Approaching the One Year Anniversary of My Father's Passing

My father was dying this time last year. I knew it. He knew it. We all did. The difference though was that he handled the news so much better than we did. Unlike us, he never complained or expressed the unfairness of the situation. He never said “too soon.” We did. Everyone who came to visit did. Even when he must have been in pain, my father never winced. I would wince. He’d tell me to stop it.

He stoically lived each remaining day and only occasionally addressed the matter. A thought would cross his mind like he was running a checklist before an upcoming trip. He would remember a chore my stepmom would soon inherit.  “Remind me I need to teach her how to use the digital camera.” I nodded “okay” but broke down inside each time.

She and I handled that checklist with significantly less grace. Like when we were resetting their email password and it was his phone that rang for the restore option. Silently, but with welling emotions, we both looked at each other knowing his cell number would soon be silenced as well. What other accounts are associated with that number? There was so much to do. Too soon.

I am grateful that during the month and half that elapsed between his diagnosis and passing I was able to be at my father’s side for the milestones that marked the progress of his final days. To ride with him the last time he drove . To then become his driver. To help him eat. To help him walk.

During that time it was not lost on me that the circle of life was spinning. I was back in my home town driving my dad on the same streets where he taught me to drive. That wheel was spinning each time I grabbed him a towel like he did for me so many years ago… so many times. Once he was my humble caretaker. I was now honored and blessed to become his. To return the favor. Circle.

I was there with him when he patiently told his cancer doctor he didn’t think treatment was the best option and “we’ve” decided quality of life at this stage is better for us all. “I’m going with the four month plan you mentioned.” He was referring to the estimated time he was given. He was at peace with this decision and a stop at the hospital chapel confirmed that for me when he joked that you can’t light the candles… because of the oxygen tanks. Turning on the candle brought us peace.

Four months? He didn’t make it that long. Too soon.

I was there for his last meal and his last holiday.

On New Year’s Eve as my father was just a few days from passing he lay in his bed… as he wished and as we had planned. Family was there and the neighbors were celebrating. Sitting alone with him in his dark room as the New Year soon rang in we could hear fireworks outside. I could see the occasional burst of lights through the curtains. I think he could see them too. The sounds and the lights, though sometimes chaotic, enhanced the sense of peace I was feeling from him.

I am forever grateful I was able to be with him that last month and especially those last days. My father, through it all, put me at ease.

So now that I am in the first anniversary of those times I reflect each day on what little milestone we were passing. How we each dealt with the inevitable. How my father gave us strength even when his was fading.

A Pro and Con to Having Just One Child.

Pro: You only have one mouth to feed.

Con: That same mouth often only has one person to talk to.

I am his entertainment. I am his captive audience. I am his sounding board for his really great ideas about really great things that really can’t wait until later.

I find that as I attempt to disengage myself from a conversation that is growing mundane or trivial or monotonous it feels like I am yanking on the starter cable of a lawn mower hoping to get it to catch so his words can be his own muse and his engine can run on it’s own. Every few sentences I give it another tug until the motor catches and it runs at full tilt.

“You know Dad. I think I would like to get a family of worms to keep as my pets.” He interjects into my quiet drive time.

“Oh, that sounds like a great idea.” I respond.

“I’m going to name the parents Wormy and Brownie and the kid worms will be called Squirmy and Turkey.”

“I don’t really think Turkey is a good name for a worm.” I say.

“No Dad. It’s a really good name. A really good one. Turkeys live in fields and fields are full of dirt and worms live in dirt. Turkey is a really great name for a worm. You don’t know these things. I do. I know everything about worms.”

“No. I think you named it Turkey because right after you said Squirmy your little kid brain went up the alphabet to the next letter which is T and you took the sound of Squirmy but with a T in the front so you stumbled on Turkey.”

“You’re wrong Dad. I didn’t name them yet. We don’t even have worms yet. See, you don’t know anything about worms like I do.”

Just a little tug on that lawn mower starter cable. Pull the choke out some. Yank a little harder.

“I think worms bite.” He says.

“No. They don’t.” I answer.

“Well, some do. You don’t know about worms. Remember?”

Full pull on the cord. The motor catches. I’m out and sit back to let the perpetual motion machine that is his seven year old brain whirl on it’s own for a bit.

“I guess some worms bite. They have mouths because they have to eat. So if they have mouths I guess they bite. But they eat leaves and dirt and little pieces of trash so their mouths must be so small. So cute! Maybe they sleep with their mouths open like I do sometimes? Their eyes must be so tiny! Wee!! I can’t wait to get worms! I’m going to put them in this cup. This would be a good cup for them. It even has a lid. But what will I drink out of? Can we share the cup? No. That’s dirty. I will wash them first. Wee!!! I can’t wait to get worms!”

Listening to him talk gives me an idea. Maybe I’ll invent a white noise generating machine for parents. It will have a microphone and a speaker and it will take in their little voices and generate an equal and opposite audio wave than the ones that comes from their little face holes. Equal and opposite? Didn’t Newton say something about that? The sounds that come from a kid's mouth will have an equal and opposite reaction inside the brain of a parent?

And then I realized something. We are the same. He and I are the same but with one huge difference. At some point you learn how to flip that switch that allows you to disconnect your thoughts from your mouth. He just says everything he thinks!

“I think I’m going to strap a Fitbit to your face and see how many times your mouth moves in a day.”

“That’s a really great idea Dad.” He says.

I guess I said that one out loud.

“Okay then. Let’s go dig up some worms!” He says.

“Yes Son. Let’s do it.”

On Grieving

After our son was born I called friends who already had kids and apologized to them for not being more excited for them when they became parents. I didn't know until I saw our own son how awesome it was. How could I?

I did the same after my father passed. I called friends who had already lost a parent and apologized for not being more sympathetic for them at the time. How could I have known?

And then I became acutely aware of the grieving of others. A mention of a loss or a diagnosis stops time and puts me back in the moment when I heard the news. The news that changed things. While a smell can take your mind back to summer camp just a few words arranged in the right order can transport your heart back the same way. The day I heard the news. How I held it together for a few minutes and then cried on the shoulder of the first person I saw. I didn't know her too well but she was older and could see it in my eyes. She was part of the club.

