What’s in the Title

Tomorrow is Father’s Day and millions of dads will be honored by their children. I will hopefully be one of those receiving at least a few accolades. Before you think me boastful, my daughters will also remind me of my nerdyness and my insufferable habit of telling corny jokes. But, that is in part what dads do. It is expected of them. I for one, am committed to not letting them down.

But let’s look at the true picture. Fathers become fathers via the birth of their children, but not all fathers become dads. A father becomes a dad the day he takes responsibility for the child he now must rear. A dad is the man who weeps with his child when he or she is in pain. A dad is the man, who stands strong when his child needs support. He is their defender and champion. A dad is the person who tells their mother not to worry because their daughter is strong enough to care for herself but secretly worries each time she goes out. He is the protector, the fixer and the knight in shining armor. A dad knows his children are watching him even if he thinks they aren’t looking. In short, he tries to be perfect even though he knows that at times he will stumble.

A father is the easy job. He doesn’t need to be patient. He doesn’t need to be perfect. He just earns the title by a simple act. But a dad is a dad by virtue of all the hard stuff. All the sleepless nights worrying about his daughter on her first, second, third and every date she ever goes on. He teaches his son respect and the meaning of the word no. A dad holds onto their bike and promises not to let go as they learn to ride, and then turns over the keys to his child as a new driver and forgives the moment they scratch the car. A dad must anticipate their needs, react with support and be there every step of the way. A dad celebrates his children’s success and then humbly credits them with their effort. He will wish to be center stage, all the while knowing the stage belongs to his child.

Tomorrow, if he is still alive, hug your dad. Tell him you noticed each time he was there. Thank him for caring, for sharing and for above all, his undying admiration of you. Forgive him his imperfections and honor him for his efforts. And above all, tell him he matters and then show him he is loved.

Happy Dad’s Day…..job well done.

How will you spend them?

Every year I try to think of a way to keep myself and family focused on the excitement of Christmas. This year’s entry was the “Twelve Days Before Christmas”. Each day was a tease aimed at one or more of my family members. Example; 2. “Adela with two pairs of aviators”, a tease of my two year old granddaughter’s insatiable urge to try on sunglasses, often to the chagrin of the person who was supposed to be watching her in the store. For your consideration, I wanted to share with you the final, twelfth day.

On the twelfth day of the twelve days before Christmas , I will give to you ……………………………

12. Twelve hours before midnight and Christmas Day.
What will you do with those final 12 hours? It’s possible that you still have some last-minute preparations like, wrapping the last few gifts, or maybe even getting that one last gift on your list. Maybe it will be preparing your children for the arrival of Santa, putting out the cookies and milk or just hanging the stockings. Maybe you’ll watch a favorite Christmas movie. Some might even have a tradition of trimming the Christmas tree in those last few hours.
Whatever your tradition might be, do it with Christmas in your heart. We celebrate Christmas morning, but we often forget to appreciate the days and eventually the hours leading up to Christmas day and then it’s gone. Celebrate family and traditions. Depending on your beliefs, celebrate the birth of Christ or simply celebrate the season. Somewhere, in the midst of all the hustle and bustle, think of those who have so much less and then appreciate how much you have. Yes, I know how old fashioned that sounds, especially the bustle part, but it is at the heart of this season and so easy to miss. Find a way to give from your resources, even if it is just to be a little more accepting, a little more generous or maybe just a little more thankful for the things you have. Hug your loved ones, hug your children, greet a neighbor or reach out to friends with whom you may have lost touch.
No matter how you spend these last twelve hours before Christmas, slow down, be with the ones who count and enjoy the moments.
Merry Christmas

Simple Gestures

I was recently in Reno for a conference and had extended my stay so that my two sisters could join my wife and I for a quick reunion. My sister, Karen was accompanied by her life partner of some twenty plus years. Larry was and always is a welcome addition to our family reunions and as in the past, he kept us on our toes as we laughed, cried and entertained each other over the next three days.

One of those entertainments was the rental of the movie, Green Book. In the movie there is a scene where one of the characters swipes a polished green stone from a roadside stand. Caught in the act, he returns the stone and so as to not act as the spoiler, I will leave it there and invite you to watch the movie to discover the significance of that scene.

