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Monthly Archives: June 2012

Cowabunga Dude!

My eyes opened this morning at around 6:15. No real reason. Perhaps the fact that the sun is up well before that these days was part of it. Regardless, I remember popping the lids feeling much better about life than I did a mere 24 hours prior. Again, no real reason. Just a new mindset had taken over.

There is no real constant to life. It comes and goes in waves. Some good. Some bad. Some big. Some small. I think we all want life to be one consistently calm ocean. We want our journey to be easily navigated on a day to day basis. Unfortunately, I don’t know that such a reality exists. Doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, short or tall, married or divorced. The truth is, there are highs and lows, there’s good and bad, and the only constant is that there is no constant.

I actually find some sense of comfort knowing this. Especially on days that are full of negativity or when my mind is just ‘murky.’ There’s a sense of peace knowing that the wave of negativity will eventually pass and a new wave, perhaps a much more ridable one, will soon follow. There’s always the possibility that a storm will come along and cause an even WORSE wave to follow, but at some point all storms pass and calmer more manageable waters prevail.

And what if you’re riding a string of good waves? Should you be concerned that a bad wave will eventually come along? Well there’s a danger to that way of thinking. For example, my father always warned me that if you’re having a good day, watch out because it means a bad day is coming. He never appeared to get amped about a good wave. He always seemed to be anticipating a wipe out, even when he had complete control of the wave under him. I really don’t think that’s the answer. I mean, what’s the point of working your way through a string of wipeouts if you’re not going to enjoy life when it’s crankin’? When life brings you positives shouldn’t you relish in them? Milk em’ for all they’re worth? Ride that puppy as long as it’ll carry you?

What’s the point of wasting your energy worrying about wiping out or the wave over taking you? Isn’t the whole point of surfing to enjoy the rush? If you’re having a good ride, just acknowledge that it will likely end at some point and enjoy it while you can.

Learning to ride the waves of life is truly a skill all its own. Not over reacting to any one wave seems to be the best course. Do your best to surf through the bad ones and enjoy the good ones. Easier said than done I know. But I think coming to terms with the fact that a bad day isn’t necessarily the end of the world is one of the gifts of aging. With every wave we ride, we learn a little more about the feel of it and all of the nuances of the wave. We grow accustomed to the speed, to the feel and to the power beneath us.

If you ever watch seasoned surfers, they’re always looking forward, focused on where they’re going. Rarely do they look back. If you watch a novice, they’re usually fearful of the wave over taking them which typically causes them to wipeout. Perhaps the lesson is to just keep moving forward and to stay focused. Don’t worry about what’s coming up behind you. Don’t worry about a wave crashing over you. Just know that if you DO wipeout, a new wave will be coming up shortly. The point is to get back on the board.

As a parent every wave is an opportunity for us to teach our kids how to surf life’s ups and downs. They watch every move we make and are aware of every motion. Let them learn not to be clucked when a wave approaches, big or small. After all, the last thing you want to raise is a frube. (One too many I know. Just humor me)

Teach them to embrace the waves. To appreciate the rush that each one presents us with. Let them see that wiping out from time to time is o.k. They teach us limits and that falling in the ocean isn’t always that bad. Let them witness you riding the good AND bad waves like a pro. Teach them to appreciate the fact that life is constantly changing and that to ride the wave successfully, sometimes you just need to ride it out and not fight it. They’ll remember that as their lives present them with waves of their own to ride. And trust me, it’s going to happen.

As I got out of bed this morning, I tried to acknowledge that today was a good day for surfing. I can see a swell forming and I know there’s a good chance I will indeed wipeout, but if I’m going to have any fun I think it’s important that I attack the wave and hope for a good ride.

I truly believe that. I’m not sure I could survive if I didn’t.

 

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Who Loves You Baby?

A somewhat simple thought tonight as things wind down in our home. The kids are all in bed and for whatever reason, tonight when I tucked my oldest one in and we exchanged our, “I love you’s,” the moment kind of hit a little harder than usual. We say it often in our house. I know my ex-wife does too. The kids hear it all day long. When they stay with me I also make a point as they’re going to bed, to tell them that I’m glad they’re here. I don’t want there to be any question. The younger ones typically smile and pull the covers a little tighter. My oldest nearly always says, “me too.” It’s kind of our way of letting each other know that despite everything, we’re doing alright.

