There is something about fathers, sons, and baseball. It’s a strange relationship that is probably overly romanticized in many ways. Most dads dream of having a son who can either follow in their cleated footsteps or be the player they never were. Either way, dads’ baseball dreams often lead to unnecessary demands and burnout for our youth. 

My son is one of the many baseball casualties. While he wasn’t a superstar, he was a talented and important member of his team for five seasons. He was a solid pitcher, very reliable first baseman, and had very good range in center field. He also hit his team’s first out of the park homerun — a memory I’ll never forget. But, as often happens, kids get older and interests change. A couple years back, my son decided he’d had enough of baseball. This decision was bittersweet for me. I love the game and loved watching him play, but baseball was also becoming a way of life. I could see that it was more work and less fun for my son. Politics, practices, and pressure had turned a beautiful game into an ugly chore. I think moving on was the right decision for him. 

I must admit that I haven’t really missed the many hours spent under the beating sun, the dust blowing in my eyes, or the screaming coaches (and, occasionally, parents). There is one thing I have missed greatly over the last couple of years, however. Playing catch and talking about life with my son. We did this almost daily during every baseball season since my boy could barely catch a ball. At first we’d mostly talk about the fundamentals of the game. We would discuss and work on grounders, pop-ups, getting into position to make plays, and making good throws. 

As he got older, though, we started talking about Major League Baseball, our Kansas City Royals, school, girls, and other “guy stuff.” When we were throwing that seamed ball back and forth we weren’t so much father and son, but instead were just a couple of buddies hanging out. My wife used to insist that I didn’t need to feel like I had to play catch every day, but she didn’t quite understand that I wanted to do it. I needed this time — maybe more than my kid did. 

Last night, out of the blue, my now teenage son asked me to play catch. I couldn’t believe my ears, and blurted out an overly emphatic “YES!” We picked up right where we had left off. I delivered not only grounders and pop-ups, but “divers” and “jumpers.” We talked about guy stuff and threw the ball hard. I felt the sting and heard the smack of the ball hitting my old glove. I smelled the leather, took in the glowing green grass of spring, and watched my son’s shadow grow in the setting sun. I’m not always mindful about being “in the moment,” but I was very present for this. I wanted to remember it. 

We laughed as the sun hid and we had trouble picking up the ball in the growing darkness. “One more,” we took turns yelling — many times. Finally, when it was just too black, I yelled, “last one.” My little boy — who isn’t little anymore — caught the ball and walked it back to me, setting it softly in my mitt. I hope this isn’t really the last one, but I suppose at some point it will be. If this is it, I’m going to remember it well. 

When I was a young man, I worked as a carpenter. I learned an old saying that you never make a mistake until you have run out of lumber. I’ve modified this as I race at what feels like an increasing pace through middle age — there are no mistakes as long as you have time. I make many mistakes. I’m far from a perfect parent, and I don’t generally give advice. But to both future and current parents, I would say this: if your child asks you to tell a story, shoot hoops, have a tea party, play a board game, help with homework, or have a catch…say yes. Because at some point they will stop asking. 

Today my shoulder aches and my arm is weak, but my heart is full and my memory is strong. 

Random Sunday Ramble

March 11, 2017

Sorry to ramble…

I had a lot of things I wanted to get done today, but daylight savings time has ruined my schedule.

How can thirteen-year-old boys be so good at remembering to liberally douse themselves in cheap cologne, yet they can’t remember to turn off lights or flush toilets?

Why does getting good experience at anything take so damn long?

No kid of mine will be operating a vehicle if they “can’t” operate the washer and dryer.

I recently read that the brain begins deteriorating at age 27. Or was it 37? Anyway, it seemed young.

If you believe God is omniscient and everything is predestined by him, what is the point of anything? I at least wouldn’t be getting up early for church.

Why is it that the competitive neighborhood dads all seem to end up mowing at the same time on Saturday mornings?

Did you know…the average American annually consumes as many calories as 32 Kenyans?

Tacos sound good.

I like soccer, but it seems to discriminate against people in wheelchairs, which is why I think basketball is a better overall sport.

Does anyone actually say “tomahto?” If so, they’re not doing themselves any favors.

Spring break is nice for kids, but for most parents it’s simply a week when we are forced to find a sitter.

