Boys Will Be Boys

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I saw the controversial Gillette ad. It says that men can do better, and we can. But the ad somehow managed to annoy me to no end. Maybe because of its #Metoo tone or maybe because feminism just isn’t a smart approach to selling men’s razors.

What was the most irritating aspect of the ad? For me, it’s the overall tone that men really didn’t know that some things weren’t okay until the MeToo movement came along to enlighten us.  Throw in a few “woke” made-up buzzwords like “toxic masculinity” and Gillette now has a lot of guys Googling Harry’s Razors.

Toxic masculinity. Urban Dictionary defines it as “any male action that doesn’t conform to liberal ideas about what a man should be in today’s society. This definition is probably better than that of any of its creators in the feminist movement. “Oh look kids. Another movement and another national conversation. Let’s stick around to see what position of self-congratulation is being assumed.” The thing about national conversations is that they’re never intended to be honest ones by the people who are itching to start them.

No, I don’t think many men are willing to let feminists or a movement define what it means to be a man or how to raise our boys. We’re not as hapless and destructive as we are freely portrayed.

It’s not that we’re offended. It’s that we just don’t want to hear it from people that don’t know as much as they claim to know. Not from a movement anyway. Some of us are smart enough to know we need to get better and to listen to people who have earned the right to speak truth into our lives. And that’s not going to be from a feminist toned movement. So just “stay in your lane”. Really.

The problems that surface in society aren’t really that men are bad or that masculinity is toxic. Masculinity is what sent first responders rushing toward danger on September 11 and soldiers storming the beaches at Normandy.

The rotten things that men do and the worst parts of our behavior surely didn’t just arrive on the scene. It doesn’t need a new name. We’ve been committing acts of stupidity and causing harm since Cain killed Abel. It’s called sin. Men (and women) give in to their selfish or evil desires and act upon them. That’s the real life battle that rages for all of us every day. Sinful desires vs obedience to God.

Through it all, over time, men are getting better. There has never been a time in history of Western Civilization where men have been more caring, sensitive, loving, and active in their roles as fathers as they are today. Some men, but not all men. Plenty of guys are just scumbags. They lack a moral compass and live a life of taking the path of least resistance. Lazy, disrespectful or abusive of women, neglectful as fathers. But don’t lump us all together (feminism battles tend to do that even if not by design).

We’re not all the same. Some of us are committed to not only doing a better job of raising boys, but also to raising up men to be better fathers than there own were. And we can’t or won’t trust women to redefine what it takes to be a real man. Living a life that earns the respect of other men, and not just the approval of women, isn’t something that we’ll release by hostile takeover.

So what qualities do I hope to see in my own sons as they become men?  Hard worker, kind, respectful of others, caring, protector, provider, great listener, critical thinker, possesses moral courage, defender of the weak, humble, physically tough, considerate of the less fortunate, slow to anger, honest, disciplined, and always think before they speak or act. And one last thing. They will cry, not in cases because they are weak, but only because they love deeply.

Are most of these qualities biblical? Yes. Would my list look a little different for my girls? Yes, because boys and girls are different. Is there an accepted message floating around that they’re not and that it’s wrong to value or push our boys toward certain character traits? Yes, yes there is. That message is disguised in razor commercials and elsewhere by anyone who has ever talked about patriarchy and toxic masculinity.

So how do we change the culture of raising boys?

Maybe we start by, as a society, ceasing to pretend:

  1. That a household without a father present isn’t a big deal. Yes, it’s a huge deal that can’t be emphasized enough. Prison populations are full of men from fatherless homes. There’s little to dispute about that. The presence of a father in the home is big deal. The presence of a good father in the home has benefits that can last for generations. It’s foolish to pretend otherwise.
  2. That all methods of raising children are equal. God’s plan is for man and woman to be married and to raise children together. It is not for divorce or single parenthood. Men and women have unique qualities that compliment each other, and in no place is this more evident than in parenting. That doesn’t mean that countless single moms (or dads or grandparents) haven’t done an amazing job of raising children on their own. And it doesn’t even mean that same sex couple can’t love and raise kids better than those in some traditional marriages. But it is totally reckless to refuse to acknowledge the fact that traditional families provide the best setting for raising kids. All options may be permissible but not all options are equal and shouldn’t be treated as such.
  3.  That society/government programs don’t shorten the path to destruction. Single mom in the home=free housing and benefits. Marriage or having a man around=lose benefits. Human nature, as most liberal policies consistently ignore, dictates that if you provide enough people with a shortcut, many won’t be able to pass it up. With the loss of money by having the man around (in marriage), women avoid the commitment. With the absence of commitment, the path for men to carry on with their selfish and irresponsible ways is made easier. In every instance where we have a “baby daddy” instead of a family, the path to an empty life gets shorter. Sad and still inexcusable. But true, unnecessary, and ignored all the same. It’s time to stop shortening the path to destruction and ignoring human nature with systems that lower standards that men are held to.
  4. That it’s destructive for boys to be boys. “Don’t cry. Suck it up. Toughen up.” It’s okay to tell our boys these things. Physical toughness leads to mental toughness. Determination doesn’t just appear with armpit hair and neither does backbone. And because it’s not OK for men to sit at home playing video games, pretending to be disabled while their wives work two jobs, it IS okay to tell our sons about many things along the way, “No, boys don’t do that.” They don’t pee sitting down. They don’t wear high heals. And they don’t disrespect their mother. Because yes, boys are different than girls. And boys WILL be boys. That is never an excuse for bad behavior. But it is a reason that farts will still be funny when they’re 50.  And if you don’t understand why that is…………..you probably need to stay in your lane.

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

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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!

 

 

Mister Magoo and a Dose of Gratitude

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I rushed out the door with my son Kal one fall morning, trying to get him to school on time.  As I started down the hill of our leaf-covered driveway, I sensed that something just wasn’t right with my vision.  It took entirely too long to realize that a lens had popped out of my glasses.  Driving with one good eye and one bad eye seemed to be more dangerous than simply removing my glasses.

Kal always took his morning flag-raising duties seriously.  I didn’t want to make him late.  There was no time to go back and find the missing lens.  I took my glasses off and drove on.  “Dad, can you even see without your glasses?”  Actually I couldn’t see well at all.  But I knew the route well, and I could at least make out images of large things like cars.

As a kid I never really understood if Mister Magoo was actually blind, or if he just couldn’t see.  I knew he caused a lot of cartoon chaos behind the wheel of his car, but I was pretty sure he never caused any real harm.  So I drove on.  “Yeah Kal, I can see good enough.”

After dropping Kal off at school, I drove back towards our home to hopefully recover my missing lens.  I knew there were only about two million freshly fallen leaves covering our driveway, and I was pretty sure the lens was somewhere in the middle of them.

My mind wandered as I realized how poor my vision had suddenly become and how I was struggling just to drive.  Thoughts drifted back to a time nearly twenty years ago.  Sobering memories rushed in of a time when my heart was full of gratitude.

I remember so plainly becoming a father for the first time.  The feelings of awe.  Experiencing in the most powerful way just how loving and awesome God truly is.  And getting a new glimpse of how small and powerless I am.

Those first times walking the floor at all hours of the night with a crying baby.  Feeling helpless as to what I was doing, unable to console our crying bundle of joy.  Singing, whispering, talking, and trying anything to get our firstborn Macy to stop crying and go back to sleep.

And praying. “Thank you Lord for this precious child.  Thank you that I have legs to walk, to carry her across this floor.  Thank you that I have ears to hear her cries.  Thank you that I have arms and hands to hold her.  Thank you for the privilege of being her daddy.  Thank you for this roof over our heads and food to eat.  And thank you that I HAVE EYES TO SEE this precious child.

