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Monthly Archives: August 2012

Lessons To My Sons – Back To School Edition

Lessons To My Sons – Back To School Edition

On Values.

Values should guide your life.  Write them down, early and often.  Review them regularly and recognize that values evolve as your life & priorities change.  When you run up against difficult decisions, and you will face many, use them to chart your course.   Share your values with the people you love, as they will help hold you accountable.  My values are as follows:  Family, Achievement, Integrity, Health & Tranquilty.

On Love.

Love will confuse you, force you into mistakes, yet make you whole.  Understand that love is muscle, one that needs exercise and maturity to reach it’s fullest potential. I Love your mother and I love each of you, but my love does not end today, I must continue to practice, or the muscle develops atrophy.

On Politics.

Understand that we are Americans first, Republican & Democrat second.  Vote when you are able, and notice that your political opinions are worthless if you don’t.  Recognize that politics is a game, a negotiation, and that the answer tends to find itself in the middle.  Be careful when sharing your politics, as this subject will stoke emotions in others unlike any you’ve seen.

On Leadership.

Be a leader.  Understand that leadership comes in many functions & forms, and has little to do with your ability to speak or yell.  Your leadership will be judged by the number of listeners, whether you speak often or seldom.  Leadership almost always comes from the front, so understand that your actions will often be your loudest words & listening will be your greatest leadership gift.

On Passion.

Be passionate.  Take care of what you do.  Understand that your task, your work, your success will be enhanced when you are passionate about the project.  Have passion for others.  Success without sharing is failure.  Too much is given, much is expected, and I and your mother will give you plenty.

Stuck In The Middle With You

You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams – Kahlil Gibran

Don Draper is a bad ass. For Mad Men fans, this is not news. The creator, Matt Weiner, deserves many kudos. He not only creates an observation deck into 1950’s New York, but also great characters…characters that explore human behavior and interpersonal relationships. The show may be set in the 50’s, but the characters are as fresh as ever.

In the season 4 finale, Draper, the leading man, decides to dump his reliable girl friend, Faye. She’s the one who, on paper, seems to be the perfect match. She’s intelligent, attractive & understands his history better than any other leading lady to that point…so he, of course, dumps her for the young, artistic, secretary, whom he proposes to after only a weekend together. As Draper breaks the news to Faye, she tearfully declares that she hopes the new fiance understands that Don “…only likes the beginnings of things”.

The Don

Draper smokes often, drinks heavily & cheats constantly…I don’t exactly relate to the character…but I do understand the notion of enjoying the beginnings of things. The challenge and discovery of taking on new projects is exhilarating.

At the tender age of five, I can see my oldest son, Henry, takes after his Ol’ Man. He goes full tilt, at all times…a few minutes of watching Olympic high diving, and he’s got the entire family room rearranged, re-creating the make-believe pool scene to a T. Things come easy to him, and he moves from one topic to the next, until he comes across an item that he can’t conquer…and then he gets frustrated, easily…

…I know the feeling well.

While Henry’s running full steam, Charlie, my middle child, personifies a “No Worry’s” attitude that would make Bob Marley proud. If there is more laid back 3-year-old, I’d like to meet him. At Thanksgiving last year, my Mother forgot to clean out the oven after cooking the festive turkey. The next day, as she tossed a couple Totino’s pizza’s in the oven for her three grandson’s, a grease fire broke out. Of course, most in the family over reacted, grabbed children, rushed out the door, assured the house was going to burn…except, the “Honey Badger”, as he was soon called. Charlie sat in his chair, observed his Dad and Uncle Dave put out the fire, and went back to coloring his books, only asking “Is the pizza ready?”

“I don’t think so, Badger, I don’t think so…”

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I often hear new parents use the term “zone” or “man-to-man” when comparing the difference between having one child and two. If that’s the case, and I don’t disagree, then having a third child is like getting a red card. You feel like you are a man down from the second those kids wake up in the morning till there heads hit the pillow at night. Needless to say, our house is “busy”…So what’s the ray of light in our cloudy skies? The oasis of peace in a desert of chaos? That’s right…school…magnicant school.

This year, my oldest starts kindergarten and Charlie goes off to pre-school. That means many hours of peace and quiet for my wife and less stress on the family… hallelujah!…of course, there’s one small issue….Charlie refuses to pee in a toilet. And suburban St. Louis preschools apparently don’t look highly on dysfunctional tinklers.

Raising a toddler that cares very little is a blessing. Grab the kid some juice, throw him in front of the Ipad, ensure there’s no older-brother-torture, and voila…you’ve got one happy child. The flip side…he’s three and without a diaper, he’ll pee through his shorts, down his leg, into a carpet puddle, at which point he’ll look up and smirk, “It’s only a lil’ bit”.

