I spent the better part of the night before I left to attend Dad 2.0 Summit filled with excitement. My son and daughter gleefully put on music and took my hands so we could dance. Filling my soul with all the joy and laughter that it could take. I knew that I needed it to sustain me. How could I justify flying across the country, leaving my wife and three kids (all under the age of five), to go to a conference that talks about being a good dad? My hope was that it would be found in these moments pre-flight.
With a final kiss goodbye, I slid the door closed and walked into the airport. It only took two steps for me to physically feel that my heart was not with me. Behind me, in that minivan, the one with the three crying children and teary-eyed wife, that is where my heart was. As excited as I was to be heading to Dad 2, I felt empty and alone as I walked through the airport. Something was lacking. Stressful as it may be to travel with kids, I missed having to chase them down. Usually I would be focused on my kids as we waited in the endless TSA line. Instead, I stood there, alone. I missed it so much, that it angered me. I felt a fiery heat rise in the void that was created when my heart was left in that van.
“Real fatherhood means love and commitment and sacrifice and a willingness to share responsibility and not walking away from one’s children.” – William Bennet
All of it, all the angst and torment, was directed at myself. Angry for getting on this plane. Torment because I missed my kids. But, woefully I moved on. I thought of the excitement that lay before me. I was going to be surrounded by other dads talking about what they have experienced, and what they are working through, as dads. This summit is a chance to have open, honest, raw and vulnerable conversations about the thing that we all love more than life itself, being a dad. There is much laughter, joking, and even crying about some of the things that we have gone through. There is so much acceptance and support for every single dad there. It is kind of beautiful actually.
Over the last five years I have discussed the state of fatherhood. I have written about some of the hardest things that I have ever had to do. I have written with raw and visceral emotion about every time that my daughter has had a surgery. Pouring out the feelings and encapsulating the moments while waiting for a team of surgeons to open her skull, re-shape it, and put it back together like a jigsaw puzzle. I have expressed every question, fear, and worry as many dad’s do not. Open and exposed for the world to see.
On the other side of things, I have written about the things that have brought so much more joy than I thought possible into my life. Taking every single milestone and event as viewed through the eyes of a proud father. My pride being a banner for the world to see, and a model for my children to learn. Never shy of showing my joy for these things. Yet again, standing on the outside of ‘normal’ fatherhood. Unashamed of showing my feelings for my amazing kids.
The same amazing kids that I just walked away from.
The void which my heart left in its wake, quivers with sorrow as I board the plane. I miss them. My God do I miss them. Holding onto the memories of the dance gives me peace.
Why do I do this? Looking at my stats, usually with a stiff drink in hand, I can tell that my prolific writing is not just for solace, or confirmation. My reach is far narrower than many of the people that I will meet at this conference. I wonder how many know of the endless nights that I spend working though self-doubt, and creative enlightenment in ways to expand my reach. Of the countless drafts and plans that I have worked through in an effort to better tell this amazing story of my journey through fatherhood. Then I wonder that if they did know these things, would it matter?
In my last five years of being a dad I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by some prolific storytellers, who just happen to have kids. They write and shoot videos, often tongue-in-cheek, about their adventures into this great unknown we call parenting. They do not dance around the difficult topics. Instead, they face them head on. They have been some of my best teachers, and dearest friends, as I have pushed myself to write more, do more, show more.
As the summit carried on, one thing resounded in the general buzz of the atmosphere. With all the ideas and accolades, there was the same sorrowful voice about how much we missed out kids. I held fast to those memories of my kids and I dancing, without a care in the world. Those memories that I crammed into my soul before leaving. In a flash, something begin to happen. Over the crowd I could hear the music wafting through the air, mixing with the distant sounds of my children’s laughter.
It was so surreal. I could feel the carpet under my feet and the hands of my children in mine. I could feel my body wanting to dance with them, as though they were there. In this moment, it hit me. There was something that says more about the current state of fatherhood then I thought real. There is something about this dance that is now screaming as an epic moment of realization. So, I do what I have done for five years and I write. I glide my lyrical brush across time and space to make sense of it all. Removing layer after layer of dust to uncover something for all of us to see.
