Thursday, November 24, 2011

First Air Show

My son doesn’t like loud noises unless he’s making them, but his loudest noise is nothing compared to the noise made by the raw power of a military jet flying low-level.  Jets he likes.  Jets and any other kind of aircraft or spacecraft.  He has the awesome unbound imagination of a child approaching five years old.  Just look at his bedroom for proof.

A few weekends ago my wife and I took Paul to his first air show: Aviation Nation, the huge annual air show hosted by Nellis AFB in Nevada.  It’s also the final performance of the USAF Thunderbirds for the year and they fly a fantastic show and tribute to the public at their home field.  As a result the the weekend is filled with wonderful static displays of historic and current military aircraft, interesting and exotic civilian aircraft, and an almost continuous stream military and civilian flying demonstrations.
The day was wonderful, the weather was perfect, and my son’s eyes were wide as he took it all in.  We’d been watching a number of flying demonstrations to include a military heritage flight where several generations of military aircraft fly in formation.  Then, as the day was drawing to a close, the US Air Force Thunderbirds took to the air.

As the show unfolded, I was anticipating the “sneak attack.”  While the audience focuses on a beautiful formation high and in front of the show, without warning one of the solo jets comes from behind and races past at low-level and near the speed of sound.  Suddenly you see a jet where there wasn’t one just a second ago: an aircraft moving incredibly fast and somehow in silence.  Then it happens:  an explosion of sound so loud you feel it through your body the same time it registers in your ears.  Your hands race to cover your ears and perhaps muffle the shocked scream trying to escape your mouth.  Your entire body shakes as you literally feel the sound move through you.
My son had ear plugs in and I was watching him as this happened.  He jumped, visibly shook and rapidly moved to touch me as he covered his ears.  Then as quick as it came, the jet was gone and we stood in stunned and relative silence.  He looked up at me with uncertainty all over his face, wondering if everything was okay.  I grinned at him and then it happened:  with big eyes, a wild grin appeared on his face and he yelled, “Dad, that was AWESOME!”  Then he gave me a huge, excited hug.

The Thunderbirds finished their show, the day’s flying ended in a wonderful, patriotic way, and the show began to wind down.  On the way out we bought Paul a die-cast model of a Thunderbird--he asked nicely and repeatedly.  It’s been with him or near him since.  Once again my son has allowed me to relive a piece of my own childhood, and see the world fresh once more through his four year old eyes.
It’s great to be a dad!

Monday, November 7, 2011

First Drive-In

I’m pretty sure the first movie I ever saw was 2001: A Space Odyssey.  It was 1968 and my parents took me along when they went to see it at the drive-in.  I was only four, but I remember it like it was yesterday.  They had a station wagon and set the back seat up for me like a little nest:  several pillows and lots of blankets, and I was in my pajamas from the start.  That way if I fell asleep I was good to go.  There was more popcorn than a little guy could eat and the biggest screen in the world.  And the apes at the beginning scared me when they got angry.  I didn’t understand the movie but it captured me, probably dropping one of the anchors into me that ultimately made me a science fiction fan.

My son is the same age now as I was then, and last night we took him to his first drive-in.  We saw this year’s release of Puss ‘n Boots.  Admittedly it’s not as heady as Kubrick’s flick, but that’s OK.  The station wagon of my youth became a Saturn Vue for Paul, but the nest of pillows and blankets was there right along with the large bucket of popcorn.  And better than when I was a kid, the metal brick of a speaker hanging on the glass window was replaced by an FM broadcast we could listen to over the car’s stereo.
My wife and I are both drive-in fans, having frequented them when we were dating dating in Colorado, then into the early years of our marriage.  Until moving here to Las Vegas, the last time we lived anywhere with a drive-in was just outside of Sacramento, California.  (Hooray for the western states, for preserving these amazing icons of our American culture!)  When we found out there was a drive-in here, we knew we had to go, and had to expose our son to the experience.  So off we went last night, and we had a blast!

Paul gobbled popcorn and juice, and late in the movie we made one trip to the bathroom at which point he discovered the playground and had to take a few trips down the slide.  Then back to the car for more movie, intermission, and...sleep.  He fell asleep shortly after the second feature (Real Steel) began and we bundled him up in his backseat nest where he slept for the rest of the show.

I don’t know if he’ll remember this the same way I remember my first drive-in experience.  The movie was certainly a part of it, but what I think made it stick the most was how new and cool the whole experience seemed.  I’m thankful Steph and I had the chance to share this part of our own childhood, and one of the things we remain very fond of as adults, with our son.  Who knows, maybe if we’re lucky, years from now we’ll hear him tell us he’s taking his date to the drive-in, and Steph and I will smile just a little bit bigger than usual.
It’s great to be a dad!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Review: Phineas & Ferb Live!

A while back, after a visit with my son to Disney World, I wrote that Disney hadn’t lost it’s magic. Nothing has happened since to change my stance, but last weekend it was solidly reinforced.  We took Paul to see “Phineas and Ferb: the Best Live Tour Ever”.  He had no idea what he was in for.  We simply told him we had a surprise for him, and off we went.