My reference to the movie is to set the background for a simple act performed by, let’s face it, my brother-in-law Larry, I believe he’s earned the title after all this time. We were in Virginia City on the last day of our stay in the Reno area, when I came upon a stand selling polished gem stones and there sat a green stone just like the one in the movie. I teased that I should try to swipe the stone, but of course I put it back. As the day came to a close, we headed back down to Reno where we would say our goodbyes before returning to our home destinations. As I was reaching through the car window to shake Larry’s hand, I felt something pass into my hand as he pulled his arm back through the window. When he and my sister began to drive away, I opened my hand to see the green stone.

It was such a simple gesture, but the significance was not lost on me. It was a show of the kinship we had once again shared and a message to remember the most important aspect of our brief family reunion, that we are always there for each other. That no matter the distance between us, I could share a touch stone that reminds me of the importance of the role we each play in our family dynamic.

That green stone now sits prominently displayed and reminds me every time I sit at my desk of the closeness of my family members and the importance of the little things, the simple things of life. Thanks Larry.

PS. Of course you paid for the stone, right?

The Hotel Room …. or how we became friends for life

I had two cups of coffee this morning.  One cup leaves me talkative but two cups and I’m sarcastic.  I thought I ought to take advantage of that and write this next piece.  You’ve been warned of my sarcasm if you intend to continue reading.

Years ago, fall of 1986 to be exact, my two year old daughter was going to a sitter just a few doors down from us.  When I was dropping her off one morning, there was a new father dropping off his two daughters.  We exchanged hellos and that was that.  A couple days later, My wife and I attended a neighborhood casino night.  We were new to the neighborhood and not knowing anyone there we attempted to mingle while playing casino games.  At the end of the gaming session and prior to the auction for prizes, I noticed the new father I had met at the sitter and realizing he hadn’t known anyone either, introduced him to my wife.  He in turn introduced his wife and we boldly joined them at their table.  The auction was rolling along when a room for a weekend at the Embassy Suites in Milwaukee came up for bid.  We had been looking for a quick get away, so my wife and I started bidding on the room with our play money winnings.  The bidding soon passed our total.  About to bow out of the action, our new found neighbors offered to throw in their meager winnings and we offered up the entire works on our next bid.  Now I fully expected to be immediately outbid, or should I say, hoped we would be outbid.  After all, we really didn’t know our partners in this bid let alone intend to share a suite with them as our first date.  And you guessed it.  No one bid.  I was the anxious owner of a Milwaukee hotel room with let’s be honest here, total strangers.  For all I knew they had been forced to move after a recent stalking charge leveled by their previous neighbors.  Worse yet, they would turn out to be swingers and my wife and I …. well we weren’t … aren’t.  Disclaimer here, my wife worries that the reader will get the wrong idea …. well don’t.

I decided the best course of action would be to graciously hand the room over to them and formulate our early exit.  And again you guessed it or you figured out there wasn’t much of a story if they accepted my offer.  They were already setting a date with my wife for our hotel stay.  Now I WAS convinced this couple was either crazy or desperate, possibly both.  Before I could make up excuses, like I snore loudly or I prefer to sleep in the nude, I don’t but I thought it might scare them off, unless of course they really were swingers, we were scheduled to all head down to the Embassy Suites that very next weekend.

The weekend came and my wife was actually looking forward to our “group date”, which made me begin to worry about her as well, after all, I had only known her for nine years and maybe she was really good at keeping secrets.  We had decided to bring our daughter with us, as had they, but I was still wondering how this would work?  At this point, my detail planner wife explained that it was a suite, implying, though adjoining, two rooms.  We would take one and they could have the other.  All I had to worry about was hitting it off conversationally.  My anxiousness was reducing.

Arrival in Milwaukee.  The suite turned out to be a shared bedroom and sitting area with at least a separation of sorts between the two areas.  Remember how I said we brought the kids.  The three of them were already thick as thieves from the common sitter we shared.  And again you guessed it.  They all wanted to be together in the sitting area on that wonderful fold out couch that only three kids under the age of six could not only love but share.  And that left us right where it turns out BOTH couples had thought wasn’t going to happen …. sharing two queen beds in the same room.  Thank god for wine and a mini bar.