That's the club you join when a parent dies. A club that every human throughout existence who has outlived a parent has joined but yet it can still can feel like a party of one. While you are told many cliches when you are in the fog of it the one that is never overused is the one that comes from a club member. "I know what you are going through."

The thing about grief is that it comes out of nowhere. Sure there are the moments that come up that you'd really like to share with them. There are the moments when a question arises in which the answer literally has been taken to the grave and you will never know the answer. But then there are the surprise moments when your mind hits an infinite loop of a memory. You lock in for a bit. My mental record skips and that last note is played over and over again. Luckily, my soundtrack is full of great songs.

For me my mind will stumble on a memory and it will replay in my head as if I was there again. I think it's memory’s survival strategy. My brain is making a back-up rewriting it a few times to ensure it sticks even as my record gets scratched with age. In many of these flashbacks, I'm the only one alive who knows the story now and I think my brain is ensuring it doesn't fade away.

I think I've been good with this. I don't think I'm callous or avoidant or unengaged. I think I'm good. I think being there with him when he needed me most and being able to say goodbye has allowed me to look forward and cherish the memories. It has allowed me to carry his lessons of fatherhood into my own family.

Watching my seven year old and remembering my times with my dad when I was that age have helped me look to the future. The memories I will make for my boy. To etch those into his permanent record.

Being a father to my dad’s grandson has helped me grieve.

Teaching Irony through Sarcasm

  I have the luxury of working weekends and being able to pick up our son from school most weekdays. I watch with joy as he bounces down the steps from his school happy to tell me all about the things he did during the day. Rarely does he come out upset. Never has he come out needing comfort. Until this week. I was waiting with the other parents as we stood around making fun our kids behind their backs… as we do. The doors opened and he came flying out full of wails and tears. He looked inconsolable. The other parents parted making a red carpet like path for him to have easy access to my welcoming arms. He collapsed to the sidewalk at my knees gasping for air between his breathless screams of agony.

“Oh my son. What happened man?! What’s going on?!” I cried back to him.

“I didn’t have time to finish my stress ball!!! My stress ball! I didn’t have time when the bell rang!!!” He cried out at what to me appeared to an incommensurate amount of tears.

Perhaps I misunderstood him?

“Say that again? What’s this about?”

“We were making stress balls and I didn’t get to finish mine! It’s not done! The bell rang and it’s not done! This is the worst day of my life!!!” He yelled.

I stood stunned. The other parents watched on trying to listen in to get a clue as to what horrors must have happened inside. Several seemed to be bracing themselves for what they may face when their little bundles were released from school.

Once I understood what was happening all I could do was laugh. A lot.

“This isn’t funny! This is horrible! This is the worst day of my life!”

I restrained my laughs but spoke through a smile. “You know what you need son? A stress ball.”

“I know! I need a stress ball and I couldn’t finish mine in time. Oh!!! Why me!!!”

“No.” I added. “What’s funny here is that you need a stress ball because of this stress ball situation.”

He didn’t get the irony. I promised him we’d make some when we got home.

“But you don’t know how! You’ve never made one! This is so horrible.” He argued.

I told him we would google it. I'm sure it's just flour and balloons. We can handle that.

But I didn't watch the youtube video result on how to make them. I actually didn't read anything more than what was in the search results. At home I improvised how to get the flour into the balloon by using the nozzle from a cake decorating kit. I filled it with flour and forced the powder into the balloon by blowing really hard into the nozzle. Really hard. The balloon was now full of flour and my compressed air. Once the stress ball was inflated and after pulling my mouth and nozzle from the balloon all the flour erupted from the contracting balloon back into my face. It really was a pretty spectacular scene. It was like a stylist shouted “Powder!” and then some stranger hit me with a pillow full.

The boy laughed out at what to me appeared to an incommensurate amount of joy.

And I stood there stunned, looking at him through my flour covered glasses and he said, “Now you could really use a stress ball huh dad?”

I think he learned irony.

My Father's Eulogy


My father passed away on January 2nd of this year. I've had several posts in mind but haven't had the energy to put them down. This is the eulogy I read at his service. Maybe this will help me sleep a little better until I can get something better down.

My parents visited the Vatican last year. I have no proof of this but I think there was motivation behind the trip. I think it was a job interview. If it was... he got the position. The new VP of marketing for the rebranded Pearly Gates... and Gardens. He’s probably already had turnstiles installed and is calling each evening for the days attendance.

My father was born into a farming family in rural Nebraska and spent his first 12 years there until my grandmother moved him and my Aunt Suzanne to her hometown of Savannah after their father passed.  In 2012 my wife, son and I along with Donna and my Uncle Doug had the privilege of joining my Dad and Aunt on a return visit to Nebraska. This was the first time they had been back since they were children. On that trip I watched my dad explore where he came from. Miles and miles of perpendicular roads with hardly another human in sight.

My father never budged at a challenge. You can’t just call it work ethic because it’s how he lived his life. From grade school to fatherhood, whenever I talked with him about a struggle he would guide me and help me figure out how to get through it. Often we would walk away with an inside joke about the event that we would share and laugh about for years later. Even after being told he had cancer he never complained or fussed about the card he was handed. It was after I saw that farm and imagined what his life was like there in Nebraska that I was able to start putting the pieces of his character together. Farmers work in harsh environments. They create things from barely nothing and work with the resources they have at hand. They start with a seed. I have many brothers and sisters here in Tampa that got their professional start through my dad. We were all his seeds.... And all of you became family. From Busch Gardens and Adventure Island and Sea World to most recently the Florida Aquarium. You took all of us into your family as much as my dad brought you into his. Thank you all for everything you did for us over the years. I’ve joked before that Ericka and I grew up in a theme park. That makes many of your our baby sitters.

I’ve taken many vacations to his second hometown of Savannah. My family and I were there just this weekend. Savannah is a social town. Especially when you are a descendant. It is a Catholic town where everyone knows each other, looks out for one another and barter with what they have. Your character is as much your currency is as what you have to offer. Add these skills to the work ethic my father learned from the farm and you are starting to get a better picture. He was always looking out for his Tampa, his Florida and all of us here. And he was never without a free ticket. When he’d give out a few to a family... if asked he’d simply say he worked at The Aquarium. Or Busch Gardens. Or Adventure Island. Or Sea World.

My father was humble. He was honest. He worked hard and taught me that work is not work when you love it. These are the things I will pass on to my son.

