Monday, January 9, 2012

I wonder...

On the way home from school today, Grace, our 7 year old, was playing "Where's My Water?" on my iPad. If you have never played the game, it is a multi-level puzzle game in which the goal is to figure out how to get an amount of water through obstacles and into the pipe that leads to the shower for a cartoon alligator.

The particular level she was working on was one she had not tried before and contained new features she had to test out to understand. She had to try several times to get it right. When she did, she was immediately excited and wanted to show me her new knowledge. The first time she tried to show me, it didn't work as she had planned. She quickly restarted the level and tried two more times before it worked the way she planned. She was smiling ear to ear when her demonstration worked.

In a span of about 10 minutes she had confronted a new and novel problem, tested different solutions, found one that worked, demonstrated it, and refined the whole process.

It got me thinking...she did this all in 10 minutes with me and a free iPad app....did she get to do anything like this level of problem solving in her 7 hours at school today?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Thoughts on the Penn State Situation

Like many dads, and many people in general, I have focused a lot on the situation unfolding at Penn State University this week. The entire mess makes my stomach turn. It has reminded me of a few things. For one, evil exists and it must be dealt with. Mr. Sandusky will have to answer to his Maker for his actions but what strikes me even more than his depravity is the actions, or lack thereof, of others involved in this mess. It is clear that several people at several different levels had at least some knowledge of what was going on and yet did not do what it took to stop it. From the grad student who witnessed sexual victimization of a child happening at the hands of a trusted mentor, yet did not step in to stop it, to a world famous coach who may have taken care of his legal obligation, but not his moral one, and even beyond him, people in power failed to use that power to help the powerless.

On the drive home from our kids Wednesday night church activities I saw a sign that contained a familiar saying that rings so true in this situation. "Character is what you do when no one is looking." No one was looking and those that had the knowledge and responsibility to act failed to do so. I am also reminded of another saying: "All it takes for evil to rule the world is for good men to stand by and do nothing."

The words of this phrase provide a hauntingly accurate depiction of what seems to have happened here. Wins, losses, titles, and legacies pale in comparison to the human toll that was taken by Jim Sandusky and enabled by the fact that good men stood by and did nothing. No one wins today.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Build a Rope Swing in only One Year!

Around a year ago I got an idea to hang a rope swing off of the big tree in our front yard. I promptly went to Menards and purchased a strong piece of nylon rope. The next day I managed to hang the rope securely from the tree. Step one and two complete! The next step I took was a bit unconventional... I waited a year. Fall, winter, spring, and summer came and went and our odd looking piece of white rope hung uselessly from the tree, no swing in sight.

Then this fall I found a fellow father that has skills and tools in the area of welding that I certainly do not possess. I explained what I wanted and within a day he had it made, welded, and painted. I recently installed it and am proud to say, the wait has been worth it. Below are a few pics and a video of the kids enjoying their new tree swing today.

So to recap, if you want your own awesome tree swing you can build it just the same way I did:

1. Buy rope
2. Hang rope
3. Wait 1 year
4. Find a friend who welds
5. Install welded swing
6. Watch the magic happen.

If you want to try the short version you can skip step three but I cannot vouch for what effect it will have on the final product.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Football Dads

I went with a couple of friends to a high school football game on Friday night. We try to adopt a team every year and go to as many of their games as possible. This year, we’ve adopted a team that made it to the state finals last year, but graduated all of its offensive line. Should be an interesting season.

While we were there, I was doing some dad watching. It struck me that there are a few types of dads that go to high school football games:

Camera Dad: On the sidelines with his monopod and superzoom lens, Camera Dad snaps pictures of the action. Maybe he’s documenting it for a scrapbook. Maybe he freelances for the paper. Maybe he’s just into photography. No matter which combination of reasons he chooses for being Camera Dad, I respect him. I take tons of pictures of our son. We bought a new camera and have learned about photography because of him. As a hopeless nostalgic I love the idea of capturing moments in time. What does Camera Dad gain by snapping all those pictures? What does he give up?

