Day 23: Something that you miss.

Having things that we miss seems to be embedded deep within human nature. Though I did mention in my Day 10 post, “The Opportunity that Got Away” that I am not one to holding on to things, this is different. It is also, sadly, apropos, for many of the things going on right now. I would say that one of the things that miss the most is childhood.

Not all childhood. But, as should be expected of me by all of you by now, a finely narrowed part. I miss the carefree way we used to be as children. I am not talking about how we, as adults, now have bills, jobs, and responsibilities. That is lame. Being an adult is awesome. What I am talking about, what I am missing, is how the world felt.

I miss the ways that things once were.

Being able to stay out until the streetlights came on. Running barefoot in the grass at a park. Walking or biking wherever I needed to go, because all that I wanted to do was within that distance. Collecting up a book, a snack, and sitting in the arms of a tree. Loosing myself into the world contained within the pages. Snatching up a baseball glove and instantly having a pickup game. Walking in the woods with my brothers, finding bones and snakes, but mostly adventure. Things were different. They were better. There was a purity in the time that encapsulated all of society.

God, I sound old.

However, every day when I come home from work, there is a moment. The same moment that I spoke about in my Day 4 post, “Your Favorite Time of Day”. As my ears fill with the screaming laughter of my children, and I succumb to the endless hugs and kisses, I miss those days a little less. I see, often, that I am doing what I can to make THESE days better for my children than those days were for me. I know that this means something more. That someday, there is a chance that my children will look back on these days, and miss them. But I doubt that they will miss these days as much as I will miss having these days with them.

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always

Day 21: A Glimpse At One Future Day

Captain’s Log, date 4/11/2032. Day 1.

During the festivities and celebration of Zoey’s 20th birthday last night, we were able to christen our Catalina 385, now calling her “Wisteria’s Rest”. It was a little bittersweet to end the night with our goodbyes, knowing what today would bring. We have begun. As we moved out of the slip, and put the rising sun to the port side, my beloved and I watched as the wind filled the mainsail. Our journey to the Cayman’s has been long awaited. The months that we have spent preparing have come to fruition.

There is something beautiful about looking out to the endless sea. Standing at the helm, cigar and good scotch, the aromas so pleasingly mixing with those of the sea. God, how I have loved the sea. But, there is something even more perfect from my vantage point. Seeing my beloved bride Kati relaxing on the deck. I am taken aback at how well she has aged over these years, ever the true mark of beauty for me. As the sun rises over the horizon, and the sky’s hue changes into the breathtaking colors, they are dull in comparison to seeing her.

I know not what this day will bring.

I know that this journey is something that she needs, something that I need. The years have been a little rough at times, but this respite is more than deserved. In good times and bad, this day has been on our hearts horizon. We have been charting this course for years, and are ready for what the sea may bring. As long as I have Kati by my side, I know we can weather it all.

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.

Day 18: Your Biggest Plot Twist

Simply, I am still here. Oh, but the things, the reasons, and all that this entails.

I have eluded to the simple facts that I have been through much. I am not going to delve into them here, as that is not part of the exercise. But these things, these adventures, have broken many before me. They continue to break many more each day. I have countless reasons, many more that the paltry 13 as noted in a diabolical show, why I should not be here. Something tells me that there are some of you out there that share this sentiment. Our journeys, though perhaps not intertwined, have been treacherous and daunting. The trials have contained more tribulations than joys. Yet, in the beautiful words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”. But why?

Is there some factor of unrelenting resolve that imbibes us with the strength the carry on where others find their end? Perhaps. However, I think that there is another quote that sums up an aspect that I realized early on in life. From my favorite book, as noted in my Day 3 post, Enders Game, “If you try and lose, then it isn’t your fault. But if you don’t try and we lose, then it’s all your fault”. See there is something defying in this quote. It is not all around the aspect of trying. That is mundane and overused. It is in acceptance that if you try and fail… it is not your fault.

My Reasons Why Not.

Then there is my beloved and my children. Any one of them would outweigh any of the 13+ reasons why. Granted, I have not had them during most of the crap that I have been through. Yet, I held fast to the hope that I had. Faithful to the belief that, one day, I would have these people in my life. Had I bent the knee to ANY of the dire situations that I have found myself in, I would not have this reward.

I have known failure and defeat more often than I let on. However, I have learned never to let something defeat me. For the reward for making it through is not just a story, or a scar, but may be waiting at the counter of a Halloween Store.