I know I’m not alone in saying that since being told of my father’s diagnosis… today, this service and the idea of his passing have been on my mind and in my heart constantly. I would wake up in the middle of the night and it would take me a few seconds to remember why I felt so horrible. The feeling would be there before I could remember why. But one night I fell asleep and had a dream about this day. I was here at his service. We all were. We were all here to celebrate my father’s life and accomplishments. But in my dream he was here at the altar too. He was loving you guys. All of his people. Many of you… his seeds. When I awoke from that dream knowing he was happy... I felt at peace. And finally slept.

I now know why I had that dream. Because he is here. I think one of his other initiatives at the newly rebranded Pearly Gates and Gardens is a hand stamp program for return visits back to see us and check on us. And this is exactly the kind of inside joke my father and I would have shared. And now it’s one I hope to forever share with my son. Going forward, whenever he feels like someone has been looking out. Whenever he feels that someone has his back… I’ll suggest it was his Papa.... and that he must have gotten his hand stamped.

A 1980 Tampa Tribune Article Featuring My Father on Parenting



"With my 5-year-old son, I'm experiencing the greatest love affair I’ve ever had,” said 31-year-old Thom Stork. "There are lots of rocky roads, no question about it, but you can say that I’ve really found my child. I’ll freely admit that for four years he was there and I loved him and we did things together. But I didn’t know him. I wasn’t his best friend.”

“I recently took my 7-year old son out to lunch to talk about my plans to remarry,” said Alan Baker, 38. "I wanted to know how he felt about it. He said, 'Well, Dad, once in awhile you have a really good idea.’

I said, ‘Well, thank you, and I’d like you to be the best man at the wedding.’ He said, 'That’s wonderful — what’s a best man?’ ”

“There’s no way to know when something really special will happen between you and your child,” said Dr. Joseph Ferrandino, 38. "Not long ago, I sat in the audience while my 8-year-old daughter auditioned for a part in a play. As she stood on the stage, they unexpectedly asked her to sing a song. My heart stopped, thinking she’d be afraid or embarrassed, but to my surprise she said OK, and began to sing 'Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer in a strong, clear voice. It was a touching moment I‘m glad I was able to have.”

“Through my son, I discovered the child in myself,” said 29-year-old. Joel Hunter. "I remember once getting all excited over a kite I bought for him when he was about 5. We were out running with it against the wind. I was having a ball, but when I looked down he was crying. I asked him what was wrong, and he said, 'Dad, you won’t let me hold it.’ I was so involved and having such a great time, I almost forgot to let him participate.”'

Four special moments in the lives of four Tampa fathers. These fathers however, represent a new and increasingly prevalent breed of men who, either by choice or circumstance, are raising their children alone.

While the number of such men is growing, the percentage is hardly mind-boggling.

Steve Sessums, a Tampa attorney who limits his practice to marital and family law, found in a recent study in Pinellas County that mothers received custody in approximately 75 percent of all contested cases. Sessums points out that these figures would probably closely reflect those for the state of Florida as well.

"While accurate statistics are hard to come by, my experience tells me that in well over 90 percent of the cases that never reach the court (by far the greatest number), the divorced woman also assumes sole custody,” Sessums said.

In the last few years, several factors have begun to change this traditional pattern. Some divorcing couples decide the husband should take the children because he makes more money.

In other cases, the wife expresses a desire to pursue career interests or to find self-fulfillment outside the role of wife and mother. And some women believe that their husbands may do a better job of parenting.

Whatever the reasons leading more men to raise their children alone, those involved have found themselves thrown back on their own resources in new and challenging ways. They’ve experienced, as any new mother soon learns, the boredom, frustration and occasional pain of caring for young children.

However, with this newly found knowledge of the humdrum comes the joy of knowing unexpected moments of gentle ecstasy with their children that many say makes it worth the effort.

Thom Stork, promotions manager at Tampa’s Busch Gardens, has had custody of his 5 year-old son, Christopher, for almost a year. In many ways, his experiences closely parallel those of Ted Kramer in the recent film. "Kramer vs. Kramer," which depicts a young father coping with the business of raising his son alone.

"I cried through most of the Kramer film,” said Stork without apology. “To some extent, I identified with Dustin Hoffman as Ted Kramer because I am in the same business. He was in an ad agency, whereas am in a marketing department.

"I was also very work-oriented,” Stork continued. “I probably didn’t spend enough time with my family. Now leave work at 5, because I have to meet the needs of my child.”

After their 8-year marriage ended in divorce, Stork and his former wife agreed that he would have full legal custody. Both parents felt that Stork was in a better economic position to take care of their child.

"I said wanted him, and believe strongly that a son should be with his father,” Stork said.

"The first thing people said to me was, "My God, how are you going to handle this?” Stork said. "Sure there were questions, and it was confusing for me until learned how to budget my time, but from the very first day knew I could do it. I’d been raised knowing how to do basic things, such as cleaning, but didn’t know how to cook.”

Stork’s first attempt at cooking was almost as clumsy as the French-toast scene from the Kramer film. In the movie, Hoffman ineptly stuffed. bread into a coffee cupful of shell-laden batter under the watchful eyes of his son, whose deadpan reply was: "I don’t like it folded, Dad.”

What Kramer was to fench toast, Stork was to spaghetti. “We ate out a lot at first," said Stork. "But my first meal was scream. I wanted to fix spaghetti, but honestly didn't know how to cook the noodles. I called one of the women at the office and asked how to do it, and she said, ‘You dummy, you read the side of the box.’ At Christmas she gave me copy of the Joy of Cooking.

Another parallel to the movie occurred one night when Stork was going out. Any evening out for Daddy is always well-planned in advance,” Stork said. "Walking over to my neighborhood babysitter on one of these rare occasions, Christopher went into tirade of ‘Don’t leave me.’ We marched back home and sat down for about 10 minutes of talk and reassurances. When we went back, he pulled the same thing again. I flew off the handle, almost physically dragged him home, threw him into the bathtub, washed him and put him to bed with no dinner at 7:15. Was screaming at him, and he at me. I just shut the door and left.

“About an hour or so later I went into him and we talked. We talked about how Daddy has to have time for himself. I think that one night, even though it hurt us both, was a big step forward.”

