Shark Thank

Shark Thank

It’s been over a year since I post to my blog. To say these last 365+ days have been a whirlwind is quite an understatement. Still, it feels good to shake off the cobwebs and put fingertips to keys. The question is, however, where to begin?

On Sunday, February 28, 2021, Lee and I were sitting in the attic of our rental home in Dothan, Alabama. We were beginning the ever-exciting process of going through all the ‘stuff’ in the attic, diligently placing items in one of three piles: keep, sell, donate. As the mundane became yawn-inducing, my phone rang. I did not recognize the name on the caller ID, but my wife did. It was the name of a former colleague of hers from years ago. This colleague was now a recruiter for a technology company, and she was asking if I’d be interested in an interview for an opportunity in her organization.

Months earlier, I resigned from my previous job. It was a culmination of multiple issues that prompted me to step away from a role I thoroughly enjoyed, but in the end, I honestly felt the best decision for me was to leave. I took the opportunity to try and gain traction with the small business my wife and I started in 2019, but one client later, I realized the entrepreneurial option was not going to get it done for me. Needless to say, I emphatically said yes to the interview.

The following morning, I had a virtual interview via Microsoft Teams. Twenty-fours later, I had an offer sheet from the company. This new employment, one that is for a remote position, opened the door to the idea of house shopping and moving back to Florida. We contacted a realtor, made an impromptu trip to Tampa, had a maniacal weekend attending open houses and meeting with builders, and five days later we were under contract to build a new house.

In less time than you can say, “What the hell just happened?”, I went from unemployed to on the hook for a large amount of money. Insane doesn’t quite explain the whole experience, but in a lot of ways, it kinda does.

Fast forward through planning a move, finding an apartment, actually starting the new job, coming up to speed with the reality of 15-hour days, packing, cleaning, actually moving, unpacking, settling in; the chaos had no end. It was now May 1, the movers finished unloading all our stuff into our new apartment, and I was sitting at a German pub in New Tampa eating lunch with my best friend. Proximity to my children and my peeps was such a huge reason Lee and I decided to return to the Tampa Bay area, and although I was mentally and physically exhausted post-move, I was also insanely happy to be home.

The year zipped by as we tracked the progress of the house build, got to know our new neighbors at the apartment complex, routinely spent time with my daughter and son (so amazing), languished through a two-month delay in the build due to lack of availability of windows, saw our target completion date come and go, and rang in the new year with nervous anticipation as our lease was coming to an end and we still did not have a set closing date on the house.

Philippians 4:6 teaches us to not worry about anything and to pray about everything. There’s an “easier said than done” aspect about that particular verse in Scripture, but it was one to which we strived to adhere as the level of uncertainty only seemed to mount. And in the end, God, in His perfect timing, opened the doors for us to go month-to-month at the apartment and delivered a closing date for the new house. We closed on February 16, 2022, three hundred forty-two days after we signed the contract with our builder. We moved two weeks later, and here I sit, surrounded once again by boxes and chaos.

I sit here recapping the year that was on the one-year anniversary of my start date with my employer. I can’t believe it’s been a year, and at the same time, it feels like five. I’ve learned so much and have had the pleasure of working with so many excellent people, and it’s so fulfilling to play a small part in a program that helps others in their time of hurt and need.

But this blog post is not about the doors that opened for me as much as it is about the big door that opened for my daughter. As I capped off the workday with a mind full of retrospection, my daughter called to tell me the news she’s been accepted to graduate school. Now, all my brain can do is look ahead and start thinking about the days, weeks, and months that are yet to come.

My giddiness and excitement for the next step in my daughter’s dream becoming a reality are tempered by the realization she will no longer be only twenty minutes away. Instead, she will be on her own, three and a half hours away, her wings outstretched as she soars into this new chapter of her adult life. Natalie will pursue a Master of Science in Nutrition at Nova Southeastern University (#GoSharks), and I know she will excel in every aspect of her studies. I’ve watched in awe as she completed coursework to qualify for this graduate program, and now that investment in herself is paying dividends. Her excitement is palpable, and I’m so eager to watch with vicarious eyes the journey she’s about to undertake.

In this past year, God has granted me a new job, a new residence, a new house, and a wonderful and eclectic collection of new friends. Yet the one thing for which I am most thankful is the experience of hearing my daughter’s elated voice as she said, “I got in!” As a parent, that feeling of sharing in the joy of your child never gets old.

