Life Lessons

Such an easy thing to say, I am sorry, yet it is something that I think that a lot of father’s fail to say to their kids.

This past week, I had dealt with some issues at work, my wife’s car accident (that in and of it’s self will be a future blog post), knowing that my grandfather is dying, etc. and I’m not going to lie, I really struggled. I really struggled doing and saying the right thing because I wasn’t able to rest and I wasn’t able to deal, I was just going through motions.

So this week as I was putting the boys to bed, I was exhausted and I had zero patience for any messing around. And of course, that was the night that as I put the boys to bed, Boy A was ready to struggle. He whined, he cried, he fussed, etc and I had no patience for it and I got on him. I raised my voice and told him to knock it off.

So, why do I write this about say I am sorry? Easy, two weeks ago, my father for one of the first times told me that he was sorry. The words “I am sorry” came out of his mouth because I said that in my 41 years of my life, he had only cried in front of me 5 times and that he had told me that it was wrong to cry. But this time, he had a different story to tell. This time, he admitted, it was ok to cry. He said it was ok to say the words “I am sorry”.

My wife came up that night, as she could tell that I was loosing control and losing it quickly. She came up, laid down with our son, Boy A and got him to sleep. As she was rubbing his back, she was rubbing mine, as she knew that EVERYTHING from the previous weeks was coming to a head for me. But she also realized that I needed a break.

As I gathered my things after both boys were asleep that night, I said the following words “I am sorry” in my son’s ears. But that wasn’t enough. See, that was enough for me to go to sleep, but that was not enough for me to make amends. Growing, I was on the other side. I was the one going to sleep upset. I was the one going to bed being yelled at.  I said what I needed to, knowing that in the morning, I needed to say more.

This is what separates me from my Dad and it is not a negative against him at all, but is more what I have realized that I needed to do as a father, learning from his mistakes. So as my son, Boy A, woke up this morning, I grabbed him and hugged him as tightly as I could and whispered that I was sorry and we hugged.

I was wrong. I was wrong on so many differently levels. I was wrong because I took out on my son, my frustrations of life because he didn’t goto bed as quickly as I thought he should.  And the key phrase there is “I thought”. I thought that he should goto bed as soon as we were done our nightly routine. I thought that he should goto bed as soon as I was ready to goto bed.

But what I realized was, he wasn’t ready and I was wrong because I didn’t give him the opportunity to decompress for the day. I did not ask all the questions that he had for the day or all the different questions he had for the day. And what I realized as I left their room, was that was how I felt as a kid.

AND I WAS WRONG!

No, I WAS SORRY!

I was sorry for every making my sons feel the way that I did. I was sorry for dismissing their questions and needs, because I was tired and frustrated and wanted a glass of wine. I was wrong! But I made it right. I explained to both of them where I was wrong in my ways. I explained that I should have had more patience. And I encouraged both of them that when it is time for them to be father’s, to be a better Dad, than I am to them.

Does that mean that they will not fail? Nope. They will. Does that mean that they will not have to use the phrase, “I am sorry?” Nope, because, they will.  But if they can learn from me, if they can learn from my mistakes, if they can see that I tried to be the best dad that I could for him and still had short comings, then it gives them something better to strive for.

So to my sons, I am sorry. I have tried to be the best Dad that I can and will continue to do so. But, I will make mistakes. I will fail. But, I will say I am sorry, because, I will be.

 

 

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I do not admit very often that I cried, but today I did and do. Today, I feel that I just told my grandfather goodbye and that I loved him for the last time.

My grandfather, who is 91, has been really struggled for the last few months, since the heart attack that he had back in May. And let’s just say I think that he would had rather gone out of this world than endure what he has since, as being confined to a chair isn’t how he wanted to live.

He is a proud man, who served this country at the age of 22 and went off to Germany to fight in WWII. When he and his brother returned from the war, they purchased a farm in North Carolina and for 40 years plus, that was what put food on the table and provided a livelihood for the family.