It has been over thirty years since that night.  Not only did we survive our time together …. turns out they were as nervous as we were …. our families traveled together many more times in the years that followed.  Through multiple moves by our friends, first to Chicago, then back to the Madison area and eventually settling in the St. Louis area, through our children’s graduations and two of their weddings, and even through grieving the passing of Doug’s wife Carol two years ago, we are still and always will be best friends.  It is clearly not the same without Carol as part of the “Bob and Carol, Ted and Alice” running joke of our first meeting, but nothing can break up a friendship forged by sharing a room as your first date.

Thank you Embassy Suite.  From that night forward, Doug and Carol and their family became an integral part of our family’s life.  Without your donated room to that casino night thirty “odd” years ago, my wife and I would never have discovered one of the most likable, family oriented and adventuresome couples with whom we have spent a lifetime.

To quote someone “Ain’t life funny sometimes.”

Cancer Sucks

I am sure that if you have suffered with cancer or had a loved one or friend deal with this disease, you will agree with me that cancer sucks.  I have lost several close friends to cancer and have had many others left to deal with the treatments.  Yesterday I lost my brother-in-law, Horst Klemm, to this awful disease.  It is personal and it is painful.

Horst was a cornerstone in our family.  He was a mountain man who would hunt elk in the mountains above his home in Bishop, Ca.  He was a rancher as each year he would take their horses up to the mountain meadows.  Horst was a fisherman with many a catch to brag about each year as he and my sister would travel to Alaska.  He was a craftsman who built and remodeled hundreds of homes in and around the Owen’s Valley.  He was a husband and a father and the best grandfather anyone could hope to know.  And through it all he faced his cancer with courage and determination.

It could be said that he led a great life and accomplished much.  But that would be an excuse for leaving us too soon.  Cancer respects no time frame, no family dynamic, no age or importance.  It takes its victims indiscriminately.  It took Horst and he will be missed dearly by his friends and family.

Cancer sucks.  It always has and it always will.  I for one will support with my resources those working for its cure.  I challenge all who would read this to do the same.  For those of you who have been directly affected, I know you already do.  For those who have never been affected, do so in honor of the good health you enjoy.

I will miss you Horst.  I will miss your caring nature, your rugged approach to life and the wisdom you always so graciously shared with us all.

Godspeed Horst.

12th Day Before Christmas

In the 12 days before Christmas, I had been rewriting the 12 Days of Christmas song with a different gift involving my family each day.  What follows is the explanation for the last gift and my Christmas sentiment to my family.

On the twelfth day before Christmas I am giving to you, the twelve hours before Christmas.  These are the last few hours before Christmas finally arrives.  These are the magical hours.  It is during these hours that Christmas truly comes alive.  The deep meaningful traditions occur in these last important hours.

Children come home to be with their families.  The final gifts go under the tree and the wonder and anticipation begins.  The deep lasting traditions happen in these hours.  I recall my family’s Christmas Eve, heading off to church to sing in the children’s Christmas Eve service, visiting my aunts, and anticipating all those gifts waiting back home.  Watching the Christmas Carol with my dad and falling asleep with my head cradled under his arm.  I remember our own Christmas Eve’s together, listening in church to the Christmas story, singing the carols and filling in “as Wundrows watched their sheep by night” much to your mother’s chagrin.  And in those twelve hours, believing in Santa as a child and never questioning how he could visit all those houses in just one night.  Then, believing that you could be and actually are the Santa beginning the day you stopped believing in the real one.  I’m still pretty sure there is one, just ask Jackson if you want to believe as well.  I watched him put his nose to the window and wave to him last night.

Those are the things that happen in the twelve hours before Christmas.  Everything else was just the build up to these final mystical hours.  My gift to you is to remind you never to let them diminish in importance, to even slip away.  Hold them sacred and develop your own traditions.  Make them almost rituals.  Be together with family, the one you grew up in or just your own.  But make it family time.  Tuck your children into bed with a Christmas story of your own and then go put their Santa presents under the tree.