Here’s the thing when a father who likes the beginnings of things meets the toddler who cares for nothing…we have issues. I say “Jump”, he doesn’t move. I say “potty”, he still doesn’t move. I say “I give up”, he giggles and runs away. I’ve tried just about every technique, idea, piece of advice I could find on training…Potty Charts, M&M’s, fruit loops in the toilet, you name it, we’ve tried it…he just doesn’t care…but preschool starts in two weeks and my wife is up all night with the newborn. So what’s it gonna be son, you and me, we getting this done or what?

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The midday, two-minute walk from my car to Barnes & Nobles has me sweating profusely. Not how I wanted to spend my lunch break.

See anything good?

“Excuse me, Madam Book Lady, yes, I need to potty train my child, do they have a book for that?”

“Yes, yes they do”…

She guides me to “Potty Training your Child in just One Day”. Apparently, the gold standard of Potty Training.

I have lots of issues with this book, which we’ll get into, but it starts with the title. It should be called “Potty Training in a day, after you prep for 6 months”. If you think you’re gonna grab this book and start her process the next day, you’d be mistaken.

The book’s intense. I’ve never met the author, but I think we all know the Alpha Dog, Super Mom type…think that, times about 60…she had me running all over town gathering items for her so-called “Potty Party”. Did you know they have stores that ONLY sell fabric? Well, they do, and you’ll find out when you go, because you have to hand make batman underwear for a doll that pees on itself…

Intense.

Here’s the basic idea…You throw your kid a big party. Streamers, themes, whatever. The morning starts with your child opening a gift, which happens to be a doll. You name it (we went with George), make a big deal out of it. You spend the morning playing games, watching videos and teaching the doll how to pee on the toilet. Fingernails on a chalkboard, people, fingernails on a chalkboard.

In the afternoon, you pull the ol’ switcheroo on your toddler and begin teaching them how to use the potty, instead of the doll… you finish by going out to dinner, & opening some presents. Throw in a few calls from Nana & Papa, and Boom!, they’re trained like a teenager emerging from boot camp…by the way, if all that sounds kind of expensive, it is.

What the book doesn’t warn you about is this: What if your kid doesn’t give a rip about the party and the doll? What if he looks at your Potty Power DVD for about 2.5 minutes and rightfully turns if off and says “That’s silly, Daddy, let’s watch Clifford?” What if he has a father who only cares about the beginnings of things?

Handmade Batman underwear, people, handmade Batman underwear

I’ll tell you what happens…you go off script. No sense in spending the morning trying to get my son to care about a doll and some DVDs. Besides, Charlie’s issue isn’t the process of jumping on the potty, it’s the process of knowing when to go…

To be honest, maybe not my best moment…

By 7:15am, we had the big boy underwear on, the DVDs off, and coffee was brewing. The book instructs you to fill your kid up with liquids so he “feels the pressure” on the bladder. So I was pumping little Honey Badger with a juice box every 30 minutes…the only thing feeling the pressure was my carpet, under the constant barrage of accidents that littered the floor. Meanwhile, baby-doll George is laying face up on the bathroom floor, mocking me every time Charlie decides to tinkle anywhere but the toilet.

“You should have stuck to the plan, Ol’ Man, you should have stuck to the plan.”

By 10:15 I was running out of towels to clean up all the messes. I was beginning to lose my patience and the only thing making it into the toilet was my attitude. By lunch, I’d lost count of the accidents. My wife and I began to consider what missing pre-school would mean to Charlie.

Wife -“I’m sure he’ll be OK, we’ll just go next year…”

Me – “Maybe they have a class for potty – challenged kids”

As Charlie & I sat down for lunch, I pondered the morning’s activities. I had planned, practice, and (mostly) followed the book. I had spent money, time, prepping for this day. I had poured myself into this, into Charlie. My wife had left with the other 2 boys, leaving just Charlie and I to bond, to discover, to overcome. I was stuck…Things come easy, remember…this did not. Charlie looked amused. I was broken.

“Time for your nap, Badger, time for your nap”

****************************************************************************

Something happened that afternoon that I’ll never fully understand. From the time that kid went down for his nap, till the time he went to sleep 8 or so hours later, he didn’t have one accident. Not one tinkle awry. Hell, he was pullin’ the Stand-&-Pee routine by the time we hit Chick – Fil- A for his celebratory dinner…

Where’s the Daddy Training In-A-Day Book?

