Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Cats in the Cradle

I grew up in a house of song. My parents would sing to me and my brothers. We sang at family reunions. We sang at church. We sang in the shower, and yes, we even sang on car trips.

When it comes to the most memorable songs from my childhood though, they are all sung in my dad's voice.

Songs from his youth at summer camp. Songs by classic rockers and singer-songwriters. Songs straight from the hymnals. And of course, among those songs was Harry Chapin's classic "Cats in the Cradle". It's a song that I cherished as a kid, because what good father's son doesn't want to "be like him"?

In it, he sings of his child being born and growing while he wasn't around. He tells of how busy and overloaded he was at his child's 10th birthday. He sings about that same son returning from college, practically a man. And finally, he reminisces over his son having a family of his own. And all along the way, the kid is looking up to him, taking his cues and patterning his life after the example that is set for him.

On it's surface, the song is a tale of a child idolizing his dad. Listen with the ears of a dad though, and it's a tale of missed opportunities and overwhelming responsibilities. In other words: adulthood. And as I watch my kids grow I try to remember just how short a time I have them.

Still when they ask me to play baseball or soccer or Barbies with them, it is hard when you need a new roof, or the dishes are piled up, or your office has you working extra hours not to say "not today, I've got a lot to do." Those are the times I feel like I'm dropping the ball. Those are the days I connect with the song and worry about that being the impression I leave for the kids to want to emulate.


From my days as a kid listening to my parents sing, Kate and I are now the parents singing to our kids. Of course, songs like "Cats in the Cradle" and "30,000 Lbs of Bananas" by Harry Chapin, and Jim Croce's "You Don't Mess Around With Jim," plus many songs by the Beatles and Phil Collins slip through my lips to their ears. And they eat it up.

Recently, Nat asked me to sing the 30K lbs song, "especially the 'of bananas' in the low low voice!" So, I slipped into the role of a truck driver losing control of his rig loaded down with pasty fruit and we each took our swings at trying to hit Big John Wallace's low banana note. Laughing at the notion of a road smeared with a truck-full of bananas, we moved naturally into Chapin's "Cats in the Cradle." I sang the verses while Nat hung on every syllable, then tried to sing along to the chorus.

When we wrapped up, she hit me with a big one.

"That will be you one day soon, Dad," she said.

That will be me.


She'll be turning 10 in just over a week, and it is not lost on me that the kid in the song turns ten as the dad tells him he doesn't have time to teach him how to throw. Nat however, had looked past the 10th birthday. She was already on to the college/cars/family verses.

"You'll be giving me the car keys soon dad! And I'll be going to college..."

I had to cut her off there, as I wasn't ready for all that just yet.


For now, I want to enjoy singing with her, and playing ball with her, and teaching her about the world around her. I want to remember to be involved, and I want her to hold on to the idea of being like me because I am involved so that one day I can call her up and hear how involved she is with her own family.

Then I'll know I've done all right.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Stuff My Wife Says VII

"Who wants to do something gross? You get to play with water!"

I never would have thought of this, but leave it to my wife to get creative in the parenting department. We were at that point where we absolutely had to clean out the fridge. New products were moving in, old stuff had to go. Of course, there are expired salad dressings and nearly empty salsa jars, and all of it has to get cleaned out so we can be a responsible 21st century family and recycle the bottles.

Since we are also a two-income family of 5 with an 8-month-old crawling around underfoot, rinsing out a dozen jars and bottles in the sink to the clinically sterilized level which our city recycling program requires is one of those chores which are likely to take several days for us to get through.

Enter Kate and her great on-the-spot problem-solving skills.

Quick, what is the first problem with asking a child to do a chore?


Well, the above statement/question was just the perfect solution to get them interested and willing to do some work. It all lies in the presentation! What kid wouldn't get excited to either play with water or do something gross? That even makes me think I might enjoy this chore!

She cast the line out there and they took the bait. So nothing was left but to reel them in, set them up at the sink with some simple instructions and sit back and enjoy the peace and quiet. Soon, we had a counter full of clean bottles ready to go to the recycling center to get their new life.

This doesn't even have to be a one time thing. Think about how different activities are presented. You play a game, you get to go to the beach, you have to make your bed and pick up your clothes. So maybe tomorrow, instead of telling the kids just to pick up their toys, I'll take a page from my wife's playbook and dangle the offer of fun in front of them as a clever disguise for the work they're going to end up doing anyway.

