Random by Design

I don’t like missing events to which I’ve made a commitment. Case in point, our writers group meets once a month, and tonight was the scheduled meeting night. Unfortunately, we weren’t sure if we’d be able to make it because my wife was slammed at work, and she was unable to leave at the necessary time in order for us to make it to our meeting by 7:00 PM. In addition to that, there was the overwhelming feeling of exhaustion from a ragged work day and what has been an even more ragged work week. I was on the fence, and definitely leaning in the direction of missing the meeting.

Then I received a text from daughter.

“Can we hang out this afternoon? It feels like forever since I’ve seen you. Maybe we can grab a bite?”

How can I say no to the young woman who owns my heart. The fact she lives with her mother and has a fairly busy social and extra-curricular schedule means daddy/daughter time is very much at a premium.

I picked her up and we headed to a restaurant for dinner. On the way she filled me in on her current assignment for English class. She has to write a short story about a dystopian society, and she didn’t know where to begin. To further complicate matters, her best friend had a great plot for her story, and my daughter was starting to fret about being able to do her project.

We kicked around some thoughts. She quickly rejected my initial ideas, and I quickly realized the other story lines I was coming up with were actually regurgitated plots from movies and novels. “Wait. That’s the plot to Serenity. Oops. I’m pretty sure that’s Brave New World. Ugh. I think I just combined The Hunger Games with Divergent.”

Back and forth we went. Each step forward was followed by two steps back. The only tension she’d have in her narrative was the retelling of our dinner encounter. I decided to call my wife.

“Are you on your way home?”

“Yes, why?”

“I’m at dinner with Natalie and I can use your help.”

<confused silence> “Um. Okay. With what?”

I explained what we were working on and where we were. She was only five minutes away.

Upon my wife’s arrival, I could see the look of excited relief on my daughter’s face. My wife, who has been consuming books at an amazing pace over the last several years, is particularly fond of YA, dystopian stories. She and Natalie quickly kicked the brainstorming session into high gear. Within minutes, they developed a working plot, characters, and an overall feel for the story. The excitement my daughter was exuding was tangible.

Although I contributed with key ideas here and there, it was the Natalie and Lee show (NataLee?). More importantly, it was so awesome to see them both come together and bond over a moment like they did. To see the look of admiration in my daughter’s eyes coupled with the sincere willingness on the part of my wife to be a positive and helpful resource to her step-daughter was simply beautiful.

Beautifully Random

I like to think that coincidence is God showing off, and it’s no coincidence we missed our meeting this evening. The sequence of events that made tonight possible may appear random, but I am convinced they are of His design. I love my writing group, and I’ve learned so much from them over the past couple of years, but I wouldn’t trade tonight’s memories for the world.

Advertisements

Forgiving Ray Rice

I am a Christ follower. I believe in His Word, and I strive – poorly at times – to be a reflection of God’s love and mercy. I am a father to a daughter, in love with the one woman who owns my heart, fiercely loyal to and protective of my little girl. I am a sports fan, often times consumed by the games grown men play, and the peripheral happenings that surround them.

I find these three aspects of my life coming together with regards to the Ray Rice domestic violence scandal. If you’re not familiar with the incident, I will not regurgitate the specifics. Rather, please feel free to link out to ESPN.com for the full story. I am also not here to join in the cacophony of outrage and opinions that has inundated not just the sports media, but mainstream news outlets as well.

Rather, I want to explore the space of what happens next. Not for Ray Rice or his wife Janay, the victim of Rice’s physical assault, but for us instead .

There is a rush to create distance from Ray Rice the man. First, the Baltimore Ravens, Rice’s former employer, terminated his contract. The NFL promptly followed suit and suspended him indefinitely, thus impacting his ability to be signed by another NFL team. Ravens fans sought to return the jersey of a man once considered a beloved member of their franchise, and commercial sponsors severed ties with the former running back. Ray Rice is left a modern day leper, shunned and discarded by society.

Still, in the immediate aftermath of the February incident, and now in the current and upsetting media storm, the victim of Ray Rice’s rage and stupidity, the only person whose opinion really matters, has chosen to display forgiveness. Janay proceeded to wed Ray in March, a mere six weeks following the violent incident. In a press conference in May, Janay stated she, “deeply regret(ed) the role that (she) played in the incident that night,” a comment that left many nervous and confused. Just today, Janay repeated her position of support saying, “I love my husband. I support him. I want people to respect our privacy in this family matter.”

My position on domestic violence is quite steadfast. In discussing the issue with my daughter, I’ve been quite imperative; “He hits you, you leave him. It’s not up for discussion. It’s over.” I am not sure how I would react as a dad at the knowledge that a man struck my daughter. I pray I never have to find out … and that I have sufficient money in the bank to make bail.