If you’re not familiar with Phineas and Ferb, take the time to check it out.  Two brothers, both smart in a gifted way, making the most of their 104 days of Summer vacation by applying their intelligence to any number of adventures.  The show doesn’t pander to kids, nor does it talk down to them.  In fact, the writers seem to strive to smartly entertain kids just above their level, and to do it in a way that it encourages them to strive and grow in what they know and do.  The TV show is witty and somehow talks to kids of all ages.  As a parent I appreciate the writers have also taken care to include things that make the program interesting and funny for adults.  The program encourages kids to think and imagine, be creative, play with others, and often times, to do all this outside.  Also, what most likely goes unnoticed but I’m sure influences young viewers, is the brothers are actually step-brothers.  You wouldn’t necessarily know this up front, but it sets a neat tone for the show.  Related, Phineas and Ferb’s circle of friends is diverse:  male and female, multi-national, multi-racial, and spans a wide variety of interests and personality types.  The show clearly emphasizes things in common and diminishes the things we (adults) sadly allow to get in the way of relationships.
Back to the live show.  We went to see actors playing cartoon characters.  I wasn’t sure how Disney (or anyone) would pull this off, but as long as it worked for my son then as far as I’m concerned, it works.  It worked.  The program began with the cartoon characters on screen, then had them transition to actors in costume by having each character go down a slide.  The cartoon character begins sliding and an actor in costume enters the stage on a real slide.  As an adult, I thought the characters were a bit odd looking, but there was no room for confusion about who each character was.  The program told a story, consistent with the Summer vacation theme of the TV show, and revolved around storytelling through dialog and music.  A week later, we’re all still singing the songs and quoting various parts of the production.
This past week at school my son told his classmates we took him to see “the real Phineas and Ferb.”  He wasn’t distracted by actors in costume and he’s still beaming about the show.  Disney, you’ve done it again.  The Magic Kingdom remains magical; very well done!  If the tour comes near you, take your kids and go.  They’ll enjoy it and so will you.
Details on the live tour are available at:
It’s great to be a dad!

Thursday, September 29, 2011


We’re there.  We arrived there sometime during this last year and we can’t seem to leave.  Where is “there” you ask?  We’ve found ourselves in the “why” zone.  We’re not surprised; we knew it was coming.

This will bring back memories for those of you with kids who passed through this stage.  For those with kids on the way, or with kids younger than ours, this might help you prepare for...why.  It goes a little something like this:
Me:  Son, stop standing on the couch.
Paul:  Why?
Me:  You’ll fall off.
Paul:  Why?
Me:  Because you’re not being careful.
Paul:  Why?
Me:  I don’t know why, but we don’t stand on the couch anyway.  You don’t see your mom and I standing on the couch.
Paul:  Why?
Me:  Because it’s not proper to stand on the couch.
Paul:  Why?
Me:  Look son, gravity and I are the law; we must be obeyed.  Get down.
Paul:  Why?
As you can imagine it goes on without end, or until my wife or I break the conversation.  We do our best to avoid the dreaded “because I said so,” but have invoked that on rare occasion.  Let’s face it, we all hated it as kids, it was probably overused by all of our parents, but when it comes right down to it, it’s a good enough answer at times.  Parents have authority over their kids and sometimes that’s all the child needs to know.  That said, I’m still not a fan of “because I said so” as the primary reason for everything.  I think one of the most important things I can do for my son is offer explanations for things, hopefully in a manner that resonates with him at his age.  I think that reinforces the reasons behind what I say, and builds confidence and trust in my son.  Later, when I tell him something and time or circumstance doesn’t permit an explanation, he’ll accept the short answer knowing that his mom and I don’t give him guidance that isn’t thought out.
But back to the current game of “why”.  As the game has unfolded this year, I’ve learned to tell (most of the time) when my son is asking a genuine question and when he’s playing.  Yes, it’s actually a game for him at times.  This became clear when, one day as I was turning to him to make it clear I was tired of answering why about everything I was telling him to do, I saw it:  the grin.  So I continued a little longer and sure enough, every time I answered him, he grinned and asked again, “but why?”  My frustration evaporated.  Why?  Because there aren’t too many things cooler than seeing your young son’s sense of humor develop.  It brought a grin to my face then, and even now.
It’s great to be a dad!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

School's On!

Yesterday was my son’s first day of school since we moved back to the U.S.  I suspect this was more significant for us than it was for him since he was in a German kindergarten last year and he’s been asking regularly about when school starts again.  What made this a big deal for us is that we’ve put him in a private school.