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.

Day 14: An Item That Gives You Confidence

Let’s go way back. I mean WAY back. My first Christmas. It was 1981 and I lived in Boise Idaho. Understandably, I had no conceivable idea what was going on. To be frank, I do not remember this day. However, there is one thing from this day that I still have. Rather, it belongs to someone who needs it more, but we will get to that in a moment.

Buffy.

For 35 years this beloved stuffed dog has been by my side. Almost every trip to the hospital (usually for stitches) she was my bedfellow. Every illness, from the sniffles to croup, she was my comfort. Even as I grew up, she was always there. In fact, much to my own amusement, she deployed with me, every time. Countless hours have been spent talking through problems, dealing with heartbreak, and being my silent journal. The secrets I have spoken to her, will never be told.

But, she is no longer mine. When my daughter went in for her first Cranio surgery, Buffy and I had a long talk. I told her that she had gotten me this far, and needed to trust I could carry myself from here. The night before we went to the hospital, I was sitting next to Zoey’s crib, tears running down my face. I knew that Buffy did such an awesome job keeping me alive, and being there for me, and that my daughter needed her more. I left Buffy in her crib that night. All of my love, tears, joy, fears, my heart is embodied by this raggedy stuffed dog.

Buffy was no longer mine.

 

The next morning, Zoey had Buffy in her arms. When she was taken back to surgery, Buffy was in her arms. While I was writing This Room, feeling empty and void of joy, Buffy was right next to my daughter, because I could not be. Since that day, the bond between Zoey and Buffy regales the one we shared. Every trip to the hospital, Buffy is there. When Zoey is recovering from surgery, or sick and hating the world, Buffy is there.

It is my hope that long after I am gone, and Zoey has become the amazing and beautiful woman she is destined to become, that when she misses me, Buffy will still be there.

 

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.

Day 11: Family

Ah, family. This is in the essence of EVERYTHING that I do. The majority of the hats of which I wear all are due to my family. Husband, dad, son, brother, cousin, etc. All of these roles I take on with pride. I feel that this may be something a bit stronger in my case, than many of you.

We moved, a lot, when I was growing up.  It seemed like every two years (and that, indeed, was the average for a LONG time) we were moving. Not just to a new house, but a new state. This very large factor during my early years caused me to be different. I never let others get too close. I saw the brutality of what it meant to be “the new kid” all the time. This caused me to put even more walls up.

My strongest and most present friendships were with my brothers. They were my confidants, my peers. This caused strange rifts between those that I would later call my associates (instead of friends) and myself. I mean, who wants to hand out with the kid who always had a younger brother with him? Honestly, and I can say this with much confidence, it did not bother me.  My brothers were (and still are) some of the coolest people that I have ever met.

Family is why I am who I am, and do what I do.

Family is my rock, and my everything. I know that I am lucky to have such an awesome family, and I am thankful for them all, every day. It is the safety, understanding, and omnipresence of family that I want to instill in my children. No matter what, family (should) have your back and be a place of uplifting safety. They should teach us all how to…

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.

Day 10: The Opportunity That Got Away

Wow! Really? The opportunity that got away? Such a loaded topic. That being said, strap in. I have had some coffee, a red bull, and got some sleep.  *cracks knuckles* let’s do this.

In this life I have learned many, many lessons.  Some lessons I have learned the hard way.  I have experienced loss in ways that I would wish on no one. I have held people as they have taken their last breath. My life has crumbled before my eyes due to the choices of others.  However, I have also experienced joy beyond measure. I have seen the fruits of my tireless efforts pay off in spades. I have been able to help others, more than I would help myself.

If I spent time dwelling on the ‘opportunity that got away’ I would not be where I am today.

I have a family that means the world to me. The love and friendship of a woman that I do not deserve, but she still chose me to be her husband. I am in a job that I love, doing things that excite me. This is not to say that I am complacent. I am constantly working on my hustle, and driving myself to greater heights.

Boiling it down to the most finite logic, EVERY decision that we make results in the potential for an opportunity to be lost. That is what makes life so hard. Deciding to take that job, over another, means that your career path is forever changed. Dealing with a break up may open the doors for something greater (mine all did). It sucks, trust me, I know. I have this thing about me. Others, who know my story, say that I have stared the devil in the eyes, and watched him blink. So, these words come from well-founded experience, not theory nor conjecture.

Make the best of the opportunities that you have.