We are all capable of doing great things, but most of us decide to take a nap.

One out of every three people in the world has no access to a toilet, yet the average new American house has three toilets before finishing the bathroom in the walkout basement.

I truly believe soda is worse for you than beer, I just don’t have the data to back it up.

Life is best experienced with your TV off.

While I don’t watch much TV, I become very concerned when I can’t find the remote.

Considering thousands of people are born each day, I’ve concluded that the possibility of reincarnation seems more realistic than going to heaven.

When we were younger my wife would complain that I didn’t listen to her. Now she just tells everyone I’m deaf.

25% of people in the world live with no electricity. This makes me feel slightly guilty about having a portable phone charger that looks like the poop emoji.

With so many aging baby boomers, I predict canes will start to be en vogue again.

I’d be lying if I said speaking French didn’t make me more handsome.

Did you know…805 million people in the world go hungry every single day. Meanwhile, I’m sitting in my warm car, polluting the air, as I complain about the long line in the drive-thru (tapping my steering wheel along with the radio, of course). Pathetic.

“As a matter of fact yes, (teenage) son, that gold chain does make you look like a douche.”

They say learning to play an instrument has many wonderful benefits for children, yet they never mention how much it sucks for the parents of these children learning to play instruments.

Did you know…it is legal for children to smoke cigarettes in the US? Doctors, however, discourage it.

If I knew then what I know now I know I would have at least known more then.

Call me stupid, but I feel inclined to believe in ideas backed by scientific evidence.

It’s scientifically proven that no man can look cool while drinking from a straw.

Twenty-somethings are into the whole “Netflix and chill” thing. My wife and I spend 45 minutes trying to find something to watch on Netflix, then just decide we are too tired for a movie or sex.

In a world where you can choose to be anything, many people seem to choose poorly.

My six-year-old daughter recently had some ideas about how I could comb my hair differently to look less bald. I thought this was kind of cute at first, but she followed that up by saying that I should consider wearing black because it’s slimming.

Did you know…farting helps reduce high blood pressure?

Dear Red-Blooded American Badass: Before you start cursing that guy because he’s in your country and isn’t speaking English, you might want to know that the good ol’ USA has no official language.

Do you suppose God plays tennis?

I think it’s good when people are politically correct, but I’d rather hang out with someone who is genuinely kind and also enjoys making fun of people. Including themself.

If I could do it all over again, I would be nicer.

Life is short. Let’s do some good.


I’m probably overreacting. It’s probably no big deal. This too shall certainly pass. Still, I’m genuinely concerned about the direction our country is heading. What direction, you ask? Increasing violence? Decreasing human rights? Social security running out? Healthcare in limbo? The economy? The threat of terrorism? These are all extremely valid concerns, but I’m most troubled by how we seem to be losing any interest in kindness and mutual respect, and seem to get off on being hateful. 

For the record, I’m not attacking or blaming any one group. I can point a finger at Republicans, Democrats, Christians, Muslims, Jews, athiests, jocks, freaks, nerds, and geeks. Oh, and even me. We all seem to be on the bandwagon of hate — even if we don’t see it, or worse, somehow justify it. Is this magnified and blown out of proportion by the media? Definitely. However, is it real? You better believe it. 

We live in a time when our president tweets hateful messages on a daily basis, religious leaders post discriminatory messages on Facebook, and the news media is on the constant lookout for any controversial, disappointing, or downright hateful news. We are possibly as divided nationally as we’ve been since the Civil War, and there is little evidence indicating improvement anytime soon. I truly fear that in the not too distant future it will be considered acceptable for bank tellers to look us in the eyes, smile, and say, “Thanks so much for banking with us, and go fuck yourself.” 

Despite our very serious problems, all hope is not yet lost. I know for a fact that there are great people doing incredible things every day. We may not all share the same political, religious, or economic views, but there are people putting kindness first. Every single day. It’s not sexy, it’s not popular, but it’s happening, and it needs to get noticed. It needs attention so it can gain traction. This matters — maybe more than anyone realizes. 

