stories, photos, graphics chronicling my journey as a dad
Road trips were a big part of my childhood. As a military family, that meant lots of visits to grandparents and cousins each summer and Christmas. Most of these trips were taken in the family van (this was pre-minivan, folks). It was a glorious every-shade-of-brown, tricked out with a movable table, back seat that folded into a bed, and wall-to-ceiling velour. And as the oldest kid, I had the best seat — the captain’s chair behind the driver; feet propped up in the tinted windowsill; plugged into my Walkman as I watched the world whiz by.
College road trips consisted of driving the 787 miles from Waco to my parents in Colorado Springs. It was equal parts breathtaking and mind-numbing, but with the right music (and lots of Dr. Pepper), the trip went by in no time.
Nowadays our expeditions are usually to Grandma and Grandpa’s. Yet music is still an essential part of our travels — whether it’s to entertain a fidgeting second grader or keep Papa awake during I-95 traffic.
Papa and I certainly could have done better in keeping Jon up on his reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic this summer. Unless role-playing digital comics counts as reading, creating Roblox/Minecraft/Terraria structures out of code counts as writing, or “subtracting” swim trunks, goggles, water bottles, lunch boxes, socks, towels, and underwear during summer camp counts as math.
But what he lacked in academics, Jon made up for in feats of awesomeness. Last November, the pediatrician had tasked us with making sure our son could swim beyond doggie-paddling and ride a bike without training wheels. He now swims like a fish and rides like the wind, though both still with a healthy amount of youthful wobbliness. He also danced and dabbed his little heart out during Family Day at camp, and took on dog-walking (galloping, rather) responsibilities.
FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
After setting the summer months with a beautiful weekend on the Bay, we are once again here — the first day of school. SECOND GRADE! We’ve been in our new house and Jon’s new school for a year now — so we can’t honestly call either of them “new,” though they still feel that way at times. Despite the occasional rookie parent mistake, we navigated the First Day like seasoned pros. We managed to get up and out the door in time, sans a drop of drama. I even made his lunch note the night before!
The original plans for our long-planned, one-and-only summer vacation fell through at the last minute due to bad weather at our destination. It would have been a long-planned but oft-postponed visit with Jon’s birthparents. We’ll make the trip up later this year, wildfires permitting. While it was a disappointment for our son (and a pain in the ass for the hubby and me), perhaps the universe needed us to get away — just our family — just one weekend near the end of the swiftly-passing summer.
Not wanting to brave the masses at an amusement park or one of those water park/hotel behemoths, I remembered a friend recommending the small town of Cambridge, Maryland. It sits on the Choptank River that flows into the Chesapeake Bay. It was a two-hour drive, but felt worlds away from work, housework, and the looming schoolyear. Thanks, universe.
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To give you a taste of our weekend, a conversation between my husband and son, while looking out over the balcony of our hotel room.
Jon: Papa, what is that?
Papa: It’s an Indian wedding.
J: Why are they having it here?
P: Well they rented the area and it’s a pretty place for a wedding.
J: Cool! Can we rent it?
P: For what?
J: (thinks) … for a hug party!
This gives my heart all the smiles. 🙂 Also, who wants to come?!?
For seven days, I and eleven other dads hiked more than 90 miles along England’s historic Hadrian’s Wall. Complications of life (and perfectionist tendencies) kept me from writing about it at the time. Here, now, are some thoughts and images from that life-changing week.
07.10.16, DAY 1: Bowness-on-Solway to Carlisle – 17 miles
Today it’s actually happening. I’m trying to figure out the pay-by-the-minute shower, packing up all my gear, guzzling some caffeine to make up for a restless night’s sleep. As someone who’s inherently aware of their shortcomings — especially when it comes to anything physical — I double and triple check what I’ve stuffed into my backpack, trying to imagine every scenario possible. I will come to learn along the way what I need more of (water, foot bandages), and of what I need less (pretty much everything else); but this first day I was flying blind.
Last night at the lone pub in town, we chatted over dinner and beers with a grandfather and grandson who had just completed the walk. Having traveled from the opposite direction, they advised wearing long pants for the several patches of nettles, and to be prepared for lots of diversions.
“Diversion” is British for “detour” — a word with which we would become intimately, frequently acquainted.
Adam West’s Batman was my first exposure to superheroes, as he was for so many others. There were a lot flaws in West’s version of the Dark Knight — his Shatner-esque acting (or was Shatner’s Westian?); his astonishingly high shorts; his general lack of musculature. But because he was first, he holds an important place in my memory.
But it wasn’t just the superhero aspect of Batman that hooked me. Everything about the show and West’s campy Caped Crusader was iconic. The theme song. The pop art graphics. The off-kilter camera angles. The guest star villains. Robin’s “Holy _____, Batman!” exclamations. The Batusi. The cliffhanger sign-off at the end of each episode.
I’m continuously amazed at the evolution of Oren Miller’s legacy. Last summer’s walk along Hadrian’s Wall (to open a camp in Oren’s name) recently received recognition at the 2017 Iris Awards. Winning in the Philanthropic Work of the Year category, now even more people are aware of Oren, Camp Kesem, and the cause to support families touched by cancer.
The Iris Awards are given out at a swanky ceremony held in conjunction with the Mom 2.0 Summit. Nominees and voters are from within the parent blogging community, so it’s particularly meaningful to receive kudos from dear friends and respected colleagues.
But it was also pretty amazing being honored alongside the 12 men I now consider my brothers. Being able to celebrate with them only amplified my excitement, as well as my pride in our achievement of walking nearly 100 miles and raising over $40,000.