One major difference in Stork’s experiences and the Kramer film was an absence of conflict between his job and the needs of his child. While Kramer ultimately lost his job because of this conflict, Stork credits his company with being very supportive of his decision to raise his son.‘ "My relationship with this company from the top man down to my immediate supervisor is that ‘If that little guy has doctor’s appointment or needs you, you go,’ Stork said.

While Stork received sole custody of his child, some men have joint or shared custody of children following divorce. This arrangement enables couple to develop pattern for dividing the time child spends with each parent. Usually, one parent will be the primary parent, or the one responsible for greater portion of the child’s care.


Avoiding the Dad Stereotype

Mr. Mom (1983) Directed by Stan Dragoti Shown: Michael Keaton
Mr. Mom (1983) Directed by Stan Dragoti Shown: Michael Keaton

It’s been nearly seven years that I became a dad. Seven years and I’ve done the best I could to avoid being the bumbling dad stereotype on tv shows. You know the one. He pours orange juice in his coffee and puts sticks of butter in their lunchboxes. I’m the modern dad. I wore the baby. I carried his diapers in my back pocket and bottles in my backpack. (Blue bottle = formula. Red = White Russian.) I went to Mommy and Me. He's starting first grade and I've made it without knocking back the dad cause or erasing the gains my fellow dads have made. We changed Amazon Mom to Amazon Family! I’ve carried the flag well I hope. Except for that one time. I was tired. It was early. He was just beginning to make recognizable sounds. I was just learning to ignore him. We were rushing out the door for daycare and I was knocking things off my before takeoff checklist. Never rush a checklist. I was calling out the items from memory and he was finding his voice. It was white noise to me but still distracting. Up until recently I was able to do my checklist in silence. He used to watch and listen. “How does this man do it all!” Now he wanted to participate and he was bad at it. Out the door and in the car. Checklist complete. I thought. Off we went. He made an excited noise and gesticulated. “Yeah yeah.” I said. Surely he was pointing out something he recognized from the endless rounds of flashcards. “I know. I know. Bus. Car. Dog. Cat. Great job man!” He gesticulated more. Made more fervent noises. “I got ya buddy. Kind of in a hurry here. That diaper situation was an unexpected diversion this morning. I know. I know. Bus or monkey or cloud or rocket ship. Great job!” Again with the pointing. “Yep. So smart. That is an elephant or a tiger or a dinosaur. Nailed it!” And this was how the ride to daycare went. And then we got there and I rushed him out of the carseat and into the school. And his teacher pointed and said to him. “But where are your shoes?” And he pointed and gesticulated and spoke pretty clearly. And I said, “Oh…. shoes!” And he repeated it in a sweet and a so very nonjudgmental voice. “Shoes.” He said. And I said, “Uh, Checklist complete?”

[Shrugs to the camera. Cue the laugh track.]

Rambling With Flashcards


We recently upped the ante on our nightly single sight word flashcard routine.

After recognizing the word on the card before him the boy has to use that word in a sentence. At five and three quarters old (his description) the words these days are short and typically monosyllabic. We’re giving him things like BROWN and CAME and FUNNY and DOWN to read to us between bites during dinner. Sometimes his sentences turn into paragraphs that take us far from the given word and down a long stream of thoughts. But in the end he finds a way to tidy things up and use the word on the card before him. Does he begin with a theme or does he simply ramble his way through a thought until he finds us nearing the end of our attention span and then clean up the loose ends with the given word?

His word was "DOWN".

“Um, after dinner and after I finish my words and my food and my milk and my applesauce and after I wash my hands and clean up and put my plate in the sink and everything then will you please get my Halloween candy so I can have a nice piece because I was good and did everything I was supposed to and when you do get the candy you will have to get my Halloween bag from on top of the refrigerator and you will have to get it down.”

My guess is regardless of the word getting candy was the objective.

And if getting candy was his goal then in his mind all he needed to do was turn any word we gave him into a story about how that candy was going to get into his hands.

Perhaps he’s been studying the presidential candidates and learning from the way in which they turn any question into a platform to spin their objective.

In the end they all just want candy.

Time... According to a Child


How amazing it must be to have no concept of time? How liberating.

Plotting our sons growth alongside the chart of mankind’s evolution, he is close to understanding that as the sun settles near the horizon it's time to get back to the cave.

Walking upright? Check.

Simple cave drawings? Check.

Charting the Suns movement across the sky and breaking it into 24 equal increments? Hardly.

Our five year old's time thumps to the rhythm of his own internal combustion engine... and the beat of his imagination. Unless it's a school day and his routine is orchestrated by our needs, he wakes when his body tells him he's had enough sleep. It's never the “groggy, rolling out of bed hesitant to start the day” look. His is the “I got exactly the amount of sleep by body needs to replenish the energy I lost on the previous day playing and doing kid stuff” look. It's our job though to manipulate his clock.

He has yet to fully comprehend that the numbers on the face represent the time of day. His only perspective is sun up versus sun down.

As his overlord, there have been a few days I've set the stationary teaching clock on the wall in his room to 7:50am and told him he can't get up until 8. It's nice playing god.

He has yet to figure out how morning fog can delay wake-up time.

“Nope. Sun’s not out yet… Back to bed.”

Curtains were invented not for privacy but to control a kids sleep patterns.

We've taught him days in how many sleeps he will have between now and the event in question. But that doesn't always stick. Maybe we need a slow burning rope with knots for days? Or an hourglass.

Mankind has come so far. Childkind? Not so much.

I told him recently I was coming to observe him at school the following week. The following Tuesday. That day was Friday.

“Are you coming to my school tomorrow?”

“No, tomorrow is Saturday. I will be there Tuesday. Four sleeps.”

“Tomorrow is Tuesday!”

“Well, it’s not. Today is Friday. Tomorrow is Saturday. If tomorrow was Tuesday, tonight would be a school night and you would have school tomorrow.”

“I don’t have school tomorrow! Tonight is not a school night! Are you coming to my school tomorrow?”

I told him to think that over.

On the news one morning he overheard the reporter mention an approaching nor'easter.

“Yay! Tomorrow is Easter!”

“Well, no. It’s not. Easter is always on a Sunday. Today is Friday… that makes tomorrow what?”

“Easter! I can’t wait. He said it was Easter! Did you know the Easter Bunny lives in the ground? Why do they live in the ground? Is it cold down there?”