Coach Dad: Coach Dad can be split into a few categories as well, such as Head Coach Dad, Assistant Coach Dad or Volunteer Coach Dad. My dad coached me in little league, but that’s it. And I liked it that way. He was always there to reflect with me after games and help me prepare before games. There was no need for pseudo-objectivity in his fandom. He was my #1 fan (along with my mom). I’m not sure what it would be like to have Head Coach Dad. I imagine it would take a strong relationship to make it through that time of life, and maybe that strengthening would be worth it. It could also be stressful. Having a Head Coach Dad could lead to high expectations. High expectations can be great, but they can also lead to big falls.

Screaming Dad: You know Screaming Dad. You’ve heard him at every game. “Are you kidding me, ref?! Where’s the flag?!” With his hands cupped into a megaphone and the people around him wishing they were somewhere else, he sees only one side to the game. From what I’ve known of this guy, the over-analysis – and sometimes the screaming – doesn’t stop when the final whistle blows.

Fence Dad: I like this guy. He’s watching the game intently. I usually find him somewhere between the 20 and 40 yard lines. Sometimes he follows the action from one end of the field to the other. Sometimes his spot on the fence doesn’t change all game long. He’s there for the game. He’s there to watch football. He enjoys it. In my experience, he wants to talk about the game later, but in an instantly nostalgic way.

Me: So who am I going to be? Luckily, I don’t have to choose. At least not for a while.
If I did, though, I think I’d go off script. I brought up an idea to my buddies the other night: “What do you think about being a chain gang?” Does it get much better? Forced to keep my mouth shut and focus on the game, with the best seat in the house.

In case you feel this post is unnecessarily specific to one sport, and you’re thinking, “Well, what if your son doesn’t play football? And what about your daughters??” Relax. It’s just some thoughts I had while I was at a football game. And if this post didn’t help you realize how much of a high school football fan I am, you may want to check out my YouTube channel. Yup. Those are the tapes from my senior season. I’ll be watching them with my son if you need me.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Buzzy, not Buddy

I'd like to introduce you to a friend of ours:


That's Buzzy. He has a story -- don't we all? -- that took an innocent twist today.

Before our son was born, Becky entered a give-away contest and won. A few weeks later, a box came in the mail with a stuffed giraffe and some giraffe-print baby clothes. We had already decided to go with a giraffe theme for Henry's room, so you can imagine our excitement at the surprise prize being a giraffe.

As soon as it was safe for Henry to sleep with a stuffed animal, in went the giraffe. As soon as he could walk, the giraffe was rarely outside his reach. And when the first few words came tumbling out of his mouth, "Buzz-EE" was what we heard.

Buzzy has been with us as we flew to Phoenix. He took the train with us to Denver. He's been to Minneapolis and Washington, D.C.

He's been sneezed on, sat on, and loved on.

Buzzy's story isn't unique. We all have that someone like him.

Today, as Henry and I were getting ready for nap time, we went through one of my favorite rituals: the hunting of the Buzzman. I pick Henry up and sit him on my hip. Then, we walk all around the house calling out, "BuZZy! BUUzzy!" We always end up finding him "sleeping" on the floor in some room. I drop Henry down like the crane in the claw game you've all wasted quarters on trying to satisfy your kids (or yourselves.) Henry didn't know what to think the first time I did it, but now he smiles as soon as we start and calls out, too.

What was interesting was that today, when Henry called out, what I heard wasn't "Buzzy." It was "Buuuuddy."

I put the thought aside when we spotted him on the floor. We picked him, went to Henry's room and I rocked him to sleep.

I couldn't shake it, though. Was Buzzy really Buddy?

I got to thinking about first impressions and how lasting they can be.

With school starting up in the next few days or weeks for most of us, this point doesn't need to be sugar-coated:

Be careful not to lock in first impressions. 

I'll be meeting sixty-five 11- and 12-year-olds in the next week or so. Their first impressions of me and mine of them must be malleable. It's a long school year.

As for Buzzy -- or Buddy, whoever he is -- he's safe in my son's arms. Whether I had him pegged wrong from the start doesn't matter. Henry knew right where he needed to be.

Friday, July 22, 2011


One of my favorite things about raising kids is learning their quirks. Here's an example of what I mean:

Our kids love Twizzlers...I mean, who doesn't right? The funny thing is that each of our three girls has a unique way they eat their Twizzlers that is unlike the others.

