The following is essentially what i said at my grandfather’s funeral today. I typed it out after i got done mowing a few days ago, knowing that i would be saying something at the service. I got through most of it without getting too emotional. However at the end I faltered a little bit.
The other day I was mowing. See we have this old riding mower that takes a screw driver and a pair of pliers and some magic to get it started. Needless to say I didn’t want to mess with it. Instead I used a push mower. To no surprise I started thinking about Pap. It’s not a coincidence that I was thinking about while mowing because my fondest memories of him are centered around him fixing push mowers. I didnt know my grandfather when he worked in a steel mill or as game warden. I knew him as a lawnmower repairman. Sitting out front of his red garage. For awhile there if you lived in Mercer or around the area chances are you had you bought your mower or had fixed or repaired by Russell. He was also the type of guy that if you were a little short he would just simply “pay me next time” and the thing is there was always a next time because you didn’t necessarily come to get your mower fixed but for the coffee that my grandma provided and most importantly the conversation. My grandfather was the type that could go weeks, months, years without seeing you and he would simply just pick up the conversation like it was yesterday. I remember people stopping by that he hadn’t seen in years stay and talk like best friends. That was my pap. A great man that seemed to have unlimited patience with me and my brothers. A man that would always let you settle up later. A man that you could slip into a conversation with as if it never ended. One day I’ll have another conversation with my pap, and I assure you it will be as if no time has passed.
Hey little man. Tonight was pretty rough. Sometimes I forget that you are just 5 years old. Sometimes I forget that your brain won’t fully develop for another two decades. I forget that at the age of 5 everything is magnified so much more. I’m sorry.
I remember when I had to move when I was about 13 years old. I hated it. That summer was the worst. The following school year wasn’t that much better. You can ask your Nanna. I can’t imagine what you are going through at the age of 5 and having to move. Not only move but getting use to living with new people. Me being around less. Not getting the individual attention you need. Sometimes I forget.
Honestly, I’m so proud of how you have done so far. Are things perfect? No. However, you’ve done an amazing job. So amazing that I do forgot how difficult all of this has been for you. You left friends. A house. Family. Routine. I’m sorry that I forgot.
I’ll do better to remember how much things have changed for you. How much all of this affects you. How much your life has changed. You have done an amazing job. I have to do better and I will.
I am that parent. You know the one. The one that is just a little too loud as they cheer on their kid. The one that goes a little over board. The one that you are pretty sure will end up arguing with the refs by the end of the game. I am that parent.
Toby recently started playing soccer. As an avid sports fan I am beyond excited to see what the little man can do. I want him to be the next Messi, Pele, you know the one name players, Toby. That’s what I want. I want him to take off down the field on a fast break and kick a game winning goal. To have everyone cheer as streaks down into the box and drops a perfect header past the goalie. That’s what I want. I want him to be one of the best.
First game of the season, I was disappointed. Toby quit on his team. He refused to go back into the game. He was nervous and scared. No matter how much anyone tried to coax him back into the game, he simply did not want to go. There was a huge factor in him not wanting to go back in. Me. I was temporary coach. The coach for the first week couldn’t make it. So I volunteered. It was a disaster for Toby. What I wanted was to coach Toby on the field and see him be one of the best. The thing is, that’s not what Toby wanted. I think it was too much. Too much pressure on him to do well with me right on the field. The first time he has ever played an organized sport. A game that is more than just being silly. Dad as coach, was not what he wanted.
I knew that Toby quitting was probably because of me, but I didn’t want quitting to become a habit. The rest of the week I would take time to remind Toby not to quit on his team. To not give up. To not be scared or nervous. To be brave. He made it through the next practice. He didn’t quit. He listened to the coach. Even though he was on the ground more than he was running, he kept getting up and playing. This week’s game was more of the same. Running, laughing, falling and getting back up. The coach would tell him were to go and he listened. I cheered from the sidelines. Loudly.
Throughout the game Toby would give me random thumbs up. I would flash him one back. It’s like a secret signal developed between us. His little signal that he hadn’t given up. That he was ok.
Toby broke away from the pack. He was virtually all alone and headed toward the goal. He slowed down to make sure he controlled the ball. He kept getting closer and closer to the goal. I was yelling my head off. Suddenly, a flash of gold came streaking down and stole the ball from him. This little girl sprinting past and taking the ball. I was devastated. Man he missed a huge chance. I wanted him to score a goal so bad. A little few minutes later Toby turned around and looked over at me from midfield. He smiled really big and flashed me a thumbs up. I gave him a thumbs up. As Toby and I walked back to the car, Toby looked up to me and said “Dad did you see me almost score a goal?”
“Yeah little man I saw” I replied.
“It was awesome!” Toby said.
“It was little man, I proud of you” I replied.