These are your final hours before Christmas.  What will you do with them?  If the true spirit of Christmas is in you, I know it will be magical.

Merry Christmas.  Celebrate well.

Dad

Sugar Sandwich

Disclaimer, my siblings may each have their own memories of this story and that is okay.  Memories are just extractions of an event that occurred in the past and come back to us the way we remember them as well as the way we perceived them.  Because of this, each person will take a unique interpretation of the memory.  What follows is my own memory of this event and the significance it had for me.

I grew up in the farmhouse my parents and grandparents shared.  At the time this story took place, my grandfather was no longer alive and my grandmother was living in the upstairs of our farmhouse.  I and my two brothers were typical boys.  We tried to be good and most times we were kept so busy with farm chores, that we didn’t have a lot of time to get in much trouble.  But as boys will be boys, and no that is not an excuse, we would still find times to get in our share of trouble.

It would be at these times, exasperated by our behavior, that our mother would lay down the law and send us upstairs to our room.  I am not sure how this was really going to straighten us out but it seemed to be the law.

Upon arriving upstairs, grandma would take us aside and ask us what we had done this time?  Upon our confession, we would be given her sage advice on how we might have made a better choice had we thought about the consequences.  And then would come the sugar sandwich.  Grandma was always making homemade bread.  You know the kind, soft and chewy and warm enough to melt the butter she applied.  But grandma added an extra ingredient, a spoonful of sugar.

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After her advice was taken and sorrys were said, the sugar sandwich treat was ours to devour.  We would then be sent back downstairs to repent our behaviour, tell mom we were sorry and promise never to err again, or at least not for the rest of that day.  We always thought mom didn’t know about the sugar sandwich and that if she ever found out, it may have changed our punishment routine.  In some ways I have always wondered why the whole process didn’t cause us to seek out the punishment just to get the sugar sandwich.  Truth of the matter was, that as good as those sandwiches were, the lecture from mom and the reinforcement from grandma were enough to make us want to behave better.

If there is a moral here, and there are multiple morals, it is that children aren’t raised by just the parent.  The more we share the responsibility of inspiring our children, the more rounded they become.  A pun involving the sugar here comes to mind but that is not the “rounded” I am referring to.  There is value in the sage wisdom of grandparents, relatives and friends that can teach children perspective and help develop their opinions and ethics.  My grandmother knew how to get us to listen to the lesson.  In some ways, the sugar sandwich reminded me that I could be forgiven if I was willing to accept my responsibility.

In the day to day ups and downs, we can all use the occasional sugar sandwich to let us know we are still okay and still loved.  Try giving someone you care about a sugar sandwich.  Who knows, they might even take your advice.

And Then I Blinked

This blog entry will need an intro.  I wrote this piece on the occasion of my daughter Bailey’s marriage to her fiancee, John on July 17th, 2011.  My goal was twofold.  I wanted to have a chance to recollect some of my favorite memories all the while impressing on Bailey and John as well as their guests just how fast life can move.  I wanted to impart on them that it was important not only to make the memories, but to remember them and to retell them on those special occasions life offers.

Bailey and John promised me a chance to tell a story, provided I kept it to 5 minutes.  But there are too many to tell.  Better time me.  With a slight apology to Kenny Chesney, here goes.

 

It is April 21, 1984 and I am standing in the delivery room holding my baby girl.  22 hours of labor, and a C section to boot……… you were already stubborn then.  But what is her name I am asked…….”Bailey”. I respond with unimaginable pride.

 

And then I blinked….

 

I am standing along side my brother in his wedding party looking for you and mom in the front pew.  Seems you decided to make a bigger scene than the wedding and mom in her “patient” manner made you walk the 2 miles back to the farm…. before the wedding even begins.  A little of that stubborn streak again?  Oh by the way, you were far more elegant today babe.

 

And then I blinked….

 

You are suddenly 3 and I am ransacking the sitter’s house looking for your other shoe.  Seems I have fallen victim to the “hide the shoe” delay tactic.  I think this is when you started mentioning going to Shopko to get a new dad.  What aisle is that in and was I a blue light special?