#1: The Nibbler - Our oldest will work on one Twizzler for at least 15 minutes, taking mouse sized nibbles along the way.

#2: The All-At-Once - Child 2.0 prefers to stuff the entire Twizzler in her mouth at once. Maybe has something to do with the psychology of the middle child, although we have never taken a Twizzler away from her mid-chew.

#3: The Double-Fister - Child 3.0 has to have two Twizzlers at a time. She usually holds one in each hand and alternates bites of each. Each Twizzler has to stay the same length as the other as she eats. We would need a micrometer to measure the difference between them. A new variant of this style is that once the Twizzlers reach a length shorter than about two inches, she discards them and requests replacements.

To me, quirks like these are what makes life with kids hilarious. I will treasure these and the many other quirks our kids display, long after they are grown.

So what are some of the quirks you love about your kids?

Monday, June 20, 2011


Working in education for the past 10 years, I have gotten to know a lot of kids.  I have often felt that God has put me in these kids lives so I can help teach them something.  Other times, I have honestly felt that God put some special kids in my life so they could teach me something.  In all of my years a few special kids stick out in my mind.  Two of these students I met during my first few years as a high school principal.  These kids stood out because they had a combination of characteristics that I like to describe as "fireproof."  One happened to be a female and the other a male.  They were several grades apart and for all I know, they never even really knew each other.

Each of these kids...

  • ...was a unique individual.  They were unaffected by the usual fads and passing fancies of normal high school existence.  Where as many high-schoolers biggest fear is standing out or being different, these kids simply did not care.  They embraced their individuality and brought out the unique traits of others.  They followed their own drummers, and often, that drew others to them.  It was always interesting to see how much other kids, from every different social group, respected these two individuals.  I believe even the stereotypical self-involved, boy (or girl) crazy, self absorbed teenagers saw a difference in these young people that they themselves wished they had as well.  
  • ...put others before themselves.  They were deeply in-tuned to the fact that there is a great big world around them full of people with needs, both big and small.  Even as 16 year old kids, they were eager to find ways to help meet those needs.  Whether that meant volunteering for local organizations or taking on mission trips halfway around the world, they lived their lives for others.  
  • ...were leaders.  They were not the student body president or the team captain, but they led nonetheless.  Leadership is not a position, it is an ability and they had it in spades.  
  • ...had a deep sense of faith and family.  I consider myself a spiritual man.  My Christian faith is very important to me and has sustained me during the tough times in my life.  These two kids that come to mind each had their own deep seated sense of faith.  Faith in God, faith in their families and friends, and faith in the basic goodness of the human race.    
  • ...understood the point of life.  It was clear that these kids knew that life is about collecting experiences, and that friendship, love, and the memories they make are the only things that matter in the end.  
  • ...lived life on purpose.  They didn't have every step of their life's journey planned out in detail.  I don't believe any teenager should...heck I'm 33 and I can't tell you for sure what I want to "do" with the rest of my life.  However, they knew they were here for a reason and their goal seemed to be to help others as much as they could, where they were at that time, and live life intentionally.  Too often teenagers sit back and wait for life to happen to them.  We stereotype them as lazy and indifferent.  Those adjectives will never be used to described these two young people.  
To sum it up, they were fireproof.  Fireproof because they seemed almost immune to the fires that can consume young people in the tumultuous teenage years.  The fire of indifference, the fire of popularity, the fire of selfishness, and the fire of "cool."  Don't get me wrong, I did not know everything about these kids.  I am sure they have had their moments of self doubt, fear, and weakness when dealing with trials, just as we all do.  But the way they lived their lives day in and day out is a testament to their fireproof nature.  For as long as I live I will never forget these two students. 

I often wonder, what makes these kids the way they are?  They both have awesome parents and caring families.  They have surrounded themselves with friends that build them up and make them better people.  Do genetics play a role?  Is there a manual for this stuff?  

As my wife and I work on our most important calling in life, the raising of three daughters and a son, my hope is that we can instill and cultivate this same fireproof nature in each of them.  I can think of no greater advantage to give any kid as they navigate the fires of life.