The very moment that someone becomes a dad their lives are changed forever. The act of entering fatherhood means that our lives are sent careening down a torrent path filled with the ominous unknown. The twists, turns, rises and falls are consumed with moments of fear, doubt, joy and often moments so hilarious that we can do nothing but laugh. We have to make decisions very early on that forever alter our children’s lives. Ironically is a decision that most of us make absentmindedly.
Holding onto my children’s hands as we dance in the living room, something was happening. As I replayed the moment over and over again in my head, I began to see. This moment has something hidden deep in the steps, the motion, the dance itself. Tightly wound like my son’s hand on a Popsicle stick, or my daughter’s on a piece of chocolate, so tight that you cannot see it, and surely it would break.
In a flash, it becomes clear. Brilliant like the sun on a summer’s day. Bright like the full moons reflection upon a still pond. This thing buried deep with the dance all centers on a single decision that we all make at that very moment we become dads. A decision that shows the importance of fatherhood as a whole, but also how the idea of fatherhood has changed. The simple act of dancing with my children exposes a question that many do not even know they answer.
How do we raise our children to be better people then we are?
As dads, we have the obligation, not the choice, of making a decision on how to raise our children. We can raise them in such a way that forces them to fit into a mold that, in-turn, fits into our lifestyle or point of view. We could constrain them to the perfect little thoughts and dreams that we have had for them since we found out that they were on the way. Society, and all of its morals and ideals could crash into our voices, masking reason with what society feels is right and good. Or, we can get uncomfortable with the unknown, and let our children become who they want to be.
Our decision, and my choice.
As for my wife and I, we could raise our children by any of these ideals. Instead we raise our children with the motto: live big, love bigger, and be kind, always. This means that we place value in living with honor, choosing to love, and the importance of being kind. To me it doesn’t matter who my kids might grow up to be. I just want them to grow up, slowly, and be happy with who they become. I have learned that it should not matter who they want to be. What does matter is that I exhaust all efforts for them. That I let them explore this crazy world around them. Ensuring that they find what makes them happy. Above all else, encouraging them to go after what makes them happy.
What matters is it that I cheer them on in every possible endeavor. To do this not just from the sidelines, but right there with them. That it is more important to cast aside my ideals, and help them explode onto this world, and leave a mark that THEY are happy with, not the mark that I hope they make. To show them that inclusivity STARTS at home, at our dining room table. That love and respect is a requirement, not some gracious thing they should do.
Fatherhood In Practicality…
There’s something awesome about being a dad. You must force yourself to take a step back from it all. Look past the unknown and see the brilliance and beauty behind it. If you let yourself just being your children’s cheerleader, their champion, and their springboard, there’s so much greatness that you have the ability to witness. There will be times when things don’t go their way, and all you have to do is be there for them. They will be things that they want to do that do not even remotely fit your mold.
I’ve been watching my oldest son over the last couple of days and I see something that would terrify most. He would make one damn good ballet dancer. Looking back, not too far, I would find myself doing a plethora of things. Spend evenings outside with him tossing the football with him in hopes of him becoming a defensive end like his father. Enrolling him in sports, wood-shop, welding and other things to entice the engineer side that I have seen in him. Excite him with Lego’s and building sets to have his mind shift to constructive creativity. However, fatherhood has changed. I have gleaned so much from my dad, as well as the other dads at the Dad 2 summit.
Instead of doing those things, what is it that I do?
I dance with him.
And he loves it.
Perhaps even more than I do.
Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always
“Without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community.”- Anthony J. D’Angelo
Before I knew it, the calendar changed, and the time to pack had come. List of stuff and things flew through my mind at a breakneck pace, and began to create a whirlwind around me. But in a moment, it all stopped, and came resting down on the ground. There was something missing, something that I had allowed my excitement for this journey to block my view. In that moment, it became clear what that was. Fighting the desire to fall in tears for the enormity of what I had missed, I moved forward. I moved past all the stuff, the things, the lists and scooped my children up in my arms. We laughed, we played, we hugged, and we kissed. And life became our chaotic sense of normal again.
