Skateboards, AARP Cards, and 1979 Smalltown USA

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I got one of those strange invitations from my wife tonight to go for a run. I decline those invitations approximately 100% of the time (because she runs marathons and I sit in a recliner and read books). But since I got an AARP packet in the mail today, I was struck with this strange urge to prove something. So I agreed to go for a run downtown with her.

At the end of our run, we coasted downhill along the sidewalks of west Grayson. And I was hit with the strongest flashbacks of childhood. Traveling those same sidewalks on a skateboard. Click-click, click-click, as the wheels rolled over the cracks on the sidewalk as a 12 year-old.The block between Landsdowne and Hord St was the closest thing to a skateboard park we could manage, with its downhill slope and sudden dips. Grayson Pharmacy, Sears, Dollar General, Tots & Teens, and Western Auto. Flying past them all as fast as we could manage.

Always with my big brother and usually one or two other boys from Holcomb St, Paradise Hill, or Cardinal Hill crowd, making a pass through downtown on the summer days that we were left to entertain ourselves. The words of our parents pounded into our brains, “You boys better watch out for people walking out of the stores, and don’t run over them!” (I’m pretty sure somebody plowed and elderly lady one day, but it wasn’t me). We always stopped in Steve Womack’s Land Office to check in with our mom while she worked, and let her know we were alive and together. She gave us a lot of freedom and trust, partly because she pretty much had to, and partly because she just loved us unconditionally, no matter what kind of goofy stuff we got into. She showed us trust.

We would usually venture on down the street to visit our dad at his store. Some days we would hit him up for $3-$4 and that was plenty to feed us both at the Grayson Restaurant. I was always afraid to ask my dad for money, because it usually resulted in him asking a few questions in return. And there was always that thought in the back of my head that my dad thought my hair was too long or that I shouldn’t wear my hat backwards. But he usually didn’t mention those things……..usually.

Our parents weren’t together then. But they were both still raising us. And I’m thankful for that, still today. We knew what was expected of us, even when it wasn’t spoken out loud. We knew how much our parents loved us, and we knew what they believed in. Today, having three kids over the age of 18, I don’t have trouble picturing any of them muttering the phrase to themselves, “My dad would kill me if I did that”. And I think that’s pretty cool. They know they are loved, and they know what their mother and I expect of them and believe in. And I think, in the midst of all the silly talk we hear about privilege today, they understand, just as I do, what privilege is. Family, love, freedom, boundaries, responsibilities, and belief in God.

And sometimes, when I’m feeling nostalgic, I wish my kids could experience what I experienced as a kid. Neighborhood wiffle ball games, a day spent in Town Branch, violent pickup football games, walking to and from school, and skateboarding down Sunset Hill and the KCC cemetary hill. Times were different then. And they were good. My mom, my dad, my brother (and later my sister) and our large crowd of friends. My childhood. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I hope our kids say the same thing someday. Click-click, click-click, click-click.

Hey Sis, I Think I’ll Hang On To These

fathers days

I sat in my office recently talking to a couple of twenty-something guys about life insurance.  Neither of them were dads, but I noticed one was staring at the hand-painted artwork of my daughter Maddie, that rests proudly at the front of my desk.  Insurance talk came to a brief halt, “That’s about the neatest thing I’ve ever seen”.

I quickly answered that it was my most prized possession, a Father’s Day gift.  It’s taken me a few days to understand why I hold it so dear.  Other than the obvious reasons, I thinks it’s this; it shows that for our shared experiences, her perception matches mine.  The spirit of her memories is perfectly in line with mine in her artwork.

In a wild life of hectic schedules, we found quiet times together.  She always knew where her dad was.  She always had someone to lean on.

I don’t think I’m a hoarder, but I do tend to intercept a lot of thing that are bound for the garbage or the yard sale.  Maybe it’s just a matter of awareness of the value of looking ahead because I know the treasure that lies in looking back.  Possessions that have no monetary value become treasures for those who can look back together at shared experiences of earlier times.  Often a single object does the trick.