I also understand that both positions are not mutually exclusive. You can forgive a person who has wronged you and still choose to no longer associate with that individual. Forgiveness does not mean having to accept or tolerate the status quo, and growth and forgiveness almost always go hand in hand.

Yet through it all, we can look at this scandal through a worldly prism of outrage and contempt, or we can look at it through the prism of instruction we find in the Bible. “Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.” – Luke 17.4

Through it all, it’s been Janay Rice who has acted Christ-like, proverbially turning the other cheek, and choosing love over spite or revenge. The outcast leper is hers to heal and His to redeem.

Janay and Ray Rice
Photo by Patrick Semansky/AP, via abcnews.go.com

Delightfully Different

I really hate Mondays. Even during the NFL season when Monday Night Football is in full swing, I still hate Mondays. However, sometimes Monday’s just have a way of working out.

On the heels of a successful showing a the Florida State Cup and three games in two days, my daughter’s soccer team had the night off. No practice. This meant a night of not seeing my daughter given I take her to her training sessions on Mondays. I feel I don’t get to see my kids nearly enough, and I know my daughter will be off to college (2017) before I can say, “Where did the time go?” So tonight, we did something completely different.

I took my daughter to dinner. Just the two of us. I let her pick the place – Bonsai Sushi – and let her order what she wanted. In a manner that is typical of my daughter and less and less surprising every day, she ordered off the menu. “I don’t see it here on the list, but this place has a Caterpillar roll and it’s really good.” Not only was it good, it was divine.

Caterpillar Roll
(Stock image. Not the actual roll we had.)

We followed up dinner with some dessert next door at Happy Cow. It’s our favorite frozen yogurt spot, and it’s definitely a treat. The toughest choice is always, “should I be good and get fat-free yogurt with fresh fruit toppings, or be bad? (i.e. everything that contains peanut butter in it)”

 

Happy Cow

Finally, she wanted to practice her driving, so we went to a secluded part of the housing development and worked on her fledgling driving skills.

Dinner, dessert, and driving: It was a 3D kinda night. If you had been standing in front of me, you might have seen my heart beat its way out of my chest. It was an evening I’ll cherish forever, and one that made an every day Monday turn out to be quite spectacular.

 

Natalie and Me

Father Time: Undefeated

There’s a saying about aging, superstar athletes that stay in the game a couple of years too long: Father Time is undefeated. Twice this week, I was slapped in the face by that truth. I was reminded that my prime is behind me, and that with every passing day, I am simply getting a little bit older.

The most recent reminder was today when I went in to get my eye exam. Although my new prescription is just about the same as it was three years ago (yes, it had been three years since my last exam ….. don’t judge), the reality is my eyesight is worse now. During the exam, the optometrist had me try to read one of the smaller lines on the eye chart with only one eye. My defeated response to him was merely, “Yeah … that’s not going to happen.”

The other reminder was over the weekend. I was getting caught up on some household chores, one of which included laundry. When I have my kids on the weekends, it’s not unlikely for them to leave clothes in the hamper of their rooms. I try my best to get it all washed and over to their mother’s house so that they’re not without an item they may want or need for the school week. Well, apparently I missed the memo where my daughter graduated from what I will call ‘regular’ teenager underwear to items that can best be described as what would be modeled during the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.

#WTF?

I was left with the sickening feeling in my stomach that A) my little girl continues to grow up (despite all my mandates to her that she not), and B) that my life had become the Bill Engvall Show (see clip below starting at 13:18)

I know it will continue to get worse before it feels like it’s getting better. My little girl will be a full-fledged woman before I know it. My son will, in a couple of years, be looking down at me as he continues to sprout like a weed. There is no controlling the passing of time, so I guess all that’s left to do is roll with it.

At least I’ll be able to see these changes more clearly with my new glasses.

Daddies and Daughters (and Heartbreak)

I’ve had my heart broken, my world shattered, my dreams extinguished in the blink of an eye. I’ve felt the hollowness of failure; the lung-gripping stranglehold at the realization that everything of which I was sure turned out to be false. It was the worse feeling in my life, and it was a pain I thought never could be surpassed.

I was wrong.

It’s become very apparent to me that as my daughter continues to grow-up and mature into a young adult, as she continues to scream for independence and long for adulthood, my place in her life continues to diminish. With every shrug of the shoulders and with every roll of her eyes, the chasm between us grows greater.

“I don’t need you. You’re so boring. I’m so embarrassed. You’re not funny (or interesting or .. whatever).” She doesn’t say these words, but she doesn’t have to. My daughter’s eyes and body language yell it for her.

