Early bird

It’s about 5:30 in the morning. Still dark outside, and the coffee won’t start brewing on it’s own until 7. I’m up this early because I have a men’s group that meets down the street at 6 on Fridays, where we talk about being dads and husbands, about God, and what’s going on in our lives. The reason we meet so early is so that it doesn’t take away from time with our family or our jobs. Which I love. But it’s hard for me to get up this early. Going to sleep earlier sometimes helps but most of the time it’s just never not hard. The biggest challenge of the whole thing is sitting myself up, swinging my legs out, and actually standing up on the floor. If I can accomplish that feat, then I’m good. But that’s the battle. I want to get up this early. I love being up before anybody else. Author Jon Acuff calls it “Sucker Punching the Day.” It feels like I’m sneaking into the show early before they start charging the cover fee. I remember reading once that the President only sleeps from about midnight til 5 (not sure which one I heard that about — I think Clinton), and Donald Trump does the same thing. I guess the new American motto goes something like “Late to bed, early to rise, because nobody values sleep anymore.” But I’ve always had this struggle between wanting to wake up early or wanting to sleep in. The “sleep in” part I think is the teenage rebel in me who never really rebelled. I got to sleep in earlier this week. In fact I spent most of a day in bed. And I think it did wonders for me. Because I’m up this morning after about 6 hours of sleep and I feel great. The thing is, I want to be an early riser, I think in a big part because of my dad. For as long as I remember he’s told me that if he sleeps til 8 he feels like he’s lost half the day. I remember summers staying with him in Missouri, dragging myself downstairs in the morning and I’d see him at his desk writing (longhand of course–he has great and unique penmanship) with the lamp on and he’d tell me he’d been up for hours. And something about that really inspired me. Just the thought of being up and getting a head start on the world, spending it in thought or prayer, just being alive before you had to — it’s something I still want to have in my life. I just have to make it happen.

The Father.

Dads — every time your kid thinks about God, like it or not, on some level they are thinking about you. What image will they be wrapping their life around? Will their God be condescending or angry or absent altogether? Or will He show them love?

Thirty-five.

So now I’m 35 years old. Did I really just type that? 35. It’s a nice looking number in print, I think the 3 and the 5 balance each other nicely. But it sounds so much older than 34. Seniors in high school are half my age now. And I’m old enough to run for President. It sounds a little bit … old to me. Not old like in a bad way old. But I guess I should say it sounds like there’s no mistaking I’m an adult now. It’s been awhile since the world’s seen 1977.

But I woke up this morning not feeling like 35 years of my life are gone. I woke up feeling like I have SO MUCH MORE ahead of me. I have evolved and in a sense “grown up” in a lot of ways over the past year. My life now at 35 is completely different than it was the day I turned 34, thanks to the grace of God and the grace of my amazing Michelle. I feel like it’s taken me this long to figure out the truly important things in life, and to actually start pursuing them. I love my wife more now than I ever have, and I look forward to seeing that love get even better. I look forward to watching Sebo get bigger and turn into the little man he is already becoming. I want to reflect the love that God has for me on everybody I meet. I want to be a grace-giver. I want to read and write and draw and travel. I’ve had a healthy fascination with photography since I was in college, and I enjoy seeing what I can do with it. Michelle and I have so many exciting projects that nobody else knows about that we can’t wait to unleash on the world. Money has never been much of a motivator for me but I would like to make enough to protect my family a little better than I have. I want to be more active and learn to fight bad guys like Jason Bourne.

Basically I kind of always feared that turning an age like this would mean that maybe my best years were behind me. And that’s just not the case. I feel like so much of my life has been awkward. Learning how to drive, how to have a job, how to treat people, how to live, how to love … and I’m still learning so much every day. But now that I am of a “respectable” adult age, I feel like my learning has just begun, and that excites me. I never want to stop learning. Among other things, I recently read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller and it really woke me up and has started making me pay attention to what I’m doing with my life. I think that’s part of why I have so much hope today, because if I am a character in my own story, then I get to (at least in part) decide where the story leads and what I’m going to tell the world with my life. And I don’t feel like this story is nearing an end, I feel like it’s more near the beginning of the middle, where I’ve finished the popcorn, put down my drink, and I’m squeezing Michelle tight because while it’s been good so far, I can tell it’s about to get really good.

