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Confessions of a Rookie Father

Believe or not, I was a pretty good little league baseball player. If there was better 8 year-old fielding shortstop in West Wichita, circa 1986, I’d like to meet him…of course, history has a way of allowing us to remember things the way we want, no sense in getting caught up in facts. As I got older, I wouldn’t say my skills diminished as much as my body stopped growing, and the other kids got better…much better. My playing time decreased, rapidly, and I looked to find someone to blame.  In my case, it was easiest to blame my father.  In my mind, he had put pressure on me to perform…too much pressure.  So I did the unthinkable…I asked my father to stop attending my games.  He stopped showing up and my playing time continued to drop, until finally, I got cut from the team. Although my Dad wasn’t to blame for my benching’s, I was sure I wouldn’t put pressure on my kids when I became a father of my own.

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Four weeks shy of his sixth birthday, my oldest son, Henry was about to start in goal for the first time in a competitive soccer game. Turns out Henry acquired some of his ‘Ol Man’s hand eye coordination and has quickly showed a real gift for the little round ball.  This year, my wife and I decided to enroll Henry into a competitive league in our area, complete with yelling coaches, score being kept, and parents that really, really care. So it was, on this particular Saturday, that Henry found himself, between the pipes, with all of us parents looking on. As the whistle blew to signal the start of the game, I was overcome with a weird sensation. As the ball rocked and rolled around the field, bouncing like a pinball amongst the clump of boys, my heart began to race. For reasons I don’t entirely understand, I found myself beginning to yell…”BE READY, HENRY!”. He didn’t look ready…, but why is he looking at me now? “WATCH THE GAME, NOT ME!”…what’s he doing?…he’s not even looking at the ball…oh no the ball…it’s coming right at ’em…I was sure my  heart was going to explode.

As if it had been blown out of a cannon, the ball broke away from the pack and was now heading right towards my oldest.  There was Henry, like a deer frozen in a head light,  as the opposing forward approached and with one swift kick, as if in slow motion…the ball went right through Henry’s legs.

My first thought was, why are all these people screaming? Then I remembered…all those parents care. The crowd was simultaneously groaning and cheering. When, from the corner of my eye, she turned. She had been sitting there since before the game, making small talk with me…

“…where do you live? Oh really? My son goes to the same school, what teacher? Oh that’s great, us too.  Don’t you just love this soccer team?…”

As my ears continued to ring from the groaning cheers, my emotions began to lava over…she turned and muttered,  in the condescending voice only a mother can deliver…”It’s OK, I’m sure he’ll get the hang of it.”

My mind erupted with emotion:

“Get the hang of it? Get the hang of it? Do you know who the hell my son is! Ya, the one that scored the winning goal last week, the only one that can kick a forward ball with any real force! Is that your son sitting in the dirt, eating grass? Ya, thought so…Henry will “get the hang of it” as soon as your son “gets the hang of putting his shin guards on right!”

Luckily, that was my internal voice…

The external voice was saying something like “That’s OK, Henry. You’ll get’em next time.”

It wasn’t till later that my emotions for the game subsided enough for me to fully reflect. As I drove home, I was filled with questions, most notably, had I become my father? Was I becoming the very type of pressuring parenting I never intended to be? The feelings I had were real, but what was I feeling exactly? Why did I care, in the heat of that moment, so much about my son’s performance? My initial thought was something along the lines of “He has so much potential, and I just want to see him compete like he does in the backyard with his friends, after all, I’ve seen him stop those kind of shots in his sleep”…but that would be false parental rationalization on my part. The truth is, I want him to do well for me.  We, as parents, do sometimes live vicariously through our children, and if we are not careful, we can want for our children what we really want for ourselves.  It occurred to me that all I want for my kids is for them to be happy…and that happiness has nothing to do with soccer or sports.

As I pulled into my driveway, I began to realize that although I have three boys, I’m a rookie when it comes to my oldest.  Every new experience for him, is a new experience for me.  No matter how many diapers I’ve changed or boys I’ve potty-trained, I’ll never be fully prepared for Henry’s new experiences…and that will last his lifetime.  I shouldn’t be concerned that I felt that way for his first competitive game as goalie…only concerned if I don’t change my thought process.  Because like any good rookie, I must learn from mistakes, or risk being put on the bench by a son who thinks his father is to blame.

Clifford The Big Red Dog – A Statistical Analysis

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As a father in search of his DaddyBalance, I ask myself many questions. Many can’t be answered and that can become overwhelming. There are medical questions like “What is that bump on his head? Is it serious? Should I call the doctor?” There are social questions like “Does he play well with others at school? Does he misbehave like this when I’m not around?”  Even political questions like “Which of these two candidates give my family the best chance for continued success? Which candidate will implement policies that are best for my boys?”  To be honest, I don’t consider myself qualified to answer many of the questions that pop in my head, so let’s stick with one that I am qualified to answer:

“How much do you think it costs to care for Clifford the Big Red Dog?”