There was a time when the hugs were never-ending. The smiles were iridescent. The look in her eyes was one of love and wonderment and joy. I am sure she still feels those emotions, but not as a result of seeing or being with me. Now it’s celebrity crushes and her life on Instagram. It’s hanging out with her friends and shopping for clothes that leave me questioning whether they’re appropriate or I’m just an old man with dated sensibilities.

And she’s only thirteen.

Like a truck rolling downhill without breaks, the void between me and the little woman that used to be my baby girl will continue to gain momentum. Whereas now I’m a footnote to her daily life, over the next six to ten years, I think I’ll be lucky to be a mere afterthought.

She continues to take in new experiences. She continues to view life through the evolving eyes of an adolescent that can see womanhood far off in the horizon. She continues to grow, her once tiny hands now too big for me to maintain being wrapped around her finger.

And as for me, I thought I knew what heartbreak felt like. As usual, I was wrong.

I know the correct thing to do is to give her the freedom and independence she so desperately craves, still maintaining boundaries and being there to course-correct as needed. But I must allow her to navigate these new waters on her own, a direction having been provided by the previous thirteen years of parenting, but now with her hands at the helm and not mine.

Somewhere in my heart I know that in time my daughter will once again incorporate me into her day-to-day. That’s the way it happens, right? We rebel. We know better. We live life, only to realize our parents were right all along. That’s how it happened for me at least, and I know I still struggle with having the type of relationship with my mom I can only assume she wanted to have with me from the beginning.

So here I sit, a tear in my eye and a heaviness in my heart, as I force myself to learn to let go of that little girl that was, and stand in the background for the young woman that is. I sit here with my heart broken …. broken by the one person who captured it from the very second she was born.

And such is Fatherhood.

Having “The (Other) Talk” With My Daughter

So I was sitting around listening to the podcast of a sports radio show out of Miami, and the conversation turned to how the Miami Heat fans cheered Chris Brown when his image was displayed on the jumbo-tron. The show’s host, Dan Le Batard, mentioned how he recoiled in disgust at the crowd’s reaction given the details of the police report filed following Brown’s physical abuse of Rihanna.

The conversation then went into the direction of, “If Rihanna can forgive Chris Brown, then who are we to judge?”

And that’s where my head exploded.

There are two components to domestic abuse; those who abuse and those who enable the abuse. Rihanna’s decision to forgive Chris Brown is her prerogative, and when looked at with greater and deeper perspective, it’s also the Christian thing to do. What I find appalling, however, and – well, unforgivable – is that she’s not using this experience, and the media frenzy surrounding it, to speak out visibly and publicly about domestic violence. Rather, when looked at through the prism of Rihanna as a public figure, her inaction serves, in my opinion, as implied tolerance for men who beat their girlfriends or wives.

I was driving my daughter to soccer practice recently, and a popular song I didn’t recognize came on the radio. I inquired out loud who sings the song (because the voice sounded familiar).

“That’s Pitbull with Chris Brown.”

“Chris Brown?”

“Yeah.”

“You know he beat up Rihanna, right?”

“Yeah, but they’re back together now. They’re doing a song together.”

I gave my daughter ‘the dad look’ as I asked her, “And what does that say about Rihanna?”

I don’t know if there’s a right way to approach your pre-teen daughter about the subject of domestic abuse, but I felt that was the moment for me. We talked about how serious an issue it is, and how there’s never an excuse for a man to put his hands on a woman.

I went on to tell her there are only three acceptable outcomes to a scenario – God forbid – where she’s the victim of domestic violence.

“You either A) pack your bags and get out, B) you throw his ass out (and subsequently throw out his stuff, change the locks, the whole nine yards), or C) make sure he ends up in the hospital.”

That’s it. No excuses. No trying to understand or justify why it happened. None of that garbage. The imperative I gave my daughter that afternoon is that the first time a guy puts his hands on her, it will be the absolute last time he ever puts his hands on her.

Maybe I’m being a stereotypical, over-protective dad. Maybe I could have couched the conversation a little better. Maybe I should have consulted with her mom (and step-mom) first. Still, I’ve seen firsthand the affects domestic violence, when left unchecked, can have on a family. My wife’s cousin Dee is no longer with us because of it. She was only twenty. I believe her tragic death, like most suffered at the hand of domestic abuse, could have been avoided.

So, no, I don’t think it’s too soon to talk to my daughter about this topic. The sooner I can get her to understand these types of realities, the more prepared she’ll be to face them should it ever come to that. My daughter will be going to college in five and half years, and it’s stories like those of Dee Curry, Yeardley Love, and this one that scare me to death.

I don’t think there’s one right answer or a one-size-fits-all solution to addressing these topics with our kids. I guess the important thing is that we make an attempt to address them.

After all, I’d much rather deal with my daughter being uncomfortable with me for several minutes than with my daughter being a statistic.