He has it in his head that Halloween happens when it’s dark out. Occasionally, as the sun is setting he will exclaim! “Yay! It’s Halloweentime! I love Halloween. What am I going to dress up as tonight?”

When you have no concept of time the daily rotation of the earth determines the holidays. That and seasonal holiday decorations.

At the sight of Christmas lights up in March. “Yay! It's Christmas! I've been a good boy this year. I hope Santa comes.”

“It's not been a year. It's only March.”

“I don't like to march. I can do a somersault though. And skip.”

And blowing leaves means it's Fall.

“Yay! It's fall! The leaves are falling!”

“Well, it's actually spring. Summer will be here soon.”

“No it won't. It was hot yesterday. Summer was yesterday.”

To be unburdened by time. What a peaceful world.

He's watching the earth move and slowly assigning values to its position. And when that doesn't work… He pulls holidays out of the air.

“You're wearing red? Yay! It's Valentine’s Day! I love Valentine’s Day. Can we get some chocolate?”

“Not necessarily. But today is not Valentine's Day. It will be Valentine's Day in a year.”

“When I am six?”


“Yay! When I turn six it will be Valentine’s Day. And my birthday! At the same time! Yay!"

Let's hope he doesn't see a turkey that day or we'll have Thanksgiving too.


This Christmas... He's a Believer


This is his fifth Christmas and this year he’s a believer. We took him to see Santa last week. We went to the good one. The Friday night Mall Santa. Not the Tuesday morning B-Shift guy. Our guy was the real deal. At least the boy thought so.

We got to the mall early at five to beat the rush. It was shift change. Luckily they build in a thirty minute buffer between Santa’s so the kids don’t see one tap out for the other.

“You’re in John. Rough crowd today.”

“I can tell. Is that gum in your beard?”

Our A team Kris Kringle apparently started his shift at 5:30. It was five and we had to wait. I thought this would be an issue. Little boys aren’t known for their patience. I started pulling out the old tricks.

“Wanna go look at the train display?” I asked him.


“Go look around the toy store?”


“Get some ice cream and eat is real slowly?”


“What do you want to do?”

“I want to sit here and wait for Santa.”

And sit and wait we did. For thirty minutes. Patiently.

He’d hear a phone ring in the distance.

“Oh! Is that Santa!”


He’d hear the jingle of someone passing into the jewelry store.

“I hear Santa! I hear Santa!”

“Not this time, Son. Soon though. Soon.”

Never in his his nearly five years on Earth has he sat so still and eager.

In years past I’d review the script of what he was to do when he got up to Santa.

“And then you will walk up to that stranger and smile at the camera and tell him what you would like for Christmas and that you’ve been a good boy.”

Not this year. He wrote it himself. He only wanted one thing. And when he ran up and sat on Santa’s lap he delivered. He made fools of the crying kids after him. He high fived us when he jumped down and relayed the conversation to us.

It’s going to be a fun Christmas.

Luckily, we know what that one thing is.

National Adoption Month. Where Do Storks Come From?


“Father?” Said the almost five year old. “Listen, there is something I’ve been thinking about. You and I have been watching a lot of classic television programing lately. Shows like Tom and Jerry and Dumbo and I’ve noticed that in them, often a Stork drops off a baby to Moms and Dads.”

“Yes?” I answer while thinking, “Here we go. It’s time to talk about his adoption story. Where’s Mom? It’s something her and I have had on our to-do list but just haven’t gotten to. Damn you MarioKart.”

“So in these shows,” He continues. “The families always receive their babies from flying Storks. They are dropped from the moonlit sky and the little ones float in under a full parachute safely to land on the doorstep of their eager families. I’ve seen a Stork drop little elephants, giraffe and humans. All sorts of things. But what I’m wondering is this. Who brings the Storks?”

“Uh, I’m not sure I follow?”

“Well. A Stork flying around with a baby llama is quite a sight. Clearly that’s not the Storks child. It doesn’t look like her. It doesn’t even have wings. The same with a baby alligator. The Stork is going to drop off the alligator to an alligator family. Why would a Stork be flying around with an alligator if not to drop it off at its real family? But why would she deliver a Stork to another Stork? Wouldn’t they be able to deliver their own baby? Is this why we never see them flying around with a baby Stork in the basket?”

“There is a lot to cover here?” I said. “Maybe we should wait for your Mom to get home. I think I’m going to go play some MarioKart.”

“I guess my question is this. Where do Storks come from?”

“Just so we are clear here, Son.” I ask him. “We are talking about Storks right? The bird.”

“Of course we are Father. What else would it be? I understand that when a Stork is flying around with a potbellied pig in her basket or cloth sack no one would guess that it is hers because the pig looks so different. Same with a baby zebra. But if the reason we never see Storks flying around with their own is because Storks deliver themselves… where do Storks come from?”

“Okay. First of all. Families are made of all types of animals. Moms and Dads adopt children from other species and they make beautiful families. Even when they look different and have different features. Sometimes a bird may have a donkey for a son and that is just fine. Or a monkey. Second. Storks do fly around with other Storks. Just not in the basket. Baby birds can fly too so they just fly alongside their parents.”

“Surely they can’t fly at birth. How do they get to their parents houses?”

“Magic.” I said.

“That’s not true.”

“A Genie in a bottle.” I answer.

“Like Aladdin?”


“I don’t believe that answer either.”

“Amazon Prime. They come in those brown boxes.”

“Oh. That makes sense. Amazon drops off all the babies that way right? Then on moonlit nights, the Storks fly them to their families?” He asks.

“Yep. You got it. Until the drones take over. They will put all the Storks out of business.”

“Oh. One more thing?” He asks. “Am I adopted?”

“Yes. And we love you very much.”

“Thanks Dad. Can we order a sister from Amazon?”

His First Joke


For the first time in his life he has come up with something funny. Months later he still calls back to it. And it is funny. He’s had funny moments before. He’s pulled some physical gags and laughed at himself and then asked if it was silly. But this is his first joke.

Sometime late summer the subject of a sweet dessert came up. He was asking for it and I didn’t know what it was. He wasn’t saying it right. His pronunciation was off. It didn’t make sense. It was something he got somewhere and I didn’t know what it was. At four he’s too young to have things in his life I’m not aware of. We both laughed (hysterically) as I made it into a game of twenty questions. He caught on to the bit and riffed with me.

He was asking for something that sounded to me like “Fruit Myer”.

