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. 


With the early-morning squeal of the bus’s brakes, I knew that the end of summer was actually a reality. Sure, summer isn’t over on the calendar. There will be some heat, humidity, and fun yet to be had on weekends to come. But the days of the kids riding bikes past dark and sleeping in past noon have been halted for another year. We will continue to hear the hypnotic hum of weed-eaters, have our favorite baseball team to cheer on, and be met most days by singing birds and beating sunshine. There will still be some splashing in pools, backyard badminton, and — at least for now — the ground still feels very inviting to our bare feet. But a change is coming soon.

Summer certainly swims by faster than when I was young, but so does the rest of life, I suppose. Sadly, I don’t see it slowing down any in my lifetime. It feels as if the earth’s rotation is gaining momentum, and there are simply no brakes. The passing of summer is not all bad, however. It actually brings plenty I look forward to.

Like Friday nights, when my family will wrap ourselves in comfy sweatshirts and sit in our driveway, listening to the distant P.A. system announcing names and numbers at the local high school football game. We will watch leaves turn colors and breathe the strange, wonderful smell of decay when they fall to the ground. Autumn brings Halloween and Thanksgiving, flannel shirts and cozy blankets, bonfires and the roasting of marshmallows.

Before we know it, there is snow on the ground and flames in the fireplace. Wet boots and heavy coats pile up by the front door, with sleds and shovels waiting just beyond. The frigid air stops our kids’ running snot in its tracks, causes our old joints to ache, and keeps everyone from wanting to leave the warmth of our beds. But we keep forging ahead, until the holiday season and new year bring joy and hope to all. Slowly the snow begins to disappear as the mercury creeps upward a notch or two at a time.

Spring renews our faith in all that is good. We feel truly alive for the first time in months as the grass turns green, leaves fill the barren trees, and neighbors come out of hibernation. Bicycles are dusted off, balls are aired up, and cars are washed. We inhale the aroma of freshly mowed grass, budding flowers, and charcoal. Life is finally good…although it was never actually bad.

And in the blink of an eye, school is out again. But our children are a year older. So are we…

My kids are excited to get back to school. It’s a time of endless possibilities for them, and excitement of the unknown. I guess it’s bittersweet for me. I’m happy to see them ready to go back, but I will miss our summer life when laziness is not only respected, but encouraged. When happiness is the main goal. It seems like that should be the case more often. The occasionally melancholy, over-thinker in me realizes that summers with my kids are a fleeting time and one day will truly be only a fond memory. But, as with the changing of the seasons, I know there will be more to experience, love, and remember as they grow older and become adults, themselves.

In the meantime I hope and trust that we can all make an effort to pay attention to what’s happening around us, and appreciate what life offers us. There really is so much it offers. Let’s cherish the time we have with our families, and look forward to the changes. Sometimes life will be good, sometimes it will be bad, and we may never know the reason. But may we all have endless summers, regardless of the season.

 

Photo Credit: A Photographer

 
I’m only 43 and am very young at heart, but I am starting to realize that you might be getting old if…

…minivans seem like a logical solution.

…you get out of bed at night because you remember you forgot to take your vitamins.

…you think the kids today have it so easy.

…Saturday mornings are for oil changes.

…you ask yourself, “how would my parents handle this?”

…the “oldies” station is playing songs you loved in college.

…the expiration date on food doesn’t seem as important.

…you still enjoy wearing Crocs.

…the thought of getting hair plugs has crossed your mind.

…you get your tax return filed before April 15th.

…you look forward to yogurt with granola.

…you look in the mirror and it’s your father’s face.

…you pass up an invitation to play golf with your buddies because the blinds need a serious cleaning.

…a good evening is simply being able to take a dump in some peace and quiet.

…on the way to a play date your five-year-old daughter says, “just drop me off here and I can walk the rest of the way.”

…you actually yell at a neighbor kid for cutting across your lawn.