Donuts for Dads

Today is the day. It’s the type of day you begin to dream about after you come home from the hospital. Long after the sleepless nights have ended and diapers are just a memory, the day has finally come when we throw caution to the wind and tell saturated fat and ridiculous amounts of refined sugar they don’t matter today. Because today, my friends, is “Donuts for Dads” day at pre-school. Dads from near and far get to call in to work and tell The Man to shove it, because instead of working we are going to sit down in miniature chairs at tiny tables with our sons and our daughters, eating mounds of gooey donuts stacked higher than the Tower of Babel, getting our freshly-pressed shirts covered in powdered sugar and chocolate sprinkles. With so many dads there at one time, there will likely be a pushup contest and other feats of strength. Oh, and it also happens to be Wear-Your-Pajamas-And-Bring-A-Teddy-Bear-To-School Day for the kids. Is there a better way to spend fifteen to twenty minutes of your time as a parent?

MLK 2012

martin luther king“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Martin Luther King moved a nation and changed the world with his vision of universal freedom. Watch the video of his “I Have A Dream” speech here.

It’s Okay to Stare.

Michelle and I watched this story the other day about Meg Zucker, a mother with ectrodactyly, a genetic condition where she only has one finger on each hand and one toe on each foot. She has children with the same condition. Obviously she’s overcome a lot in her life and I was really impressed with her perspective on all this. She’s saying that if your kids want to stare at people who have disabilities, let them stare. They are curious, let them be curious. It’s a lot better than teaching our kids that people should be ignored. Anyway, it’s an interesting interview, and worth a look.

Origami at the Supermarket.

Yesterday I took Sebo to Publix. It’s become a welcome weekly routine for us – I get to spend some daddy time with him and it gives Michelle a little break at home. He has started calling it Publix but he used to call it The Green Store because their logo is green. Future artist.

After we find a green-car-shopping-car to race around the store in, we head over to the bakery to grab his free cookie. Usually with sprinkles. It’s a nice little treat for him and a good distraction, because it takes him half the trip to eat it. Sometimes we hit the flower aisle and he picks a balloon-on-a-stick to carry around the store, and we return it before we check out. He’s really good about that sort of thing, he understands he can’t take everything home that he wants. So often we let him play with things just while we are at the store and that’s usually enough to satisfy him.

I love the way his mind works. I pointed out some bananas to him. “Those aren’t bananas,” he said. “That’s cheese.” I said it didn’t look like cheese. He said, “Because the cheese is pretending to be a banana.”

After watching a few episodes of Extreme Couponing we decided to start clipping coupons again. On the show, they buy $1,000 worth of stuff, enough toothpaste to outfit the soldiers in WWII, and pay about three bucks for all twenty cartfulls. On the other hand, I moonwalk down the aisle if I save fifty cents on a jar of barbecue sauce. Last night in the dog food aisle there was a coupon dispenser near the dog treats, and I pulled one off and handed it to Sebo. He looked at it and asked, “Is it mine?” I told him yes, and he took it and grinned. Then he folded it in half. Then in half again, and again. It wasn’t folding how he wanted, so he let out a little frustration grunt and started over. He was concentrating very hard, folding it over and over until he ended up with a little perfect square. He held it up proudly and said, “I’m done!” He was so happy with his folded little square, he showed it off to other shoppers the rest of the time were were in the store. And then when we were walking back out to the car, he unfolded it and asked to put it back in the envelope with the rest of the coupons. I asked him why, because he could keep it folded it he wanted to. He told me he wanted to use the coupon later.

The Drain.

So tonight I watched the water drain out of the tub for the first time since I was a kid. I think. At least I don’t remember watching it for a long time, so I’m assuming it probably happened quite a long time ago.