Please don’t misunderstand.  My wife and I are both the products of public schools and neither of us have a problem with Paul attending one, unless it’s clear the curriculum and/or teaching isn’t up to a standard we expect to be met.  Obviously that becomes a constant decision as Paul moves from grade to grade and school to school.  In Germany he attended a private kindergarten with what I can only call a mini-liberal arts curriculum.  They had reading, writing, math, sciences, language and fitness as a part of the schedule.  He did well and we wanted him to continue with something similar.  As a result we found ourselves looking at private education options.
The added benefits are continued exposure to the rigor and discipline of the education process he’ll see as he advances in his education, a relatively small class size, a nation-wide accredited curriculum, and one other bonus I don’t mind at all: the students wear school uniforms.  While I don’t see wearing school uniforms as a black-and-white issue, it undoubtedly visually adds to the students’ perception of a level paying field, removes the distraction of differences (especially for young children), and sets an overall tone or mood within the student body.  Besides, the uniforms aren’t stuffy, nor do they attempt to make these young kids appear older than they are.  They’re just kids in school uniforms designed for kids.  I’m okay with this.
So our little man began his adventure within the formal education process in America today, hopefully setting the stage well for a lifetime of learning.  And no doubt, just as with everything else about his life so far, I’ll find myself reliving (and relearning) the things of my own youthful years.  If I can keep him in schools built on solid and proven  curriculums, and keep him interested and excited about school, then I’ll feel that I’ve done my job as his father.  This is going to be exciting, hopefully for the both of us!
It’s great to be a dad!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

4 and 47

My son is four.  I’m 47.  That’s quite a spread.  With all the “wisdom” 47 years brings to a man, my four year old son humbled me the other day and it hit me like a board between the eyes.

Paul is awesome.  He’s been as good as we could have ever hoped for.  He listens to Steph and I just about all the time.  But like any four year old, he’s aware of his own wants and desires, sees when they come into conflict with what we want him to do, and at times tries to protest or appeal to us to let him do something other than what we want.  When this happens, we rarely hear a simple “no” or “I don’t want to.”  Instead, the young man constructs an argument to explain to us why he ought to do what he wants.  Although the content of the argument is simple, at times they’re pretty elaborate.
Guess what...I know what he’s going to say.  Shocked, right?  Okay, not really.  Like all parents, I get impatient after telling him multiple times what my position is on something (“No son, you can’t have a piece of candy until you eat your lunch.”), only to hear him try to argue me into changing my mind.  I end up firmly but gently reinforcing my position and not letting him continue with his well-intentioned point.
The other day, I interrupted him and affirmed my position on not eating candy for lunch.  He stopped and with a frustrated and slightly sad face told me, “Dad, let me tell you the whole thing first.”  Oops.  I’m a heel.  There was something going on in our back-and-forth just as important as the surface discussion about why he wasn’t going to eat junk food for lunch.  My son is learning how to form and argument in his mind, then express his position.  He argues with all the horsepower of a four year old and can’t win unless I relent.  The problem was I failed to remember he’s only four and I’m not arguing with a peer.  I need to let him say his piece, form and then make his argument, then lovingly stand my ground after he’s done.
In that instant and in the hurry of being a busy parent, my son had to remind me of something I believe is key to good parenting:  I’m responsible for preparing him to be a successful adult.  This includes encouraging the functioning of his young mind, even if it takes longer to tell him “no” than I want to take.  Ditto for other similar things!  This reminds me of something a pastor of mine said that applies to so much of life:  the old sacrifice for the young.  My son is amazing, and he’s four.  I need to encourage him on his level in a way that encourages him to develop so he’s best prepared to be five, 10, 15, and one day, an adult.
It’s great to be a dad!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Toys and Charity

My son’s bedroom in our new house is much smaller than his old room.  For perspective, his old room was the size of most master bedrooms; the new room is what anyone would consider a normal size for a kid’s room--no problem there.  But the boy has a ton of toys.  This is as much my doing as anyone else’s, but it’s going to force a change.  Fortunately, there’s a plan.  A good one.

Long before we had Paul, one of my sisters told me she was doing something with her kids as they got new toys.  As I recall it was for Christmas.  As her boys got new toys (as gifts), she told them they had to pick out old toys to give to kids who didn’t have toys of their own.  I loved the idea then, and even more so now.  Paul is old enough to understand.  He’s already very aware of the importance of sharing; this seems to be a next logical step.  Our recent move is fueling this, but if my plan works, we’ll apply this new practice throughout the year, certainly at key toy times such as Christmas and his birthday, but even as a form of Spring cleaning.
Steph and I will track down a local orphanage, shelter, or appropriate charity that puts used toys in good condition to good use.  I’m excited to see how this goes and hope Paul embraces this, and becomes an active participant in something charitable, especially at a young age.  Of course, we’ll be loving and gentle with this so he doesn’t think this compulsory or some sort of punishment.  If we succeed, he’ll participate and see this form of giving as something good and fun.
It’s great to be a dad!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

18 Awesome Years!

This is going to get personal, but it’s a part of who I am as a husband and dad.  Don’t worry:  it’s good!