It’s become a Thanksgiving tradition for my brother, sister, and I to rummage through our dad’s basement and attic for worthless things that bring back priceless memories.  A Happy Days board game.  A slew of ticket stubs from concerts or sporting events.  A little league baseball hat and a 40 year-old baseball glove.  Treasures that remind me how thankful I am for my family and for childhood memories.

In a home with four children, sometimes the purges are great.  It seems that you can fill a 32-gallon garbage bag with Happy Meal toys at least twice a year.  Sometimes items go away that parents wish they’d kept…….or someday they will wish they kept them.  There was a coat that both of our girls had worn as toddlers that I spent a few years thinking had gotten away from us.  I had a silent celebration when I discovered the Pooh coat buried in the bottom of a storage tub.  “Get your Pooh coat on sis”.  It has meaning for me now.  Someday it may have meaning for the girls as well.  Maybe they’ll dig it out together some Thanksgiving after dinner…….as adults……after they’re married.  And they’ll give thanks for the childhood they spent together.  And I’ll give thanks once again for the time I spent being the daddy of two little girls.

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They’re not so little any more.  Macy is a college graduate, living 4 hours away, and getting married in September.  Maddie just completed her first year of college, but is thankfully home to spend the summer with us (as much as a college student spends the summer with their parents).  The start date of her summer job was pushed back for a week, so she decided to have a yard sale last week.  Mostly things that belonged to her and Macy.  I showed up to help her set things up early on a Saturday morning.  As I was digging through the tubs and boxes, placing items strategically so they could be seen, I hesitated when I pulled out a pair of well-worn soccer shoes with a $.50 price tag on them.

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I silently walked to my truck and placed them in the front seat.  Maddie looked up from her work, “You decide to keep those?”

Maddie probably didn’t know why. They were her sister’s shoe’s.  I didn’t know myself. Macy had put together a pretty successful soccer career.  A player on our school’s first regional championship team to go along with some notable individual accomplishments. Two years of soccer in college.  But I honestly couldn’t even begin to remember what season she wore them in.  And she may not remember herself.

But I remember well the night she picked them out.

And as the days count down to her wedding day, I wonder if she remembers too.  For a dad that really knew little about soccer (other than learning just enough to be a youth soccer coach) and little about soccer shoes, I placed myself firmly in the middle of the annual soccer shoe buying process.  Our girls generally wore their shoes out by playing in both the fall and spring.  Sometimes I had to insist that they replace worn out shoes.

“Daddy, I think these will be alright”.

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So the tradition became that dad combed the internet for shoes that were acceptable for his girls to play in each season.  Time after time, I’d call one of them to the arm of my recliner, “What do you think about these, sis?”.  As they got older, they came to my recliner, iPad in hand, “Dad, what do you think about these?”.  And the dad who hated to overspend on fancy things or pay too much for shoes or clothes that would soon be outgrown always made an exception when it came to soccer shoes.  I don’t think the girls really grasped just how little I understood the game of soccer.  But I think they did come to understand that their dad thought it was important for his girls to play in quality shoes.

“Are you sure those are the ones you want, sis?”.

“Yeah daddy, I’m sure”.

So I’ll store the shoes away in a tub with other treasures.  Other memories.  Someday they’ll come back out.  Maybe on a Thanksgiving afternoon, Macy will dig them out with her brothers and sister.  And maybe she’ll tell her own kids that she was a pretty fair soccer player in her day.  And it may not be worth mentioning to her kids, but I have a feeling that she, and her sister too, will have fond memories of picking out soccer shoes with their dad.

I’m glad I saved the shoes.  But they’re just shoes.  The real treasure lies in shared memories.  And sometimes saving an item here and there helps to keep precious memories alive.

And somewhere in my house is a Thomas the Tank engine wooden roundhouse that would fetch about $50 on eBay.  I was thinking about selling it.  But both of our boys spent hours playing with it.  I guess I’ll hang on to that too.

