A Letter to My Son on His First Day of Kindergarten

Son –

When you were born, I kind of knew that there were going to be feelings and experiences and levels of exhaustion coming that I could not expect.  I expected to be surprised by the unexpected, if that makes any sense.  And that was all true, but there was one thing that stuck out to me the most as something I truly and really did not see coming.

It turns out, when you are holding a little baby in your arms, and when you are watching that little baby start to turn into a small person, you get an overwhelming feeling of wanting to protect that little creature.  In every way possible.  You obviously want to physically protect it – but you also want to protect it emotionally and psychologically.  Childhood innocence is real, and it is beautiful.  The first kid that takes that away from you – by making you feel self-conscious about anything, by laughing at you and hurting your feelings, by being cruel in a way that only kids can – will cause me to go hide in my room so that I don’t wring his scrawny little neck.

Your engagement with the world inspires me.  You want to know everything about everything.  You shy away from nothing.  You want to help when you can help.  You are quick to love and trust.  You dance like nobody is watching.  You are a remarkable and beautiful human being, and all I want to do is protect you from the world that I know is coming down the pike.

But I can’t do that.  I have to start letting the world in, a little at a time – for your sake.  What I have learned about parenthood is that once you moved from toddler to child, the rest of my life became a progressive exercise in letting you go.  I can’t protect you all of the time any more.  I can’t step in and stop a mean kid from saying mean things.  I can’t warn you that you’re about to make a bad choice, or even stop you from following through on that choice.  I have to turn you loose and let you learn those things for yourself.  That’s how you become a functional, independent, adult.

Obviously that’s a process – you aren’t on your own now, and will never be as long as I’m alive.  But your responsibility will grow and my involvement will shrink, starting today.  We will reach equilibrium sometime in your 20s if we’re lucky.  In the meantime, two things:

  1. I could not be more proud of you.  You are ready to start taking on the world, and no matter how scary it is for me or your Mommy, we want you to go take it on like a champ.  We think you can, and we think you will.
  2. You will never, ever be on your own. Know that I am here, and your Mom is here … no matter what.  There is nothing you can tell us, no mistake you can make, that will ever make us love you less than we do right now.  Ask me to take the wall with you – we’ll go take that wall.

Go get it, son.  We’re proud of you.  And we love you.

Daddy

First Day of Kindergarten – 2017

My Favorite Thing I’ve Ever Done

Last week, after a work trip up to North Carolina, I wound up attending an afternoon class at Celebration Crossfit, which is rare.  Normally it is either 6am or it doesn’t happen.  But, I was there, and the CCF social media guy – and fantastic photographer – Guillermo was also there, but waiting for the class after mine to start.  Guillermo takes great photos everyday at CCF, but they tend to be of the same-ish group of folks because of his timing for being in the box.  Since I was different, I was a target for him – we were doing push presses, which I suck at, and he got this shot, which was posted to the CCF social media sites with some very kind words:

Push Presses – 175#, a 10lb PR

It is always fun to have my picture featured on the sites – I still find it to be a bit surreal – but then this one had a little follow-up.  My wife showed it to my kids, and the 5-year old apparently studied it for a minute, got all wide-eyed, and gave a big thumbs-up.  And then moved on.  Like a 5-year old.  When she told me this, I initially smiled and also moved on … but over the last few days, this little moment – one that I didn’t even see – has stuck with me.  Maybe it is that we’re having a challenging few weeks at home – summertime means the boys are out of their routine, which means they can be little disasters – or maybe it is because Father’s Day just passed, or maybe it is because a couple of close friends and colleagues recently lost their dads … whatever is driving it, fatherhood is on my mind.

A few weeks ago, each of the boys battled a round of illness.  They hand it off to each other, and we’ve learned that one booger-y nose usually means 2 – 3 weeks of somebody not feeling right at our house.  When they’re bad enough, they get housebound, and then one of my jobs is to get the other one out of the house and get some fresh air and activity.  My go-to for that is Epcot, because Epcot is awesome.  And so, within a couple of weeks of each other, each of my boys had a Daddy day at Epcot while the other one stayed home and rested.

One of the challenges that I put on myself, as a father, is that I want to teach my boys how to notice things around them.  I want them to be curious, and to ask questions and seek answers, and to critically evaluate those answers.  About everything.  And I want to expose them to the widest possible array of things to be curious about and ask questions about.  We spend a lot of time talking about the natural world – plants, animals, stars, the moon, the ocean, all of it – but also about engineering and art and movies and building and cooking and exercise and music and books and math and anything they are, or for that matter I am, interested in.  And frankly, that’s exhausting sometimes.

Because if I am serious about this task, then not being exhausted means I’m doing it wrong.  I have seen the difference in people who have their curiousity encouraged and those that have had it stifled.  I have seen kids who ask questions because they get engagement and also kids who don’t ask questions anymore because those questions are discouraged.  I have seen kids that are allowed to help and are thereby taught the skills and confidence they need to be independent, and I have seen kids that want only to be a part of what their dad is doing but are instead parked in front of the TV so they are out of the way.  It is easier to not answer the questions, or to tell them they can’t help.  But I won’t have it – if I’m not going to do those things, why did I have kids in the first place?