Eighteen years ago today Stephanie and I stepped into marriage.  It was a traditional ceremony in our church in Colorado Springs, with an amazing view of Pike’s Peak as we walked from the church, ceremony complete, and headed to an evening reception with our family and friends.
The next morning we jetted off to Bermuda for our honeymoon, and began our life together.  Not our lives, but our single, merged life.  That was our intent.  Since then, we’ve moved 10 times, and lived on two continents and an island.  You’ve helped make every place we’ve been fun, and also endured deployments, surgeries, injuries, blizzards and a hurricane.  All of this has been wonderful seasoning added to the best thing that could have ever happened to a simple guy like me--marrying you.  What Ronald Reagan said about his wife Nancy is equally true for me and you:  I could be in a room full of people but when you step out, I’m alone.
Now, 18 years later, we have an amazing son, and we remain best friends and lovers.  I love you, Stephanie.  Thank you for saying “yes” so many years ago and standing by my side, and following me around the world.  You’re half of who I am (and the best half for sure!), my sounding board, and often times my conscience.  Thank you for being my wife and the mother of my son; without you I wouldn’t be a husband and father.  I can’t imagine what the last 18 years would have looked like without you and can’t wait to see what the next 18 years have in store for us!  I love you with all my heart, always!
It’s great to be a dad!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Traveling with Kids

If you read my last post, you know we just returned from a convention, and Paul went with us as he has every year for the past three years.  The trip has always required air travel and specifically travel from Europe to the U.S.  I’ve bragged on my son a bit on Twitter (you can follow my parenting feed on Twitter @Somebodys_Dad) since the trip over and back this time were his 10th and 11th trans-Atlantic crossings by air.  When we move back to the U.S. later this month, he will have crossed the Atlantic Ocean 12 times during his four years of life.  All this ocean crossing began when we moved from the U.S. to Germany three years ago.

The travel this time was overall uneventful for us.  No doubt a good bit of the reason for this is Steph, Paul and I are veterans at this point.  What did catch my attention on the return trip to Germany was an incredible number of folks I can only call “rookie” travelers (and one incredibly incompetent steward--more on that fellow in a minute).  Of the rookies, there was a family directly in front of us who verged on incompetent.
Three years ago we made the move to Germany; our son was only a year and a half old.  In some ways that made it easy.  He wasn’t really mobile.  Other things made it difficult.  He traveled in a car seat.  There was nothing easy about two adults lugging our small son and the seat through the airport, getting the seat onto the plane with the push of all the other cattle down the narrow isles, etc.  But the complexity and pain was reduced through some prudent planning.  We did our homework and found creative and informed ways to make the journey easier.  We learned from other people’s mistakes and successes.
We were also polite even though we knew we were stressing.  This was our first long airline trip with our son (one and a half years old at the time) and even though we were armed with knowledge, it was the first time we were putting it into practice--knowledge certainly doesn’t replace experience.  Steph and I made a conscious decision not to get mad at each other; we were on the same team and would share in the joy of what worked, and frustration in what didn’t.  Also, we knew our son would sense our moods, driving us to be cautious about our collective demeanor.
At this point I have to admit I’m finishing this post as I sit in the airport with Steph and Paul.  We’re waiting for our flight from Stuttgart through Atlanta to Las Vegas; we’re moving.  I’ll post more on that later.  But I hope this flight goes as smoothly with our son as the previous eleven did.  Otherwise, a less than gentle reader might suggest I’ve jinxed myself...
Back to our last flight back to Stuttgart.  A couple with two kids, began occupying (by brute force) the row of three seats in front of us.  They were clearly unorganized, had not thought about allowing time to move through the airport at the speed of a child, or given real thought to how they planned on moving their own carry-on bags, two kids, and a car seat through the airport once they cleared security: in a world where no luggage carts dare roll.  By the way, you read what I wrote earlier correctly we’re watching a couple with two kids--four people.  Granted one was an infant, but the parents brought a car seat onboard for the little one rather than working the ticketing with an “infant in arms.”  The car seat obviously takes a seat, but somehow it escaped the parents.  Add a seat for mom and dad and the other child (probably about four years old) and it was clear there weren’t enough seats for butts.  Already visibly angry and frustrated when they entered the aircraft, now at their seats angry fidgeting ensued as the car seat was strapped into an airline seat, dad put the older child into another seat, and...the lightbulb came on.  You could literally see it in the dad’s face:  he booked three seats for four people.  Quiet but audible cussing ensued.  He barked at two different flight attendants for reasons that weren’t clear, then made an angry comment that the flight crew wouldn’t help them with “all of this stuff.”  Of course, I have to believe the flight crew assumed this angry adult was doing what he meant to do.  After all, he booked the flight and brought “all of this stuff” with him.
His wife finally showed up; apparently previously lost somewhere forward of us on the jet.  This was awkward.  The dad loved her enough to spawn to kids with her, but clearly she was a part of his problem, and an enemy, rather than a companion.  She suggested they check the car seat; he thought this was dumb and couldn’t be done.  Then he decided they should check the car seat and it was pure brilliance.  He angrily got the attention of the flight attendant; one of the same ones he earlier accused of not helping him.  Did I mention he never asked for help?  “I need to check this,” came out of his mouth, with a tone that made it clear it was the attendant’s fault that it somehow ended up on the plane.  At this point the flight attendant, while professional, had enough of this guy and told him, “I don’t check luggage.  Please take it to the front of the plane and see if they’ll let you gate check it.”  I know from my own travels that flight attendants always seem to offer to take bags that won’t fit to the front to have it checked.  I suspect this airline employee decided to live up to what he was openly accused of:  not being helpful.  The dad literally pulled the child out of the car seat, tossed the same child into the next seat, accompanied by crying since he caused one of the not-completely-unfastened straps to give a friction burn, followed by the child literally bouncing on the seat.  The dad disappeared with the car seat, leaving the two kids unattended.  Mom was once again nowhere in sight.
Both parents returned and began to settle into their seats, with the smallest child on mom’s lap.  An attendant came by again and having noticed the now absent car seat asked if either parent had re-ticketed themselves to show they were traveling with an infant in arms.  Of course not and you bet this added to the couple’s bad attitudes.  The attendant helped with this though.
In an effort to add some calm for the couple I finally spoke up and told them we were sympathetic to the difficulties of traveling with a little one, pointing out we were in a very similar position three years ago when we moved to Germany with our son in a car seat.  Guess what--he was angry with us too and snapped back, “well we’re moving and have to carry all this stuff.”  My wife pointed out a particularly useful contraption () that made moving through the airport with a car seat easy, allowing you to keep the child in it and roll it like a stroller.  On the plane, the device folds behind the stroller and stayed attached even when you strap it into the airline seat.  Perhaps this would be helpful for them to make a future flight easier.  They weren’t interested in any help from other parents.  That’s fine.  I guess he missed that we mentioned we had been moving too.  I decided sympathy wouldn’t help and politely told him to enjoy his trip.
Okay, this story’s gone on long enough to make the point.  One final point though:  we decided to book a seat for our son (rather than do the infant-in-arms thing) for two reasons:  our own comfort, and since it was a long flight, we didn’t have to worry about falling asleep with him in our arms and unintentionally dropping him on the floor.  Somewhere about six hours into the flight with both parents sleeping, mom dropped the baby on the floor.  The sound of the child hitting the floor woke me up.  If it didn’t, the baby’s screaming would have.  Dad appeared angry at mom for interrupting his sleep and didn’t seem to be concerned at all as to whether his infant child was hurt or not.  Nice.  With the dropping of the child as the capstone event, the rest of the flight was thankfully uneventful.
So what’s the point?  Doing your homework matters.  It doesn’t always mean everything goes smoothly, but it definitely eliminates some of the complications that otherwise accompany something as difficult as moving through airports with little-ones.  Even if it doesn’t, knowing about the difficulties you’ll face will be reduce the stress, and that makes for calmer and happier child...and parents.
Addendum:  I’m posting this after our journey is complete.  The trip went as well as all the previous trips with Paul.  I hope our experience helps someone else who might be traveling with a child on an aircraft for the first time, and that the trip is an adventure and not a burden.
It’s great to be a dad!