He didn’t live a life with the nicest things, but what he had he treasured and talking with people, that is what treasured the most. My grandfather and I had a standing weekly Saturday call at 1pm and it didn’t matter where I was in the world, we had that call. He would tell me about farming or how my grandmother was doing and I would describe what I was looking at if I was traveling.

You see, my grandfather really didn’t travel. In fact, his first and only flight, was to come and see my sons and myself a year ago. I had just always assumed that he flew to Germany for the war, but in fact, he took a boat ride from a port, which ironically enough, was not far from where I live today. But while my grandfather was here for that trip a year ago, we talked about his flight and how he flirted with the flight attendants and it was at that point, he made 2 really important observations about flying:

  1. That he had spent his entire life on the farm looking up at the bottoms of the clouds, but never could imagine the view that he got to see while looking down at the tops of them.
  2. At some point during the flight, he looked at my father, his son and smiled and said “I’m halfway to heaven and I’m that much closer to seeing your mom again.”

Wow! I have flown hundreds of times and not once, not once did I every have that insight. Not once did I think about where I grew up in North Carolina and standing on a baseball field and looking up at the clouds and think about one day spending who knows how many hours flying above the clouds?

And as for the part about my grandmother, you see she had Alzheimer’s for 12 years and my grandfather made the decision to be her primary care giver while she was at home. I will never know all that he did for her and how much abuse he took as the last few years, she became combative, but what I do know, is that he loved that woman and still does to this day and is a wonderful example of how a marriage should work.

My grandparents meet in grade school and got married right after high school and shortly after getting married he left for the war. They had 3 children, 1 being my father, were married for 64 years and through good times and towards the end, it was pretty bad, the lived and loved and worked together. They went to a little white church and that was an important life lesson that not only where the kids taught about, but the grandparents too. To this day, if I walked into their 10 pew church, I could point out exactly where we sat.

I learned a lot from my grandfather, who to drive a truck and a tractor, how to fish, how to laugh and probably one thing that I’ll never forget, is how to treat others. In Eastern North Carolina, I promise you, the number of people that my grandfather the majority were not white. Honestly, the only white people working were my family.

So today, I just had this tugging at my heart and as I sat on the sofa alone and my sons were upstairs playing, I picked up the phone and gave him a call. We didn’t talk very long, maybe 10 minutes as the Congestive Heart Failure and fluid build up is causing him to cough a lot when he talks. But as we talked and I could tell he needed a break he said the following too me “son, I want you to always be there for your family. Teach your sons the important things in life, like going to church, to always love one another and to always laugh.” And as he finished, we both were crying uncontrollably, we just said I love you.

After hanging up, I just sat in tears on the sofa and I cried. I cried for the loss of a great man, that I know the time is near. I cried for joy, in knowing that he will see my grandmother again and probably very soon. I cried, because a man who gave his all for this country, our family and gave unconditional love, will be greatly missed. He showed me the important things in life and shared may stories with me that I will be able to share with my sons when they ask about him. And even though they are old enough now to know him, because we live 6 hours away, they only get to see him 2 times a year.

So tonight as I reflect on the call and the calls that my grandfather and I have had, I am honored to have known and to have loved such an amazing guy. He taught me so much and he will be so greatly missed. Now, I just wait for the call from my dad, which I am sure going to be soon….

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The struggle is real or at least, it has been the last few weeks. We have come to the final home stretch of Kindergarten and by all accounts, the boys have exceeded their first year’s grade level expectations by a lot. And, we all survived, which is also important!

I have noticed though that in the last few weeks, Boy B has struggled with a few classes and some of the changes in his schedule. I remember a long time ago, when I was in school, the last few weeks bothered me because of the lack of structure. So the struggle is real with him and the lack of structure of the day and it has reflected in his daily behavior sheets at school.

Speaking of no structure, today was Field Day for the boys and as I made my way onto the campus at school, I stopped for a moment to watch at how far my sons have come in the last year. And the struggle is real for me, as much as it is for them. You see, we all have grown, we all have changed, but we made it. We worked through the changes together and had a lot of talks, but we made it through their Kindergarten year.