But something happened to that grateful heart over time.  With child #2, #3, and #4, those constant feelings of parental uncertainty and fear diminished with experience, knowledge and lessons learned along the way.  I suppose routine and comfort tend to nudge away that feeling of closeness to and dependence on God that we feel in times of fear and uncertainty.  And I guess that life can become so full that we are so busy worshiping God’s blessings that we fail to honor the One who provided them.

It turns out that my missing lens was in the seat of my truck the whole time.  As I was popping it back into the frame, it became obvious what a lousy “blessing counter” I had become.

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For most of the past year I’ve struggled with a variety of small health problems that have made life……..just different.  Things that I’m used to doing or want to do, I simply can’t do them right now.  The phrase that comes into play often is, “it’s all relative.”

I can’t run, but I can walk.  I can’t use my right arm well, but I can use my left arm well (just not with skill).  I have pain, but I’m just uncomfortable and not miserable.  I struggle terribly with sleep, but I have a real mattress in a home with heating and air conditioning. I know where my next meal is coming from.  And I know Jesus as my savior.  Shame on me if I utter complaints.

 

It’s all relative.  I don’t have problems, I have inconveniences and disruptions.  If I allow myself to complain about what I can’t do instead of being thankful for the things that I can do, I risk crushing the spirit of a grateful heart.

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings; name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.
I still don’t know if Magoo was totally blind.  But I do know that we often choose not to see.  Give thanks.  A grateful heart see clearly what God has done.  And it can open our eyes to a broken world that we simply aren’t the center of.
Count.  Give thanks.  Love.  Take action.

 

I Never Thought It Would End THIS Way

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For anyone who has ever coached youth sports of any kind, from pee-wee to middle school, and even high school sports in some cases………I have a deep question that has been floating in my mind in recent days. Just give me minute to circle around to it.

My youngest daughter wrapped up her high school soccer career tonight.  The days leading up to it flooded me with memories of all her games past, both far and near.  Thoughts of different leagues, cities, coaches, teammates, hotel rooms, victory, defeat.  Reflections of how she changed over the years as a player, a competitor, and a person.  Wondering how and why things have played out exactly as they have.  Thinking about influences both good and bad that could have or would have made things better or worse if they’d been different.

And I started thinking about the kids that I have coached as my kids have grown up, from youth soccer to travel soccer, Upward basketball to middle school basketball.  And I just can’t help wondering……

If all coaches could see into the future, to that very day when a kid puts away the cleats or the hi-tops for the last time and walks away from a game………would they choose to coach individual kids differently than they presently do?

Every kid walks away from their chosen sport someday…….then what?

Effective youth coaching is psychiatry and it is parenting.  Each player is unique, and they have specific needs that team sports can bring them.

Many coaches fail to fill those needs because they falsely assume they are training the next state champs.  They fail to see each child beyond that day when the sports equipment goes in the yard sale or the closet.

Shouldn’t the journey of sports teach these things and more to prepare kids for life beyond sports?

  1.  Standard of excellence
  2.  Work ethic
  3.  To believe in themselves
  4.  To trust others
  5.  The value of encouragement
  6.  To know they aren’t the center of the universe
  7.  To know that success does not come overnight (or in one practice)
  8.  To lose with dignity
  9.  To accept temporary failures without blaming others, and to realize these failures aren’t permanent
  10.  To be pushed to their physical limit, time and time again
  11.  To love and to be loved
  12.  To sacrifice for others
  13.  To respect authority and rules
  14.  Teamwork/unselfishness
  15.  To never give up

These things still matter when the cheering stops.

Maddies last stand

The cheering stopped for Maddie tonight.  Her team lost in the regional semi-finals.  In a game where she and her teammates truly “left it on the field”, the score was tied at the end of 80 minutes of regulation.  Two 5-minute overtimes later, the score was still tied.  Penalty kicks would now decide the match.

Maddie stood over the ball, ready to attempt her shot with her team facing a nearly hopeless 3-1 deficit.

If she missed this shot, the game was over.  The season was over.

Sitting on my knees beside my wife, I simply mumbled, “Maddie needs to be to one to take this shot.”

Not because it could be the game winner………because it would be the shot that would seal the loss if she missed.