It’s not always easy to be genuinely kind and respectful. In fact, it’s damn hard. It’s far easier to lash out, to try to prove a point, to try to make someone feel small, while we make ourselves feel clever. I struggle with it regularly. Taking the high road is sometimes an agonizing climb, but I’m always proud of myself for getting to the top. What people forget — or maybe haven’t learned — is that it feels good to be kind, even to people you disagree with or simply don’t like. If we truly gave everyone a chance, we might just discover that we get along with far more people than we thought. 

I think I was born a realist. I know we will never see eye to eye on everything or be just like one another. Man, I’m glad because life would be awfully boring. I’ve chosen to be an optimist, partly because it just feels better, but also because it forces me work at being a better person. I hope we (and we includes me) can put an effort towards being kind and respectful, because we are all in this together. This is life people, it’s not a drill. Can we agree to stop judging those who are different? Can we let people — as long as they are not directly harming anyone — do what makes them happy? Can we not only accept those who are different from us, but actually wish them the best, and then expect the same in return? 

We all think our opinion is right. We all have beliefs we think others should follow. Many see this as conviction, a positive, the only way. I will continue to do my best to make my conviction kindness. When I’m kind and respectful I always feel like I’m doing what’s right. 

If we care about our nation’s well-being, I hope we will not just agree to disagree, but learn to sincerely respect each other and be honestly kind to one another. This isn’t easy and won’t happen overnight. It takes practice. It requires trying to see the world through the eyes of others, even if we don’t always like the view. We can choose kindness. Don’t jump ship — we can change our course — it’s not too late. However, it’s a big ship, it’s a pain in the ass to steer, and we all must have a hand on the helm. 

Today is International Day of Peace. This year’s theme is “The Sustainable Development Goals: Building Blocks for Peace,” and emphasizes ending poverty, protecting the planet, and creating prosperity for all. These are nice, lofty goals, and I hope significant progress is made in each area.

However, today — and every day — I think it’s important to focus on what peace really means. What begins the process of ending poverty, protecting the planet, and creating prosperity? What makes people want to be better as a whole? What can you and I do on a daily basis to make a difference?

One of my favorite quotes comes from Mother Teresa: “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” In other words, teach those close to you the importance of loving our families, our neighbors, and ourselves. Show kindness and respect to everyone. Take responsibility for our neighborhoods. If we all did this on a local, personal level, it would naturally start to take hold globally. Perhaps this sounds naive and over-simplified, but to me it makes perfect sense. Some are doing it already, and seeing results. But not enough.

When we tune into any news source, we are bombarded with stories of violence and hate. It’s true that the good news — and there is good news — doesn’t get the airtime it deserves, but there are a lot of bad things going on out there on this planet we must share. If everyone had been brought up being taught the need for kindness and generosity, would we have different newscasts today? If criminals had a parent or someone else tucking them in at night, saying “I love you,” would the world be a better place? If you and I made an effort to simply genuinely smile and say “hello” to the many different people we encounter each day, would it make a tiny impact? The answer is definitely yes.

If you find that these things are difficult for you to do, I have to think that you may need to make peace with yourself. It took me many years to figure it out, but I can promise you that being kind will not only make a difference to those around you, it will also change your own life in ways you can’t imagine. Forgiveness is a breath of fresh air. Positivity trumps negativity every time. And, most importantly, loving feels so much better than hating. To any naysayers rolling your eyes and assuming I’m some kind of tree-hugger, I assure you that peace has nothing to do with being a hippie. Peace is about being happy, and happiness is damn nice.

So on International Day of Peace, please go home and love your family. Make it a priority to teach — and show — those around you the importance of love, kindness, respect, and generosity. These are truly sustainable goals. Spreading love in our own home is the first and best building block to peace. Pass it on.

Girl Power!

May 1, 2016

  
I believe one of the most important responsibilities I have as the father of a daughter is to instill a sense of confidence and belonging in her. Sadly, we live in a world where women are still often treated as second-class citizens. Even in the good ol’ USA, women make less money than men, still can’t join certain clubs and organizations, and continue to be the butt of inappropriate (yet widely accepted) jokes. I hope things change by the time my six-year-old is an adult, but I want her to be prepared to stand up for herself and expect nothing less than equal treatment in the future.