 

 

 

Yeah, It’s All About Dad

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Walking through a shopping mall today with my two boys, I just stopped in my tracks and peered into a Claire’s store.  After staring into the haven of trinkets for young girls for just a few seconds, I sped ahead to catch up with the boys.

“I kind of miss going into Claire’s on every mall trip with your sisters.”

Macy and Maddie are 18 & 20 now.  Maddie is away at college five hours to the northeast.  Her sister is four hours to the south, graduating from college in April and preparing for a wedding in September.

But in those few seconds in front of Claire’s, I was taken back in time.  Following two little bright-eyed girls around the displays, patiently waiting while they chose their treasures of the day.  Bracelets, earrings, Hello Kitty wallets, wooden jewelry bins covered in butterflies.

“Thank you daddy!”

Somewhere in another part of the mall, their mother would have been searching for a new Power Rangers action figure for an energetic and excited little brother.

Somehow, quite a few Power Rangers action figures have survived the passage of time and remain stored in assorted bins around our home.  I’m sure that few items remain from the trips to Claire’s.  Simple memories stick around though.

Our trip to the mall today was just an effort to get out of the house.  Doing something just for the sake of doing something together.  That something turned out to be the new Power Rangers movie.  So we met up with my wife and a friend to watch it together (I don’t think Power Rangers was their first movie choice…….or second).  I had these strange thoughts as the movie progressed:

“I’m not one to enjoy or waste my time with mindless entertainment, but I’m loving this movie (and I have this sinking feeling that I am the only one of our five that doesn’t think this movie is horrible).”

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Kal is 11 and the family movie critic.  He loved it and his 17 year-old brother did too.  Their mother even loved it.  But for me it was more than a movie.  It was a trip down memory lane.  Jumping up to run around the room to loudly sing the Power Rangers Dino Thunder theme song to the dismay of my whole family.  Driving around the state for our girls travel soccer games with a flip down TV monitor displaying a Power Rangers marathon for all in the back seats (the girls wouldn’t admit it, but they couldn’t help watching too).

So tonight, stuck in a strange mood, and missing our girls, I’m just thankful for happy memories of little things.  Thankful that I have memories that make me smile instead of regrets that bring sorrow.

For parents, when the time comes when our kids are no longer under our roofs, some things just seem to come into clearer view.  What we did well.  Where we came up short.  I won’t talk about what an amazing mother my wife is, because that’s just a foregone conclusion.  But I will share some truth about little things that dads can do to have an amazing impact on the lives of their children.

  1. Be physically present.  Our kids should never entertain the idea that they are less important than our jobs, our golf game, our fishing trips, or our workout schedule. Don’t underestimate the value (when schedules allow it) of being there when they wake up or go to bed, along with the value of attending as many school functions, recitals, and sporting events as possible.
  2. Be mentally present.  Look your kids in the eye when they speak and listen as if it’s the most important thing that’s ever been spoken.  Get your nose out of your smartphone or laptop and interact with your kids.  You only get one chance to raise your kids, don’t miss it (no regrets).
  3.  Be emotionally present.   Most of the time, guys aren’t exactly gifted in the area of saying the right thing (especially when our daughters become teenagers).  But thankfully, frequent hugs and pats on the shoulder are a valuable and acceptable substitute.  
  4. Choose your words wisely.  Kids are guided less by the instructions that we give them than they are by the manner in which we speak to and about others.  The way we speak to and about their mother (even if she’s not your wife) is so vital.

     5. Make memories.  Doesn’t have to be an expensive trip or adventure.  It just has         to be a shared experience.  Shared experiences build relationships.  Kids need           good relationships with their dads.  Watch a ballgame.  Go grocery shopping.             Go fishing. Play video games or board games.  Read books to your little ones.

Just be there.  When I read stories of American cities with annual homicides over 800 and shootings over 3,600 it makes me wonder………………

No, I’m not wondering if we have too many guns or what our government can do to swing things in the other direction.  I’m wondering how many of these shooters spent time in Claire’s with their dad and how many of their dads can name more than one Power Rangers series (Dino Thunder was my favorite).  Probably not too many.

