Becoming a Dad

I became a father on April 21, 1984. Bailey was born that morning after a long previous day and night of waiting for her. We had to make a decision that morning to continue trying or to consider a C Section delivery. That decision was taken away when it became clear we had to do an emergency surgery to bring Bailey into our world.

At the time, becoming a father was a scary thing. I was worried that I would not be a good father. I thought I might be ill prepared for the role and thus not able to do what was needed to be the father Bailey would need. This was a huge responsibility I was about to take on and was I willing to make the life style changes that it would require. As I look back on that fear, I realize how selfish that was. I was more concerned about me than what I actually needed to be concerned about.

The surgery was successful and within moments of the delivery, Bailey was in my arms and my world and my worries changed. In that moment, as her tiny hand found my finger, my world became her world and I transitioned from worried father to fully engaged dad. It now all made sense. To be a father simply took the act, but being a dad was a gift that was bestowed upon you by that moment you connected with the life you had helped create. Of course my life would change. I had a whole new person to share it with. That fear of responsibility was replaced by the excitement of being part of a whole new journey.

I spent the next several hours bonding with and falling in love with our little baby girl as my wife recovered from the surgery. These were precious moments that shaped the rest of my relationship, moments where I learned the difference between being a father and being a dad. By the time my wife was able to hold our child, her life was all ready being mapped out. She would be given adventures to make her strong. She would be given opportunities to grow in every possible way.  She would be given support in whatever choices she made. She would be loved.

Seven years later, my wife and I would welcome the birth of our second child, this time by natural delivery but no less dramatic. I would be given a chance to do it all again and this time to help my older daughter become the big sister. Kathryn was welcomed into our world on April 26, 1991 and just as her sister became part of our plans, so too did Kathryn become part of our family plans. Like her sister before her, she would be encouraged to find her own space, to be part of our adventures, to be loved for who she was and would become. To be honest, I think Kathryn took her role to be the one who would make the adventures bigger.

It is with purpose that I have recounted this story on Father’s Day. It was and will always be my greatest honor to have been a father who understands what it takes to be a dad.

Anniversaries

It’s an ingrained cultural tradition. We celebrate the passing of time by recording anniversaries. We celebrate New Year’s every year to say goodbye to the past year and to welcome the next. Last year we actually celebrated the passing of 2019 and unwittingly welcomed, yes welcomed, 2020. Of course at the time we were looking forward to a new decade, an election, and of course the Summer Olympics, an event we had waited four years for. No one could have warned us about what was coming. In hindsight, we all likely wish we had just skipped 2020. In truth, we will actually look back at it as a significant anniversary; the anniversary of us navigating a pandemic and accepting cancellation or delay of pretty much every event we ever kept track of.

We mark time by our events, including those we cancelled in 2020, like the Kentucky Derby, The Indy 500, The World Series and so many more. Now I know we didn’t truly cancel most of those but rather we delayed them or moved them to different dates, and does that change their anniversary? If we eventually held them, then the dates aren’t the important issue. It’s that we still celebrated them that counts, even if it was in the new, on the wrong date, socially distanced, crowd limited, everyone masked pandemic style. We will not soon forget this year and it will certainly become its own anniversary; 2020, the year of COVID-19.

And let’s not forget our birthdays. We mark another trip around the sun and vow to make the next one the best we ever had. I personally am going to subtract a year for 2020 and declare a mulligan. Maybe I should strive to live twice as hard next year in an effort to make up for this one. After all, this upcoming birthday is a milestone on its own. Anniversaries remind us of the past, of emotions we had when we were involved in something monumental, not that I remember my emotions on the day of my birth, that would have belonged to my mom and dad. I think the first one I really remember was my sixth birthday and my Howdy Doody party, but I certainly have memories of most of them that followed. Sixteen and getting my driver’s license, twenty-one and proving I wasn’t that grown up, but that’s another story that is best left never told, or twenty-nine when I suspect I finally became an adult, or thirty three when the birth of my first child completely rocked my world and changed me forever. So many years, so many anniversaries.

But I need to go back to twenty-nine. As much as thirty-three changed me, twenty-nine was the year that began that transformation. It was in that year, 1980, that my world began to change. Though I had met Deb three years earlier, this was the year we made a commitment to each other to travel the rest of our life, our anniversaries if you would, as a couple, a partnership in the game of Life. We bought our first home that fall and then on November 15th, 1980, Deb and I were married. With stars in our eyes and nothing but hope to set sail on, we ventured on this journey of making a life together, of perfecting our careers and beginning traditions. Of new cars, vacation trips and adventures in them, of exploring new opportunities, and of starting our family.

And here we are, forty years later, still together, still in love and still planning on the next best year of our life; COVID-19 be damned. As true as it was the day we said “I do”, we can never pretend to know what the future holds for us. But if the past is any indictor, that future will be so worth entering. And just like the forty years that have come before, we will enter it together, hand in hand, loving and trusting each other with every new day we are gifted.

Don’t let set backs, delays or even failures dampen your ability to celebrate those anniversaries in your life. Embrace the opportunity to relive what made them special, what set them apart as a date worth remembering. Let each anniversary remind you of the fullness of life and traditions and then look forward to the next.

This Sunday, if you would, think of us as we celebrate forty years together, and if you have been a part of our life journey, raise a glass in a toast to us. Know that we will certainly be toasting all of you and the roles you have played in our life together. Cheers

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.