I don’t know what kind of reaction or look Kristy gave me, but I went on to say, “Maddie needs to be the one to take this shot, because I know she can handle missing the shot to end the game.  She can handle it.  That’s my daughter!”

And my voice cracked at the enormity of what I was saying in a trailing voice……..”that is OUR daughter”.

She missed.  Game over.  Season over.  High school career over for her and her senior teammates.

Maddie played her heart out.  And I was so proud of her.  But when those words came out of my mouth, “that’s our daughter” it hit me so clearly.  I was not proud of her effort or her performance.

I was proud of who she has become.

She met her mother and me after the game with head held high.  That’s our daughter.

Do your best.  Have fun.  Train and play to win.  In the end it’s just a game.  The end came tonight.  I’m thankful for all those who have prepared her in the right ways to go beyond this “end”.

If you’re coaching your 1st game or your 1000th, take an occasional peek toward the end.  Winning is a by-product of doing all things the right way.  Some lessons can’t be cast aside for the sake of early wins or just because you ARE winning games.

And while your players are dreaming of making that dramatic game-winning shot, you better spend some time preparing their toughness and character……for missing it.

Missing What Matters While We Do What Seems Urgent

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“Oh, take your time, don’t live too fast
Troubles will come and they will pass”  -Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Simple Man”

There’s no time like the present to be fully present in the lives of those we love.

I saw a post on Facebook recently, an article link about “what men really think about.”  After reading it, I realized that most of the normal “man thoughts” didn’t really describe me.  My mind was consumed by one thing, logistics.  I think my wife could possibly have an overload of logistical thoughts as well.

There is a silent danger in busy lifestyles to have our present thoughts consumed by thoughts of “what’s next”.  Who needs to be where at what time?  How will I get everything done?  How will I deal with ____ problem tomorrow?  How will I fix problems at work?  How will I carve out future time with my family?  How will we pay for college (for 4)?  In what areas do my kids need guidance or redirection?

You get the picture.  The mind is distracted from the present.  Compound this with the tendency to have over-filled schedules, running quickly from place to place, event to event, and you eventually risk living a life that lacks depth.  Healthy interactions are replaced by an urgency to maintain schedules and show up on time.

Eventually, we miss too much of the present because we are distracted by an unhealthy urgency to maintain what’s next.

I’m not suggesting that we live safe, idle lives out of fear of overload.  We should always be willing to consider doing more than we consider ourselves capable of doing, for the purpose of developing faith in God, and a reliance on His strength and not our own.

But just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should do it.  Recognize when life becomes too much and too fast.  Our level of distraction when interacting with loved ones is a good measure of this.

My son Kal has a great love for his three dogs.  Of our four children, he is the first to actually follow through on the promise of, “if I can have a puppy, I will take care of it.”

When I got out of bed for church on Sunday morning, Kal was nowhere to be found in the house.  He was already outside playing with his dogs.  By the time he came in and got dressed for church and got his breakfast, we were nearing the point of running late for church.  Being  late isn’t a big deal to me, but since I had a class to teach, I at least wanted to not be late late.

His mother and sister had already left, but I realized his big brother was still in bed.  But just as I started to go roust big brother from his slumber, Kal launched excitedly into a tale of something his puppy Zelda had done earlier in the morning.  I wasn’t the least bit interested in hearing this story.  And we really needed to get moving to get to church on time.

But there was a gentle nudge inside me as I looked down and saw the excitement on his face as he talked…….just as I was ready to tell him to tell me later because “we gotta go”.

This is Important to him.  Today and forever…….to have his dad’s full attention and to place value on his words.

“Look him in the eyes and listen to every word he says, like it is the most important thing you will hear all day”.  

This is the thought that crashed into my brain.  So I listened.  And I’m sure that those two minutes that I almost lost because I was RUSHING to be somewhere on time, represented the most valuable two minutes of my whole day.

Simply being present in the present.  Getting something right that I’ve gotten wrong hundreds of times before.