“Is it cold?”

“Yes!” He said laughing implying that of course it is served cold.

“Is it in the refrigerator or the freezer?”

“It’s in the freezer silly!”

“What color is it?” I asked.


“And what is it called again?”

“I told you. Fruit Myer!”

“I have no idea what this is! Maybe next time we are in the store you can point it out to me.”

“They don’t have Fruit Myer in the store, Silly! You are so crazy.”

"Also, Dude. Fruit Myer is not the preferred nomenclature." I added.

I have no idea what this stuff is.

My clues so far.

It’s green. It’s served cold. You eat it with a spoon. It makes a mess if you spill it. You get sick if you eat too much of it. Asking if it is bigger than a breadbox makes no sense to him. They don’t sell it at the store. You’d be crazy to think they did.

I’m guessing it’s some kind of green ice cream that my Mother-in-Law bought him.

She was also the source behind another mystery. One that I was able to solve.

That one was easier to piece together.

He asked for a popsicle from the freezer and when it was lemon instead of chocolate he demanded I put it under running water. “It will turn to chocolate!”

“No it won’t.” I said.

“Under the water! It will turn to chocolate! I don’t want lemon! I want chocolate!”

“That doesn't make any sense! That is impossible!” I yelled back matching his volume for affect. “Running water will not turn frozen lemonade into chocolate! It will turn it into more lemonade!”

I proved this and subsequently disappointed him in the name of science. His expression when I gave him a plastic stick that once held a popsicle was actual comedy.

“See!" I waved it. Again, for affect. "No chocolate!”

I may have over done it. He sulked. Tough audience.

My hypothesis. His Grammy makes him frozen popsicles with chocolate milk. She also makes him some from lemonade. My guess is to help extricate them from their plastic mold she runs them under water to loosen them up. Perhaps the lemonade variety doesn't need loosening? He must think we have a Willy Wonka sink that can turn anything into a chocolate popsicle?

But. To the current mystery. And joke.

Months later he will call back to the Fruit Myer bit and laugh knowing it’s funny.

It may begin with him chuckling, “Remember the Fruit Myer?”

I will laugh and start the round of the twenty questions again.

Even better is when I catch him laughing to himself and then when I ask him what’s funny he says snickering, “Fruit Myer.”

It’s a joke we share. A joke him and I wrote and one that I think he finds as funny as I do.

Maybe I don't want to ever know what Fruit Myer is?

My Son. My Chronological Yardstick


spacegrowththinEvery memorable event in my life that happened before the spring of 2010 is filed away in my brain with a five year buffer. My mental calendar from the era before I had a child is ordered in half decade increments. When did I graduate college?

“I was done wearing flannel shirts by that time... mid to late 90's?”

Since my son was born he has become a yardstick on which I measure time. Instead of just inches marked off on the door frame I see months and the corresponding historical events. I look at his growth notches on the wall like a geologist sees the colors of a canyon.

My brother was married the month our son’s adoption was official. June 2010.

February 2011 he started scooting around the coffee table on his way to becoming bipedal.

In addition to tagging my memory with his chronology, I’ve watched the evolution of mankind as he’s inched his way up my leg. His descent from the crib akin to early man deciding that a tree wasn’t such a great place to raise a family. Soon after conquering land he began grunting and sketching crude drawings on the walls. This led to the use of simple tools and more complete sentences and an attempt to overthrow the established rules of the house. He assumed he was smarter than his elders but didn’t yet realize that we control the food and the bath toys.

It’s just a matter of time before I catch him sitting around a plastic round table with his playmates playing Rock Paper Scissors to decide who gets to be Braveheart this time.

“They will never take away our Freedom!”

I can’t wait for him to catch up with the 1960’s human and enter the space race in the backyard. Am I allowed to impart my wisdom onto him or do I have to let him fail in order to achieve global dominance? Does he need to lose a few model Estes rockets because my interference will disrupt the space time continuum? I’d hate to walk back inside after properly staging his rocket engines when he’s not looking to find my image fading in the few physical photos we have on the wall.

And when he actually becomes smarter than his elders I’ll be certain to hide the growth chart from him so he can’t rewrite history. It will be saved for posterity so I can remind him where he came from if his power becomes too great for him to handle.

“Right there. That is when you first inched up to my waistline.”

Hopefully he will still look up to me as he did then.

If not, I'll just take away his bath toys.

On Father's Day

Taken from my vantage point
Taken from my vantage point

I used to give lip service on Fathers Day. Cards were sent and thanks was given and the love was spread around as abundantly and efficiently as I could spread it. But I’m not sure I really meant it.

And then I became a Dad and realized that my life was no longer about me anymore and I began to appreciate the sacrifices my Father and Step Father accepted to raise me. They shaped the man and father that I am today.

My buddy offered a simple line of advice before I became a dad. He, having already tread into this new world said, “It’s no longer about us anymore.”

And it’s not.

The time I give to myself or my wife is the time between all the times when my son is my first priority. I remember that line on those rushed days when I look down to the smiling boy holding my hand and see that he’s well fed and bathed and smells good and is comfortable and relaxed and I’ve not eaten, rested or had my own visit to the ‘potty’ since he woke up.

Taken from my vantage point again. Luckily they sat down.
Taken from my vantage point again. Luckily they sat down.

I never realized what these men (along with the corresponding moms in the equation) gave up for me until I started counting the things I have given up for him. And my child is only 4!

I never realized what they gave me until I started seeing myself in my son. More importantly, I never realized what they gave me until I started seeing them in me.

And as parent, this happens more often now than ever before. The way I discipline, counsel and praise all have roots in my own childhood. When I’m complimented on how I interact with my son I think to my own childhood and give a silent thanks to my fathers. When I look at myself in the mirror after a long day of child raising I wonder how they handled it. Good music and a pop top beer?

I also look at myself though and wonder how old my son will be when he sees pictures of me from this era and questions my hairstyle or choice of glasses. Hopefully he'll say fondly, "Yep, that's my dad."

Yep, those are my dads. Happy Fathers Day.

The Beat Poets Taught Me How to Talk to a Four Year Old


Many days during my college decade were spent studying the Beat Poets and experimenting with stream of consciousness prose. We turned words cut from the newspapers into dialog and had nonsense talks over wine. We verbally riffed and let our talks ebb and flow on a course of their own often ending where they began... with a twist.