Check out the video of our award being announced (and of me speaking), beginning at the 24-minute mark.
And the story has chapters yet to be written. The Camp Kesem started in Oren’s name at the University of Maryland is training counselors this fall, and will hold its first summer camp next year. You can bet I will be there, cutting a ribbon or rowing a kayak or whatever I can to celebrate my friend, his life, and the hope and strength for kids affected by their parents’ cancer.
When my son turned seven earlier this year, I had a couple of simultaneous epiphanies. First, I realized Jon was now the age I was when I experienced two of the most significant milestones of my life. Second, he’s going to remember a lot more from here on out, so I’d better get my shit together.
ME AT SEVEN
Not long after my seventh birthday, I did what every good preacher’s kid does around that age — I got “saved.” Accepted Jesus into my heart. In non-Baptist layman’s terms: I officially became a Christian. My father baptized me shortly afterwards.
My motivations were probably typical for a seven-year-old; a mix of peer pressure, avoiding Hell, and a sense of inevitability. Having been taught about salvation since birth, there was never any doubt I’d end up born again. And fear of eternal damnation aside, there was some comfort in knowing I was fulfilling my duty as a Good Son.
In thinking about this from my own fatherly perspective, it’s more meaningful to me than it has been for quite a while. Notwithstanding my spiritual path from that point until now, I can only imagine how special it was for my father to have that moment of bonding, when he baptized me in front of his congregation. I aspire to such moments with my own son.
The other milestone from that year was on a much less public scale, but equally significant. I had my first dream about a boy.
I don’t recall the dream being overly romantic or sexual; it was the intimacy that struck me. A faceless, nameless boy and me, both naked, sitting side-by-side on the floor by my bed. I don’t remember how I felt immediately following the dream; yet after coming out as gay nearly 20 years later, it was the point I looked back to and said, “This was the first time I knew.”
While I have memories from as early as two-and-a-half (hello, little brother … goodbye, only childhood), seven certainly sticks out at as a watershed year.
Lately I’ve been eyeing 50 as the age when I for sure have to start acting like an adult. And as graphic design and parent blogging are mostly a young person’s game, I dread my half-century birthday (which is still a couple years away, thank you) on multiple levels.
My husband, however, has never looked or felt better in this, his 50th year. He’s kicking ass at work, lost a bunch of weight, and has some great friends he gets to watch Caps games with. I couldn’t be happier for or prouder of him… while also grumbling jealously at his non-thinning hair and endless energy. 😠
We celebrated Nick’s 50th birthday recently, with a big shindig at our new digs, complete with catered BBQ, tons of booze, and a wonderful representation of friends and colleagues from across his five decades. And as this was a big milestone, I pulled out all the creative husband stops. First, with a custom coaster I designed, playing off his love of bourbon:
For seven days in July, I and eleven other dads hiked 90+ miles along England’s historic Hadrian’s Wall. We walked to fund a camp for kids whose parents had been touched by cancer. We walked to honor our friend Oren Miller, who had died of cancer the year prior – and for whom the camp would be named. We walked for those in our own lives impacted by the disease, including several in our group. But we also walked for ourselves.
The experience was exhilarating and exhausting, thrilling and tedious; breathtaking — both literally and figuratively. It was the undisputed apex of my year, and near the top of any other.
Until now, I’d only shared about the walk on social media. Life and all its complications — and my perfectionist tendencies — kept me from documenting it properly here.
But in light of the announcement that the University of Maryland Camp Kesem will officially come to be this fall, I thought it high time I collected my thoughts, memories, and images from that life-changing week in a more permanent fashion.
I still haven’t decided if this can be done in one post or seven (or something in between), so bear with me as I return to the rolling hills of Northern England and allow this epic outing to re-unfold.
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It’s been quite a year of evolution for our little family. Between trips overseas, moving into a new house, and starting a new school, it’s been an exciting and eventful 12 months. Yet it’s also been daunting — facing down so much that’s new, and less and less that’s known. I’ve heard similar stories of big life changes causing children (and adults) to regress. They search for something comfortable and familiar in a wide, open field of uncertainty.
We’ve definitely felt it, seen it in one another. My newly minted 7-year-old experiences this the most. In addition to officially graduating from “big boy” to “kid” — and on top of a new house, new school, and new classmates — he’s also lost multiple teeth, grown multiple inches, and reads everything in sight.
When overwhelmed or insecure, my son’s default settings range from Silly to Ignore to Meltdown — sometimes all three within the span of a few seconds. This in turn triggers my default settings of anger, frustration, helplessness. Many times it’s damn near impossible to be the bigger person. Many times I fail.
But as seems to be my parenting mantra, I keep on trying. In attempts to empathize with all the transitions my
little boy big boy kid is going through, I try to speak less; try to listen better; try to breathe more. And I try to do what he’s always needed the most from me — be there.
In organizing the new house, I culled several years’ worth of artwork and school projects. Among the mountains of crafts were these three masterpieces:
Created over the last three Thanksgivings, they are a gloriously fun study in artistic interpretation.
But they also serve as a reminder that time continues to continue; that it speeds by, leaving me stunned that I have a child who’s already been in school this long. It also shows that as each year brings new challenges, he/we keep coming out the other side slightly different, hopefully better. And with extra glitter.
This first Thanksgiving in our new surroundings brings new traditions along with it. But in the midst of the new and of change, I plan to soak up the familiar, appreciate the growing pains, and anticipate the next evolution.
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