Just Fishin’

It’s one of those storybook evenings here in Oklahoma. The clouds are long and low, brilliant white on their face as the setting sun inches its way toward the horizon. There are buckets of minnows and boxes of worms, fishing line notched to red and white bobbers, rippling waves that bounce the pontoons closer and closer to the sandstone shores that form the waters edge, and a father and son.

I’m here with my brother-in-law and my nephew, enjoying the silent places in a hidden cove at the north end of this watery landscape…and I’m listening as a dad and his boy maneuver through the anecdotes of life on the water, of their great love for simple fishing, and of life as father and son.

The son fishes and the father senses it is something more. There are lessons to be learned here, time slows, and much-needed patience presents itself as bobbers float and sink and rest once again. The talk ebbs and flows and eventually settles into a near-perfect stillness.

Fish come and go, released back into their murky homes somewhere beneath us, while we laugh and talk and watch all that lies before us.

The sun draws our day towards its end, and we are all better for it.

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Bored Games!

Hedbanz

Our nine-year old, Julia, and I have an inside joke that she loves to bring up when we are needing to reconnect.  It has to do with the headache-inducing board game “Hedbanz” (yes, that is actually how it is spelled!).  It revolves around the question, “What Am I?” and is the least enjoyable game I have ever had the pleasure of playing with my kids!

I remember the first time we played it.  I was very enthusiastic because I love board games.  I even grew up with my wonderful aunt, Jana Dabney, always introducing our family to new games during the holidays and it became a tradition that I now enjoy with my own family.

And then…Hedbanz.  I am not sure why I dislike this game so much, but the funniest thing has happened because of my disdain for it.  Julia has grown to love it even more!  I still play it with her sometimes and last night after dinner she got that look in her eye and said, “Dad, let’s play [big dramatic pause] THE GAME!”

I told her there was no way I was going to play it.

“I can’t stand that game,” I said.

She was resolute and in no time at all was back at the dinner table and putting the game pieces together for us.

We played and I lost nearly every round.  However, I realize more important things can happen when you are playing a game with your kids.  I watched my little girl laugh until she nearly cried as I fumbled with the questions and the answers, the clues and the rules of the game.  The more I grumbled about the game, the more she laughed.  I think that she won the games but I won the memory.

By the time we said our goodnights, I had to admit to myself that Hedbanz isn’t really all that terrible after all.  Just don’t tell Julia…

Charles Dickens in the Old West

I can’t believe it.  Ben Cartwright, Little Joe, Hoss and…wait for it….Charles Dickens, all on the same show!  I was so surprised by this mixture of classic tv western and classic English author that I really had no choice but to write to you about it.  My father is an avid old west television and movie fan, so he has handed that love down to me in these past 40 years.  Bonanza remains a singular favorite and its rich story-telling is among its greatest assets.

Because of the literary angle, the particular show we wanted to share with you is from season five, episode two of the series and originally aired on September 29, 1963 on NBC.  It was titled “A Passion for Justice.”

Here is an especially good summary written by Charles Delacroix at IMDb.com about this fascinating episode:  “At Ben’s invitation, Charles Dickens comes to Virginia City to give a reading from ‘Oliver Twist’ while on a reading / lecture tour in America. While there, he stays at the Ponderosa. He becomes enraged by the townsfolk’s casual attitude toward distribution of copies of his stories published without protection of copyright laws. After confronting the local newspaper publisher, the newspaper’s office is destroyed. Already having lost the esteem of the townsfolk, Dickens now finds that the townsfolk blame him for the violence.”

If you have some time, I hope you’ll enjoy watching the episode as much as we did.  Thanks to youtube you can click below and enjoy it right away!

 

The Fathers of Mary Poppins

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Finally, we went to see the movie Saving Mr. Banks.  It is the profoundly moving story of Australian native P.L. Travers (1899-1996), the author of the Mary Poppins book series, and Walt Disney (1901-1966), who desperately wanted to fulfill a 20 year-old promise to his daughters that he would make their beloved book into a beloved cinematic wonder.