Tomorrow I will be leaving to begin the first leg of my journey to the Dad 2.0 Summit. This will be my second time having the honor of attending. It is no small shock to me that I have the same level of excitement as I did last year. There is very much the feeling of Christmas, of family, of community. Last year I went only know a few of the dads in attendance. Furthermore, I only knew them by our on-line interactions. Coming away from the summit last year, I left with friends.
I met some of my hero’s, and proved the adage horribly wrong. I met knew people, and received a great deal of guidance on my next steps. There are a few that I have hung out with over the last year. We have been able to expand on our experiences, and broaden our sense of community. There are many that I have spoken with frequently. There have been ventures that we have entered together, and learned a lot along the way. Ultimately, it made me a better father. This community made me cognizant of what I am doing, and what I plan to do.
But in the hustle and bustle of getting ready to go to a social media conference, I was sacrificing time. Time with my children, and my wife. Time that this community of dad’s has shown over and over again is of the up-most importance. It has also made me painfully aware that my children are another year older (plus we have one more, so there is that). That in a blink of an eye a year has passed. That time is truly ever moving.
All of this being said, I am eager to meet with some of the friends that I have made since last year. I am looking forward to the adventure that Kia has afforded us the opportunity of as we drive from Las Vegas to San Diego.
By the way, selfless plug here, you should be following the hashtags #KiaDad and #NiroDads to make sure you can see the hilariousness as well as have a chance to win some awesome prizes.
I am not looking forward to what tomorrow will bring. To watching my family drive away as I enter the airport. To missing even more time with my amazing kids. At least, and this is no small thing, there is the community of dad’s awaiting to gather.
Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always
Just got the suitcases down for my trip to #dad2summit. David walked in… The following conversation happened:
D: what you doing daddy?
Me: I am getting ready for my trip this week kiddo.
D: Daddy trip?
Me: yes little man. I have a trip this week on a plane. I will be gone a few days, but I will be back soon.
D: me go on plane with daddy?
Me: no little man, not this time. Just daddy.
D: (walking out of the room) I go with daddy.
About a minute goes by. I walk out of the bedroom to find David walking back down the hall twords me…
Me: All done for now little man, let’s go…
D: *big smile* let’s go! I go to airport with daddy.
Did not realize until that moment that while David was gone, he had put on his coat and shoes…..
This is going to be a hard week.
Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.
Part of being a trailblazer often means doing something unique, and strange. But, that is where I find myself. Trailblazing as a dad who openly discusses what it is like when you have a child with cranio. Also, talking about how it has changed your view on fatherhood, and enhanced your skill set for your other kiddos. Trailblazing is not for the weak of heart. When it comes to cranio, trailblazing is all I know.
Google News, various medical journal subscriptions, and scholarly articles often fill my inbox letting me know that out there, somewhere, cranio was mentioned. Many times, these are the things that I read first thing in the morning. Let me tell you, there is not much of a better way to start your day then by kicking back and reading a medical journal where they talk about the statistical skull geometry in pediatrics for the basis of development of anthropomorphic test devises to aid in recovery. But, then again, I could just be weird.
This article came across my feed this morning, and something about it struck me. After reading it a few times, I realized, that there is a glaring subtitle that MANY in the cranio community have grown far too accustomed to.
“Doctors had previously told eighteen-month-old Finley’s mom that his condition was nothing to worry about.”
Let that sink in.
A mother, goes into the doctors, worried about her little one, and is told that there is nothing to worry about. This happens, not just for cranio, many times. The idea of parental intuition is a WHOLE different topic, for another day.
In many ways our family was extremely lucky when it came to Zoey being born with Bicoronal Craniosynostosis.
The midwife on duty just happened to be the only one on staff that had just happened to have delivered a child with cranio a few months prior in Australia.
We just happened to be at a hospital where one of the top rated craniofacial doctors just happened to be working.
Oh, and just happened to be at the hospital that day, just a few floors up from the NICU, and just happened to be free when the midwife contacted her.