If you are new to parenting small children, or have retired from that game many years ago, you may not be aware of the three-storied Clifford and his child owner Emily Elizabeth.  But if you are aware, I’m sure you’ve asked yourself that question numerous times…right? No, really, please tell me that you’ve asked yourself that question…maybe once? No? Well, let’s move on…

As the story goes, Mary Elizabeth sets out to buy a puppy and chooses the runt of the litter, which happens to be a red Labrador. Once she brings it home, it begins to eat them out of house and home, becoming larger and larger until he’s outgrown the apartment, forcing Mary Elizabeth and her family to leave the city for the spacious island life off the coast. Let’s start here: That takes some real parenting dedication to uproot your family and job for a dog. Also, wouldn’t you think about selling him at this point? I mean you have a red dinosaur-size dog in your possession, at best, Purina wants it for science, at worst a traveling freak show would pay high dollar for this thing…sell then and you probably break even, hold onto him and your about to make a very sizable investment, how large? Let me answer that for you…Read on, my friends, read on:

Food

Can you imagine feeding that animal?  This would be one of your larger line items when assessing the cost of ownership. When you watch the opening credits of Clifford, it’s easy to see that he’s grown to become a 3 story behemoth.  According to http://www.goldenretrieverforum.com, the average lab grows to be about two feet, meaning that Clifford is approximately 15 times the size of the regular dog (30’/2′). According to that same site, labs tend to eat 4 cups of food a day, once again multiplying this by 15, that’s 60 cups a food a day. Considering you can get 208 cups of food out a 52 lb. bag, it would take about 2 bags to feed Clifford for one week, or about 104 bags a year.  At $25/bag, that’s about $2500.  Let’s not forget treats, after all, Clifford spends most of his day saving the people of his island from fires and floods.  Let’s assume 30 boxes of Kibble n Bits for the Big Guy, which will run us another $500.  Grand total for food?  $3,500/year.

Water

Imagine filling up your child’s backyard pool…2-3 times…everyday! That’s a lot of water. I watered my grass a bit this summer and filled up the pool a few times and saw my bill skyrocket by over $100/month. I’m willing to be conservative here and say that Clifford would increase your water bill by $300/month. Who knows, maybe you could move to place that has a well or is close to a lake, but for the sake of this projected budget, let’s assume we don’t.

Housing

Ol’ Cliffdog’s not sleeping at the end of your bed.  If you’re an avid watcher of the show, you’ll know that Clifford lives in a warehouse-like dog house. It looks pretty cool, actually, for a dog-warehouse.   New construction on a place like that, with heating and cooling, could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, but we’ll assume $100,000. Further, let’s assume you believe Clifford will live for 15 years and you take out a 15 year loan, at a very competitive 4.35%, your mortgage, including estimated tax and insurance would come to $878/month.  Congrats, you now have two mortgages.

Leashes, Collars & Toys

I checked out this site, to get an idea of various dog ownership costs.  It’s been a while since I had a dog…Gracie was her name, lab/chow mix …she was nice…scared of her own shadow, shed all over the place, couldn’t sit down in a car, but nice none-the-less.  She bit my oldest son, twice, so now she’s in doggy heaven.  Look, I pretty much took the numbers from that site and multiplied it by 15…we don’t have all day here people, it’s a cartoon.

Grooming

A shampoo & rinse at my local Petsmart runs $25-$50.  If we multiplied that by 15, it puts us at $375-$750.  How many times does Clifford need washed?  Every six weeks?  Every few months?  Who knows, but I assumed $3,500 for the year.

Medical  

Type of Expense Approximately Amount/Yearly
Food and Treats $3,000
Water $2,500
Mortgage on Dog House w/ 1% Tax $10,300
Toys $1,000
Leashes and Collars $375
Grooming $3,500
Routine Veterinary Care $3,500
Preventive Medications and Supplements $500
Yearly Total $24,675
Average Monthly Cost of Owning a Dog $2,014
15 Year Cost $370,125

The costs to medically care for a dog the size of Clifford could be off the charts.  According to the site referenced above, you should budget $200-$300 year, which would put us in the $2,000 range, but quite frankly, that seems low, so I made up a number and we’ll go with $3,500.  Throw in another $500 for preventive care and supplements and I’m beginning to wonder if Obamacare covers Big Red Dogs.

So, how much does it cost to care for Clifford The Big Red Dog?  About 2 G’s a month, $24,000 a year, or $370,000 for a 15 year life span…for that kind of money, he should be able to talk…oh, he does?  Maybe we should call that freak show!  The lesson here?  Don’t let your child buy a red dog…ever.

