We’re Right Behind You Dad

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When I was a boy, we moved from the city to a farm near my grandparents.  Our little trailer house was nestled right between three things that often kept me awake and worried after dark at night.  They were a dilapidated hundred-year old two-story house to the west, an even older (and only a bit smaller) barn to the east, and an ancient cement cellar with a heavy metal door to the north.

By day, these three places were a boy’s adventurous dreamscapes and were replete with hidden closets under creaking staircases and musty smells and scratch marks from who knows what kinds of animals.  There were boxes of old newspapers and various pieces of archaic furniture in the old house’s nearly collapsed attic and large leather harnesses and ropes and pulleys hung from wooden slats of the dark stalls that lined each side of the old barn.  The dimly lit cellar was a great place to think of spooky stories to tell my younger sister and an even better (and brave) place to hide in a game of hide-and-seek.

By night, these three places were another thing altogether.  They represented every scary movie that I had ever heard of (and I only knew of a few at this point in my young life) and seemed to surely be the birthplaces of every monster and ghost and eerie sound that the world of a young boy’s mind could muster.

By day, they were my Mt. Everest.  By night, they were my Legend of Boggy Creek.

Today we visit the old house, the spot where the barn once stood, and the musty cellar with my children and I tell them of the feelings I had when I was their age.  I keenly remember the experiences, the sights and sounds of it all, as the memories come flooding back to me – the fun and the fear and the courage and the weakness and the dark and the light, the dreams and the nightmares.

While we were searching through the ruins of these familiar places, I noticed that when we would enter a particularly dark or cobweb-infested area my youngest daughter would say, “We’re right behind you dad.”  And then…they would only take a step after I took a step.  They would only move ahead after I moved ahead.  They would only laugh after I laughed.

And it all makes me think – I was only taking a step because I knew they needed to take a step.  I was only moving ahead because I knew they needed to move ahead. I was only laughing because I knew they needed to laugh.

Then as a boy, I remember how it felt to try to navigate my courage and my fear, my dreams and my nightmares, all at the same time…for myself.

Now as a father, I know how it feels to navigate my courage and my fear, my dreams and my nightmares all at the same time…for them.

 

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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The Beginning of Fatherhood

I once read a book about a family…

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It was a dramatic weekend for us, though nothing that unusual in the grand designs of history and humankind, the day our first daughter was born. The short drive home was so quiet, none of us completely certain of what to do and still happier than we had ever been about anything else at all. When we pulled up in the driveway of our home that late Spring night, all was right and we were suddenly a dad and a mom and a baby.

Of all things, I can still remember the way the front of our house looked as I turned off the ignition and tried to think of what to do next. The soft orangey glow of the evening lit the sidewalk and front door in such a way that an Academy Award for Best Lighting Design would surely have been in order.

We were two when we had walked out that door and down that sidewalk two days before, and now we were three – this little person, her mother, and me. And something made me realize in just that moment that this was the beginning of fatherhood.

It was a dramatic weekend for us, though nothing that unusual in the grand designs of history and humankind, yesterday when our first daughter left home for college. The short drive there was so quiet, none of us completely certain of what to do and still happier than we had ever been about anything else at all.

Of all things, I will never forget…well, everything.

We were three as we had walked up the sidewalk and unloaded the car and said our goodbyes – this grown-up, her mother, and me. And something makes me realize once again that this is the beginning of fatherhood.