 

And then I blinked …

 

I think you are 5 now and we are sitting on the couch together.  Mom needs you to say you’re sorry but you don’t think so.  Bernstein Bears to the rescue.  And it works… too well… from this point forward “sorry” is the easiest word in your vocabulary.  It will even get you in trouble later in High School.  Laps I think, for the whole team I believe!  There’s no sorry in softball.  But that’s another story.

 

 

 

 

And then I blinked …

 

When did you become this young lady?  You are ready for high school but not before you travel to Washington DC.  Even I hadn’t been there, but I felt like I had when I listened to your stories of the adventure.  That will become a theme with you.  Everything becomes an adventure.  Sure hope John is adventuresome.

 

And then I blinked …

 

You are in high school now and two sports have spurred your interest, Softball and Golf.  In softball you want maximum involvement so let’s be the pitcher, and golf….Really?   Can you pick more stressful sports for us to watch?  I had to spend your first golf season sneaking around the course so you wouldn’t see me.  By the second season we had developed our very own sign language.  And Softball, Just throw strikes, for God sake just throw strikes!

 

And then I blinked …

 

You’re in college now, about to realize your ultimate goal.  Hi dad, remember that goal of getting to ride the Zamboni, guess I’ll drive it instead.  You got to actually make the ice for the Badger practices at the Shell.  Badger hockey games would never be the same.  Now we evaluate the Zamboni driver’s skills during the intermissions.

 

And then I blinked…

 

You’ve graduated from college and you just finished your first interview.  How did the interview go? I think pretty well dad…. They gave me the job.  And another teacher is added to our family.  Good choice of subject by the way!  You had never wavered.  You told us in first grade you would be a teacher and now Verona just made it real.

 

And then I blinked…

 

And then there was John.  We’re at the Packer game and I am fired up for the game to begin, but who’s this guy that’s come down to our seats for a “visit”?  I’ve met several would be boy friends but there is something different this time.  I’ll need to keep an eye on this one.

 

And then I blinked…

 

And it was today and your arm is in mine and we are standing at the doorway to the rest of your life.  And you are beautiful and you are ready.  And I am incredibly proud to be your father.  I place your hand in John’s and I pray and I know that it is right.

 

John, I entrust you with my daughter, she is my heart, full of all the love and pride a father can have.  She comes with no instruction manual.  It is for you to figure it out, but feel free to ask for advice now and then. Take care of her heart and take care of each other.

 

In the words of one of my favorite singers “Live, Laugh and Love”  Always Together.  Just don’t blink.

 

Please raise your glasses in a toast to my daughter and my new son. 

 

May the love that has brought you together and the marriage that makes you whole, sustain you all the days of your life.  Cheers.

Thirty-six years….and counting

November 15, 2016

To my wife and partner of thirty-six years

Life is an interesting journey.  So many little things brought us together all those years ago.  Some of those things were good ones and some, unfortunately, were not but never the less they were the steps that brought our paths to the intersection where we met.  Not that you were ready for the likes of me.  You put up a fair share of resistance.  Fortunately, one of my traits was persistence and your resistance quickly wore down.

We started out small, dinner at the Checkerboard, Dutch treat as I had so little to offer you other than my wit and charm.  Nice to know we have outlasted the Checkerboard, long since gone.  We advanced to our first date, a movie left unnamed and attended by accident.  To eventually deciding that our feelings were mutual and it was time to stop being apart, if even for a day or even a few hours at a time.

We made it to Thanksgiving, our first holiday together.  There would be thirty-six more to come, many with distinct memories, apple cobbler served warm on a bed of concrete comes to mind, but none so remarkable as that first Thanksgiving.  I will forever refer to it as the Shepherd Inquisition.  How I survived is beyond me.  If I had been your father, I would have sent me packing.  But this is where your character trait came into play.  You are a strong person who when she knows she is right takes a stand that no one can move.  And so you fought for me.  This would be the first in multiple times that you would fight for me.  I am glad you have won every time.

I remember our first truly “big” date.  You know, the one where he surprises you with his willingness to spend way more than he can afford on a destination that is meant to impress.  Do you remember….the Top of the 95th in Chicago?  By the time we left dinner, the one with the lovely view of the kitchen, I barely had enough money to get us out of the parking garage.  But somehow you were impressed.  A trick I have managed to pull off countless times since and something I will continue to attempt far into our future.