So Dad’s, as you embrace your child’s 1st real formal school year, the struggle is real, but you will make it. You will be ok and your children will be ok too. Be there for them. Help them when they have struggles, but let them make mistakes. The struggle is real.

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Unconditional Love can be defined as the following from dictionary.com

affection with no limits or conditions; complete love

And the older that I get, the more that I get to experience that type of love from my children and it just blows me away. Last night, I was tired. I had been up since 4 a.m. and had not slept well. I was exhausted and had been cooking, cleaning, watched a basketball game and by 9 p.m. I was asleep on the sofa.

And in one of my not so finer moments, one of the boys came trotting downstairs and I got upset. He should have been asleep over an hour and a half before. I was frustrated. I was tired. I was upset and most importantly, I was WRONG! I was wrong in my behavior and my actions, but something happened, after I put my son back to bed, even though I was hard on him, he asked me to hold his hand.

I never knew the love of a child and how no matter what, they will love you with a pure and innocent unconditional love. They will hold your hand and want to feel safe, but they will also show you, me, us as parents, that it is ok. Last night, I learned a very important lesson, that no matter what, my children will love me. They will be there when I need them, just as I am there when they need me. They will hug me or hold my hand when I have a bad day. But they will also teach me a lesson when I need on too.

It seems as though I am never truly shocked by what my kids do or what they will say. Sure, there are things that I wish that they would do differently and there are times that I have to get on them, as they need to know right from wrong. But, they too are teaching me that when I do something wrong, they are right there to let me know that they are ok or that everything will be fine.

I am truly blessed. I am blessed with two amazing twin boys that I love to the moon and back. I am blessed to have a wonderful wife, that when I need a swift kick in the butt to get me refocused on being a better parent, she is more than willing to kick me. But I am blessed to have two sons, that love me no matter what and they show me what unconditional love, truly is.

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Dads, don’t ever lose sight in the importance of dating your spouse. Trust me on this one.

As with any relationship, you have your ups and downs. There are struggles with new born or in our case, two. And let’s not forget about being exhausted. Raising kids is a full time job and that doesn’t even factor in taking care of a house, a full time job, etc.

And why do I make this such a point, because I am guilty of it! I am guilty of not dating my wife after the boys were born. I am guilty of not putting her first and making more time for her. BUT, that has changed!!!!

In the last week, we have commented on how it feels like we are dating again. We are stealing kisses from each other in the kitchen. We are talking more and having real conversations, other than who is putting kids to bed or doing laundry.

There is a reason why you and your spouse are together, so focus on that. Do not let little things turn into big things and get in the way. Do not let time slip by and one day wake up and go “What in the hell am I doing?” Don’t let it be to late.

So this weekend, do something nice for your spouse. And if you aren’t, start dating them again. You’ll thank me for it one day, I know that I am glad that I took my own advice.

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Losing sucks, there is just no nice way to say it! Last night, UNC lost to dook and it SUCKED! I’m still mad. I’m mad this morning, not that UNC lost, but how they lost. They didn’t play hard. They didn’t play as a team. They weren’t focused on the end goal of winning.

I remember growing up and playing sports, we lost games because guys didn’t hustle. Last night, UNC didn’t hustle and that is what makes losing sucks the most. And at the end of the game, after I had used more bad language than one adult should use, my wife looked at me and said “it is just a game.”

How sweet, she thinks that it is just a game.. No, UNC basketball is a way of life. And when it is the UNC vs. dook game, it is about bragging rights. It is about that stretch between 15-501 that separates these two schools and at the end of the day, losing to the dookies sucks. My Godfather and I have had text messages all night and day. My brother who is in LA and I have been exchanging text messages, I can’t even log onto Facebook today, because all the dookies have photos and it just fuels my anger even more.

Sure, it is just a game, but losing sucks, especially when the outcome could have been different.  So on the way into work this morning, I thought about Dean Smith and the games that he coached against Krashitski and then this quote popped into my head and it rings true today, both for the game and in life.