…you use the little ladder to get in and out of the pool.

…your wife tells you to drive faster.

…you wear ear and eye protection while weed-eating.

…your family is more important than anything else.

…it’s so damn hot out there.

…you injure your back by sneezing.

…SPF 50 seems inadequate.

…your twelve-year-old son has to show you how to work your new cell phone.

…you start wearing a bike helmet without even considering how ridiculous you look.

…during the big ballgame you find yourself sipping on green tea instead of a beer.

…you have no clue what the cable channels are.

…going to sleep or having sex becomes a mental tug of war.

…you worry about how your family would get by if you were to die. 

…back hair has entered the picture. 

…your kids (and/or wife) routinely say, “I’m sorry but you’re not wearing that.” 

…you routinely tell your daughter, “I’m sorry but you’re not wearing that.”

…prostate exams, while uncomfortable, seem necessary.

…movie theaters are perfect for napping. 

…you realize you’re not going to live forever.

…you think you should probably take a jacket. 

…your children are asking for the car keys. 

…it’s too loud. 

…it’s not loud enough. 

…you can laugh at how pathetic you are.

Getting old ain’t so bad. It beats the alternative, as they say. Let’s raise a glass (or cup, if you’re drinking green tea) to getting much older and much wiser. Cheers.

  
Today I turn 43. Despite the aches in my back, knees, and hands, I feel very young. Younger than I have in a long time, actually. I’m fitter, happier, and in an overall better mental state than I’ve ever been as an adult. Not that 43 is old, necessarily — age is really just a relative number. To a child, 43 seems like a lifetime away; almost certainly incomprehensible (and why should a child need to understand or think about it). To the very old it may seem like a lifetime ago. Although I doubt it. The one thing I notice most with aging — my biggest complaint — is that time seems to move faster and faster the older we get. I’m trying my damnedest to change this, however. And it’s working.

Obviously time is constant, but our perspective and perception of time seems to become completely screwed up as we age. Most of us rush around all day, meeting schedules and deadlines. We worry about what happened yesterday and lose sleep over what may (or may not) happen tomorrow. The free time that we do actually have is often wasted by us believing it isn’t enough time, so we discard it completely. This wasn’t the case when we were kids. The ancient philosopher Heraclitus wrote, “Time is a game played beautifully by children.” I think he’s right. Kids are better at making good use of time than almost all adults. Especially younger children. If there’s a spare minute in the day, they will find a toy to enjoy. Five extra minutes of playtime before bed is like a gift that is gratefully received. Kids don’t worry about it getting dark, but instead play hard until they can’t see. Unfortunately we regress as we age to the point that most adults are dreadful at this “game.” I know I used to be.

I’m far from an expert now, but I’ve found that I’m getting much better by reminding myself to be mindful, grateful, and frugal. These are really all related, and once you start to understand and practice them, worry and stress naturally fall by the wayside. I find myself appreciating life more, desiring less, and not caring much about keeping up with the demands put on us by American society and consumerism. By this I basically mean not worrying as much about money and material possessions. When you are truly aware, thankful, and consciously spending less on unnecessary items, life becomes simpler, more fulfilling, and time is much less of a constraint. It is a very liberating experience.

Many people think I’m crazy. I traded a very lucrative career to be a stay-at-home dad, and am now pursuing a career in teaching. My life is much fuller and my time is much better spent — and appreciated. I’m not suggesting anyone give up a career, but I would also caution against knocking it if you haven’t tried it. The older you get the more you understand the old “life is too short” saying. It is certainly possible to juggle a busy, stressful job and have a productive, happy personal life. But the key is to be sure you are happy — a question we can only answer if we are truly honest with ourselves. Time — or the lack thereof — has a unique knack for showing us what really matters in life. Sometimes it’s too late. My sincere birthday wish is that everyone eventually finds happiness…and has the time to enjoy it.

Cheers.