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As a father in search of his DaddyBalance, I ask myself many questions.  There are, of course, real questions that need my attention.  Questions like, “which school should Henry attend?” “Is Charlie’s speech OK for a three-year old?”…”Is that O.J. or pee on the floor?”

Other questions enter my mind, or better yet, are sent there from others.  But part of finding balance is understanding which ones stay and which one’s go.  A father, a mother, a parent of any kind, could, if they weren’t careful, spend a lot of negative time and energy debating questions of perceived importance.  They could double down on that mistake by debating those questions with information based on assumptions.  Assumptions of fiscal cliffs and balanced budgets…assumptions of future job growth and unemployment…assumptions of tax rates and “One-Percents”, but debating at the top of my lungs those items based on assumptions & assumptions only, seems to be silly to me…as a silly as a statistical analysis of a cartoon dog.

Photo Credit

Parenting in the Facebook Era

Bullies & Cliques: Two interpersonal dynamics that, unfortunately, don’t out-grow adolescence. You know Noah who makes fun of everyone on the playground? Well, he grows up to be Noah in accounting, the guy that constantly tears you down during staff meetings.  How about the cool girls in school, the one’s with latest fashions & trends, standing in a crowd, pointing at you…giggling.  Well, that’s the same crew that gathers in the office lobby and continues to giggle at you as they pile into the elevator for lunch.  Unfortunately, maturity is not a rite of passage experienced by all…nor is self-esteem a requisite for adulthood.

Nothing personifies this today quite like Facebook. As fathers & mothers of young children, we are sandwiched between our parents, who often find the technology to be overwhelming, yet are engaged by their 36 friends and pictures of the grandchildren. On the other side rests those young kids who’ve grown up in a Facebook world. Let’s just say I’m happy FB wasn’t around for my college road trips, European travels, and previously unknown high school parties at my parents’ house.

“Wow, there was a Jim Beam bottle in the mailbox…really? Uh, not sure where that came from Mom, got go to school, see ya!”

(Note to the future Me: Don’t leave my youngest alone on Prom Weekend)

No, our Facebook challenges are more difficult, more cerebral. Today, our generation tends to do 1 of 4 things on Facebook:

1. Play Games. Speaking of which, do you need something to do? I’ve got 3 things that come to mind if you’re looking for some productive use of your time…there names are Henry, Charlie & Max.
2. Re-post somewhat humorous/inspirational pictures that have you feeling like you’ve entered an online version of an Oprah show.
3. Expound on their political views. Freedom of speech has it downsides.
4. Post picture/stories about their kids.

I’ve been, to varying degrees, guilty of all of them…But it’s the fourth that creates issues for parents today. As we scroll through our timeline, it can be difficult to understand that we are seeing the parenting peaks of our friends, not the collection of one super-human, all-encompassing parent.  And because we tend not  to post our parenting valleys, we can get the sense that everyone you know has got this parenting thing figured out while your three kids are running around like a band of vigilantes.

“Henry, stop swinging your brother, he’s 7 weeks old and you’re gonna make him throw up…Charlie get away from the door, and put some pants on…Ohhh, see, he threw up all over his new shirt…GET IN TIMEOUT, NOW!…”

We don’t see FB updates like “Spanked the hell out of my kid in public today” or “went ahead and mailed it in and put my 3-year-old in front of the TV for 3 hours while I ate like dog shit”.

No, instead, we post items that highlight our children’s world, mostly so that people in our circle can be kept abreast of the comings and goings of our lives…yet our posts can seem arrogant, superficial,  cliquish…

The result can be devastating. So much so that a few people I know and respect have gotten off FB altogether. I can respect that. Often times the best way to overcome negative energy is to move away from it.

I tend to think the upside of connecting and sharing out-weighs the negative thought processes that enters my head. Besides, if we remember that these postings represent parenting peaks, then we should be truly happy for our loved ones & friends.  We shouldn’t take it as an indication of our inability to parent. Here’s my “Am I Good Parent?” test:

1. Do I love my kids? Check
2. Do I wake up every morning, and try to do my best in balancing the needs of my kids, with the needs of my wife and myself? Check

Everything else is secondary.

So, next time you jump on Facebook, after sifting through the Obama/Romney discourse that enlightens everyone…and you see that your neighbor went to school to have lunch with their kids, or took the day off to take’em to the zoo, or whatever it is that we do to make a difference in our children’s lives, don’t take it personal, don’t feel inadequate.  Ask yourself the two test questions above.  If you can answer yes to both, you’re all right in my book…

….now, I think I’ll go post this on Facebook.

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”

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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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