Do not focus on what is behind you, look to the now, and ahead. We could all languish in the past, lament over the choices that we made, or were made for us.  But what a depressing state to be in. I am not in the business of regretting much. I am accountable to where I am now, and the hardships, and graces, which got me here, do not go unnoticed, or un-thanked.  Yep, that’s right, I am thankful for the bad things. I am grateful for bad decisions. Every single one of them have brought me to the life that I have now. Regardless of where you are in your path, or what your life is like, it is still yours, and you are still alive.

Life is a gift, not an opportunity

This is why I am the way that I am. I see each and every day as a gift. There are infinite possibilities for the future that I can make for myself, my beloved, and my children. All of these possibilities come from choice.  Often we do not have the opportunity to weigh out our decisions, think about what we may be losing in the wash. However, having a fantastic understanding that where we have been has made us who we are helps in passing off regrets, and looking for the opportunities to come.

If you are dwelling in the past, heal. You are not doing something wrong by living with this regret. You are doing yourself a disservice, but I will never admonish you for that. But, do me a favor. When things are dark and bleak, and you close your eyes, I know that you are seeing a fleeting glance of the opportunity that got away. Hold on to that, but then draw a line to where you are now because of it. You are still here, there is still life, and there is still boundless opportunities ahead of you.  Many of those may be better than the one that got away. But you will not see them if your eyes are close.

Live big, love bigger, and be kind always.

Day 8: Your favorite recipe and why.

There is a fine art in the making of a great meal.  I have found, time and time again, that often simplicity can produce some of the most complex tastes. I would be hard-pressed to say that much is better than a finely grilled (medium-rare) steak seasoned with nothing more than salt and pepper, with a loaded baked potato and a crisp salad. However, that is not the question. A recipe. Hmm.

Well, in the fall and winter my beloved makes this killer lasagna, in a crock-pot. I would have to put this one nearest the top of all things. There is a heartiness, mixed with a savory flair, which just screams family dinner. Another amazing part of this meal, albeit not part of the recipe, is the looks OF my kids’ faces when they have finished. There is also the time spent as a family eating it.

In all things, I strive to do the most good WITH and FOR my family. Dinner is one of the times that I can excel in this.

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.

Day 6: A Song That Fits Right Now

I did not think that this was going to be an easy one. My love of music is as broad and deep as my love for reading.  There were some staple songs that always seem to reach deep:

  • “Counting Stars” – OneRepublic
  • “Heathens” – Twenty One Pilots
  • “Wake Me Up” – Avicii
  • “On Top of the World” – Imagine Dragons

And a LONG, LONG list of others.

However, this one wound up being more about a moment today than I thought. It is funny how things work out.

Today was an awesome day, on the end of a busy week. But there was something going on that the sheer enormity of the meaning was getting lost in the shuffle.  Until we walked into church. This year was Zoey’s first year attending VBS.  I know, for some of you there is the resounding, “So What?” and your reasoning is sound.

However, there are many things about Zoey that make things harder than your ‘average’ (almost) 6-year-old. She is adjusting to glasses, hearing aids, and becoming aware. Our little social butterfly is finding there are still times that she is on the outskirts of the groups of kids her own age. It could be her looks, the fact that due to medical issues she is still in diapers, because she is so much smaller than her peers, or for any reason. Kids, are kids. We had to work hard this year to get her to a place where she could attend VBS this year, so damn hard.

She did it! She had a blast. There was not a day that she did not wake up excited, and a night that she did not talk my ear off when I came home. We love our church, and so many of the people in it. They have made all the things that make Zoey different evermore the reason for inclusion. As a community they have showered us with love, deep and honest love. Many have asked questions that no others seem to care too, all to get to know her better.

And today a new song.

Today, something awesome happened. Our little girl joined all her friends from VBS… on the stage… in church… and they sang! I was able to sit and watch my daughter, center stage, sing and dance with so many other kids. It was hard not to cry tears of joy, but they were beaten ceaselessly by my broad smile. Not only is the song that my daughter sang today one that fits right now because of the journey that she has been on, but the lyrics as well.

“I was made for this, I live for this

God has a reason, reason for my life

I’m gonna shout it out, without a doubt

I was born for this, built a for purpose

Built for a purpose

Built for a purpose” (‘Made For This”, GroupMusic,2017 Maker Fun Factory)

My daughter was made for something bigger than I could have ever dreamed of for her. I have been coming to terms with this for the last five years. The interesting thing, that I have hit on at various times, is that I was made to be her dad. The one that she needs. There is something heartwarming and humbling about that fact.