There is a flip side to the exhaustion, though.  Some of it you’ve heard before – about how you get to watch these two little boys grow, and learn, and succeed, and fail, and figure it out, and about how your heart bursts with pride and joy and sadness and anger for them and on their behalf.  This weekend, my oldest was trying to set up a domino field in the shape of a square – tip one over, they all fall down – and he was struggling.  At one point he tried to quit, but I wouldn’t let him – just because it is hard doesn’t mean you should stop.  And when he finally did it, when he made it work, you cannot imagine the look on his face.  He learned a lesson that day that I hope he remembers for the whole rest of his life, and his happiness and pride might has well have been mine.

But there is another, more subtle thing that happens when you try to parent this way. In order to be able to engage and respond to them, you have to pay attention to them.  You have to see what interests them, and understand when something happens that surprises them or that they don’t understand.  You sometimes have to anticipate what will be fascinating and actually prepare to handle the discussion.  And then – and this is the absolute best – you get to experience these things again through their eyes, as though you are experiencing them yourself for the first time.

When your 2-year old gets fascinated by a puddle of water, or an ant, or the way a ball rolls down a hill – it reminds you about what it means to be fascinated by the things around you.  Our immediate world, however regular, is a miracle, and we should approach it as such.  When your 5-year old begs you to stop and watch the Japanese drumming at Epcot, or goes crazy at the idea of a strudel, or sees a film and asks if we can visit China one day – it reminds you to dream big, and to stop putting limits on yourself or your family, and to be open to the whole world.

These boys, they are making my life richer than they will ever know.  And they are pushing me to be a better father, a better husband, and a better person – because I want them to feel about their father like I felt about mine.  I want them, when they are nearly 40 and have kids and families and dreams and struggles all their own, to believe that my example can, in some way, help them navigate the crazy waters ahead.  And, if I’m very, very lucky, I want them to give me a call so that I can tell them I still love them.

Sometimes, when we’re sitting after a bedtime story, or we’re laughing at a silly joke, I will tell them that I like being their daddy.  That’s the language that they understand.  But one day, I will tell them what I really mean.  I will tell them that being their dad was my favorite thing I’ve ever done.  And that my life would be immeasurably poorer without them in it.

And that I hope that someday they know what it means to love somebody like this.

Father’s Day, 2017

 

On Sportsmanship and Raising Children

Maybe you saw this crazy story earlier this week about a team intentionally losing a game for the purpose of knocking out another team – and giving themselves a favorable draw the rest of the way out:

http://deadspin.com/little-league-world-series-scandal-softball-team-throw-1724733555

Now – used to, I would have just rolled my eyes a bit and moved on.  But now that I have children I find that these kinds of incidents force me to think about what I really believe should happen, and what would I do, as a parent, if my child were involved in this game.

And in this case, the answer to the latter came pretty clearly.  If a team my son is a part of begins to do what this team did – bunt the whole time, play below their abilities, lose on purpose – then my next step is to walk over and try and talk to the coach, after which, if the charade continues, I would collect my child and leave the park.  He would not be allowed to participate on that team, or any other team coached by that person, again. Even if that meant missing a trip to the Little League World Series.

In professional sports, where men and women make a living by winning games and where winning games is the objectively superior goal, I could see this kind of game theory being OK.  Still bad sportsmanship, but acceptable on some level.  For Little Leaguers, though, not a chance.  If and when my sons play Little League baseball, the purpose of being on that team will not be “winning”.  Don’t get me wrong – winning is nice.  But my kids will play Little League in order to learn how to become better people.  In order to understand what it takes to win – hard work, team chemistry, a little bit of luck – and what it is like to lose.  And how to win, and lose, with grace and maturity.  The winning or losing of the games is beside the point.  As I said very recently – its a journey, not a destination.

And furthermore, I would expect that my son’s coaches would understand this.  Would understand that the decisions that they make about winning and losing and how to play the game and respect the process impact these children and the approach they will take to any activity potentially for the rest of their lives.  Any coach that doesn’t understand this doesn’t get the opportunity to be a leader or mentor for my children.

If I were the coach of the other team, after one or two innings of this I’d collect my kids and leave – forfeit the game.  I’d teach my kids that they get to stand up for themselves, and they don’t have to take it when they are being disrespected like that.

The solution that the league came up with here is compelling but not harsh enough. This team should be summarily thrown out of the tournament.  And, even if the team is not thrown out, the coach should not be allowed to continue in that position.

In some ways, I’m very much looking forward to my children becoming involved with these kinds of activities.  But, and this story reminds me, in some ways I dread it.  We’ll see.

EDIT:  I saw this within minutes of making this post.  He says it better (though bluer) than I did here.

http://adequateman.deadspin.com/fuck-winning-1724810215?rev=1439992972189