Dad In Progress

So my son informed me he registered for an online gaming tournament, but he was very vague and non-specific with the details. I don’t think he was deliberately trying to hide anything. Rather, he still doesn’t see things from the perspective I do as a dad (what’s the tournament?, what’s the URL?, is there a fee?, what type of personal information, if any did you provide?, etc.)

So I turned to reddit​ to try and research it. I tend to shy away from reddit because sometimes you need a thick skin to navigate the comments, but the users were really helpful and supportive.

reddit-alien

Then I got to these comments. The both filled and broke my heart at the same time.

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I think I am a pretty cool dad, but I am by no means perfect. For as tough as I used to be with my kids, I know I’ve gotten a little soft these last couple of years. Still, I am very proud of the job my ex-wife, my current wife, and I have done in bringing up the two stellar, well behaved, and loving young adults that are my children.

Still, the road ahead is long, and they – as sixteen and fourteen year-olds – have the most challenging time in their lives yet to come. Sports radio personality Colin Cowherd once said it best about this age for kids. “You stop being a parent and you start being a consultant.”

I think there’s a lot of truth to that, but how I really see myself right now is as an enabler of dreams. I still have a lot of responsibility to make sure they’re getting good grades in school, behaving, staying out of trouble, etc., but I also need to continue asking what they want to do when they grow up, where do they see themselves in ten years, and what their dreams are. Then, I need to work my tail off to help steer them in that direction.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to being a good parent, except to say love them, learn from them, let them develop into who they want to be. Because life’s not a video game and there’s no reset button.

 

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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

Three Six Five Four

You’ve heard the old cliché: Time to close this chapter in your life.

Have you ever had a season in your lifetime that was more like closing a book …. and moving on to a new book ….. in a different library ….. on the other side of town? That was my 2004.

I’m a big fan of milestones. It’s amazing to me that in January, I will hit the mark of having lived in Tampa longer than I did in my hometown (17 year, 6 months). Last June, I celebrated my five year wedding anniversary with my wife. Just last month, I reached seventeen years of service with my employer. It really is amazing how time flies.

But now as we’ve reached the end of Summer 2014, I am hitting a new set of decade-long milestones in my life. The second-half of 2004 was brutal for me. In addition to dealing with the savaging hurricanes that pummeled Florida that summer, my life was – for lack of a better phrase – in a free fall.

My marriage had dissolved. I was living at my friend’s house, getting by on a steady diet of beer (as in cases) and no sleep. I was unsure of what each day would bring, and, in poetic parallel to Mother Nature’s wrath, everything seemed like a dizzying whirlwind.

As if that weren’t enough, it was 10 years ago yesterday – 3,654 days – that my father passed away.

His passing was expected. Having been diagnosed in the summer of 2002 with Mesothelioma, we knew the outlook for my dad’s life was not a long term one. He underwent chemo and battled his cancer, along the way prolonging his life just enough to sneak in some extra memories with his grand children. I remember shortly after his diagnosis he and I went out for beers, no longer sharing a father-son relationship, but rather one of friends. For one night, we were drinking buddies, and I remember laughing at the fact I out-drank my dad and had to proverbially carry him home.

Losing my dad was tough. In the time following his death, I’d still pick up the phone to call him during Miami Dolphins games. As my kids took up recreational soccer, I’d anguish inside at the fact he was no longer around to see them play. My mentor for all things DIY was gone. I didn’t just lose my dad. I lost my friend and my hero. Although the memory of my dad still influences me and what I write, it’s not the same as if he were still alive.

They say time heals all wounds. There is some truth to that. Wounds do heal, but some wounds never disappear. After ten years, I can still see in me the void that exists with the absence of my father. My life is amazingly better today than it was at this time ten years ago (a testament to God’s amazing grace and His ability to put us back together). But I still miss my dad, and I am saddened that he never got to know the me I am today. I know he was proud of me, but the me he knew in his final days was a lie. I showed him a facade to keep him from seeing the lying, cheating, and broken man I was at that time.

I hope that when it comes time for us to meet again in Heaven, he’ll meet me with a hug and with the words, “You did good, son.” The book of Matthew teaches us to store our treasures in Heaven. In trying to be the best dad to my kids that I possibly can be, I like to think I’m doing just that. 