Though the musical fantasy eventually debuted on August 27, 1964 to rave reviews and forever cemented the lives of its lead actors, Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, into Disney’s forever wonderland as well as the imaginations of children for generations to come, 2013 welcomed Saving Mr. Banks as it beautifully tells what happened not only behind-the-scenes at Disney Studios that led to their movie, but even more importantly, in the young life of Pamela Travers that led to her book.

I won’t say more about the film itself other than to implore you to see it, especially if you are a father.  This one movie is the Father’s Day movie of our time.  It is all about fathers and it is all about the enormous impact that they have upon the lives of their children.  When Ms. Travers realizes that the Sherman Brothers and Mr. Disney believe her book is about Mary Poppins saving the children, she is stunned (and her response stunned me).  It is about saving the father, and that sentiment is at the core of this movie – from Travers’ father to the father she created in her books, to Walt Disney’s father and his own life as a father – and, if you are also a father, it is one mesmerizing event.

I will never forget this movie.  For years, we have had most of the P.L. Travers works (Mary Poppins Comes Back, Mary Poppins in the Park, and Mary Poppins from A to Z), but have never read them.  That ends tonight.  We will review each of them here on the website in the coming months.  So dads, gather up your own kids and get these books and join us as we begin the adventure.  Or at the very least, “go fly a kite!”

Man Finds Phone

“A man travels the world over in search of what he needs, and returns home to find it.”                                                                                                          - George Moore

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Books Welcome

I lost my phone yesterday!  I know – doesn’t it make you cringe at the mere thought of it?  I got in my jeep after work and headed home, and when I arrived there it was gone.  Maybe it was somewhere at my office or, horror of horrors, I had somehow dropped it in the parking lot as I was getting in my car. I worried about it on and off throughout the evening and then awoke ready to get to work and that parking lot, just in case.  I arrived early, but there was nothing there, not a smashed phone in the parking lot nor a lonely phone setting on a desk in the office.  I searched the world over and couldn’t imagine where I had left it. Where could it be?

And then it suddenly hit me, what if the phone was IN MY CAR?  What if it had simply slipped off the passenger seat and lodged itself somewhere between the seat and the door or maybe it was under the seat in one of those hard-to-reach spots?  I ran to the car and there it was, lying peacefully under the seat right next to a Sonic peppermint candy and two mechanical pencils.  I had searched everywhere for the thing I needed, the one thing I thought was lost or at least misplaced.  And there it was, in the one place it was supposed to be.

I have done this way too often in my life with things more important than a phone, jumped to the conclusion that surely what I need is further away from me than it is nearer to me.  That’s why I wish I could meet the man who wrote this quote, “A man travels the world over in search of what he needs, and returns home to find it.”  Something worse than losing his phone must have happened to compel him to compose such a profound sentence.  His singular sentence speaks to me and reminds me and convicts me.

No wonder the mat outside our front door says, “Welcome.”

Dad Ears

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When in doubt, listen!  That is the lesson I have been learning over these nearly 19 years as I try to figure out how to be a good dad.  The listening comes in many ways, but there were two just this week (in the course of only four days) that need telling, so here we go:

1.  My brother-in-law, Chris, has three children and it was his middle child’s birthday.  Two little boys were at the house celebrating with him in a big Minecraft-themed party and it was time to unwrap all of the cool boy presents in the living room.  As he began to tear through each one, his younger sister became visibly brokenhearted that there were no presents for her to unwrap.  Her father quietly slipped away from the party and into her bedroom, where he grabbed several stuffed animals and a small toy from under her bed, found a box, and wrapped it all up with some extra paper.  As he entered the room and presented his little girl with this surprise gift, her eyes grew wide.  Her father held his breath as she opened the present and peered inside.  Instead of thinking these were just some old toys from her bedroom, she was jumping for joy and couldn’t believe that her father had given her such wonderful gifts!  Great work, dad!

And a good idea – I’m listening…

2.   Laura, a friend of ours whose daughter is in the same grade and school as our youngest, told us about helping her daughter with a school assignment.  The 3rd grade teacher had asked the children to read a biography and write a short essay about it.  Though her daughter is sometimes a reluctant reader and homework fan (as most 3rd graders tend to be at different times of the year), this mom was determined to help her enjoy this particular assignment.  They found a book about Amelia Earhart in the adult section of the library and read it there before heading to Starbucks to write the first draft of the essay.  What surprised this great mom was how, just by taking her daughter out of the daily routine of doing these types of assignments at home and letting her work at the library and then at a place like Starbucks, her daughter was not a bit reluctant to read or write and finished it in record time and with pride.  Great work, mom!