The same midwife who just happened to know of this doctor in the hospital based on a conversation about the baby that she delivered in Australia.
This doctor just happened to be able to get to the NICU (even before I could) to see Zoey, and instantly was able to diagnose her cranio, have it charted, and begin all the things that were needed to get us where we are today.
We also just happen to be followed by a team that has rigorous open communication, briefings, and a lack of rotation. This means things like for the first five surgeries that Zoey had, we had the SAME anesthesiologist, the SAME nurse, and many of the SAME people in the room. This means that a phone call and an email were sent to our selected (by chance) pediatrician (we love this guy, really) so he had answers to his questions from another doctor before we even saw him. Just so he could focus on her care, and our questions as well.
We have been blessed. Very blessed.
Many are not granted this scenario.
They spend months looking for answers. Saying the same things to countless people wearing scrubs and white coats, all with the same look in their eyes. Until, it just so happens, that they come across the one person who knows. There is a large sigh of relief as they begin to take the steps that many knew were coming, but were just waiting for someone to show them the way.
Regardless of how we started down the path that surrounds Craniosynostosis, and not paying mind to the fact that all of our paths are different (hey, we are all in the same forest at least); there is often a battle cry that arises from our lungs.
We want more people to know about cranio, so countless others do not have to spend months (or years) in the briars blocking the path. Granted, none of us would choose to be on this path. However, there are some of us out there trailblazing so others have a clearer path.
And then, there is a stark and enraging thing that happens.
For many, they are able to have a single surgery, and they are on the other side. Their lives go on as though nothing is wrong, and their voices grow silent. I have seen countless mom-blogs go radio silent within months of their single surgery. Many accounts are deleted or completely re-purposed within 18 months. I am not saying that the mother in the article will cease on her mission. In fact, I hope that she carries on the banner and makes great strides in raising awareness. I see having her story told in an article in Cosmopolitan as a huge step in that mission.
However, I have been trailblazing for awhile now. As much as I hope otherwise, I will, instead, suggest that it is far more common for her voice to grow silent over time. Honestly, I get it. If we were in the position where we only needed a single surgery to repair Zoey’s cranio, we too may have been able to move on with only memories. We may have been able to move significantly past every tense moment, the times in surgery, the times in recovery, the endless research. For us, and for Zoey, this is not the case. Perhaps that makes us special. Perhaps that is what makes us the trailblazing family that we are.
Too often crowded social spaces are full of the battle cry, only to have the resounding voice grow dimmer and dimmer. Frequently there are those that find these groups when they need them. They find comfort, they find peace, they find direction. The speak of doing great things to raise awareness, only to grow silent over time. There are a few, like us, that stick around, and answer call after call for help. But the fact remains, that many have left.
This is why I am trailblazing.
Yes, I am still here. My deep, resonant voice has been echoing in a room often not occupied by other men for almost five years. Trust me, I am constantly on the lookout for other dad bloggers openly discussing craniosynostosis. I have yet to grow weary in my attempt to carry the banner of awareness. For me this means helping professionals understand what cranio is, and what it looks like. This is so that when they see it, they know what to do.
This also means exposing what life is like for us, as a family. Showing what my daughter has been through, and what she continues to go through. Just so others out there looking for answers can find them here. I have yet to falter in speaking. I have yet to lose my desire for teaching all those that I come across. Watching countless others wax and wane in these woods has been, interesting.
But I am not finished.
Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.
Fatherhood has to be one of the toughest things I have ever embarked upon. It is also the thing that brings me some of the greatest joy.
IF you have not seen the vlog that this post pertains too, stop what you are doing and go to the link here:
And spend less than eight minuets getting to know me a little better. I will be referencing things that I spoke about in this video here, and context may be important.
Ok, back to what I was saying:
Now that you have watched the video, let us continue on with the conversation.
Right out of the gate, I want to thank those of you that have been following along for the last few years. Our journey has been rather unique, to say the least, but I hope that you have seen that I try to make the best of it.
I guess that I could roll up the topics into a few points, and discuss them a little further here. Please bear in mind that we are still figuring out how things are going to work with our Blog and Vlog, so let’s see how this works!