My eulogy for my father

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Binary Memories

I saw a meme the other day that said something to the effect of, “great memories aren’t made playing video games.” I respectfully disagree.

As tough as it is for me sometimes to bond with my daughter, it’s quite easy with my son. All I need to do is run over to Game Stop and pick up a new video game. Then we’ll spend a Friday evening (and most of Saturday morning) tearing it up.

When Danny was younger, he’d rely on me more to help with the problem solving aspects of a game. If there was a level he couldn’t clear or a puzzle he couldn’t figure out, he’d hand the controller over to me. Now that’s he’s older (he’ll be thirteen in May), he doesn’t pass the controller over quite as much.

If you’re an avid console gamer, then you can appreciate the notion that learning the button commands for a game can be like learning a new language. Specifically with sports games where you may be required to press a series of buttons in a certain sequence or all at once. It really is quite fascinating for me to watch Danny play. It’s as if I am watching him develop muscle memory right before my eyes, and I’ve seen him do things in a game that leave me speechless.

To be clear, he routinely kicks my ass when we play head to head, and he’s only going to get better.

Yet through it all – through the levels of zombie apocalypse or World Cup soccer matches or covert, special operations missions in the jungle, or superhero adventures – it’s a special time we share. Danny remains super-informed on games and consoles and new developments, and he loves sharing that information with me.

The student has become the teacher, and I am fine with that because PS3 (and now PS4) time is our time. It’s the time we get to hang out and be father and son together. It’s the time we get to be goofy with each other. It’s the time when I am able to appreciate the young man into which he’s transforming, and I’ve found myself being able to apply some of our shared gaming experiences to real world troubles he’s faced. I hope when he’s out on his own as a grown up he’ll look back at those nights playing video games with dad as some of the greatest memories of his life.

 

We <3 Gaming

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

Changing of the Guard (?)

Uncertainty can be so uncomfortable. What’s next? Will we do this? What about that? I love having a plan, and like John “Hannibal” Smith of the A-Team, I love it when a plan comes together.

When things don’t happen according to plan, however, it can be easy to get lost in the chaos.

Right now, we’re in the middle of a transition period with my daughter and her path as a young, competitive soccer player. There are decisions to be made. There are adjustments to be considered. There is a valley of uncertainty we need to cross.

Normally, I’d be wallowing in my own anxiety. I don’t really care for uncertainty. I’m reminded of a time when my wife suggested we spontaneously get in the car and drive to South Florida. She thought it would be ‘fun’ to just drive until we get tired and then find a hotel along the way. My furrowed brow must’ve said all that needed to be said, because she could immediately tell I was not understanding the words coming out of her mouth.

“So you’re saying we don’t need a reservation first?” I asked incredulously.

“No. We just pull into a hotel and tell them we need a room.”

“People do that?”

With the situation with my daughter, I WANT to know what will come next. What will be the changes with for next season? What will be my daughter’s decision with regards to school versus club sports? Is she going to re-dedicate herself to what’s she’s been working on for the last four to five years?

But all this is like going to the movies and wanting to fast forward to the end just as the movie starts. What fun would that be? What makes a movie great is the story it tells throughout. There are ups and downs. There are plot twists. There are moments that will scare you, anger you, and relieve you.

Life is the same way.

In my faith journey, I’ve learned to replace anxiety with the perspective of anticipation; anticipation in finding out how God – the master screenwriter – will reveal the story’s eventual ending to me. It’s a reminder that just because things are not going great now, they won’t be great again later. It’s in these moments of anxiety that I’ve learned I’m in the middle of a story that still needs to play out.

That’s not to say there are no decisions to make. God calls us to work so that we arrive at where it is He wants us to be. I need to be patient and supportive with my daughter as she weighs her options going forward. I need to find the healthful balance between pushing her too hard and being blasé as a dad. I need to provide counsel, yet ensure the decisions she makes are indeed hers. 

I need to remember the end of the chapter is still off in the distance.

So we will press forward in prayer and in the knowledge that anxiety is useless, especially when we have faith in the story He’s written for us.

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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.