Talking to a four year old takes me back to that time. Those late night jams wired my brain to help me navigate most of my dialogs now. At least the ones I have with him. The child.

With him, I know where our conversations start and how I want them to end... my job is to orchestrate the words to reach that desired crescendo. I take his words... cut them up and use them against him. All the while letting him think he has a say in things. He's just providing the tempo.

For me, it's lots of verbal bait and switch. Subtle misdirection.

Our breakfast conversation may start with him telling me how much he "Doesn't like bagels! I will never eat them again!" With my conductors baton in hand the talk will end with him devouring a bagel telling me "This is my favorite food ever!"

But between those two points... is magic.

"I don't like bagels! I will never eat them again!" He says pushing his plate away.

"I know you don't like them. The cream cheese is horrible anyways." I add.

"I don't like cream cheese!"

"Cream cheese... string fleas... pink bees... crinkly knees." I rhyme.

"Trees! Trees rhymes with bees!" He sings.

"Sneeze and breeze and flying trapeze. Let's not forget the peas." I say.

"I like peas." He says smiling.

"I like peas too. And bagels." I strike.

"You don't like bagels. I like bagels. I love bagels. This is my favorite food!" He says as he pulls his plate closer.


He Already Thinks He's Smarter Than Me

What else
What else

He's only four and he already thinks he's smarter than I am. He's learned how to give the look that says, “Seriously? I wasn't born yesterday you know?”

I give him the look back that says, “In the grand scheme of things... close enough.”

He's given me that looks twice in his life and they both happened last week. The first time he may have misinterpreted my amazed facial expression as defeat. I wasn't as much impressed with his problem solving skills as I was in shock that at such an early age he already thinks I'm full of shit.

The second time he gave me the look I was prepared and let him think he outsmarted me. I'm playing the long game. No need to sprint.

“Well played son.” Is what my face said. But my mouth added, “Listen little man. From your very first day of life when I turned powdered formula into food through a science you can't comprehend I've been smarter than you.”

The first debate that arose this week revolved around the construction of a Thomas the Tank Engine track. I've been building these tracks for literally more than half his life. He can mock my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches but I'll be damned if I'll let him question me on my track construction.

The tracks on all these train sets are a one way affair. One side of the track only fits into the opposite side of a connecting track. We own a few switches that allow the tracks to branch off into extra segments but naturally you need another switch to connect that offshoot back to the main railway. Obviously, You Can't Have an Odd Number of Switches! Train tracks can't end in a dead end! Unless you have a roundhouse or a rail yard. Both of which we do not. We're not the Rockefeller's.

He was insisting on having 3 switches even while complaining that the line wasn't connecting. I tried explaining and rationalizing and drawing a diagram on paper and even ran off into a little bit of tangent with a premature birds and the bees talk when I demonstrated the “female” vs “male” ends of the tracks. “It won't work this way!” I yelled.

He added a fourth switch connecting the lines and said, “See daddy. It's easy.”

And that's when I gave him the face that said, “This is precisely what I've been trying to tell you. This isn't your idea you know?”

And he gave me the face that said, “What else don't you know?”

Now the second confrontation.

It's bed time and he wanted to read an E-book on a Leappad tablet. The battery was nearly dead (“like the goldfish Daddy?”) the night before and we finished the book just in the nick of time before I had to explain to him the difference between the alkaline batteries in his tablet vs the lithium ion batteries in daddy's cell phone. This is how conversations end these days. They start with, “Why daddy?”

Before we turned the tablet on I planted the seed that would flower in the garden of his disappointment. “We may need to come up with a plan b here man. I think the battery is dead and before you get all fired up let's come up with a solution.”

“Dead like the goldfish?” He asked.


“It's not dead.” He said as the tablet booted up.

“I know... but it may run out of power soon so just start thinking about what real book we will read when that happens.”

The tablet started up and we got to our E-book and the bedtime routine began. We were making good progress as I gave him the cliff notes version of some of the pages while I watched the battery indicator blink red. Time is of the... it turned off.

“Okay, the battery died. Let's find a real book to read.”

He tried to explain to me it wasn't dead and I fought back saying it was and he said it just needed to rest like the cats do and we went round and round until he demanded it wasn't dead and that all we had to do was turn it back on again.

Which he did. And it powered up. And he said, “See daddy. It's easy.” And he gave me that look again. For the second time this week.

Naturally it powered down soon there after but I calmly took it away before he saw that so he'd go to bed thinking he was right.

I did tell him though that he didn't need to use the stylus to push the power button because it is mechanical and not touch sensitive like the capacitive screen.

“So there.” It was my face said.

And we both won that one.

On Fatherhood: Almost 40 With a 4 Year Old


How different his world is in 2014 than mine was when I was his age in 1978. This is the blessing of the late blooming father. Had I begun the child rearing phase of my life a decade or more ago things would be different. We could enjoy the Hunger Games together, we could both simultaneously suffer from Bieber Fever and I could have eaten all of his leftovers without worrying about calories. Not so when 35 years separates us.

Now I can easily justify saying, "When I was your age."

"When I was your age, we called a thirty second video clip a commercial."

Will I be able to teach him to appreciate the things that made me who I am today or is he too far removed from my generation? Will the coming of age moments for me be relevant for him? Will the movies, books, video games and music mean anything now or will they be campy and ironic to him?

I've begun compiling a list of media he will need to consume (and appreciate) as he matures in order to continue calling himself my son.

When he comes home from school with awkward adolescent struggles and feelings of not fitting in I will sit him down to watch Weird Science to understand my 80's awkward. We had to watch our back then. When we (the nerds) weren't doing so we were fantasizing about a time when we could control our destiny with computers. We were on the front lines. "Back in my day, nerds weren't cool like they are now. Who knew it would take something like Glee to allow us to come out."


Who knows where he will be and what he will have seen by then but when he is in high school and surely feels trapped, he will read On The Road and dream about wandering. He will not read it digitally. He will not listen to it. I will get him the book. I will encourage him to write in the margins and dog-ear the corners. I will teach him that the scuffed up pages with take him back to the spot where he scuffed them up. He will remember the book but more importantly he will remember where he was and who he was with when he reads it again later.