So, for today, at this moment, my daughter singing ‘Made for this’ fits right now, in so many ways.

In fact,  here is a video of her singing for you to enjoy. Perhaps you will see that you were made for this, whatever that ‘this’ is for you.

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.

Day 5: Things You Never Got to Say

“I’m sorry”

When I was a child I lost a grandfather to cancer. I was so mad that he left me that I stayed home from his funeral. Let me backtrack a little to provide context.

I was blessed to be surrounded by amazing role models. Both of my grandfathers showed me how to use my brain, to follow my heart, and the importance of family. Grandpa Neal (the grandfather in question) was a genius. I am not just saying that to say that, he legitimately was. My time with him was spent exploring museums where he knew the name of EVERYTHING. I even chatted with a friend of his halfway around the world via shortwave radio. We discussed stars, physics, science, logic and life. Undoubtedly he is the spark of influence for my love of dinosaurs, and the educational path that I walked down.

I would give anything to tell him that I am sorry. Sorry for being selfish in my pain. I know, I was a child, but he had taught me to be better.

“Thank You”

For my other grandfather, I feel I never said thank you enough. He and my father taught me my love of fishing, being out on the farm, desire to create, and the value of hard work. When he passed I rushed from Louisiana to Missouri. I cried, hard, while reading his military service. I shuddered, for the only time, while standing at attention in my dress blues as the shots from the 21 gun salute rang out.

The lessons that he taught me have brought me further that I thought I would. The iconic belief of family first was graven upon my soul with each and every minute. I long to hear his deep laugh, see his brilliant smile, and to tell him thank you one thousand more times.

My life has shown me time and time again not to hold words. The times that I have, have stuck with me for decades. Perhaps you can take that from me today. Tell that person you are sorry. Reach out to that other person and tell them that you forgive them. Hold your loved ones close and tell them you love them. Never hold your words of good. Ever.

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.

Putting Fear in the Fearless: Tales of Failure as a Father

Yesterday, my world stopped, and a fear arose. I am still shaking off the ghost of what happened. Sleep has not gone well.

This weekend was a long and busy one. On the list of activities was getting together with my Dad, stepmom, and family.  We wanted to hang out, and have the kiddos go swimming at the hotel. So, we packed up and headed to the other side of town. The overcast, rain-laden clouds hung heavily in the sky, however, this did not affect the interior of our minivan as we traversed through the city. The littles knew we were on our way to see Grandpa and Grandma.  Their conversation was peppered with comments about pizza and even the word “pool.” As for Kati and I, our conversation was more softened about the busy times we have found ourselves in.

We arrived. Like a heard of animals we descended upon the hotel’s atrium. There, family and pizza boxes awaited. The boys took over a table to snack, juggle children, and play cribbage. Some of the children wandered over asking what we were playing. Smiles flippantly appeared upon all of the dad’s faces, it was about time to pass this game on to the next generation. Such a stoic torch, one that has been passed throughout our family for longer than many of us know.

After some pizza, and cribbage, the locals were getting restless. It was also at that time that some of the other children needed to go home for naps.  So, the gaggle was reduced to our three and one of my nieces.  My brother stayed to hang out with us, and to see if his daughter wanted to swim. So, a quick change into swimsuits was had. There is something amazing about the sound of little feat running down long halls. The heavy padded carpet making a thud, thud, thud that reverberates as the base, below the trill of their voices. The anticipation and excitement crescendos with each and every spoken word. I am thankful that it was mid-afternoon. This lessened my fear that anyone could be sleeping. We opened the door to the small indoor pool and all worked to contain the excitement of the children.

I hopped in the pool.  Like children looking at a puppy both Zoey and David circled around the pool, they wanted to jump in. They listened. Many of the methods that I have learned, and those that were added by family swim lessons at the Y took hold. I watched as they both sat down, feet dangling in the warm water.  My children don’t fear the water.  Heck, they do not really fear anything. They know that they are strong, I know that they are resourceful, and my fear is that they are fearless.

When it comes to water, I have a long history. I have been on swim teams since I was a teenager.  Though not the fastest, there was a passion. This passion still exists today. I would rather be in a pool swimming endless laps over a short sprint on a track, any day. I took scuba diving for credit in college… because I wanted to. Since then I have used my certification speeding time floating in the endless abyss. As a result, I have learned not to completely fear, but to respect the water. Most of all, I have learned that things can happen in a second that can change your life, or even end it.