Tonight we gave Sebo the option to take a bath or to not, and he chose to not. He loves baths, so I was a little surprised, but it was no big deal. When the clock hit eight and it was time to head back to his bedroom and start getting ready for bed, he decided he wanted to take a bath after all. At first I told him he’d missed his chance, and he acted like he was crushed (maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t – it’s hard to tell, the boy’s a natural). And then it hit me that he’s not asking to drive the Tuscon or telling me he’s wanted a cat his whole life – he’s asking to bathe. In a lot of households that’s like he’s saying he wants to eat his sprouts and put away the dishes. So I quickly changed my tune and told him he could have a bath for ten minutes, and that I was going to set the timer and when the timer rang, we needed to get out and get ready for bed. He agreed.

So he took his bath as I sat on the floor beside him and we played with the numbers and letters that magically cling to the porcelain, and the plastic boats, and the Buzz Lightyear scrubby sponge thing and blue shark that both shoot water out of their mouths. We had fun like we usually do, and after ten minutes we heard the Marimba beat coming from my iPhone and that meant it was time to get out.

Our tub has one of those old-timey white rubber stoppers with a chain on the end, which we thought was kinda strange when we moved into the place, but it’s really no big deal and I actually think they are kinda neat. We pulled all the letters and numbers and toys out of the tub so nothing would get lost down the drain, and then as he likes to do, Sebo pulled the chain and popped out the stopper. Then he turned onto his stomach and watched the water start to go down. I decided to stop drying the toys or whatever I was doing and watch with him.

That’s when we both saw the little water tornado that forms as it’s going down the drain. He saw it and looked up at me and we shared a smile, and then he looked back. I thought about telling him that it was kind of like a tornado, but then didn’t want to chance scaring him, and then thought aren’t they called something else when they are out in the water? A spout or something? Can’t remember. Then I thought about telling him how if we were in Argentina it would be spinning in the opposite direction, but then I would have to figure out how to explain where Argentina was, and so I didn’t tell him that either. So we just sat there in silence, watching something together that happens a billion times a day, sharing a moment that made such an ordinary thing special to us, and I wondered how many thousands of these little moments I’m missing every single day because I’m in such a hurry and don’t just slow down and be.

A Letter to Dads.

So I made a list yesterday of all the dads I know … not my own dad or my friends’ dads, but I guess the dads who are “colleagues” of mine – the ones who are within five or ten years of my own age. The first thing that surprised me – besides the fact that I know quite a few more dads than I thought I did – was how many really great dads I know. Dads who are taking their roles seriously, who are loving their wives and adoring their kids; Men who are opening up to their sons and showing them that it’s okay to be human; Men who are teaching their daughters to believe in themselves. These dads are preparing their children for the life ahead of them, and not just by mindlessly regurgitating what their fathers taught (or didn’t teach) them. These men are leading their families by serving them, not just themselves. To put it this way: I’m surrounded by a surprising number of truly good men who are really doing a great job being “Daddy,” and I hope I can learn a lot from them.

It’s feeling a little bit like the past generations of fathers who bottle up their feelings or think that boys shouldn’t play with dolls and that girls shouldn’t take shop class or that walking out on your family is somehow not a big deal – is going the way of the dinosaur. Not that they are extinct yet, but the idea gives me some hope.

It’s a stark contrast. Out of more than fifty dads I could think of, nearly every one of them is not only very engaged and involved with their children on a daily basis, but they are actually still married to their childrens’ mothers. Some for more than twenty years. It’s not the kind of thing you tend to see reported on CNN. In a country where there’s a daily discussion of how the family unit is breaking down and the divorce rate is 50 percent and young people don’t want to get married anymore, maybe all of this is actually a good thing. Maybe these days people who get married and have children are going to mean it. Perhaps because so many of our own parents are divorced, or our dads left town when we were kids, or they didn’t leave town but were emotionally unavailable tough-guys, or who-knows-what kind of messed up family lives each of us had growing up – maybe the pendulum is finally slowing down to a manageable middle ground where we are getting married not because it’s just that thing that we do because society says so, but because we have made that huge decision to devote our lives to our families.

So with that, dads, my plea to you is this: stay with your family. All it takes is a tiny seed of doubt that grows out of control, and in a few years you’ve left your family for the allure of greener grasses. Please stay engaged with your kids, stay in love with your wife, keep a soft, grace-filled heart and remember that the way to truly lead your family is by humbly serving their needs.