Oh we have had our fights along the way.  Some trivial and others worth fighting for, but through it all we learned more about each other every time and we learned to fight nice, love more and laugh at life together.  When our careers distracted us, one of us always took on the role of supporter.  We soothed our frazzled nerves and reached out and pulled each other through.

And then there were children.  First Bailey and then all those years later, Kathryn.  We created them out of love and rededicated our lives to theirs.  We faced the challenge of raising two bright and beautiful, independent young women and we championed our efforts.  We learned the art of divide and conquer, the skill of compromise without losing sight of the goal and the pleasure only two lively intelligent girls could bring to our family.  By the looks of it, aka the last reality check, we have succeeded.

There are so many tales to tell, so little room to write them all down.  But at least a mention.  Our Christmas traditions, starting with that first movie, Pauley, and eventually growing into our dinners on the town and The Christmas Carol presentation.  Thirty-six Christmas mornings, thirty-two with children, one with a dog if I remember correctly.  The family trips; Italy, the Caribbean, Mexico, Yellowstone and Yosemite to name just a few.  So many wonderful memories and so many years together.

What has kept us together all these years?  Love and respect.  Sometimes just enough and other times more than enough to store for the years ahead.  Thank you for always fighting for me and for standing up alongside of me when I needed that support.  We are a partnership, forged in tenacity and built on a foundation of love.  I look forward to the future and if it is in the stars, another thirty-six years to build our continuing book of memories.

All my love on this our anniversary.

Ken

“Jackson Wants a Plane”

My two year old grandson is spending the week with us while his parents are enjoying  a well deserved vacation.  So that means I get to start doing what grandpas do best.  Yes, I will begin the spoiling routine.  For today’s effort, we will go to one of my favorite eating spots for breakfast.  The restaurant is The Jet Room.  For those of you whom have never experienced it, The Jet Room serves an incredible breakfast with a direct view of the airport and its runways.  Jackson is in for a treat.

Before we can even begin breakfast, we are treated to multiple small and medium sized private planes landing and taking off right before his saucer sized eyes.  Jackson, you see, has been enthralled with planes ever since the first time he was able to understand that a contrail was the evidence of an plane.  Now, surrounded by planes, he is pretty much distracted, and even his chocolate milk goes untouched.  It only takes a few more minutes and Jackson declares “Jackson wants a plane”.

I know what you are thinking but no, I didn’t go buy a plane or even a ride.  Even my spoiling vent would ever go that far, let alone my bank account. But his request stirred a different thought.  How far does one go in the effort to influence a child’s dream.

I raised two daughters and throughout their youthful exuberance, I watched them switch from one dream to another.  It seemed that every time they got to experience an “adventure”, they developed a new dream of what their future might hold.  I learned then to be supportive.  This often meant getting the necessary equipment or even perhaps enrolling them in a class or camp.  But I soon figured out that the danger lie in trying to create my dream rather than letting them evolve their own.  We can miss the point so easily.  The beauty of the exposure to different opportunities is that the child learns to dream.  If we become the “pushy” parent, we try to influence the dream.  There is no independence and as a result no ownership.  Without either of these two key ingredients, the child will never develop what is needed to possibly make their dream come true; a goal and the determination to reach for it.  We should be supportive but they need to be independent.  This is a difficult balance.

If you were thinking I was about to tell you how to find that balance, sorry.  The truth is that balance is something one finds on their own.  It is trial and error that must be experienced.  I will put it this way.  Today I could have bought Jackson a plane ride and spent the entire time telling him he could become a pilot one day, but that would be my dream.  I will admit that I had the “future pilot” t-shirt in my hand, but balance told me to put it away.  I had done my job.  I had given Jackson an adventure.  I must leave it to him to dream and maybe one day pursue some course that involves planes.  The truth of the matter is that he may just have had a day of fascination and nothing more will come of it.  But I am sure of one thing, Jackson will evolve his own dreams and one day, who knows, maybe the sky will be the limit.