Maybe it’s a generational thing.I’m not sure really. My dad never told me he loved me when I was a kid. I finally got up the courage to tell him I loved him when I was in college. Got up the courage. Can you believe that? Got up the courage to tell my father I loved him? Maybe it’s me, but something about that just doesn’t sound right. It just wasn’t something that flowed around our house growing up. It’s not that we didn’t KNOW our parents loved us. But it wasn’t something that came up in conversation all that often. And so, I made it a point from early on to tell my kids as many times as I could a day that I loved them. There are even times when they’re stomping up the stairs in a huff, mumbling God knows what under their breath; mad because I sent them to their room for not listening, and I’ll yell up to them, “I LOVE YOU!” I usually get a “whatever” back, but I know they hear it and soak it in.

As our relationships develop, and we work our way through this vast unknown of two home lives, I keep reminding myself that I want them to know this is their home and that I’m thankful for the time that they’re here. I think they need that reassurance. Hell it can’t hurt.

 

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20,000 Dollars!

20,000 dollars.

A dear friend of mine posted a story on facebook that valued a father’s efforts at about 20 thousand dollars. This included his manly duties of barbecuing, mowing the lawn, coaching and fixing things around the house. value-propositionThe story itself was somewhat shameless in its lack of a true understanding of what being a dad today has grown to mean and could easily have been written circa 1950 ala’ Leave it to Beaver. But I won’t waste my time dissecting the overtly stereotyping nature of the piece nor its over generalizations as I normally shy away from being so negative. But honestly, it was somewhat laughable.

The story did raise an interesting question however. How do YOU value yourself as a father? Another dear friend of mine told me to take a look in the mirror tomorrow morning and recognize what I’d accomplished over the past year, when time and time again, I had every opportunity to let adversity get me down. Divorce and the events that come with it can easily crush you. They can make you bitter and angry. That anger can consume you if you let it. Or, as I’ve witnessed with many dads, it can encourage you and exhibit strengths and powers you may have never known existed.

We all make choices on a daily basis that determine how we will be valued by our children. Every moment we’re faced with questions of how we’re going to prioritize the things in our lives and where our children fall on that list. It may be getting to work late to make sure a kid gets to soccer camp. It may be putting down the laptop to answer a question or demonstrating restraint from shouting at your kid out of anger. But every moment is an opportunity to put some coinage in the piggie bank.

Anyone who believes we’re valued as fathers by how often we mow the lawn is truly missing the point. As parents we all have opportunities to demonstrate true value through the simple act of showing our children by example how to handle everything that life throws at us both good and bad. We are more than just handy men. We are mentors, therapists, chefs, doctors, chauffeurs, teachers, friends, coaches, carpenters, architects, advisors, policemen, big brothers, and sometimes just dad. But regardless of what role we happen to be playing at any given moment, by just being a dad, the value of our time is infinitely higher than that of any handy man or gardener. (please take no offense if you happen to be a handy man or gardener … just making a point)

I think what was missing the most from the story I read was the lack of understanding that each family is defined so differently. The role of father is uniquely defined from home to home. In some homes the father’s role is more traditional where he works away from home 9-6 and mom makes the meals and maintains the house and kids. But more and more dads are playing an equal role in maintaining the home front. Just take note the next time you buy groceries at how many dads are carting 2-3 toddlers around. In some instances the dad is able to be there day to day. In some homes it’s week to week, in others month to month. For still others, like our military families, dad may be gone for months at a time. But however their actions are defined, their role is no less valuable than anyone other’s. Whether you’re there unplugging the toilet or on a six day business trip, I don’t think it’s fair to estimate a man’s worth as a father by how often he punches his time card.

The other truth the story ignored is that in some homes the lines between mom and dad are getting somewhat blurred. Now, I’m not about to turn this into a comparison between moms and dads. Because the truth is, there is no constant here. From home to home the roles differ. Everything I’m saying holds true for both moms and dads. But the title of the blog is “Life as a Divorced Dad” so … you know, I’m somewhat obligated to focus on the dad thing. (If you’re a mom, feel free to insert “mom” anywhere you see the word “dad.”) But back to what I was saying; our value goes beyond the time we put in. There is an innate connection between father and child that is immeasurable. There is a deep rooted truth to being a dad. A bond, a connection, a tie that can’t be broken by any event whether it be divorce, deployment or even death.

Let’s face it and be honest here. Not all dads are created equal. We all have our failing moments, some more than others. But like it or not, whether you’re a dad who’s there at every recital or one who sees your child once every six months; the reality is you’re influencing and affecting your kid’s growth and development every day by your actions or sadly, non-actions. That’s a truth that can’t be denied. Alive or dead, our fathers influence so many of the decisions we make on a daily basis from what we put in our bodies to how we manage money to how we react to our own children.