Adult Times Two

Adult Times Two

For the longest time, this date felt so very far away.

Parenting is an interesting journey. You start off, for the most part, not knowing what you’re doing, and you pray a lot that you mostly get it right and avoid those huge mess-ups that can be life-altering. Then as you get older, you start to think about how wonderful it would have been back then to have the information you’ve accumulated in your head for so many years.

I like to think I did okay with my children given I actually did jump head-first into a huge mess up when they were little. That being the case, I am blessed to have to two healthy and amazing kids that are on their way to being adults and living their lives.

Actually … they’re there already.

Today is my son’s 18th birthday. He is my youngest, and I now stand at this point in my life where I am the father of two adults. It’s a weird feeling and one that – truth be told – kinda’ snuck up on me. It’s weird in that there are only two things I feel I’ve left to do as a parent.

The first is to continue to advise my children as they continue to learn and grow. I once heard someone say you stop being a parent when your kids are thirteen or fourteen and from then on you’re just a consultant. I think there is a lot of truth to that, which leads me to the second thing I’ve left to do. Pray all the advice and counsel I’ve provided my children has been sound and rooted in wisdom.

Specifically with my son Daniel, I’ve spent today looking back on the memories we’ve shared, mostly good but a couple of them painful. I think about all the times we’ve made each other laugh. I think about the times when he was small enough for me to toss him into the pool. I reminisce about all those weekend nights we’d stay up late playing video games. And I hang my hat on the series of heart-to-heart conversations he and I had this time last year as I was prepping to move to the Dominican Republic.

Uncle Jeff sends Danny flying back in 2007.

So on this milestone birthday, I think the only thing I can tell (continue to tell) my son is to love God, praise Jesus, and let the Holy Spirit guide him in all he does. There are so many good and relevant Bible verses I could select to use in this post, but I think I will go with the ever so wise words of the psalmist who is seeking direction, guidance, and provision on his journey:

“Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.” – Psalms 119:105 NLT


Happy birthday, Daniel. These 500 words don’t even begin to scratch the surface of the pride and love I feel for you.

Daddy Duties – Part 2

Yesterday was my day with my son. Today I got to celebrate being a dad with my daughter.

After picking her up at her university and helping her partially move out of her dorm, Natalie accompanied me on several errands I needed to run. The first stop was the post office. We then headed over to the DMV so I could surrender the license plate of my car that was totalled in my accident. From there, our grumbling stomachs lead us to Panda Express. Then off to the credit union so Natalie could move her accounts from being U-13 (kids accounts) to her own, stand-alone accounts now that she’s eighteen years old. Following a quick stop at Target Optical to pick up replacement frames for the ones that were broken in my car accident, we headed home.

If I had trouble yesterday wrapping my brain around the fact my son will soon be seventeen, it was surreal at times having conversations with my adult daughter. The cliche is true: I still see her as my little baby girl. I still think of her in terms of picking her up from elementary school and taking her to dance recitals and soccer games. I still think of Natalie is terms of how old she was when she met Lee, and how she’s had over a decade of having both a mom and a step-mom in her life. She’s doing what I’ve always wanted her to do; flying out on her own and being her own woman. I just didn’t realize I wouldn’t be ready for it.

The last two days have been such a blessing. I will cherish this time I’ve shared with my kids. In the near future, Lee and I will board a plane to the D.R. and it will be an excruciatingly long time before I get a chance to do this again. But until that day comes, I will jump at every opportunity to still be a dad to my kids.

Daddy Duties – Part 1

I really do enjoy ‘being there’ for my kids. Especially now that they are older and have their respective significant others and it’s sometimes hard for me to get on their calendar. But with having been out of town for a couple of weeks, coming home and hanging with my kids is a great feeling.

Today I got to drive my son to his math final. It’s a dual-enrollment class at Pasco Hernando State College, and the exam was at the West Campus of PHSC. In short, it was about an hour’s drive with traffic. When I previously drove him to his mid-term, I ignored Google and we arrived 5 minutes after his exam started.

Today, I would not make the same mistake. I adhered to Google’s directions and we arrived fifteen minutes early On the drive both to and from, Danny and I got to talk about planning for his upcoming Senior year in high school. We talked about college planning and how he’s well positioned to get a full Bright Futures scholarship so long as he keeps his GPA up. We spent all of three seconds talking about his relationship with his girlfriend, and the pivoted to how he’ll be attending the Thirty Seconds to Mars concert in June.