My son is twelve. He’s a great kid, but he’s also at an age where he tends to occasionally be a jerk. As a matter of fact, he’s usually a jerk and is exceptionally good at it. As older brothers (and sisters) tend to do, he picks on his much younger sister quite often. I picked on my little sister at that age (and maybe still do a little now), so sometimes I don’t do as good of job of getting on him about it as I probably should. I do, however, try to consistently remind my daughter that she should stand up for herself at all times, regardless of the circumstances. That being said, she typically gets upset and simply tells on her brother when he is mistreating her in some way.

Today was different. My youngest hadn’t even had a chance to take a bite of the banana with peanut butter (a rare healthy snack that she actually loves) that I had just made for her, when the jerk grabbed it and took a bite. My daughter stood up from the table, narrowed her eyes on her big brother, and sternly said, “Listen, if you want some of this there are bananas and peanut butter right here in the kitchen. Make yourself one, but stay away from mine!” My son and I were both totally taken off-guard. “Um, okay, I’m really sorry,” he genuinely muttered. I was just speechless. Slowly, my daughter turned her fierce gaze towards me. “This is girl power, dad. Get used to it.” Luckily I was able to keep from laughing — as it was very funny — but I couldn’t hide my pride. This kid’s gonna be just fine. 

There’s a quote By William James that I like to keep in mind when it comes to parenting:

“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”

I truly hope my fellow fathers of daughters are doing all they can to empower their young girls. Our generation has an opportunity to make great strides towards equality for our children. Let’s work together to make it happen.

  
Not so long ago, a little girl named Rose was growing up in an old, run-down, dirty neighborhood. It seemed like it was always cloudy. Her neighbors were grumpy and rarely came outside.

As Rose walked to and from school each day, she passed a vacant lot near her home. Her parents had told her about the lot many times. There used to be a beautiful house here, with big trees and a colorful flower garden. But now it was just a patch of hard, cracked dirt with only some weeds growing.

Walking home one day, however, Rose noticed something different in the lot. Something other than weeds was coming from the ground. As Rose got closer, she realized it was a small bush with one tiny flower. It was a rose.

“Look, a rose, just like me!” she said aloud.

The rose was wilted and in terrible need of help. Rose ran home and returned with a large cup of water, which she slowly poured around the bush. The water flowed through the cracks in the dirt.

The next morning Rose woke up early and hurried to the lot. She couldn’t believe what she saw. The little rose had grown — and there was a second flower, a daisy, growing next to the rosebush!

Every day when she got home from school, Rose filled a watering can and headed to the lot to water her flowers. Every morning there were more flowers to see. Red ones, purple ones, yellow, green, pink, orange — so many beautiful colors that were nowhere to be found in the neighborhood. There were roses, daisies, daffodils, tulips, and some strange types of flowers that Rose had never even seen before.

After just two weeks, there were far too many flowers for a watering can. Rose’s dad gave her a long garden hose that she would lug to the lot each day. And with more water came even more flowers!

People started to stop and stare at the new flower garden. Rose’s mom found an old bench in her basement, and painted it bright yellow. She put the bench on the sidewalk in front of the garden so people could relax and enjoy the scenery.

Oddly, things began to change in the neighborhood. People started painting their houses, fixing broken windows, cleaning up trash, and planting flowers of their own. Before long the old gray neighborhood had color everywhere. People who used to keep to themselves inside were now outside working on their lawns, playing with their kids, walking their dogs, and saying “hello” to people they passed on the street. The neighbors were getting to know each other and were becoming friends. Someone — no one was exactly sure who — even put another bench, this one painted red, in front of the flower garden. So many people were coming to admire the garden, that one bench just wasn’t enough.

Rose continued her watering every day. More and more flowers grew, until you couldn’t see the ground at all, just flowers everywhere! Kids and grownups alike came from all over the town to see the garden. They also noticed how nice the rest of the neighborhood looked. Soon, other neighborhoods were doing the same thing, until the whole town become something to see. It wasn’t long before people started coming from far and wide to see the flower garden. They then went home and started their own gardens.

Folks from all over the map started adding color and beauty to their own towns. They were working very hard, yet they were happier than ever before. People had something to be proud of.

All because of one little Rose.

Summer has invaded Kansas City.  The kids are out of school, the temperature is climbing, and our beloved Royals are having another great season.  It was last night while watching the ball game that I made a disturbing discovery.