It’s pretty simple stuff.  Hey dads, your kids need you.  Be the best dad you can be.  Start today…………maybe with a simple prayer,

“Lord, help me to be the best daddy I can be, and guide me to raise this child in a way that’s pleasing to You.”

I’ll bet you can change the world!

 

 

The Strong-Willed Child Goes To College

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Disobedient.  Disruptive.  Defiant.  And sometimes downright mean.  These words all described what was then our chaos producing middle child Maddie as a two and three year-old.  At a loss for how to deal with it, I resorted to outside help in a couple of books; James Dobson’s “The Strong-Willed Child” and Kevin Leman’s “Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours.”

I’m not really sure if the books were helpful or not.  She might have just grown out of it. But I am sure that those who know Maddie today find it hard to believe that she absorbed more tongue-lashings and doses of swift and immediate correction than her three siblings combined.

A few weeks back, I was talking to a friend whose oldest son and Maddie’s classmate was departing for college soon.  He shared with me the same uneasy feelings that my wife and I had stumbled through two years ago when our oldest daughter went away.  I told him that it would be easier for both of us when the time came for our second oldest children to go away.

I was wrong.

My theory was that I had seemingly done more life with Maddie than I had with her older sister Macy.  As things worked out, I managed to coach Maddie’s youth soccer, Upward basketball, middle school basketball, and even help with her travel soccer team.  We had been through the battles together and seen the best and worst of each other.  I firmly believed that it wouldn’t be difficult to send her away.

For all the ways that Macy had taken after her dad with a quiet and laid back personality, Maddie seemed to mirror her mother’s strength and determination.  There would be no need to worry about Maddie or a struggle to let go.

But something changed in the days leading up to her departure for Taylor University (5 hours away).  When I was alone in my office each day with my thoughts, surrounded by pictures of our kids from birth to present day, I cried.  Some days worse than others.

I cried because I know the feeling her absence from our home will bring.  But mostly I cried tears of joy and gratitude.  She IS like her mother.  Her faith in God IS strong.  Our 17 year-old daughter is going away and I have zero fear for her ability to make good decisions.  I am grateful.

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Move-in day came.  Her mother and I accompanied her to a few orientation type events and meals around the Taylor campus.  I remained mostly quiet in the background, trying to study the looks on Maddie’s face and gauge her state of mind.

My thoughts drifted back in time more than once.  I saw Maddie once again as an undersized 7th grade basketball player with a big heart.

 

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Maddie stood nervously at the free throw line, ready to shoot, .2 seconds showing on the clock, with her team trailing by one point.  She’d already missed the first free throw.  When our opponent called a timeout after the miss, I explained to her that they had called the timeout just to freak her out a little more.  At this point I wasn’t a coach, but I was just Maddie’s dad offering assurance to my daughter, “Sis, it will be great if you make it.  It’s no big deal if you miss.  Just relax.”  Truthfully, she probably hit about 15% of her free throws on the year because she simply lacked the strength to get the ball to the rim.  As she returned to the line to make her attempt to send the game to overtime, I positioned myself standing in front of the bench so that she could see me if she glanced my way.  Fear and uncertainty showed on her face as the referee bounced the ball to her.  Everything about her body language screamed “what if I miss?”

She did look my way before her she shot.  “Hit or miss, it will be alright”, I could only hope she could understand that just from the look on her dad’s face.

As I walked across the Taylor campus with Maddie, I finally had to ask the question, “Well sis, do you think you’re gonna do alright here?”

Her answer was a simple, “Uh yeah.”  But the look on her face said it all.  “I’ll be alright.”

Second free throw goes in.  We win in overtime.

Gone today is the defiance and disobedience of her early years.  But the strong will lives on and plays out in her faith.  Maddie believes in herself.  She is strong, determined, and caring like her mother.

She’s in a great place.  Her dad is grateful.  And grateful for homemade cards:

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“Thank you for making me stronger.  Thank you for making me think. Thank you for showing me how to love and live through the eyes of Jesus.”  –Maddie Shay

I cried today also.  But I’ll be alright.