The great thing about today was that it never felt like a chore. Although he could have driven himself to his exam, I eagerly wanted to take him. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation, and I am still flabbergasted that in one week he will be seventeen years old.

Being a dad has its challenges, but when you get to be a mentor and consultant to a bright young man whom you helped create, there is no greater feeling in the world.

Proud Pop

Proud Pop

With the continued hustle and bustle of Lee and me being in Georgia as we wait for our house to sell, it was wonderful to receive a call from my son. He was eager to tell me the results of his SAT had come in.

1290

I haven’t taken the SAT since the Bush Sr. administration, but I do recall scoring a pedestrian 1050 on my exam. I am thrilled to see Danny do so well on his test, but following the initial celebratory comments of congratulation, I encouraged him to register to take the exam again in the Fall. My thinking is he scored 1290 without putting much, if any, effort into preparing for the test. If he applies himself and makes preparing for the SAT a focused effort, then scoring into the 1300’s is easily achievable. Getting into the 1400’s would put him into rare air, and many more doors would open for him in terms of college choices.

But the decision is his to make. Even if he doesn’t retake the test, he can be proud of the accomplishment. I don’t want him to settle for his first score (I took the test three times), but he has to want to retest. He has to want to make it a priority.

As the father of an almost seventeen-year-old, the role of parent is superseded by the role of consultant (and in this case, cheerleader). It’s tough to let my kids fly on their own, but it’s a realization with which I’ve been trying to be more and more comfortable in recent years. I like to think my ex, my wife, and I have done a good job in raising Natalie and Daniel, and it’s in moments of letting go we get to keep them close to us.

Birthday Blessings

Birthday Blessings

I am not one to celebrate birthdays. Although I greatly appreciate the thoughts and well wishes, making a big deal out of my birthday is not my speed.

That being said, I am overwhelmed by the love I’ve received today. I know a lot of people say non-positive things about Facebook (and many times rightfully so), but one of the magic things about that platform is the ability to quickly and easily connect. I am so fortunate to have the collection of family and friends I do, and I was just inundated today with birthday wishes. WOW! is all I can say.

I wrapped up the day by having dinner with my kids. The thought did cross my mind this would be the last birthday in a long time my kids and I will be able to celebrate in person (given Lee and I are moving to the Dominican Republic), but I did not want to dampen the mood, so I kept that thought to myself. Instead, we joked and laughed and just enjoyed the time together.

After dinner, we had dessert at a place called Icesmile that does ice cream rolls. In addition to the tasty treats, one of the schtick features of the restaurant is that people write or draw on post-its and place them all over the wall. It was fun finishing our dessert and then taking a stab at becoming a part of the creative culture of the store.

Life is good. God is great. I am blessed.

Happy birthday to me indeed.

God’s Sense of Humor

God’s Sense of Humor

My kids participated in Wesley Chapel Athletic Association activities for years. I have so many wonderful memories from that period in time, and some not-so-great ones as well. Yet through it all, I know my kids are more well-rounded and better prepared to take on some of life’s challenges as a result of their participation in organized sports.

I will admit the experience did not come without its challenges.For over a decade, I’d make the trip up to Wesley Chapel District Park for either practices or games, sometimes four times per week, oftentimes fueled only by the desire to be a good dad.

The things we do for our kids.

Getting there after work or early on the weekends took a toll on my body and my energy levels, and it was not uncommon for me to take naps in the car during practices. I would admonish the powers that be for the fact there was no place nearby to get a good cup of coffee. More specifically, I’d curse the fact there was no Starbucks near Wesley Chapel District Park.

My daughter is now in college and my son is wrapping up his Junior year in high school. They’re both very removed from participating in WCAA activities, and I can’t tell you the last time I’ve been up that way. So file under delicious irony the email my wife sent me today. In it was a link to WesleyChapelCommunity.com. The headline of the story reads simply: New Starbucks to open soon in Wesley Chapel.

Really? Really, God? Now? Now is when there’s a Starbucks on the way to the district park? After all those years of dozing off at red lights …. now?

Just continued proof God has a great sense of humor.

 

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.

 

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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