Friday, June 3, 2011

My Convention Kid

As we were flying to Baltimore this year to attend the Baltimore Science Fiction Society’s annual convention (BaltiCon), it occurred to my wife and I that Paul has attended BaltiCon with us for the last three years--three of the four years he’s been alive.  As a geek, this makes me happy: this particular convention is perfect for fueling his imagination.  He walks, talks and even naps with science fiction on the brain.

Even though he’s only four, Paul remembers the signs and sounds of the convention from past years.  The detail he remembers are stunning: about the rooms, the layout of the hotel, the people he’s met (and only sees once a year), and even particulars about certain vendors.  Those of you who attend science fiction or fantasy conventions know kids of all ages show up.  The geek parents (like me), are predictable, often sporting blue jeans and t-shirts with a host of geeky images and phrases that resonate with fellow attendees.  During a few special occasions like the Steampunk Ball, or particular book readings or themed panels, the costumes come out. There are a few attendees though who costume through the whole event, and to say they’re in costume is to give more credit than is due.  Some of these folks look like they’ve simply added color and accessories to their college togas, but they’re harmless and Paul is exposed to sights and sounds he doesn’t usually see and hear otherwise.  Don’t get me wrong, he gets a full dose of geek every day at home, but not like this.  Being surrounded by a few thousand people for a long weekend, all with a passion for science fiction and fantasy fuels his young imagination and lets him talk about and act upon things that excite his mind.
I love attending a convention this size with my son.  At BaltiCon, small equals intimate.  The invited guests (authors, folks from film, radio and especially podcasters) are very accessible, approachable, and for the most part humble.  Some are very well known print and podcast personalities.  This year the guest of honor was Ben Bova and other attending dignitaries included a significant host of A-list podcast and print authors.  Fans  regularly mix it up with the featured personalities on a regular basis.  Panels and readings are intimate and it’s common to find yourself sitting and chatting with guest talent over a meal or at the bar.  For my son, this is special.  Since we’re not lost in the mob, he gets focused attention from the both of us as well as from other attendees--including the big guns!  The experience isn’t overwhelming for him, the convention is contained in a single hotel, and there’s ample time for us to “explore” the science fiction sites with him.  I hope his fondness for science fiction and fantasy grows.  It was certainly a part of my own formative years, only I never had the chance to attend a convention like this, or to meet some of the folks who wrote the fantastic stories that helped shape my imagination.
It’s great to be a dad!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Stability During The Move