And another good idea – I’m listening…

When my wife and I were young parents, my aunt told us to always remember that we are, every day, raising our kids to leave home.  “Don’t EVER forget that,” she said.  She was reminding us that we are teaching our children what it will be like to live on their own someday, to have friends and family and finances and houses and yards and stress and arguments and love, etc.  We haven’t forget her priceless advice and it has made a world of difference in how we are parenting all three of our children.  An education professor once told me the best advice she ever received about working with young children when they are especially energetic and need some reigning in, “Keep all your wits about you and sit on the floor!”  I have never forgotten that wisdom and it indeed works very well.

These are just a few of the little things families out there are doing as they work hard to encourage and care for their children, things that do pay great dividends in helping them grow up and become thinkers and givers and maybe even parents themselves one day.  In a way, they are very simple things that take no more than a little extra time (if any at all in some cases) but they seem to have truly far-reaching consequences.

And that sounds to me like something worth listening for…

P.S. Below is a picture of Charlie Joe Jackson, an intriguing character by author Tommy Greenwald who could be really helpful at your house too, not in just coping with but celebrating reluctant readers.  The “Tips for Reading (if You Must)” list alone is priceless.  Click on Charlie’s picture to go straight to the website:

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Only an Open Book Gets Read

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“We convince by our presence.” - Walt Whitman

I think if there is one thing I have learned about being a dad that has proven especially helpful to me as my daughters get older, it is this:  open up the book of your life and get to know each other.

Last week, I came home from work and the girls were so excited to meet me at the door because they each had a big surprise in store.  They had been shopping at their favorite antique stores for the day and had me close my eyes as they presented me with two gifts – a Hot Wheels car from 1976 and a coffee-table size book entitled Star Wars:  Where Science Meets Imagination (2005, National Geographic Society) with a cool introduction written by Anthony Daniels, also known as C-3PO.  My wife received a Shaun Cassidy album, the very one that she had cherished as a middle schooler and about which she had always told them stories.  She was so surprised to receive such a personal gift – and they have been listening to it all weekend!

We like that our kids know us and know our memories and know our likes and loves and dislikes, the things that make us laugh and the things that make us cry.  They know when we are happy and when we are frustrated.  We have been getting to know each other since their birth, and we have all been taking notes.

Toys have been a fun and interesting thing for us to have in common.  Today, they play with all kinds of things including some of the very same toys I played with as a little boy.One day, I came home from work to find that the girls had pulled out their box of Barbies AND my box of old Hot Wheels and combined them into a huge and very colorful car dealership.  I don’t think the toy purists would ever allow such things to be mixed, but it was sure funny to watch these very tall Barbie people sell these very little cars to each other.

And my buddies who are dads… these men are opening the book and stepping up to the plate to hit home-runs with their sons and daughters.  I’m lucky to know each one of them and learn from each one of them.  Here are just a few:  my friend Rob takes his little girl bow hunting with him now that she is a little older and his pictures of her excitement over just getting to hang out with her dad in a world of things that he loves are priceless; Andrew and his son referee high school volleyball games; Michael coaches his son in soccer and plays barbies with his daughter or takes all three fishing at a nearby lake; Dustin takes his 11-month old son strolling through the zoo; Jared and his boys love motorcycles and superheroes; Chris does his morning exercise routine with his kids, including his 3-year old daughter, who sits on his back while he does push-ups!  Some like to share the latest video games (Minecraft, Madden Football, Harry Potter Lego) or arcade favorites from their childhood (Dig-Dug, Pac-Man, Q-Bert, Chopper Command, Moon Patrol, Frogger); and others enjoy sports or music or running or walking or sledding or building snowmen and on and on and on.  They all have one thing in common – working on living their lives like an open book before their children.

And it all makes me think, open books are the best (and only) kind of books to read.