 

 

 

Recess

February 17, 2016

Photo Credit: A Photographer

 
If you’re one of the seven people who read my blog regularly, you know that I quit my job — no my career — almost a year ago to pursue happiness. I spent about six incredible months as a stay-at-home dad, and have been working as a substitute teacher since school started. I love being a sub and working with kids. It’s challenging, rewarding, and sometimes I’m lucky enough to work in the same school as my kids, which is pretty cool for all of us.

Back when I worked for “the man,” there was a trendy deli in a quaint neighborhood that I went to often for lunch. Okay, it was actually a Subway, but this particular location truly had some of the freshest ingredients, and it was in a cool part of town. It backed up to a park bordered on the far side by a school. On nice days I would get lunch to go and eat in my car with the windows rolled down. While enjoying some fresh air and a mediocre sandwich, I was always able to hear the school kids playing during recess. I couldn’t see them because a little hill was in the way, but I didn’t need to. What I could hear was pure joy. Jubilant laughing and playful screaming was perfect background noise on a warm, sunny day. The students were obviously elated, without another care in the world at that moment. It was a great — albeit very temporary — escape from the conflict resolution meetings, particularly particular clients, and general negativity and stress of the daily grind.

I’ve been a long-term substitute at the same school for nearly two months, and I now get to experience recess up close on a daily basis. Being able to physically see recess gives me a newfound appreciation — no awe, really — of the early coordination skills of our youth, which I formerly perceived to be somewhere in the range of fairly awkward to dangerously clumsy. Every day I expect to witness broken bones, lacerations requiring urgent medical care, concussions, or worse.

Let me attempt to paint a picture for you: at each recess there are about 125 kids playing on a chunk of rock-hard concrete that’s approximately the size of a football field. Sound scary? Wait. Now imagine these 125 kids playing seven separate games of tag, two games of basketball, a game of four square, and pretending to have a gymnastics meet. All while a soccer match is taking place. Oh, and a handful of the students like to just sit on the ground and talk. When I worked a recess for the first time, I asked one of the seasoned, full-time teachers where the ambulance was kept on standby. I was only sort of kidding. Amazingly, I have never witnessed more than a scraped knee (knock on wood), and even that is rare. It’s similar to what I would expect if several flocks of birds were put in a giant cage. The kids just magically follow their group around at high rates of speed, never running into the ever-present trouble surrounding them. It is truly something to behold.

The school I’ve been at recently happens to be designated as one of the district’s “English Language Learners” elementary schools. This means that students who are new to the country or unfamiliar with English are brought in from outside of the school’s normal boundaries in an effort to help get them up to speed before middle school. This results in a wonderfully diverse student population. I get to not only hear the youthful fun, but I see children from many different races, nationalities, and religions playing together (mostly) in harmony. Sure, there are disagreements and even occasional scuffles, but at this age there are really no cliques or clubs, just kids having fun together. It’s firsthand proof that love — or at least acceptance — is natural, and hatred is learned. This is a great thing to be able to witness.

Remember when we were kids? Most of us didn’t worry, judge others, or overthink our existence. Life was pretty simple, and most of the time was simply great. Despite that, we couldn’t wait to get older. Now many of us make things more difficult than necessary, as our remaining time on this earth races by at an ever-increasing rate of speed. Someone more clever than me said that “these are the good old days.” Trust me, you can do better than briefly escaping over your lunch break, over the weekend, or even over a vacation. Live your life like the kids on the playground — with exuberant energy, with kindness, and by making the most of the moments we have left. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, regardless of age, everyone says they feel like a kid at heart. After all, we are just kids who grew up. Find time for recess.

Father’s Day is upon us. I appreciate the idea, but I honestly don’t care about a “holiday” designed for my wife and kids to make me feel special. I mean it when I say that they do it every day. My dad knows how much I love him, and I don’t think he cares much about a day of attention either. Maybe it’s just how we are wired.