But today, let’s not reflect on our lacking moments, or on what we failed to accomplish. Rather, as my friend suggested, let’s look in the mirror and reflect on all of our accomplishments. Let’s look at all of the hurdles we overcame, all of the triumphs and moments we know our kids will look back on years from now and hold dear to them. How many seeds were planted, how many times did you pick yourself up when you didn’t think you had another ounce of anything left in you? Think of all the hats you wore this past year. Remind yourself of the victories large AND small. Consider the times your value increased simply by being there to reassure your son or daughter that you were with them even if only in spirit.

Think of the lunches and dinners you made, the bandaids you applied, projects you helped finish the night before they were due, the miles you put on the car driving to and from dance class, the soccer games you coached, the pounds of popcorn you popped on movie nights, the 500 diapers you changed, or your long distance phone bill, the grounders you hit, the bed time stories you told, the rules you reenforced, the gas bubbles you patted out, the fireflies you helped catch, the number of times you “ruined their lives,” the Christmas eve shopping emergencies, the 2 a.m. feedings, the swim lessons, the 6 a.m. jogs with your eight year old, snow days, sick days, birthdays, holidays, field days, field trips, trips to Build a Bear, the lake, the beach, hiking, biking, sledding, hugging, reading, loving.

You’re a dad. Regardless of how involved you are in your child’s life. You’re their dad. The only true dad they’ll ever have. You know it, they know it and the world knows it. And every waking moment of your life and their life, you are connected by an undying, unbreakable, unstoppable bond that even the grave can’t take away from either of you. That’s a truth you can’t put a price tag on.

20,000 dollars? Paleeeeaasse!

 

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Diggin’ Holes!

When you get divorced, in many ways you find yourself digging holes a lot. You’ve got your financial holes,
emotional holes, career holes. Honestly, they may as well just hand you a shovel as a parting gift when you leave the courthouse.

There are days, sometimes weeks, when it can all become a bit too much. Especially during those periods where for whatever reason you don’t get enough sleep. On days like that trying to find the salt & pepper shakers can put you over the edge. And the holes just seem to get bigger and bigger with no end in sight.

Sometimes it helps to have a simple activity that gives your soul pause. Could be exercise, writing, painting, anything really. Just something to get your mind off of it all and give you a chance to breathe. This week I discovered an old stand by that helped clear my head and helped me feel like I accomplished something. And of all things, it started with digging a hole.

A quick history lesson. I grew up on a dairy farm and always loved planting things and watching them grow. I think I inherited a part of my father’s farmer gene. I’ve been attempting my entire life to find a way to make something grow. Haven’t always had the best fertilizer though. Or perhaps sometimes I’ve had too much. Not
sure really. But getting away from the metaphor, I really do love the smell of fresh dirt. Love to get my hands dirty. There’s something so raw and uncomplicated about the process. And then to see something grow from your efforts. Just does a mind and spirit good.

I’d been thinking for some time that the back yard needed some help and so it was that I put the kids in the car and we headed to Home Depot. We got some mulch and a bunch of perennials and went to town. Kind of cool too because it became an activity that the kids and I could do together. They weren’t all 100 percent into it, but they got to do about as much as they wanted to and honestly, it just felt good to dig and fill some holes.

That first flower led to a second and a third and before I knew it we’d planted a nice little garden. And in the process we managed to update the back yard and bring it back to life. At the risk of getting all philosophical on
you, there was something about improving the condition of the property and making it look better that gave me a sense of progress. That’s important when you feel like you’re slipping in other parts of your life which often happens when you’re digging out of a divorce. When you’re responsible for every aspect of the home, a lot of things can slip through the cracks. It’s easy to say, “oh hell, I’ll get to it next week.” But then suddenly it’s six months later and all you see is a growing list of things that need work and a house that’s nothing more than a place where you’re surviving than a home where you’re flourishing.

Sometimes you just need to roll up your sleeves and break new ground. Funny how one little flower can spawn
a sense of accomplishment and encourage you to do more. Something about the basic nature of digging in dirt. Such a simple task. You sweat a little. Get some aggression out. Get out of closed in spaces. Fresh air. Sun. It’s so basic and yet in its simplicity has the ability to eliminate such complex worries.

Maybe it’s the act of pulling up the weeds that are cluttering up your garden. Pulling them up and getting them out of the way so they stop choking out the things you want to have grow. You clear some areas and plant some fresh seedlings. Give em’ a little love and water. Watch them grow. Kind of gives you the sense that maybe that concept would translate well into your life. Clear some weeds and vines. Plant some new seeds. Watch em’ grow. Worth a shot don’t you think? So what are you waiting for. Go grab a shovel and start digging. You never know what treasure you might find buried in your back yard, not the least of which might be a little peace of mind.

 

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774 miles, 13 hours, 3 kids, 1 Jeep!