If it’s important enough for  our kids to talk to us about (or ask questions about), then it’s important enough for parents to give full attention to and provide answers.

Distracted parenting means we aren’t watching or listening like we should.  Value the words of your children.  Be attentive enough to see opportunities for praise and encouragement (and correction if necessary).

When parents stop listening, kids stop talking.  When kids stop talking, parents lose a big part of their ability to have a continued positive impact in the lives of their growing children.

Plan ahead but don’t let your thoughts stay in the future.  Live a full life, but don’t let your schedules dictate your life.  And perhaps most importantly, it may be time to make changes in your life when your level of distraction and overload causes you to miss the little moments in the days of your children…………that become collectively huge moments when you miss them.

Watching Me Watching You

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If we expect our children to become adults who work hard when nobody is watching, it’s important to take time when they are children, to notice when they are working hard and doing their best.

I spent some time Friday night watching my nine year-old son Kal participating in the Center Shot archery program at our church.  It’s his second year in the program, but he has no other archery experience.  More potential than skill.  What he knows about archery, he has learned through this program (his dad knows zilch).

I always watch him shoot at the target, but sometimes two kids are shooting at the same target.  I can’t always tell which arrows are his from a distance.  So I usually just watch his body language and facial expressions and see how closely he’s listening to instructions.  Sometimes he looks my way in the back of the church gym during the night, but usually not.

I wasn’t paying particularly close attention at one point because he had just finished shooting all of his arrows into the target.  I might have even been distracted by casual conversation with someone seated next to me.  But I looked up just in time to see Kal, looking back at me proudly.  He was pulling his arrows out of the target, but he was saving the best for last.  His hand waited on the arrow that stuck perfectly in the middle of the target.  Kal wasn’t going to pull it out until he was sure his dad had seen it (“look Dad, I did it”).  As soon as we made eye contact and I gave him a thumbs up, he pulled it out and went about his business.

I didn’t carry out any notable “dad feat”.  I just sat in a folding chair.  But it made me think of kids that hit a bullseye and turn around looking for encouragement or approval…….and nobody’s there, time after time.

maddie regional 2015

Today I watched my daughter Maddie run in her regional track meet.  The 800M run is her top event and her best chance to advance to the state meet for the first time (1st & 2nd place qualify).  She came into the meet as the 5th seed in region (I think?).  As a 16 year-old junior, Maddie and I have shared hundreds and hundreds of athletic contests, many of those with me as her coach at youth and middle school levels.

But in high school, I have tried to be a quiet presence of support, hiding in the shadows.  As a father of a teenage girl, the thought enters your mind that your daughter probably won’t even notice anymore if you’re not at her events (and does she even care if you come?).  When Maddie was on the track today, I had no reason to believe she even knew where I was.

I stood by myself at a spot just outside the track, about 75 yards beyond the finish line.  She looked strong as she passed me on the 2nd and final lap.  She moved up from 5th place to a strong 2nd place finish on the lap, finishing 5 seconds better than her season’s best time.

Silently from a distance I watched.  I wondered if she would look my way.  I delighted in the joy in her face, felt a sense of pride in her laughter and sportsmanship among the other runners.  And then she shocked me.  Maddie looked across the track at me like she knew exactly where I was the whole time……grinning at me from ear to ear giving me a big thumbs up (“I did it Dad!!!”).

I know it sounds cliche’ and cheesy but don’t underestimate the value of just being there.  Kids just want to be noticed when they do something good.  They need encouragement to continue on when they think they’re doing poorly.

As our kids grow older, will our kids choose us as parents to share their triumphs with?  Will they give up on something too soon because we weren’t there to help them believe in themselves?

Some kids feel constant pressure to be the best on the court, track, or field.  Kids that are playing to please somebody else are miserable.

But kids that look over their shoulder for support, encouragement, and direction…….and always find it, are something else entirely.

SECURE!

Whatever your kids are doing, just find a way to be there.  They don’t need you to be there to tell them how they can do it better.  They just need you to celebrate when they do it well (or give a a great effort, of course).