This year, however, I do find myself thinking about two important fathers that I can’t offer happy wishes to. These are my grandpas — the fathers of my mom and dad. Both have been gone a number of years now. While I had very good relationships with them as a child and adolescent, I didn’t spend much time with them as an adult. I had opportunities, but I was a young (and dumb) man who thought I had better things to do than visiting with my grandparents. What an idiot I was. 

Like everyone, there are things I would do differently in hindsight. I wish I’d been more involved with my grandfathers later in their lives. I should have picked their brains — I have so many things I would ask them today. I understand now that they possessed an incredible amount of knowledge which was lost when they died. Countless memories and experiences were lodged in their heads, but were never documented. Many of these they probably would have loved to pass on, if they were simply asked about them. What I wouldn’t give to sit down and have a beer with these two men today. I think about what I would ask if I were granted just three questions.

For starters, I would want to know everything I could about my parents when they were kids. What did they love, what did they hate, how did they interact with others, what were their idiosyncrasies, were they difficult…were they happy? I would ask this not only because it would give me an idea of my parents’ childhoods and some insight into their personalities today (as well as my own), but also because it requires a long, thoughtful answer, which means I’d get a lot of bang for my buck. I would want to make this conversation last as long as possible, so difficult questions with certain to be lengthy answers would be a must.

Next, I would ask about my grandfathers’ biggest regrets. Hopefully this too would result in drawn out answers, although I suppose they could be as short as “marrying your grandmother,” or worse, “having kids.” I don’t think this would be either of their responses, however. My recollection is that both men probably had some regrets. They certainly seemed to have some demons, which may have been the result of difficult upbringings. Both grew up poor. My dad’s father had a tough early life helping run his parents’ farm. My mom’s dad had a more mysterious (and probably worse) upbringing, the facts of which no one can quite piece together. Despite their childhoods, both became good, relatively successful men. Still, what would they have done differently? This would be fascinating to know now that I am an adult.

Finally, I’d ask for any advice my grandpas could give me. What did they know, that I haven’t yet learned or wasn’t smart enough to ask about when they were alive? What can I do to help make my kids happy, responsible adults? How do I respond when they get into trouble or make major mistakes? What can I be doing now to help myself from one day looking back with regrets? My gut tells me that neither of them would have good answers to this one, but that they would instead suggest something along the lines of believing in my gut instincts. Maybe they would say this even if they had the answers. I suppose that could be an indication of trusting my judgement — and a lesson at the same time.

I would not ask what might be the obvious question to many: what, if anything, comes after death?  It’s not that I’m not curious, of course I am. I guess I just don’t think this knowledge would be fair for me to have now. I’ll find out one day.  

When my three questions were up, I would offer to buy another round, and hope like hell that they had time for one more.  Maybe they would offer additional insight, whatever that might be. Maybe they would ask questions about me or about my children that they never got a chance to meet? I know they would love them, just as they loved me so much when I was young.  Man, I wish my kids could meet them. 

If nothing else, maybe we would just sit in silence, enjoying our drinks. I would study the lines in their faces, their expressions, their mannerisms. I’d pay attention to their voices — I can still hear them in my head, but the sound is fading. I would hope that my mom’s father would tell me a dirty joke, and that my dad’s father would explain something about airplanes. Both would be equally significant to me. Finally, I would tell them both that I love them, something I don’t think I ever did while they were living.

I realize that I’ll never actually see my grandpas again in this lifetime. Perhaps we’ll meet again in some afterlife. Maybe not. As long as I’m alive, though, I will always have my memories. And they are truly great memories. Over time they may darken, but I know will never grow completely black.

I think I might care more about Father’s Day than I realized. It’s a chance to tell all of the important dads in our lives how much they mean to us — even if we are certain they already know. We should be sure to do this as often as possible now, because one day we will only wish we could.

Happy Father’s Day.

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.