When I first started playing my fathers records, naturally I was drawn to "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band". It became mine when I heard the tracks that weren't overplayed on the radio. That album came out only 7 years before I  was born but seemed from another time. If my son does the same, maybe he will stumble upon my Nirvana "Nevermind" CD. That album came out almost twenty years before he was born! Twenty years! What a gap. If 7 years was a lifetime for me then... what will a two decade spread sound like? The Beastie Boys album "Licensed to Ill" was one of the first tapes I bought on my own. A quarter century before he was born. To him... vintage. But the lyrics are timeless right? "Don't step out of this house if that's the clothes you're gonna wear. I'll kick you out of my home if you don't cut that hair."

As an avid collector of classic video games whether he will enjoy the games from a simpler time is a grey area for me. Will he have the imagination and patience left to be able to experience games in anything less that HD?  When we start playing together, where to begin? Do I introduce them after the fact as being retro and nostalgic or slowly trickle them out in chronological order so he can watch them develop as I did but on a much faster scale. If so, we need to start playing Pitfall on the Atari 2600 soon. He's not too spoiled yet to think those green splotches are alligators and naturally you need to jump over them.


Will these things hold up? Will he tell me to turn that old stuff off? Who knows. My only hope is that he can appreciate them and although it's decades later maybe they will resonate with him at the right time and the right place as they did for me. Then again... maybe it will be his turn to teach me something.



I Fear My Son Will Think I Don't Read


I fear my son will think I don't read... or listen to music... or vacuum since that task has been assigned to the robot.

It's been years since I bought a physical book and I can count the number of physical CD's I've purchased in the last decade. I have neither of these things laying around as conversation starters for him to ask about. That being said, I read on my Kindle every day and spend hours around the house with my Ipod and at least one earbud jammed in my skull.

For all he knows though, I'm watching My Little Pony on the tablet or doing "the letter game" since that's what a tablet is used for in his world. And for physical copies of music, I listen to vinyl with him since he likes to watch the turntable spin around. He probably thinks the evolution of media is from cassette to CD and then on to vinyl. I'm sure he assumes the retro Fisher Price turntable Target sells was just recently invented too.


I've wondered how his world will be different as we've moved to digital media.

We don't have cable so he doesn't know about channels nor does he have any concept of having to wait for his show to start. He chooses the programs he wants to watch on Netflix by pointing to the TV and saying "That one, Please" while we select it with the clicker (we don't call it clicker). It starts immediately.

He doesn't know what commercials are and has yet to be programmed to want a particular toy for that reason (See This Great Old Blog Post I Wrote About This). The only thing we watch that isn't streaming is the "News" at 6:30. "It's your turn?" He will ask. "Are you going to watch the NEWS?"

Since it's an over the air digital broadcast it gets pixelated when it rains unlike the streaming HD he is used to. He must assume we are so old fashioned with our fuzzy screens and non-voice activated clickers.

I'm thinking about buying up some of the cardboard books they have on display at IKEA to show off their bookshelves so at least we can have a lesson on the printing press.

"You can keep the shelves, I've got plenty of empty ones at home. How much for the cardboard books?"

Better yet, maybe I'll buy bookshelf wallpaper.

Though We May Not Share Blood


Since his birth in 2010, I’ve wondered when we would start seeing our traits in him. Without the blood bond biological children share with their parents I’ve been anxious to see us in him in ways that must be distinctly learned.  Along those lines, I’ve also been anxious to uncover the surprises we will find as he matures. Will there be a gait, posture or curiosity that is neither mom nor dad but then seconds later a stance or pose that is uniquely us? Like me, will he look foolish when he dances?  When he says “Okedokee” will I hear my Nana?

One of my favorite scenes in the movie Jaws is when Captain Brody is sitting at the table with his young son stewing over how best to save Amity Beach from the killer shark. Lost in his thoughts he takes a drink from his glass and looks up to see his son do the same. Quietly, he continues with a few hand movements and watches his son mimic him. It’s a silent game of Simon Says at the dining room table between father and son.

529 jaws-brody-and-son
529 jaws-brody-and-son

I had my first game of Simon Says with Judah this weekend while spending a few days in the Shenandoah Mountains with the family at a friend’s cabin. Breakfast one morning, the boy was eating Cheerios on a TV tray in the living room. I poured myself a bowl and took it outside to eat on the porch overlooking the woods. Silently, he left his spot and brought his bowl outside to eat, standing up and looking out over the mountains with me.

In his world it must have been such a grown up thing to do. Eat outside. Barefoot. While standing up!

In my world my son was a spitting image of me. Barefoot with bedhead and not a care in the world.

That’s my boy.

You Say You Want A Revolution?

image There will certainly be a time in our sons life where he will think he is cooler than us and rebel against the way we chose to raise him. He will be on his way to becoming a Jedi of his own. In an attempt to limit the damage to his ego and curb his embarrassment when he realizes he is, and will always be, less cool than his parents, I will attempt now to predict the ways in which he will play in opposition to our interests. This way, how can it be his revolution if I called it first?

Note, on this day in 2013, I predicted he would go through these phases and also predicted they won't last long.

-Dad. I'm really digging this new band. Actually... The whole genre. I'm really into Christian Rock now.

-Dad. I like wearing white tank tops because they really show off my gold chains.

-Dad. I know you like watching Seinfeld but that show is thirty years old. Can I please turn on Sports Center?

-Dad. I can't believe you were around when The Fast and Furious movies had their theatrical debut and you didn't go see any on the big screen.

-Dad. Can we get something really messy for dinner tonight? Like really wet barbque ribs? I really like finger licking food now.

-Dad. I don't need to know what their voting record is or what their values are... They are Republican and that is all I need to know.

-Dad. It was just a few beers. I really like the taste of High Life.

-Dad. I don't know what your problem is. Everyone jaywalks.

-Dad. I thought you'd like the lights under my car. It's retro. Like the cool kids did to their cars back in your day.

-Dad. It clearly says we have the right to bear arms.

-Dad. Sometimes (Unintelligible sound of talking with a mouth full) you and mom (unintelligible sound of talking with a mouth full) that first year. (Said while talking with a mouth full.)

-Dad. I think I just read my last book. I've pretty much learned all that I need to know.

-Dad. We've had this conversation before... Pink Floyd sucks.

-Dad. I don't have a problem with it. If I'm not doing anything wrong I have nothing to hide from the Government.

-Dad. I really hate video games... And Star Wars... And airplanes.