He’s too young to remember, and I’m not smart enough to understand, but it makes me wonder. In our crazy, red-card world, Charlie sits and sees a new brother, stealing a bunch of kisses on one side. On the other side, he sees an older brother, so full of energy, stealing the rest. Makes me wonder, did good ol’ Charlie enjoy the morning of chaos? Enjoy that attention? Enjoy “his time”? I’d like to believe it was the calls of encouragement by the grandparents in the afternoon, or my tried and true enthusiasm and positive thinking, but deep down, I think he saw the despair & frustration in his father’s eyes, and thought…”Ok, he’s had enough”.

Several days of passed since the Potty Training in a day…and Charlie’s had very few accidents. He’s ready for preschool and his mother couldn’t be happier. I guess the book did it’s job, although if asked, I don’t think I’d recommend it.

I’m learning quickly that our kids will do what they want, when they want, despite what us Father’s say….better get used to it, I hear. But maybe, just maybe, those same kids will see how much we care, how much we want them to succeed, and they’ll take it easy on us…maybe, if we show them the dedication they deserve, stay true to ourselves, they’ll end up being OK…they can’t pee in the their pants forever, right?

The training is complete, the story has been told…and in this case, I enjoyed the ending of things.

The Conundrum of a Displaced DadFan

The great Beat writer, Allen Ginsberg, once wrote a poem called the Wichita Vortex Sutra. Basically, Ginsberg was driving from New York City to Dallas, when his car broke down. Forced to spend a few days in Wichita, KS his experience was so horrendous, the people so uninspiring, he wrote the poem, which plays on the theme of tornadoes (given Wichita’s presence in tornado alley) and the fact that Wichita is the center of all evil. Fascinating read, especially if you grew up there, which I did.

Growing up in Ginsberg’s “Center of all Evil” was bad enough…what made it worse was the lack of any professional football.  If you lived in Wichita in 1985, you were stuck watching either an annoying Tom Landry led Cowboys team or rather insufferable Chiefs team. Talk about the lesser of two evils…

Oh, So Sweet

So it was, during the winter of 85-86, that I began to hear about this team from Chicago, so-called the Bears.  Where the Chiefs had boring, the Bears had pizzaz…  They had the Shuffle, the Fridge, and of course “Sweetness”.  I was hooked.  I jumped on the bandwagon and never looked back.  And believe me, there were many opportunities to hop off  over the years…I think the Bears had 148 starting quarterbacks in 20 plus years I followed them…I fell in love with Erik Kramer, would have taken a bullet for running back Neal Anderson, and thought Mike Ditka walked on water.  I started every year, convinced, this would be the team to go 16-0…I was a fan, through and through.

So last week,  followers of my twitter feed began to wonder what I was doing at the St Louis Rams training camp.  The Rams camp, not unlike many others I’m sure, is made up of mostly middle-aged men, sweating profusely, wishing they could join the autograph line, yearning to see these larger than life players up close….no righful Bears fan would ever go to a training camp of another NFC team, right?  Let alone, take his two young, impressionable sons…

One of my favorite authors, Bill Simmons, writes about how we only have a few years to brainwash our children to love our teams, before they develop a mind of their own…so shouldn’t I be talking up Jay Cutler, not Sam Bradford? What am I doing?  Where is my fatherly judgement?

Sports is about shared experiences, traditions, and loyalty.  I graduated from the University of Kansas, my father took me to games in Allen Fieldhouse when I was a boy.  I saw “DownTown” Terry Brown drop seven 3-pointer in a 150-95 route of Kentucky. My grandpa still spends Saturday afternoons listening to Jayhawk football games over the radio in McPherson, KS (or Macpherson as Ginsberg refers to it).  I save money every month so my boys will be able to go to college…but if they think even one dime of that savings is going to go to the University of Missouri, they’d be mistaken.  To bring my boys up as anything but Jayhawkers would go against the family, and you saw how good that worked out for Fredo.  Love the Missouri Tigers in my house?  You just don’t do it.

So how is my love of the Bears any different?  Why don’t feel the same way?  I find myself taping pre-season Rams games, buying my boys Bradford jersey’s, while researching 5th round draft picks…all this for a team that’s won maybe 5 games in 3 years.

My SonFans w/ Rampage the Ram

I guess I care more about the shared experience than the tradition and loyalty.  My love of the Bears is only one generation…my generation.  I jumped on the bandwagon, no one will miss me when I jump off.  My dad turns his favorite NFL team in every few years like a used Toyota.  My grandpa stays loyal to  the Chiefs, but for me, that shipped has sailed. Besides, should my loyalty to the Bears mean that my boys can’t experience sports?  Do I stand on my team principles, while my sons get no local NFL exposure?  Doesn’t seem fair to them.  What’s a DadFan to do?