Let me fill you in on the startling scenario.  It was the first inning of the game, and I was stretched out in my well-broken-in recliner.  Although it was toasty outside, the AC was kicking out some chilly air, so I had covered myself in a comfy afghan.  Rather than a beer, which I might typically enjoy during the early innings, I had opted to have a cup of warm green tea at my side.  I was just settling in when I remembered that I forgot to take my fish oil pill after dinner.  So, with a huff, I got up to do this (because you should really take it with a meal).  While getting the pill, my son came running in from outside, leaving the door wide open and allowing the scorching heat to invade our home.  “In or out, dammit!  I’m not paying to cool off the neighborhood,” I yelled.  As I made my way back to the family room, my world came to a halt.  I saw the game on the TV, the recliner, the blanket, the tea…  Tea?  “Oh shit,” I said out loud.  “I’ve become my father.”

I guess I’ve seen it coming for a while.  For starters, my twelve year old son is embarrassed by almost everything I do.  According to him my clothes look bad, my shoes are worse (hey, Crocs are super comfortable), and I constantly say stupid things or ask questions that any halfway intelligent person should already know the answers to.  I’m not saying that my dad is this way, but I certainly remember thinking the same things about him at one time.  It’s kind of ironic, my dad finally started wearing white socks with tennis shoes just a couple of years before all the kids started wearing black ones.  Oh well.

I have noticed my wife regularly saying, “You sound just like your dad” or, “Oh man, you just looked exactly like your dad!”  It might be something I say, how I laugh, or just an expression on my face.  She doesn’t mean it in a negative way (usually), it’s just an observation.

Mostly, I see it myself.  I’m in my early forties, which I don’t think is old at all.  I consider myself to be in decent shape, very active, and fairly hip.  At least as cool as my friends (and I have some damn cool friends, at least I think I do).  Hell, I play bass in a rock band!  I truly still feel like a kid, but when I look in the mirror I see this old dude staring back at me.  Tiny wrinkles everywhere, hair in wrong places, strange spots and scars, sagging eyelids…  Whoa, that’s my dad.  Does anyone else do this?  Do you ever catch an unexpected reflection of yourself and feel shocked by how old you look or how much you look like a parent?  It happens to me often.

Luckily my dad is a great guy (and decent looking).  We are different in some ways, but very similar for the most part.  We may not always see eye to eye on politics or the importance of regular oil changes, but, among other things, we share a similar (odd) sense of humor, as well as a love of sports and music — although sometimes different teams and bands.  My father instilled many great values in me, which we also now share.  The most significant is the importance of family.  There is nothing he wouldn’t do (or hasn’t done) for his family.  He was far from perfect, but his actions when I was young made me be a better parent, and he continues to inspire me today.  I am now trying to set a similar example for my own kids.

When I think about it, if I had to “become” any single person, my dad would be my first choice.  With the exception of my wife, there is no one I look up to more.  So when I complain about becoming my father, I guess I’m actually just bummed that I’m getting old.  I haven’t discussed it with him, but if I think I’m getting old, I’d assume my dad feels the same way, but even more so.  He is young at heart, but is he thinking about his mortality?  Does he look in the mirror expecting to see a young man’s face?  Does he see his father?  Like most children with aging parents, I have thought about the fact that my mom and dad are entering their twilight years.  The older I get, the less invincible my parents seem.  

The first concert I ever saw was with my mom and dad.  It was The Beach Boys — a band my dad and I both like.  Mike Love, one of the founding members of the band once said, “The great thing about getting older is that you get to tell the people in your life who matter how much they mean to you.”  I like this, but would add that it is great to get older and still have your parents around to tell them how much they mean to you, because the older you get, the more you understand and appreciate them.

Some day, I truly will be an old man and my father will be gone.  I hope I will still get to see him when I look in the mirror.  In the meantime, I’ll stay young in my heart and mind, and fight growing old — or at least try to grow old gracefully, causing my kids as little embarrassment as possible.  Tonight I’ll be sure to have a beer while watching the game, but I may still need the blanket.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve been wanting to do a little research on full synthetic versus synthetic blend motor oils.  Like I said, I’ve become my father.  I’m good with that.