774 miles, 13 hours, 3 kids, 1 Jeep.

My head spins just thinking about it. But we did it. Not once but twice in one week as we traveled up to the finger lakes to kick off summer vacation. I only attempt these trips knowing that my kids are accustomed to longer distances. As soon as my oldest was born, my ex-wife and I were hitting the road. We’ve been traveling long distances ever since and as each child joined the caravan, they became more and more accustomed to sitting for long stretches. Based on history, knowing that some great moments are just up the road is more than enough incentive to keep on truckin’.

The funny thing is, we typically can’t drive five miles at home without a meltdown of some sort, and yet on the long trips they typically do great. But even this trip was a record for us and I’m still astounded that we made it home without having to drop someone off in Columbus or Cincinnati.

I remember when I was a kid (he said in his best old man impersonation) we didn’t have car seats, or laws about sitting up front. We also didn’t have DVD players, streaming video and i-pod touches. We rode on the hump, laid in our dad’s lap as he drove, sprawled out in the back seat, played road bingo and punch bug. Dad typically pulled over several times threatening to throw us off a bridge which garnered 20 miles or so until the next round of back seat anarchy.

But now, even with the restrictions of car safety legislation, the kids (and parents) have tools that make the trip a little easier. So as I packed the car for our trip north I thought I had it covered. Snacks, drinks, DVD player, i-pods, headphones, books, games, you name it we had it. Then it happened. As we pulled out of the drive way we realized the DVD player wasn’t working. On top of that my car charger was AWOL. That meant no movies and I had maybe 2 hours before I’d hear, “DAADDD!!! My I-pod is dead!”

A wave of panic rushed through my veins as I tried to assess the potential damage and come up with a plan B. Meanwhile by the grace of all that’s holy, the kids all fell asleep within the first 30 minutes which bought me a couple of hours.

I heard a couple of yawns and saw some stretching going on which let me know I’d soon have a lot of requests coming my way. That’s when I heard one of the kids ask, “Can we watch TV on your phone?” I hadn’t even thought of that! Fortunately I had a full charge and the Netflix app ready to roll on my i-phone. My car stereo has an ‘aux’ plug that allows you to listen to your phone through the car speakers which is an added bonus! And so it was that we managed to make it through the first 1/3 of the trip virtually unscathed. From there we picked up another charger and suddenly the DVD player was a forgotten memory as my phone, little screen and all, became the center of entertainment.

As I mentioned we’ve been road tripping for a long time. So my kids are accustomed to long stretches in the car. We started with little 1-2 hour trips and worked our way up. Now it’s my kids, all 10 and under, who are typically the ones who don’t want to stop. When we stop to gas, they just want to go to the bathroom and get food through the drive-thru so we can keep on moving. Pretty amazing actually. When everyone’s doing well we will do that, but I’ve learned that sometimes we all need a break from the journey and will stop for a longer break while I recharge and the kids decompress.

And then we’re off again.

Traveling with kids can be a challenge as we all know. The trick is to do as much preparation ahead of time as you can. And not just in terms of entertainment and snacks. Mental preparation is almost, if not more, important. Acknowledge in your head from the very beginning that there are going to be trying moments and plan ahead how you’re going to handle them. Promise yourself you’ll keep a cool head and recognize that it’s the circumstances that are causing the issues. That’s not to say you won’t have your moments of “don’t make me pull over!” which you will, but the more you can prepare yourself the more enjoyable it’ll be for everyone. As the dad (or mom) you set the tone.

Some tips.Make sure snacks, drinks, etc. are within arms reach as you won’t have someone next to you to help. Have a “take turns” plan of action for movies, tv shows, music etc. At the same time, depending on how many kids you have, don’t be afraid to double up on DVD players. Borrow a neighbor’s DVD player to give the girls one to watch Barbie on and the boys one to watch Thomas the Train on. It’s more effort, but makes for a much smoother ride.

Above all try to remind everyone about the north star; the goal, the prize! Talk about it with the kids mid stream. “What are you looking forward to most when we get to the lake?” “How many fish are you going to catch?” “Are you going to go tubing this year?”

As frustrating as traveling with the kids can be at times, not once have I ever regretting the trip. The bonding that takes place is irreplaceable. The time spent focused on the kids is priceless. Even the trip itself becomes an event you conquer together. The important thing is that you’re spending time as a family. The trip itself is really only part of a much more important journey. It’s that thought that keeps me throwing the kids in the back seat and taking off for adventures that otherwise would be time spent watching too much Disney. (no offense Mickey).

Every mile is a memory. Every memory is one more opportunity to remind the kids of how important they are and how important your relationship with them is. That in and of itself is worth the trip.
 

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