From the beginning, my adventure into fatherhood has been overwhelming. Not many parents have the ‘opportunity’ to get to know their child as well as Kati and I did. With all of the tests and conversations that surrounded Zoey (many still do to this day), we had the opportunity to get to see how her bones were developing, how her brain looks, and much more. However, looking back, I see that I had a choice that I had to make early on. I could either embrace Cranio, and all that it brings into our lives, or I could live in fear of it. Out of the shear love of my daughter, I faced cranio, and have embraced it.
It is interesting to realize that in these (almost) five, short, years the ways that I have learned to be a dad. I saw a quote the other day that stated motherhood was natural and fatherhood was a social construct. Now, I could fly off about the wording of that quote, or, I can point out the flaws. Simply, the social construct that surrounds fatherhood is a carryover from the 50’s. There are currently so many working on changing this view. I, proudly, am one of them. The concept of fatherhood needs an overhaul, just as much as does the concept of what makes a man.
Soapbox moment (sorry):
The topic of fatherhood makes me emotional. For some of you, it was plan to see in my video. There is a love that burns like the fire of a thousand suns for my children. Fatherhood has placed my heart on my sleeve, and I am not at all worried about it. Far to often the voices of dad’s goes unheard. This is based on the social construct that dad’s have little to do with raising their children. They just go to work, come home, and help. This social construct surrounding fatherhood does not stand in MANY of the households that I know of. It surely does not hold in mine. It is part of my journey of fatherhood to show this to my children. To have my daughter know what to expect, and my sons to know what is expected.
How has it made me a ‘damn good dad’?
I really do mean what I said in the video regarding not taking the title of “Cranio Dad” lightly. For all the ups and downs that I have been through this far, Fatherhood has been a grand adventure. I have been able to take so much about what I have had to learn to be the kind of father that Zoey needs, and apply it to how I am raising David and Jacob. By ensuring that there is equal 1:1 time, that I focus on the activities that bring them wonder, and by getting to know them, I am taking all the steps that I can to be the dad that EACH of them needs.
Needs vary greatly, and every child is different. One of the biggest things that I learned as I entered fatherhood is that we need to pause, as parents, and wait to see who each child is going to be. That is the hard part, and also the avenue to produce the greatness that we strive for as parents. Waiting. Letting our little ones show us who they are, what they like, what interests they hold dear. It sucks, but I would rather be their champion than their absent-minded coach. Perhaps that is why I feel I am doing my best to be a damn good dad. Because, even though I do not take fatherhood lightly, but I look at it differently than most.
Well, that does it for now. As we keep saying, please feel free to continue this conversation with us. Subscribe to our blog for daily snippets, our vlog for more conversations, and comment with your thoughts. We want to hear what you think, even if it differs greatly from our point of view.
Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.
I, for one, would like to note my disdain for this question. It is not the idea that people actually care, or want to know more. My disdain is purely based on the fact that this is the first question that is asked EVERY Monday morning. It is impossible to sum up the entirety of my fatherly awesomeness into a brief exchange at a water-cooler. But, I do my best to recant the task or task(s) that I completed. The fact that all that we do is captured somewhere on social media, should lift up the fact that others ask the question at all. But, that is enough of my philosophical conundrums for this beautiful Monday morning. It is also a horrible way to lead into what I did over the weekend. That’s writing for you.
This weekend we saw the typical warming weather take place that we often see here on the eastern seaboard. We took advantage of the opportunity and tried to get as much done around the house as we could. One of the projects that was on my list was to build a task board for my kiddos. Zoey had a little flip-chart with magnets for her tasks that my beloved created on the fridge. It had simple things that she needed to do each morning on it, and there was immense joy when she was able to flip each task to done. David, always eager to keep up with his big sister, also wanted something of the same nature.
With the weather being nice, and the time free, I went about making it happen. Though it required a few extra trips to Lowes, I am happy with the outcome.