“What to do with a mistake: recognize it, admit it, learn from it, forget it.” – Dean Smith

So, how will UNC learn from the game, because it is in the past and nothing can change the outcome? What will my kids do to learn from their mistakes when they play sports? Recognize the mistake, admit it (Coach Williams has partially done that today), learn from it (he isn’t going to call time outs, so scratch that one) and forget it, and unfortunately, if you ever play sports, you don’t forget it.

Losing sucks and it is hard to get past it sometimes. Today is a new day. Today is a new opportunity. Yesterday is gone and in the past. Learn from the past and make today and tomorrow better.

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I was driving into work today and I was thinking about the weekend, how much fun we had going to Trunk or Treat and seeing how happy the boys were dressed up in their costumes. And it hit me how much I just love those little guys.  I’m fortunate that I get to spend so much time with the boys and how much fun that we have. Yes, I’m their parent not their best friend, but I honestly love being around the boys. Now, Saturday night, Boy B was pushing the limits and trying to run away and hide and at home, that is fine, but in a crowded area, makes it a little harder to maintain.

And I think that on top of the weekend, the sermon series is all about a Father’s love and it got me thinking about two specific things, King George Strait and Derek Redmond.

If you are a country music fan, then at some point in time, you’ve sung along with King George and if you are an old school fan, you’ve probably sung a lyric or two from the hit, A Love Without End, Amen. But yesterday, I was thinking about the chorus and it really resonated with me:

“Let me tell you a secret about a father’s love,
A secret that my daddy said was just between us.”
He said, “Daddies don’t just love their children every now and then.
It’s a love without end, amen, it’s a love without end, amen.”

And here is the video:

But George is right, we don’t just love our kids every now and then, we love them everyday and until we take our final breath. And Saturday as I was talking with Boy B about his behavior I didn’t love him any less, in fact, I think that I loved him more in that moment when he put his arms around me and apologized for misbehaving.

And then was actually the clip that we watched in church yesterday about Olympic runner Derek Redmond and how as he was running, tore his hamstring. And as he begin limping towards the finish line a guy from the crowd runs out to help him, his father. And I think that the favorite part for me was when one of the Olympic officials tried to get him to stop and his father basically told him to get away.

A father’s love bound to a normal idea or philosophy, but instead a father’s love is unconditional. A father’s love is a bond and is as strong as nothing else. It is my responsibility as my son’s father to be there for them and help teach and show them how to grow up to be men. To teach them life lessons and to also talk with them when they do wrong. And when they do wrong, and they will, I’ll be there to show them a love without end.

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Our church has been doing a 30 day challenge of all the members praying the simple prayer “God, if you are real, make yourself real to me.” And as we were in church yesterday, the sermon was on the Parable of the Lost Son and then they closed with a more modern version of the parable and it really got me thinking. What if I were in that same situation where one of my boys ran away? How would I feel? What would I think? How devastated would I be?  How welcoming would I be when they returned home? All of these thoughts flooded my head as the pastor was reading the modern version and as I wiped the tear from my eye, I realized that no matter what, no matter where, I will love my sons unconditionally.I will always be there for them, as long as I am breathing and I hope and pray that my sons know and realize this. I hope that they will learn that they come first, no matter what and that I will always love them.

But as I was sitting in my seat as the service closed, I realized, though I didn’t run away, I did move away from my family when I was 21. And I remember before leaving my grandfather’s house, my Dad took me outside and simply said, that he would always be there for me and that I could come home whenever I wanted to. And it hit me yesterday, I did the same thing, to a point. I left to find myself and in some regards, not deal with some of my family issues, but I also did it because I needed to.

And as I sat in church, I remember my drive to Houston, Texas and I remember how I felt getting there and my first night there, thinking if I had made the right decision or if I should just go home? But as days turned to weeks and weeks to months and months to years, what I realized is that your family will be there for you, even when you make the wrong choices. So to my sons, if you go the wrong way, just remember that you can always come home and that you’ll always be loved.
This is a great short story by Philip Yancey: like Jesus’ ‘prodigal son’ it not only speaks of those who have physically left home and wasted their lives, but in a sense it is what we have ALL done spiritually. As in the parable of Jesus the ending portrays God’s great love for the returning child.