Are My Kids Gonna Recognize and Avoid That Big Pile of Poo?

poop shoe

Right from wrong.  Truth.  All parents want their kids to recognize these things.  How will our children choose what is right?  How will they define what is right?  How will they become critical thinkers?

Ultimately, will they develop good decision-making skills?

It won’t happen by accident.  Blessed with young children in your home?   Embrace opportunities early on to not only teach right from wrong, but also to demonstrate truths, values, and worldviews that will form the foundation of their ability to make good decisions as they mature.

When my kids were small I made a habit of pushing their buttons of critical thinking by giving them small doses of impossibilities.  Tell them you think a puzzle piece goes somewhere it can’t possibly go.  Tell them to try the square peg in the round hole.  Watch their reactions, guide them toward finding the truth for themselves and toward correct solutions to problems without blindly accepting everything they are told.  They don’t have to “question everything” but they do need to assess the value and truth of things as they grow.  Crap or not crap?

The bad news is that the world is full of lies.  But…..the good news is that the world is full of lies.  Teaching moments come in large doses these days.  Failure is a great teacher.  TV and social media flood our lives with perfect examples of “how not to do things”.

Be ready to engage in conversations with your kids about the aftermath of bad decisions and the complete crisis of truth.  If you are a believer in the truths of the Holy Bible, then you must help your kids figure out daily how to apply these truths in a broken world……….to recognize crap when they see it, to realize when things have no value.

Parents who are silent in these areas risk seeing their kids’ system of values shaped instead by a culture that spews this garbage and more:

-Life is supposed to be fair.

-Other people owe me something.  Personal responsibility amounts to talking about what other people should be providing for me.

-There is great value in physical appearance, along with the attention and approval of others.

-If you don’t like the rules, re-shape them to meet your own desires.

-Instant gratification always outweighs patience, obedience, and hard work.  You can start at the top.

-If you fail, it must be somebody else’s fault.  Nothing wrong with blaming and excuse making.

-Lying is ok as long as you compare yourself to “worse acts”.  Results are more important than honesty and integrity.

-If you fail to embrace a decaying system of truth and morality, you must be a hater, bigot, sexist, racist.

-The president controls jobs and the economy and my prospect of work.

-It’s of utmost importance, not only to be right, but to convince others that you are right and they are wrong.

-Bruce Jenner……nah, not even opening that one up.

-It’s ok for Christians to spew venom toward and gossip about their brothers behind their backs……as long as they don’t use 4-letter words while they’re doing it.

There is an abundance of crap out there and it changes every day.  As parents, arm yourself with prayer and truth each day. Eyes and ears open.   Be intentional when your kids are young.  Set out to not only arm them with truth but instill in them a desire to choose it and live it.

Philippians 4

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Recognize the pile of poo.  Steer away from it.  Steer others away.

Just “People Watchin” at the Final Four

final four back row

The man in the row in front of us could have possibly been dead for all we knew.  His lifeless 30-something body didn’t show much interest in moving when those around him were yelling, shaking, and smacking him.  Slight panic ensued in section 612 of Lucas Oil Stadium.

My 15 year-old son and I made the trip to Indianapolis for this year’s NCAA Final Four hoping to see our Kentucky Wildcats finish off a perfect 40-0 season.  Those hopes were dashed with a semi-final loss to Wisconsin on Saturday night.  Unlike many UK fans, we stuck around for Monday’s final between Duke and Wisconsin.

There may not be a greater place on earth for fathers and sons to bond simply by sharing the wealth of worthless information and basketball history that lives in the streets of a Final Four.  And for this dad, it was an opportunity to squash the image that I’m completely oblivious to my surroundings (because I sort of am).

Unleashing a wealth of basketball history to an interested youngster came easy while walking on the streets of Indy.  Basketball personalities, past and present were everywhere, in real life and on the sides of buildings.

KY Seattle

Perhaps the truest (and most comical) father/son bonding came simply from people watching on the streets.  Walking around different sections of the downtown area on gameday and having conversations about different types of people and all the crazy stuff going on.