The last week has been pretty chaotic in the house due to our pending move from Germany back to the U.S.  In spite of the turmoil, I’ve enjoyed watching how my son’s reaction to the process that moves an entire household from one place to another.  The last time we did this, Paul was only a year and a half old.  It was all adventure and no real stress for him.  Now he’s four and taking it all in--an interactive participant in everything we do.

About a month ago we shipped our dog to my wife’s parents.  That took a little explaining.  Steph’s mom has been here for the last few weeks as we’ve prepared the house and had the packing crew here.  Over the past five days we worked to set aside the things we need to keep with us for our final month here, and shipped away everything we own.  As I type this today, we have an empty house except for a small amount of clothing, books, temporary furniture, our tech, and a TV.
Paul’s done very well with the whole thing this time, watching with interest, curiosity, and with some trepidation as he’s seen everything disappear from the house--the majority of which went during the last two days.
Then this morning he was anxious about going to school.  There were tears.  No doubt it was due to seeing so much change happening at home--where he draws his strength and stability.  With all that unhinged, I’m surprised he hasn’t been more nervous.  We reassure him and as I’ve written about before, continue to encourage him about the adventure we’re on.  Yesterday we told him the men who came into the house to pack us out were wrapping everything carefully so they can bring all his things back to his new house and new bedroom in Nevada.  I can tell he understands, but his eyes tell me he’s unsure and nervous.  I almost wonder in the back of his mind if he’s worried Stephanie and I will disappear next.
I wrestled with making him go to school or letting him stay home.  I decided he needed to go to school.  The struggle in my mind was over how to best reinforce stability for him in the midst of incredible change.  There’s no right answer to blanket every situation like this for my son, or for other children in the same circumstances, but my decision this morning was based on school itself being a constant for him.  While everything else seems to be changing, school hasn’t.  School is still part of the routine, and in its place.  His teachers and friends are there waiting for him and eager to learn and play.  Stability.
This morning was a tough little moment for me as a dad.  This parenting thing is definitely art.  It’s awesome, exciting, incredibly fun, and exceedingly difficult.  Then again, of course it is--it’s pure love.
It’s great to be a dad!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

It's Wake-up Time!

Paul has a digital clock in his room.  He can’t really tell time but knows his numbers, and knows he’s not supposed to wake us up before the first number is seven; any smaller first number and he can play quietly in his room; any number bigger than seven and it’s okay to come out.

During the week his past week, I was already gone for work and sometime around 6:40 a.m. Paul calls out to Steph, “it’s wake-up time!”  She glanced at the clock in our room, told him it wasn’t and to go back to sleep or play quietly.  A few rounds of “yes it is, no it isn’t” ensued before Steph finally told him, “if I come in there and the first number isn’t seven, I’m going to be angry with you.”  Paul all but challenged her to come and see.  She got up and headed in.
Paul is four and I suppose some of you are already thinking Steph will walk in and discover he had somehow changed the clock.  While it’s possible, this isn’t what was going on.  She walked into his room, looked at the clock and saw it was displaying the right time, still a bit before seven.  She pointed at the clock and told Paul, “son, look at your clock.  It’s not seven yet.”  Paul’s response?  With absolute sincerity, he pointed at the same clock and said, “Yes it is Mom, but look.  The six is pretending to be a seven.”
This same week on two other occasions, both after the “six pretending to be a seven” incident, he was up early and told us it was time to get up because the sun was already awake.  Over the years I’ve become a morning person, so this doesn’t bother me; I’m usually up and going before Paul, regardless of the day of the week.  (As I write this, I wonder how and when I hit the point in my life when “sleeping in” means sleeping until six in the morning...)  Anyway, I’m usually up.  But Steph’s definitely not a morning person, so during the week anything earlier than seven is getting up early for her.  The days I don’t work are the days she can truly sleep in and I get to start the day with some quality dad-and-lad time.
The day will come soon when Paul will change the clock and think he’s done something sneaky.  I also know we’re not too far from allowing him to come out of his room even before we’re up, as long as he plays quietly.  Until then, I’m proud to see his young imagination racing along.  The six is pretending to be a seven now, and being creative enough one day to change the clock--that’s my amazing, awesome son!  As I said, and as I tell him every night I have the privilege of putting him to bed, I’m proud he’s my son and I’m proud to be his father.
It’s great to be a dad!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Moving Through Life

I’ve mentioned it before, but my whole life has been migrant.  I was born on a military base, grew up in an active duty military family, went to college and joined the military.  All I’ve ever known is moving every 2-4 years, with very rare exception.  Through the years, I’ve always had folks I’ve met “locally” tell me they can’t imagine how hard it is to constantly move from place to place and never put down roots.  I know what they’re asking, but honestly, I can only imagine what their lives are like, never moving and having to live in the same place without moving.  Sometimes I know I desire the chance to see what it’s like to stay in one place for a long time, while some of my stationary friends desire the experience of my adventures, always seeing new places.  In the end though, I can only imagine what the difference is like.  I can’t really appreciate staying still it other than academically.  As an adult, this lifestyle comes with its own excitement and frustration, but it’s always boiled down to a part of the routine of my life.  Having grown up this way, I’m sensitive to ensuring my son is best able to deal with the stresses moving puts on him as a little guy.