 

 

 

 

A Boy, His Dog, and Being Strong For Mom

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Kal loves his dogs.  He’d rather chase his dogs and roll around in the grass or dirt with them than any other outside activity.

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We had a small household tragedy as Kal’s 6 month old German Shepard mix pup was run over by a car and died a quick, merciful death.

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As Kristy and I were assessing the dog’s condition and chances of survival, Kal walked hesitantly up to us. The typical emotions of a 10 year-old boy that loves his pup were evident- fear, blame, anger, and extreme sadness.

“Is he gonna live?”

My reply of , “no buddy he’s not gonna make it” brought him instantly to point of being distraught. But as he raised his arms in horror, and just before the tears began to flow, something amazing happened. He realized that his mother was hurting worse than him…..because she was the unfortunate driver when the pup darted under the wheels of the SUV, and because she was overwhelmed with concern for her boy.

Her tears flowed freely, “Oh buddy, I’m sooo sorry”. Kal’s previous emotions disappeared in an instant, as the strongest of feelings took over; a son’s love for and desire to protect his mother. His posture and facial expression immediately changed, even before the first tear was shed. He hugged and patted on his mom and assured her,

“It’s ok mom, these things happen. It was an accident”.

In an instant he became a big boy and revealed feelings, instincts, and maturity that I would have previously told you weren’t even present in him.

Later in the evening when I asked him if he was ok, he simply replied,

“Yeah, as long as mom’s ok, then I’m ok”.

Two of life’s most powerful forces on display. A mother’s love for her child, and a son’s love for and desire to protect his mom.

A sad night, but a blessed one.

Get Up, You’ll Be Alright

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I guess most graduating seniors these days like to use the top of their graduation cap as a form of expression.  If this had been an “in” thing to do back in the 80’s, I’m sure my cap would have looked like a Skoal can or Van Halen album cover.

Our daughter Maddie graduates next week.  When I came across her cap last night, I held back tears.  “She knew who she was and whose she was”.

On our way to Maddie’s regional track meet today, her little brother Kal asked in that irritating little brother way, “why do we even have to go to Maddie’s track meet?”  Before I could reply in “dad tone” with a lecture, her sophomore brother answered beautifully from the front seat, “because it could be Maddie’s last track meet, and we love her, and we’re gonna support her”.  This was a day that was going call for support.

I’ve watched in silence many times as our kids have had disappointing finishes in sporting events.  It’s a struggle to hold your tongue when poor results line up perfectly with the amount of and the consistency of training that went into preparation for contests.  But that wasn’t going to be the case today.  Maddie had finished 2nd in region and 13th in state as a junior in the 800m run.  Excitement and confidence fueled her motivation for her senior season.  She had trained consistently in the offseason and supplemented her team training during the season with extra work with a trainer.  Maddie was ready for this day.

 

On an unseasonably cold May day, Maddie lined up to start her 800m run with high hopes.  She had turned in a season-best time the week before that was 6 seconds better than her previous best.  There was an outside chance of being a regional champ and a good chance of advancing to the state track meet, simply by matching her time from a week ago.

With her sister, two brothers, two grandmothers, and her mother & I nervously watching, she got off to a good start.  But as she got into the first straight stretch, disaster struck.  Her feet became tangled with another runner’s.  Maddie stayed on her feet.  The other runner went down.  But Maddie absorbed hard contact from the falling runner and spent 20 feet trying her best to stay on her feet.  There was no recovering.  The race was basically over for her.  Maddie finished 6th, almost 18 seconds off her time from her last meet.

I stood in silence, overwhelmed with parental emotions.  For all the times I’d thought and said, “I love to watch you play”, I knew I’d watched her play for the last time.  A sobering thought.  And the injustice.  For all her training and effort, her own efforts did not determine her place of finish on this day.

Little brother Kal stewed with anger.  In his eyes, Maddie got tripped.  She got cheated.  It wasn’t fair.  She deserved another chance.  He was distraught over the unfairness of it all.