The party blocks-so full of beer drinkers getting primed for the game that you can barely walk through- but you walk your son through it all anyway……..this is how you don’t act son.

The “I wanna get on TV” sections.  ESPN, etc setup at various places with people always desperately trying to get on TV.

The ticket peddlers.  NO, JUST BECAUSE I’M WEARING A UK SHIRT, I DON’T HAVE A TICKET TO SELL SINCE WE LOST!!!

The beggars and street performers just trying to capitalize on all the extra foot traffic.

The police officers, patiently dealing with all the drunken geniuses blundering in the streets.

My son was impressed with my ability to spot random people in the crowded streets since I usually can’t find my way back to where we park our car without his help.

“There’s the guys that sat by us at the semi-finals.”

“There’s the guy your uncle sold his tickets to at IHOP.”

“There’s the guys that sat across from us at Cracker Barrel this morning.”

“That was Heshimu Evans.” (played on 1998 UK championship team).

Dad……you, like notice people, don’t you?

Yes.

Back in section 612.  Top level of Lucas Oil Stadium.  Only 2 rows separate us from the very top.

final four court2

During the first half, a commotion to my left draws my attention.  My son, Karrick Ryne and all others to his left have quickly risen to their feet as a lady in front of them, in a panic, is trying in vain to return her adult son to consciousness.  She shakes, smacks, calls his name.  His head falls straight back.  He looks to be in serious trouble.

“Somebody needs to go get someone!”

I hear an older lady say from the row behind me.

Three rows of people are on their feet now, most of them doing the exact thing I was doing…….watching, and waiting to see if someone else was going to do something.

The guy still wasn’t moving.

But Karrick Ryne was.  He left his spot in the center of the row without speaking and pushed past me, flew out of our row, and went down 19 rows, two at a time, disappearing into the concourse looking for assistance.

Shortly after KR went out of sight, the man showed signs of life, opening his eyes, and raising back up in his seat somewhat.  His friends/family gave him water.  He started assuring them he was ok.  Guy was sweating heavily now. I turned to the man sitting beside me and suggested that the man was most likely drunk.  Figured those seated in front of him were in danger of getting puked on before the game was over.

KR returned to his seat, visibly shaken.  I praised him for doing the right thing and acting quickly.  He kept shrugging his shoulders wondering if he’d overreacted (an older gentleman behind us actually placed a 911 call) and wondered if the first aid folks were ever going to come.

KR just kept watching, waiting, and wondering.  This was all new territory for him.  For me, I was just getting irritated at this “sick” man now and his whole group who had failed to at least turn around and acknowledge the fact that my son had sprinted for help because half our section thought he was in serious medical distress.

Two ladies finally appeared at the bottom of our section some 8 minutes later, carrying first aid bags.  Passed out guy and the three people with him pretended to not see them!  They were going to act like nothing happened.  My whole row wasn’t buying it.  We all raised our arms and pointed to say, “right here dude”.  Passed out guy pleaded his case for only a minute before leaving with the EMT’s.  He never returned.

A crisis was started by someone’s poor judgement.  Their problem became the problem of others.  Their subsequent actions showed that they were perfectly willing to be blind to those around them…….the beauty of drunkenness.

In that moment of crisis, when a man was sitting motionless in his seat, it was the adults who were frozen in place.  In the back of our minds, most of us stood watching and hoping someone else would go for help.  But no one did.  Some of us may have had that immediate thought in the back of our minds, “it’s probably self-inflicted, I’m not getting involved.”

The young mind is a clean slate, not poisoned by things we are “certain” of.  Not hindered by watching and analyzing everything to death before acting.  Perhaps these same things poison an adult Christians’ ability to live by faith and not by sight.  When someone cried out, “somebody needs to get somebody”, KR was the only one in our immediate area under the age of 30.  And he’s also the only one that moved.  The rest of us were busy thinking……..and watching.