We should move this Summer, sometime in the next six months.  Steph and I are already talking about it with Paul.  We moved the first time with him when he was one and a half and he has no memory of it.  This time, he’ll be four and a half.  He has a small circle of friends here.  He knows what it means to get on a plane and travel, but we’ve always returned to Germany--the only place he thinks of as home.  We’re already anticipating him asking to see his friends or to visit places here in Germany once we make our “permanent” move.
Steph and I have started doing the same thing with Paul that my parents used to do with me: taking about the pending move as an adventure.  He hears us talk with each other and with him about the amazing chance to get to see another new place, more cool stuff and to meet new friends.  We don’t talk about who and what we’re leaving behind, especially from his limited perspective.  When I was small, moves seemed so final, but life became an adventure and we still get to experience quite a bit of it through airplanes and automobiles.
After spending my entire life in military service, I’ve learned the world is small and getting smaller every year.  We have friends we continue to cross paths with because we’re assigned together again, or simply because we visit one another.  Paul will continue to see many of them too, and unlike my young life, there’s a good chance we’re only an assignment or two from retiring and truly settling down.  Paul will still have the greater part of his youth spent living in one place, with all the associated pros and cons.  As for us, we won’t mind taking him back to see the places and meet the people we’ve enjoyed over the years.  The adventure will continue!
It’s great to be a dad!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Get The Wax Out Of Your Ears

Like all healthy kids, my son has made the transition from infant to toddler, and now to four year old child.  No more toddling.  Now it’s all about racing, running, crashing.  Everything is fast, furious and exciting, only punctuated by a wipe-out, or a nap when he literally runs out of energy and makes a rapid transition from active to sleeping.  It usually takes about a minute once he gives in.

Along with those changes comes wax in the ears.  As the oldest child in my family, I remember hearing my parents routinely tell my sisters to “get the wax out of their ears.”  More and more often I hear myself saying similar things to my son, especially when I have to stop him from whatever he’s doing and make him look at me as I say, “listen to me.”  It seems about half the time I tell him this, it’s to stop him from doing something I know will lead to injury.  I may not be the smartest guy around, but the wisdom of 47 years definitely trumps the zeal of four.
My son, again like all kids, gets the wax out, acknowledges what I said, and the all too often lets what I told him go in one ear and out the other--something else I remember hearing my parents say to my sisters and I.  As all parents know, this comes with some measure of frustration as you strive to strike the balance between the strictest of enforcement and prudent liberty that follows the warning.  
One of those acute moments of frustration happened the other evening.  My son was all spun up and bed time was approaching.  (By the way, I’m convinced “spun up” is a statement of middle-aged denial.  It’s how we gently admit that we don’t have the strength or energy we used to have, especially when it’s obvious as we watch our kids.)  I marshaled him into the bathroom to brush his teeth.  The blur of motion and energy continued as he climbed onto the small stool in front of the sink.  Then came the series of warnings:  stand still or you’re going to fall off the stool and hurt yourself.  Are you listening to me?  Stand still.  He responded with an “okay”, then continued to dance around.  Mere seconds later one foot comes off the stool and Paul hits the side of the sink with his cheek as he unintentionally took an eight inch step down.  Ouch.  For Paul there was a stunned moment, then tears fueled by pain.  And for me, frustration.  I was torn between two simultaneous desires.  I wanted to hold and comfort him, and ensure he was okay (which I did).  I was also angry and wanted to scold him for doing the very thing I just told him not to do, for the reason he was now crying--injury and pain.  (Which I also did after I was sure he wasn’t injured badly.)  In those moments, I reminded myself that my job was to lovingly comfort and teach my son, and to reinforce what he chose to dismiss.  Even though I was frustrated, it wasn’t lost on me that to a great extent this specific instance of the problem was self-correcting.  I warned him he could get hurt and told him how to prevent it.  He listened and applied that guidance with all the wisdom of a four year old and chose to dismiss what I said.  His close encounter just seconds later with the sink and the resulting sore cheek made it clear what the consequence of not listening were.  And although I was angry, I had the awesome role of holding and lovingly correcting my awesome son.
I would never wish pain on anyone, especially a child, but this life comes with pain.  I think we need it for a variety of reasons.  At times it provides contrast to pleasure and ends up enriching the good things we enjoy.  At other times it reinforces the cost of unwise action.  Even then though, I hope when pain comes, at worst it’s only a shadow and caution for the wounded of the worst things that could happen.  One of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, wrote that “pain is God’s megaphone.”  I think he was right.  And at times like this one in the bathroom, although undesired, it clearly serves as dad’s megaphone.  I never had to raise my voice; my son understood (at least for a little while) my caution to him was out of love.
The rules are the rules, parents must be obeyed, but some things just have to be learned through experience.  Authority matters, but learning comes through words and deeds.  The real world exists in the middle and in the fine tradition of parenting, we strive to set rules in a loving environment that are reasonable and enforceable.  Paul needs to learn when we tell him something, we mean what we say.  But we also need to let him grow through experience, often associated with the risks of scraped knees, bumps and bruises.  Apparently this is especially true with boys.  This frustration, and at times the associated’s real, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world!
It’s great to be a dad!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Under the Rodeo Moon

