Confronting issues with him means dealing with me.  Instructing him, guiding him, even yelling at him, often means staring down demons I am all to familiar with.  They fuck with him just like they fucked with me.  Yet he doesn’t seem to recognize them like I do.  Hindsight being what it is, I sense the cauldron brewing and ache at the remembrances.

***

There is a battle ahead.  One that we are going to have to fight together.  And I’ve been trying to formulate a strategy.  To come up with a way to begin to tackle the one thing that we’ve both wrestled with.

Obesity.

He’s thirteen-and-a-half and, at his last doctor’s visit for his asthma, he clocked in at 173.

I’ve shared about my own battle before, and how I eventually fought back with the big stick of surgery.  This, of course, is not the road I hope he travels.  I’ve searched and scoured for books and articles, hoping for something that I think will motivate and inform without being condemning or talking above his head.

And I’ve struggled with how to even bring it up.

It’s not like it’s a secret.  He’s expressed his own earnest desires to slim down and even came up with an idea or two, but other things encroach and the steam evaporates.  I tell him how I’ve been there a thousand times and we’ll keep looking for a plan that will stick.

Today, at the library, my wife came across fifteen-year-old Tiger Greene’s book Sacking Obesity: The Team Tiger Game Plan for Kids Who Want to Lose Weight, Feel Great, and Win on and off the Playing Field.  Of course, my skepticism set in.  The kid probably had a bunch of free support from this or that organization underwriting his efforts, or wealthy parents who paid for the best doctors and the priciest foods and the latest snazzy exercise equipment.  I can’t do that.  I’m not about publicity stunts or telling others they can do with so little what you did with the help of a benevolent universe.

I’m an idiot like that.

Turns out, the kid has a heart of gold.  I’ve read most of it already.  The parts that matter anyway, where he writes honestly about his own weight and how he tried to be like that guy from Man v. Food and how weight isn’t easy to lose when those that are meant to provide for our needs fail us.

That part hurt.

Yet he never blames others.  And, at the age of twelve, he made a plan and made it work and tells kids – and their families, with the help of some expert, practical advice – that they can do it too.  He seems like the kind of kid you’d want to have over for a game of touch football and carrot sticks.  Carrot sticks that taste so freaking awesome they’ll make you forget the cheesesteak you thought you wanted.

Sure, he got some help.  But he pays it forward in a way that doesn’t belittle you because you don’t have the advantages he had.  Not really advantages.  Just people who came alongside and gave him exactly what he needed.  Ethan will get this kid.  He’ll read this and get fired up and make a plan and some changes and things will get better.  I sense that he feels it’s time, and I plan to be there when the light bulbs click on.

And yet, I guess I fear that I’ll quit on him.

Like I’ve done time and time before.  Not give up on him.  Or his dreams and plans and successes.  Even through the failures, I will never give up on him.  But I fear that I won’t always be the model that he needs.  He’ll forgive my shortcomings and sidesteps, I’m certain.  But will he lose heart?

Will he fail if I continue to fail him?

Or will this be the time, the beginning of a long string of times, when I don’t?  Choose not to?  Buck up and be what he needs?  Will I press on this time?

FTW . . .

2012-05-16 17.21.05

***

Ethan read this before I hit “Publish.”  And we had a nice, long talk.  We’ve agreed to read the book together.  Let the journey begin . . .  

the only thing he would regret leaving was the sky

Ty & Ronald

I wrote about him in my first “official” blog post back in February of 2008.

Way back when the road seemed it would go on forever just as it ever had.  Sure, they’ll grow up, I told myself. 

Tomorrow.

Tomorrow will be the day before the day his mom and I move him into the dorms.  Just across town, his bedroom door less than a couple miles from where I help make the ice cream.  He will have three roommates he has never met before.  They are friends from the same hometown high school.  He shrugs it off but admits he is not thrilled with the possibility that he will be the awkward fourth wheel.  Or maybe not noticed at all.   

No meal plan so he will be pigging on Ramen noodles.  Twizzlers.  Pancakes when I can sneak over and whip some up for him.  And McDonald’s when he can get a ride. 

2012-05-19 19.15.05 They have dated since the second week of freshman year.  He knew her twin brother but had never met her.  They DDR’d into the wee hours and never looked back. 

She is my other daughter, an effervescent, hope-filled toothy grin and a welcome addition to our family for these past nearly four years.  The one that calls at one in the morning because she is a night person.  That took some getting used to.  They learned to text together.  To hold hands at twilight and just sit and listen.  She is My Little Pony to his Lord of the Rings.  Twister to his Dungeons & Dragons. 

And she is going to school in Michigan.  There is a long dotted line between here and there. 

He is taking a communications class, some literary criticism, some statistics, a couple other I cannot recall, and a philosophy class for which I pulled some strings to get him registered.  The professor is an old friend and he will make my son think.  And I know he will be impressed.

I am. 

Every day.

I have given him what I can.  It is a far cry short, materially.  But maybe that stuff will not matter so much.  Despite my inclinations, I believe he means it when he says I have given him enough. 

At least he looks snazzy . . .

2012-05-19 19.04.27

Would you do me a favor?  You continue to come here and read my stuff because you care.  I know you do.  And you’re also smart.  You’ve been there, either as a student yourself or as a parent.  Perhaps you’ve even had to shove one out of the nest yourself. 

I’d like this post to be a place where he can come again and again and receive encouragement.  To read, and feel in his heart, the love and respect of others.  So would you take a few moments and leave a comment?  Some words that have guided you, or that you’ve passed on to others heading off down a new, open road. 

Thank you . . .

The Boot or: How We Got Kicked Out of the Mall for Hugging People for Free

thebootsMy religion is simple. My religion is kindness.

~ The Dalai Lama (1935 – )

There is the older lady, arms overloaded with packages and wearing a determined gaze, who stopped, cocked her head and smiled, sat down her bags and wrapped her arms around me.

There is the little child, wrapped in fluffy red and white, who hugged my son’s girlfriend tightly around her neck as she stooped to meet him at his level.

There are the two burly teenagers, with the stocking caps pulled low and smartphones held high, snapping pictures, who gave my youngest son such big hugs that they lifted him off the ground, laughing all the way. 

These, and others, to varying degrees, will remember what we did. 

I laid down the basics before we went in:

We do not represent any organization.  We do not to ask for anything or approach anybody.  We just hold up our signs offering “Free Hugs” and let the people come to us. 

We hug and smile.

And later, we write a letter to the editor . . .

Thank you, Glenbrook Square Mall, for showing us the door.
My family and I had wanted to spread some holiday cheer, so we made some “Free Hugs” signs, gathered around the mall fountain, and hugged a bunch of smiling people. For about ten minutes.
Then Local Law Enforcement told us to leave. Said we were “soliciting” and that the only thing the mall allowed on their private property was “shopping and eating.”
Me and my family? We represented no group. No religious organization or philanthropic endeavor other than the obvious one – kindness toward humanity. We asked for no money, nor did we pass out any literature.
True, we didn’t ask for permission, figuring forgiveness might come easier. We didn’t push hugs on anyone. Just held up our signs and let the people come.
And they came. We spread kindness. And got the boot.
I had hoped to teach a lesson, about compassion, giving instead of getting, kindness and all that. Instead, we learned a lesson about the boot, and how it hurts most those whose hearts are (still) filled with the true spirit of the season . . .

 

[Flickr photo is by Lin Pernille Photography and is protected]