I also took apart a cheap clock from Wal-Mart and used highlighters to segment the ~12 hours my kids are active into the three parts. The colors correspond to the colors of the boards. There are four tasks on each of the three boards. We try to pick things that are a mixture of what they already do, as well as something that will challenge them. The boards come off and the current time color will always be at the bottom.
So far, the kiddos love it. There will be some coaching that needs to happen for the next few days, but they get it. It may help that when they complete each board, and hand the cards to my beloved or myself, we give them a Hershey’s Kiss. There is more to come on this project. The end goal will be that for each day that the kiddos complete (understandably) all of their tasks, they will get a sticker. Six stickers and they will each get to pick Mommy or Daddy and that parent will take them out to dinner or lunch for some one-on-one time.
Some photos of me completing the task
I am excited to see how this will work out for our kiddos. To watch them learn time management, how to read a clock, and responsibility is going to be awesome, and a bit of a nightmare.
What else did I do this weekend? Well, we knocked out grocery shopping, set up a swing set that our neighbors gave us (pictures to come), cleaned the house, and I worked on Dungeons and Dragons stuff (lots of DnD stuff). There is also the countless cuddles, laughed, diapers, messes, tears, tantrums, screams of joy, and screams of anger, and wrestling matches that make up most of what we do on the weekend. All-in-all, it was a great weekend were we all spent time learning how to…
Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.
For the manager training program that I have been undertaking for the last 10 months I was asked to write/update my personal mission statement. I, for one, was of the practice of updating my mission statement at least yearly. Then I became a dad, and that all changed. Sure, there are endless excuses that I could make as to why I have not updated my mission in almost five years. However, it is not in my nature to accept or make such excuses. There is a lot that can be said about having your own personal mission. The simple act of adding focus, and holding yourself accountable can have a huge impact on your life. Now that Jacob has joined our growing brood, and having been given the assignment, I dove into it.
There are countless ways that one could create their own personal mission statement. The one that I used this time is from Franklin Covey, it was easy to use… and it is free!
So, without further ado…
I am at my best when I am free to create.
I will try to prevent times when I allow others to stagnate my progress.
I will enjoy my work by finding employment where I can solve problems both known and unknown.
I will find enjoyment in my personal life through being a husband, a dad, and a blogger.
I will find opportunities to use my natural talents and gifts such as decision making, leadership, understanding, and foresight.
I can do anything I set my mind to. I will create a farm for special needs children and their families to come and visit to experience rural life in a safe and educational way. A place that is safe, a place of understanding, a place that creates time for these families to have uninterrupted time from all that confines their life.
My life’s journey is to leave a legacy for my children that expands on the ones left for me. To show my sons how to be fathers, husbands and men. To show my daughter what to expect from her perspective spouse. To love my wife in a way that never leaves her doubting her beauty, my devotion to her, or wanting for support.
I will be a person who is remembered for working hard. Not just at work, but at home. Always eager to make time for family, and celebrating every milestone. Being there to catch as many tears as I could. Being stalwart in a mantra of living big, loving bigger, and being kind, always.
My most important future contribution to others will be a legacy of life, love and kindness as a husband, father, and friend.
I will stop procrastinating and start working on:
- Finish writing that darn book!
- Spend more time with my children one-on-one and all together.
- Continue to date my wife and shower her with respect and love.
I will strive to incorporate the following attributes into my life:
- Strong fatherhood ethic
- Endless love for family
- Tireless work ethic
I will constantly renew myself by focusing on the five dimensions of my life:
- Lose weight. Work out often, eat healthy, and be able to keep up with all my children as they grow.
- Continue to grow with my church. Grow deeper in my relationship with God, and show this relationship to my children.
- Read more. Get back to reading a book a week, something different every time. Expand my understanding of all things important to myself and the ones I love.
- Write more. Finish that book, dive deeper into the heart of fatherhood as a blogger, and spread knowledge about craniosynostosis.
- Game nights. Use the time to continue taking a break from life and having fun.
About the book that I am trying to write. All I have to say can be summed up in this comic.
If you have been inspired by my mission statement, feel free to check out the Franklin Covey link HERE to create your own.
Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.