I care about my sons…seeing their eyes light up at the sight of Rampage the Mascot was the highlight of my week.  I want them to remember those hot August days, when Dad took them to see the Rams camp.  Yes, I take videos of them on the Play60 obstacle course, set to music, because I’m a dork, but mostly because I want those memories.  I’d rather find a new love, a new team, if that means I get to share in those experiences.  Oh sure, I’ll root for Cutler, Urlacher…I’ll still love me some Lovie Smith.  But it won’t be the same.  And that’s OK…  After all, I’m a DadFan raising three SonFans, and that’s what DadFan’s do.

Who Wants to Pound Some Pavement?

I hate to fly. We’re talking white knuckles from wheels up to wheels down. When I fly, I have no control, and when I have no control, my mind wonders.  When my mind wonders, I end up thinking about blown engines, and what those 40 seconds would feel like as I plunge to my death.

It was with that fear that I was offered a job from my uncle to become part of his parks and recreations consulting firm. Which was good news… I was a recent University of Kansas grad, fresh off a  semi-successful fraternity rush campaign, let’s just say the job offers weren’t exactly pouring in.    The bad news? We would fly…a lot. Sometimes as many as four flights in five days. Brutal.

I reluctantly decided to take my uncle’s offer, thinking, you face your fears, not hide behind them.  I was sure that after six months, they’d be asking me to take over the cockpit controls when the pilots chose fish for dinner. Unfortunately, my fear never subsided, and I ended up lasting only a few months flying around America. I learned many things that summer, most notably, that those parks & recreations departments that had partnered with a citizen led “friends ” group had beautiful park systems.  I told my uncle, as I walked off our last flight together, that when I got settled, I would look to start my own “friends” group.

Fast forward to 2008, after settling in Wentzville, MO, I met with, and ultimately convinced a friend of mine by the name of Mark Horst to begin a citizen led, non-profit organization.  A few weeks later the Friends of the Wentzville Parks (FoWP) was born. Our Mission: To help bring about a world-class parks and recreations department to the city of Wentzville. Since the beginning, we’ve been an advocate for local parks. Raising money and helping to build projects such as a basketball court and batting cages.

One of two large projects for 2012

In early 2012, we helped to introduce and fund the “We Play” scholarship program. It is, without a doubt, my proudest Friends of the Parks accomplishment to date.

Here’s the deal, if you live in my home town, and cannot afford to use the services and programs offered through the parks, the FoWp will pick up the tab. Can’t afford a pool pass? No problem, we’ll take care of it. Recently lost your job and can’t find the money to sign up for t- ball? No worries, we got it.  This economy got you feeling like you are plunging towards Earth, no control in sight?  We got your parachute.  

In only a few short months, dozens of families have applied and qualified for the “We Play” scholarship program. The FoWP has put thousands of dollars to use in our community, advocating health & well-being, above all else.  None of this would be possible without the aforementioned Mr. Horst, fellow board members Jeff Simmons, Dan Berg, and of course our parks directors Mary Jo Dessieux and Assistant Director Dottie Phillips.

2011 Pound the Pavement Finish Line

It’s been a great ride, and our organization loves our parks…but I’ll let you in on a little secret…the FoWP is a pretty small group.  We’ve been fortunate to forge some nice partnerships in the community, but we actually only do one fundraiser a year.

That happens to be the Pound the Pavement for Parks 5k & 10k. This years race will be held on August 25th, in conjunction with Wabash Days, and will begin in downtown Wentzville. You can get all the information here.

I write today because we could use your help. The FoWP is caught in a conundrum beset by so many non profits these days. The vicious economy means more and more people need our help.  Yet, that same economy makes our fundraising efforts that much harder.  So here’s where you come in…there are many ways to help, here are just a few:

Share our story…Tweet it, Like it, Pin it, Google+ it…(who am I kidding, no one uses google +), whatever fits your social media fancy.  While you’re at it, follow us on Twitter here and like our Facebook page here.

Sign up for the race.  Go ahead, use our race as the excuse you need to get healthy. If you’ve never run a 5k, use this guide to get you started. If you are an accomplished runner, then what are you waiting for?  Get signed up!

Volunteer.  We could use all-hands-on-deck day of, or if you can’t be there, print off some flyers and take’em to your place of business, or take’em to church, or take’em to wherever you want, just take’em!

Sponsor the race with your donations. Checks can be made out to Friends of the Wentzville Parks, and mailed to 4722 Providence Woods Circle, Wentzville, MO 63385.

What I can share with you is this:  Your race entry or donations will go towards making our parks world-class, but will also go to those in need. We know children do better in school when they are exposed to youth programs.  It builds self-esteem and keeps kids busy after school.  In these economic times, it’s as important as ever, that no child or family is denied the ability to enjoy our parks, regardless of their financial situation.

So, who’s with me? Let’s go Pound some Pavement!

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