Much like looking to the stars and running barefoot in the grass, I have been working with my kids on learning how to swim. Teaching them that some fear is good, and a ton of respect is better. We have taken family swim lessons, and have plans for more. My comfortable relationship with water is something that I want to pass on. For both its power and its beauty are mesmerizing.

I pointed to Zoey. She stood, hands exactly wringing themselves. I counted, using my fingers, to three, and with a high-pitched, gleeful scream, she jumped to me. We laughed, and giggled. I moved her back to the side to hold on. As she was climbing out, I pointed to David.  He stood, and I could not see any fear, just the contained excitement shivering through his little body.  I counted, using my fingers, to three, and he leaped into my arms with a scream of joy.  For what seems like forever, this rotation continued.

Eventually we ended up in the shallows. 3 feet deep, stairs with a rail. I looked and there was the rest of the family. My niece was playing in the shallows, showing me how tall she was. My dad and brother were playing a game, while Kati and my step-mom were chatting (Jacob in tow). Meanwhile, my two wanted rides.  So, I started with Zoey. David sat down on the steps, holding onto the rail, as we had practiced. With a whoosh I was off with Zoey. As I made it to the middle of the deep end, I turned to look… and my heart stopped.

David had decided to stand up, his foot slipped, as did his hand. He was in water over his head. His arms began to flail, he tried to call out for help. My son was drowning.

 

fear has come

 

Fear gripped me like a vice, and my heart stopped.

In a flash I jerked towards him, arm stretched. I needed to get to my boy. Zoey was on my back, arms around my neck. As I made this move she tightened. My scream for help, for anyone on the side to help my boy, it was cut off as her little arms held on for dear life.

He just kept flailing, and bobbing, struggling to float, trying to breath. I tried to lunge towards him again. Fear riddled me as I tried to reach my drowning son. One arm outstretched, with every tendon and fiber reaching for him in vain. I tried to scream again. My chest pounding against my daughters little arms wrapped tightly around my neck. I reached up to pull Zoey’s arms off my throat as a blur came from the right of the pool.

In the wake of it all, by pure chance, my brother happened to look at me. He saw the look of horror and fear on my face. Following my gaze, he saw David. He leapt to action, and leapt into the pool.  He pulled David up and held him close as I finally reached them.

In that moment, all were on their feet. My brother placed David on the side of the pool, he sat there coughing and crying as we flocked to him. I have never been so happy to see a coughing little boy in my whole life. I reached out for him as tears filled my eyes.

My heart began to beat, slowly. But the fear remained.

I hugged him, looked in his eyes, asking over and over again if he was ok.

“Oh-tay daddy” he replied, over and over again.

Finally, after a few minutes, many tears, and some towels, we continued our play, though a bit more restrained than before.

Now we watch and make sure that there are no signs of Dry Drowning. This is something that all parents should be aware of, and never experience. It will add a whole new level of fear regarding the pool for your kids. Long and short of Dry Drowning is where some water enters the lungs. It causes some swelling that limits the oxygen exchange, and has the same result (and effects) of drowning. It can happen with a delay up to 24 hours before the person shows any signs that it is going on. Though rare, it happens. We, as parents, should know about it, and fear it. This is especially relevant as summer is near. The time of pool parties, and swimsuits eagerly is ahead of us.

Fear be damned, today is another day.

But, as I said, I cannot shake the ghost. As a result, I fight to get sleep. While I lay there, exhausted, I see those moments over and over. Almost as soon as I close my eyes, I am taken back. I watch it playing from a birds eye view. I consequently rip myself apart. How did I let myself get so far away? It does not seem like it was that far. It is because of this that I will fight to be a better dad. But, since I know myself well enough, I will also never cease chastising myself for not getting there sooner.

Most of all, I will never cease being thankful for my brother jumping in. My brother is a hero. Seconds matter, and in those seconds, he jumped in.  Nicholas, if you read this, know that I love you, and that I owe you. I will never thank you enough for jumping in to help my little boy. You said it was no big deal because I would have done the same, and I agree with you. But it is a big deal, to me. Thank you Nicholas, a thousand times, thank you.

Later that day, when I was talking to David about what had happened, and that I was scared, I could see that he was too. When I told him that I loved him, he looked at me. His beautiful eyes filled with love and he replied,

“I love pizza”.

Finally, all was right with the world.

Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.