That’s one way I’m glad he’s not like his dad.  For all the times that he has looked to his dad for a cue for the right thing to do……he looked quickly to me this time and saw that I wasn’t going to do it.  So he did it himself.

Yeah, I’m a people watcher.  I guess it’s a good thing I’m not an EMT.

END NOTE: The first stadium worker that Karrick Ryne approached to tell about an unresponsive person in our section told him to go find somebody else because they were on break.   You can’t make this stuff up.

Daddy, Are You Crying?

R.J. Hunter, Ron Hunter

I first saw Georgia State head coach Ron Hunter when he was injured in a post-game celebration after leading his team to an NCAA tournament berth by winning the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.   I’m pretty sure his injury was the result of an embrace with his son, who happens to be a high-scoring guard on this team.  In post game interviews, he seemed like a breath of fresh air.  Little did we know how much better this story was going to get in the coming days.

When the big dance tipped off on Thursday afternoon, instead of loosely following my bracket picks from work, I was home in bed with a migraine by the time the first game reached halftime.  I was rudely awakened later in the afternoon by the loud yelling from another part of my house by my high school freshman son.  I was disoriented but I knew what must be happening…….the first huge upset of March Madness.  Obviously, it’s frowned upon to make loud unnecessary outbursts when dad has a migraine.  But when I finally arose from my slumber, and my son excitedly told me about 14-seed Georgia State’s improbable upset of 3-seed Baylor on R.J. Hunter’s bomb in the final seconds (and Ron’s topple off the stool) I decided to withhold my wrath.

I fell in love with Ron Hunter’s coaching style, his fashion style (or lack of over-concern for it), his child-like excitement, and his humility.  But what has drawn me to him most is his bond with his son.  It’s easy to fall in love with the underdog stories each year, as most of us do.  And each year it seems that a new coach wins over the country with a colorful personality.  Perhaps the most lovable thing about Ron Hunter is his absence of “swagger”.

If you’re an 18 year-old prospect, maybe swagger is high on your list of coaching qualities.  But if you’re just a dad, and a basketball fan and a fan of integrity, your ears perk up when a Ron Hunter shows up in the spotlight.

The phrase that keeps coming up in interviews is

“I love this kid”.

Over and over.  He loves his son.  He loves all his players.  His love is not based on their ability to pull out last second wins.  The last second wins only provide him a national stage to proclaim his love and pride for his players.   He pours his energy into taking them to a place they never dreamed possible…..with the passion of a coach and the heart of a father.

There’s something special about March Madness.  And there’s something special about a father coaching their son (or daughter).  When you combine the two, it creates special moments to go beyond basketball.  

I’ve coached all four of my kids on some level of sports.

KR 8th grade nightDSC00996

One lesson that you hope every player walks away from their sports experience with is this:

At the end of each game, take pride in your effort.  Win or lose, walk off the court or field with your head held high knowing you did all you could do to help your team win.

I sat watching Georgia State vs Xavier on Saturday night, trying not to let myself get too excited about the possibility of a Ga St. win.  But I couldn’t help myself.  This was my team.  I was emotionally attached to this father/son combination and underdog story.  I found myself yelling at the TV and reacting with dejection each time Xavier made a big shot down the stretch.

My oldest daughter, a freshman college soccer player was home for spring break, and happened to be the only one in the room with me as the game wound down.  Ron Hunter took his son R.J. out of the game in the final seconds of their disappointing defeat.

R.J. raced off the floor with his head held high, knowing he’d given his all.  He also knew he’d made his father proud.  Father and son embraced.   All I could say was “Aww”, but I guess my voice cracked.

My daughter Macy said, “daddy, are you crying?”……..”shut up Macy”

I wasn’t the only one.  In the postgame press conference what caught my attention most was the shift in Ron Hunter’s voice as he was talking about the game and his team’s unlikely postseason run.  He completely broke down……..when his words changed from coach to dad.  The same……but different.  And so special.

I love this man…….

You can watch the interview below if you haven’t already seen it.  Hope to see him back next year.