“A young girl grows up on a cherry orchard just above Traverse City, Michigan. Her parents, a bit old-fashioned, tend to over-react to her nose ring, the music she listens to, and the length of her skirts. They ground her a few times, and she seethes inside. ‘I hate you!’ she screams at her father when he knocks on the door of her room after an argument, and that night she acts on a plan she has mentally rehearsed scores of times. She runs away.

She has visited Detroit only once before, on a bus trip with her church youth group to watch the Tigers play. Because newspapers in Traverse City report in lurid detail the gangs, the drugs, and the violence in downtown Detroit, she concludes that is probably the last place her parents will look for her. California, maybe, or Florida, but not Detroit.

Her second day there she meets a man who drives the biggest car she’s ever seen. He offers her a ride, buys her lunch, arranges a place for her to stay. He gives her some pills that make her feel better than she’s ever felt before. She was right all along, she decides: her parents were keeping her from all the fun.

The good life continues for a month, two months, a year. The man with the big car –she calls him ‘Boss’– teaches her a few things that men like. Since she’s underage, men pay a premium for her. She lives in a penthouse, and orders room service whenever she wants. Occasionally she thinks about the folks back home, but their lives now seem so boring and provincial that she can hardly believe she grew up there.

She has a brief scare when she sees her picture printed on the back of a milk carton with the headline “Have you seen this child?” But by now she has blond hair, and with all the makeup and body-piercing jewelry she wears, nobody would mistake her for a child. Besides, most of her friends are runaways, and nobody squeals in Detroit.

After a year the first sallow signs of illness appear, and it amazes her how fast the boss turns mean. “These days, we can’t mess around,” he growls, and before she knows it she’s out on the street without a penny to her name. She still turns a couple of tricks a night, but they don’t pay much, and all the money goes to support her habit. When winter blows in she finds herself sleeping on metal grates outside the big department stores. “Sleeping” is the wrong word – a teenage girl at night in downtown Detroit can never relax her guard. Dark bands circle her eyes. Her cough worsens.

One night as she lies awake listening for footsteps, all of a sudden everything about her life looks different. She no longer feels like a woman of the world. She feels like a little girl, lost in a cold and frightening city. She begins to whimper. Her pockets are empty and she’s hungry. She needs a fix. She pulls her legs tight underneath her and shivers under the newspapers she’s piled atop her coat. Something jolts a synapse of memory and a single image fills her mind: of May in Traverse City, when a million cherry trees bloom at once, with her golden retriever dashing through the rows and rows of blossomy trees in chase of a tennis ball.

God, why did I leave, she says to herself, and pain stabs at her heart. My dog back home eats better than I do now. She’s sobbing, and she knows in a flash that more than anything else in the world she wants to go home.

Three straight phone calls, three straight connections with the answering machine. She hangs up without leaving a message the first two times, but the third time she says, “Dad, Mom, it’s me. I was wondering about maybe coming home. I’m catching a bus up your way, and it’ll get there about midnight tomorrow. If you’re not there, well, I guess I’ll just stay on the bus until it hits Canada.”

It takes about seven hours for a bus to make all the stops between Detroit and Traverse City, and during that time she realizes the flaws in her plan. What if her parents are out of town and miss the message? Shouldn’t she have waited another day or so until she could talk to them? And even if they are home, they probably wrote her off as dead long ago. She should have given them some time to overcome the shock.

Her thoughts bounce back and forth between those worries and the speech she is preparing for her father. “Dad, I’m sorry. I know I was wrong. It’s not your fault; it’s all mine. Dad, can you forgive me?” She says the words over and over, her throat tightening even as she rehearses them. She hasn’t apologized to anyone in years.