The new year is under way and looks like it’ll be a busy year of parenting, husbanding and working.  Of course, my time with my wife and son serves as my anchor point and refreshment to keep me going through the routine of the business of life (working a full-time job).

As you may know I’m a career military officer, following in the footsteps of my father and grandfather.  The direct line breaks there, but the thread still runs back quite a distance.  My father was a career Air Force officer.  My grandfather on my mother’s side was a career officer as well, having joined the Army as an aviator, was one of the advocates for a separate Air Force, and ultimately retired as an Air Force officer.  Both of my uncles wore the uniform.  Several other close and distant relatives did and still do.  I was born into an Air Force family, on an Air Force base and have only known a migrant life.  My father was on active duty when I left for college and when I graduated, I put on the uniform.
This summer my family and I will move again.  The upcoming move makes my 20th “permanent” move.  The first six were during my childhood; the rest have been since I left home to strike out on my own.  There have been a handful of other moves as well, but not the kind folks in my world would class as permanent.  Sprinkle in deployments and other temporary duty and I’m even surprised at the volume!  My wife and I were married along the way and counting the upcoming move, she’ll have made half of these moves with me.  Paul was born during my last assignment (on an Air Force base) and will experience his second move this Summer.
The point of that bit of history isn’t to brag, to impress, or to seek sympathy.  I’m not trying to champion or warn people away from the military lifestyle.  Instead, I want to point out one of the positive consequences of this kind of mobile family life.  My family, immediate and extended, has become the anchor point.  While this is certainly true of folks who don’t move as often as we do, I think the emphasis on family is slightly different when they’re the one constant element in an otherwise changing world.  While our extended families are scattered across America, they still sit at the center of our lives.  As for Steph, Paul and I, we three are definitely the one immediate and consistent element in an otherwise fluid world; we are the constant while everything else changes.  This was true for Steph and I before Paul was born, and his addition to the family almost four years ago added to the strength of the core.
As a result, my life and our lives together have been a great adventure.  We have lived in some amazing places and spent an incredible number of hours driving from one to the other.  Instead of a burden, we’ve been able to see so many things most folks never get to.  In many cases as we move through the world, we have seen (and lived in) places that others only hear about.  Even better, we have had the privilege of enjoying so many incredible places that you’d never hear about--the small towns, amazing little diners, conversation with another family at a rest stop, and all of the urban and rural scenery in between.  We’ve slept in fine hotels, in the most basic of motels, and even camped on the side of the road.
Chris LeDoux was a fellow child of the Air Force and rodeo cowboy, and is one of my absolute favorite musicians.  When he penned the lyrics to “Our First Year” and “Rodeo Moon” he captured our very real adventure better than I ever could.  Here are the lyrics to Rodeo Moon:
I took her daddy’s old two-horse trailer
I patched a place in the floor that was bad
And then we loaded up her barrel pony
And a riggin’ bag is all that I had
We left with our suitcases filled with desire
Four hundred dollars and two good spare tires
Sometimes we’d sleep in a motel
When we’re ridin’ that hot hand of luck
And sometimes we’d stay at a friend’s house
Oh but most times we just slept in the truck
At nighttime you’d find us out in the fast lane
Stayin’ one step ahead of the snow and the rain
Now our windshield’s a painting that hangs in our room
It changes each mile like a radio tune
With God up above, we’ll make it on love
Under the rodeo moon.
When Chris LeDoux and Toby Keith penned these words, they literally could have been watching Stephanie and I.  The details are ours, right down to the trailer we patched, the spare tires, the barrel pony, and the limited cash in our earlier years.  (Thank you for these songs, Chris.  I miss you.)
As Stephanie, Paul and I continue down the road for the remaining years I have in the military, I hope my son grows to appreciate the blessing of our amazing world in the same way.
It’s great to be a dad!
The sketch of Steph, Paul and I drawn by Howard Tayler.  Visit Schlock Mercenary ( to see his work.
You can find “Our First Year” on the album “Cowboy” and “Rodeo Moon” on “Horsepower.”  Please visit Chris' official website ( for information on these and other great albums.