Lets just hope I can pull it off as well as she did!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Why stand by when you should be diving in?

Sometimes I'm reminded of just how fast life goes by.

Today I can look out my front window and watch my children play. They are 9 and 5, but I don't remember when they got so old. Wasn't it just yesterday that she was 4-years-old and crying because she just found out that her little brother was a boy? Wasn't it just this morning when he was 1, and so proud to have found my power drill? When did she grow to big to sit on my lap, and when did he lose that innocent baby smile?

Before I know it, she will be getting her first job, going off to college, falling in love, bringing my grand kids over to see me. He, likewise, will soon be driving, chasing his own dreams, finding his own family, and asking for my help to roof his own house.

I can't miss this time. The spaces in between the now and the then. All the little moments that make up our lives. So often, it is those little moments that have the biggest impact. And what if I wasn't around for them? What if their mom wasn't? 

The trick lies in making the most of every moment you have, right now. 

There are families who know they don't have decades ahead of them to get their fill of moments. There are good moms, there are great dads, there are amazing kids who's lives have been impacted, shortened, who have to embrace the moments they have now. I pray I am never in that situation. 

But what if I was? What would I do? How would I handle the time I had? Could I do it on my own?

What if I couldn't go it alone? Could I ask for help?

Could you?

And if we did, who would step up out of the shadows to help? Who would break through the bystander barrier and give of themselves, give of their resources, their compassion, their time, their money? 

What if someone asked me to do the same for them?

There's a guy I know, in fact he's quite notorious in Dad Blogging circles, and he is facing this future, one where the moments are numbered. His name is Oren Miller. He has a wife and kids. A house. A job. Friends. Loved ones. A ton of blogging dads around the world. And cancer. 

I won't tell his whole story here, as it is better told in his own words and by those closest to him, but his is a story that breaks your heart. He is a man who inspires. This is a chance to rise to the question: what can we do?

Some of the people who Oren has touched have found a way to give back. Send his family on a vacation, put some money aside for the future, help him make the most of the moments they have together. What can you do?

Friday, June 20, 2014

When Reading Spreads Like "Wings of Fire"

I've talked before about how much Nat enjoys reading, but this last year at school, something amazing happened. Reading actually opened doors for her.

She has absolutely fallen in love with fantasy novels. (For some good options, check out her list!) One of the most recent addictions is a series called "Wings of Fire" by Tui T. Sutherland. The series includes five books written for young readers which profile five dragons of prophecy, destined to end a generation's old war. The dragons are engaging and the story compelling. So much so, that when Nat took the first book to school, the passion for the story spread like wildfire. First one friend borrowed the first book, then another, and another and another... Soon, she took in the second book, only for that one to begin making the rounds as well.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Neverending Roof

When you own a house, you own everything that comes with it, and that includes leaky roofs. After putting it off for as long as we possibly could, it was time to bite the bullet and install a new roof. Unfortunately, having someone else install a new roof on your house is expensive, and my budget couldn't quite cover it this year. Obviously, there is another option, but after two weeks, it is one I would never suggest anyone take: DIY.

I'm not saying it can't be done. I'm simply saying that your old body will regret ever taking on such a challenge. My knees always hurt to begin with, but after spending 8-12 hours on a roof, I'm amazed when they show up still attached. The same thing goes for my back, because there is no way one can install a new roof without doing a significant amount of bending over.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Stuff My Kids Say XII

Godzilla: "Dad told me 'boys are supposed to be dirty' and I memorized it!"

You don't get any more stereotypical than this. It would seem that I told Godzilla recently that boys get dirty. Then I left him at home with his sister and mom one hot afternoon to play with his squirt gun, and the result should have been expected.

The little scoundrel took the hose and made a mud puddle, then proceeded to slather himself in all the mud he could muster. When it was time to come in, this is the sight that greeted my wife at the front door!

What do you do with this?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Girl on the Run

After weeks of training, Nat finally ran her first 5K!

It all started when she signed up for an after-school program called "Girls on the Run." GOTR is a national program focused on developing positive life skills through physical activity and interactive lessons, and I had no clue about the program until they came to her school.

What a blessing it has been. From the day she first heard about it she got excited to run, and it caught me completely off-guard. I saw the flyer she brought home and didn't think she would be interested. After all, this is the girl who isn't really into riding her bike, the girl who scoffs at going outside any day when the temperature is over 70, the girl who is perfectly content to lay around the house with headphones on and read a book.

But now, she's a runner. She's taking after her dad.