The bus has been driving with lights on since Bay City. Tiny snowflakes hit the pavement rubbed worn by thousands of tires, and the asphalt steams. She’s forgotten how dark it gets at night out here. A deer darts across the road and the bus swerves. Every so often, a billboard. A sign posting the mileage to Traverse City Oh, God.

When the bus finally rolls into the station, its air brakes hissing in protest, the driver announces in a crackly voice over the microphone, “Fifteen minutes, folks. That’s all we have here.” Fifteen minutes to decide her life. She checks herself in a compact mirror, smooths her hair, and licks the lipstick off her teeth. She looks at the tobacco stains on her fingertips, and wonders if her parents will notice. If they’re there.

She walks into the terminal not knowing what to expect. Not one of the thousand scenes that have played out in her mind prepares her for what she sees. There, in the concrete-walls-and-plastic-chairs bus terminal in Traverse City, Michigan, stands a group of forty brothers and sisters and great-aunts and uncles and cousins and a grandmother and great-grandmother to boot. They’re all wearing goofy party hats and blowing noise-makers, and taped across the entire wall of the terminal is a computer-generated banner that reads “Welcome home!”

Out of the crowd of well-wishers breaks her dad. She stares out through the tears quivering in her eyes like hot mercury and begins the memorized speech, “Dad, I’m sorry. I know…”

He interrupts her. ‘Hush child. We’ve got no time for that. No time for apologies. You’ll be late for the party. A banquet’s waiting for you at home.’”

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No, this isn’t a religious post, but more a post about how our Children hear and repeat everything that we say. And what is even funnier, is when they repeat things and say it at the right time and in the right way.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were goofing off and I was on a role with one liners and quick comments and I had just seen the #Hashtag YouTube video with Jimmy Fallon & Justin Timberlake and started doing #hashtags in everything that I was saying.  Well, one of the #hashtags was The Gospel, meaning, the truth after something that my wife said and she and I laughed and kept on going. Well, last night, I got home and my wife and I were talking about something from work, nothing serious, just a quick conversation that I thought that was funny and I responded by basically saying that I was right and that she was wrong. In no less than 5 seconds that words came out of my mouth, Boy A chimed in with #The Gospel and I thought that I was going to lose it.

The timing was perfect. The way that he said it. I was doubled over at the sink and had tears running down my face from laughing so hard. Our kids listen to us and look for laughs when they can. After a long day, I needed that laugh. I needed to be reminded that life is short and that sometimes we have to laugh. And sometimes that laughing is a way to put life back into perspective. So, today or tomorrow or whenever, remember 2 things as parents: 1) Laugh and laugh as often as you can and 2) your kids are listening and you never know when they are going to repeat you.

#The Gospel

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Sometimes in life, we have to all be calm and peaceful, even in the most difficult of times. With Boy B, transitions can and sometimes still are hard on him. Some days, he can roll with the transitions and we are good, then others, especially if he is hungry, they are harder.

About a year ago, I tried something with Boy B and it somehow has worked and worked really well and it is just something that is between he and I. But if he is getting worked up or anxious or or a struggle with a transition, I would simply point to my nose and he would stop. He would stop and would walk over to me, put his nose to mine and then I would start by saying “Be calm and peaceful” and he would take a deep breath and we would talk about what was going on. Somehow, this has really worked and worked well. And the funny thing, is that he only really does this with me, but by simply touching my nose and then him coming to me, his entire demeanor changes.

So last night, while doing FaceTime with a friend, who was going through some dating struggles (that God I’m not dating anymore), Baby B walked over and simply said, “Be calm and be peaceful” and then there was a dramatic pause and he finished with “Like the Great White Shark!” And I couldn’t help but laugh and laugh to the point of almost being in tears.

There is something about the phrase, be calm and be peaceful that even quietly saying it, seems to bring a sense of peace and comfort. And for me, being able to have this connection with my son, that I can calmly and quietly get his attention and get him refocused, is just awesome. I don’t have to raise my voice or get upset. I just have to touch my nose and he knows that it is time to be calm and peaceful.

 

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