I thought of all the complaints he has lodged against me.  “Dad you always tell me that, I get tired of hearing it”……….Life’s not fair.  You’ll live.  Get up, you’ll be alright.  But he doesn’t understand it yet.

I looked out past the finish line.  Maddie does understand it.  I saw her hugging the girl she got tangled up with.  Two upset young ladies consoling each other for disappointing finishes.  Life isn’t fair.  Bad things happen.  It doesn’t do any good to place blame or become angry.  What matters is how you respond to disappointment.  You can’t win every game or every race, but only you can decide when you’re defeated.

When her mother and I met up with her as she left the track, I couldn’t find any words.  She was visibly upset.  A perfectly formed shoe mark across her knee pretty much summed up her final 800m race.  I just hugged her in silence, knowing that if I tried to speak, my own tears would come.

And as I held our daughter, I knew……she was disappointed but not distraught.  Sad but not angry.  Hurting but not defeated.  She knows who she is.  She knows who she belongs to.  She is a child of the King.

Someone asked her mother and me recently what we had done as parents of our daughters.  I didn’t have an answer.  I do now.  It’s not what we have done as parents, but it is what they have come to understand.

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Their identity is in Christ.

Bad things will happen.  Life’s not fair.  Physical and emotional pain will come.  But they will not be defeated.  They will always get back up.

They’ll be alright.

As we parted ways to go in separate directions after the meet, I hugged her one more time. This time I found my words.  “I’m proud of who you are”.

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Wait Until Your Father Gets Home

stuck truck

My foot shot out from under me at the speed of sound.  My tailbone found the slushy cold pavement with a thud.  There’s a good possibility that some salty language escaped my lips as I fell.

When I spoke to my wife before leaving work that day she suggested that maybe I shouldn’t buy a whole truckload of groceries, since I may not be able to navigate my truck up our slick, steep hill in the snow (it had been scraped when the photo was taken).  “Oh, I can get up the hill.”

So, with massive quantities of groceries on board, I failed miserably at conquering our hill.  After much tire burning, ditch cleaning, and backward sliding, I gave up.  I walked to the top of the driveway to get a shovel, just so I could dig out enough to get my truck out of the middle of the driveway.  As I walked back toward my truck, my frustration was compounded by the fact that none of my family (most notably my teen daughter and son) had appeared to help me tote groceries into the house.

And then I fell……into a dose of perspective.  As I finished my Yosemite Sam grumbling and returned to my feet, I heard footsteps coming behind me.  My faithful 9 year-old son Kal approached cheerfully, “Need some help?”  Of course I did.  He was wearing basketball shoes and no socks in the deep snow.  I told him over and over how much I appreciated his help as we made multiple trips up the hill carrying groceries (I may or may not have pointed out those who didn’t show up to help).

When we finished putting groceries away, I noticed a very important detail.  An open curtain that normally stays closed.

The reason he was the only one to offer help was that he was the only one in my family that was anxiously waiting and watching for my arrival.

Standing at the door.  Looking out of the window.  Waiting for dad to get home.

Kal is almost 10 now.  That will probably be the last time he ever stands at the window waiting for me to get home.  I think it’s one of the most important things for a father of young children to understand; it IS a big deal when you come home.  And it’s a big deal when you leave.

It’s likely that your kids are the only people on earth that will ever eagerly watch for your arrival.  They are the only ones that will beg to go with you when you leave.  Cherish these moments while they last and make the most of them.

Show excitement for coming home.  Show excitement for BEING home.  When they say, “Daddy, can I go?”, find a way to make the answer “yes”.   They won’t always want to be with you.  They won’t always want to talk to you.

Someone will guide them.  Something will influence them.  Let it be you.  Consistently.

Don’t worry yourself with trying to impress people that don’t matter.  Guide and influence the lives that do matter.  Be the best dad you can be….today and every day.

And if “daddy’s home” is still a big deal to somebody in your home……then it better be a big deal to daddy.