Dear Toby, (3/16/15)
WOW, you are five years old! It’s been absolutely amazing. I cannot explain how much pride and joy I have in you. You are such an amazing son. I love you so much. The whole parenting thing is that I am suppose to provide for you. I’m suppose to love and nurture you. Make sure you eat right and stay out of trouble. Make sure you learn manners and get enough sleep at night. In truth son for as much as I do for you, you do so much more for me. You motivate me to become a better person, a better father. Your love that you have towards pushes me to do better. It propels me to be a better person. I know that you are watching me. Learning from me. Even though I interact with dozens of people each day, the most important person that I interact with is you. I honestly do not know what I would be doing or where I would be if I did not have your love motivating me to be better. The memory, thought, image in my head when I feel like giving up, saying something stupid or just losing it, is of you when you first see when I walk into a room. You pop your head up. Break into a huge smile. Then you hop right before you take off into a sprint towards me. You do it each time I pick you up from school, Nanna’s, your mom drops you off, and today when I showed up at your birthday party. So, did I spend a little too much for your birthday? Did i get one, two or three too many presents for you? Did I go out of my way to buy you the Angry Birds Transformers and visit no less than 4 stores and three websites trying to find them? YES. Here is the thing, all of that is nothing compared to what you give me each day. The motivation and love to do better, to be better. Even though you thanked me for your presents, I should be the one thanking you for everything you do for me.
Thank You Love,
As many of you know I am a die hard Steelers fan. I have a hoodie I wear so much that the one day I wore a different hoodie to work one of my students chimed “Mr. Nate I don’t think I have ever seen you without your Steelers hoodie, you look weird.” As a Steelers fan I am programmed to hate all things Cleveland Browns. I can’t stand the color orange. I think it’s the worst color in the crayon box. I do everything in my power to avoid wearing the color. I would rather wear bright pink and neon green than wear orange. So naturally, I am a huge Johnny Manziel hater. I think he will get crushed under some big defensive lineman and turn into the next RG3. Recent events however has me respecting Johnny Football as a person. Now that amount of respect fills thimble and no more, but at least it’s there.
Recently, Johnny Manziel check himself into rehab. The reason for the rehab has been undisclosed. From what sources like ESPN and CBS Sports, the speculation is that Johnny Football is really Johnny Alcoholic. His escapades have been well documented through twitter, instagram and TMZ. What has garnered the respect that I have toward Johnny Manziel is the fact that he didn’t get suspended a couple of games before this happened. There wasn’t a huge incident like Ray Rice and forced him into rehab. I’m just speculating but I’m believe someone convinced him to go. Regardless of who talked him into it or how it came about, at some point Johnny football realized he needed help.
I know for me it’s hard to admit that you need help. Pride gets in the way. I think I can do it on my own. I think I can make it. I’ll some how will my way through, figure out the puzzle in front of me, find a way out. Too often I know that for me, asking for help is like admitting I’m weak. That I some how failed. It’s tough to lay down that pride and reach out a hand.
I know there is no way I could survive being a single dad without my mom and my ex. That the grind of being a dad would eventually whittle away at me. That was very evident the past few weeks when my mom couldn’t watch Toby. Financially, I had to pay for an extra day of daycare, which adds up. Emotionally, I would have killed for an extra evening away from the hyperactive four year old with an equally as hyperactive imagination. The struggle was real. I probably could have survived long term but the toll it was taking even after just four weeks was rough.
As humans we aren’t perfect but we try our best. Too often our best isn’t good enough and we need help. We stumble and fall, get knocked down and we think that we can do it on our own. Newsflash: We can’t. We need help. Johnny Football maybe a narcissistic, over hyped football demigod but even he realized he needed help.
I was getting down on myself earlier today. This week has been rough. My grandfather is in the hospital because he has influenza and at his age it could kill him. Work has been rough with people under the microscope for accusations, including myself. Then I drive home and realize that I have coolant leaking from my car. Toss in a persistent cough that hasn’t gone away and a few other issues, including an over active four year old and you get a rough week.
One of the constant things I tell my students at work is that this life isn’t about the good times, it’s about the bad times and how you handle yourself. They hear it so much that they can quote me verbatim. I was reminded of my own quote when I finally sat down and watched all the special acknowledgements of Stuart Scott’s life. I watched the videos that ESPN put together and Rich Eisen giving play by play using all of Stu Scott’s catchphrases. I teared up. Not because this man was the voice of sports for me while I was in college and into being an adult, but because all anyone talked about was how much he loved his daughters and how hard he fought to survive for them. I teared up because when times were bad he went on set and anchored ESPN after probably throwing up from chemo.
I thought of my grandfather. This is a man that I have never heard him say a bad word about anybody. A man that people would stop by to just talk to. A man that I can honestly say I don’t ever remember him raising his voice or displaying anger, even when helping to raise two boys throughout the summers while their mother worked. The patience that he had as he tried to teach us about mowers. Here is a man that even when life took his sight, mobility, stamina and overall well being never seemed bitter or angry.
This life isn’t about how you handle yourself when times are good, it’s about what you do when times are bad.
I have debated a few ways of approaching this post. Originally I wanted to look at it from a sports fan perspective or maybe as a rant. Instead I’ve gone back to what works and what I think most people will respond to, a Dear Toby.
Hey little man, well I guess if you are reading this then you probably aren’t a little man but you know you will always be my little man. I don’t care if you grow up to be 6’10” and 250 lbs, you’ll be my little man. So crazy stuff has been happening in the world. There is a ton of civil unrest. People are protesting and rioting. It all stems from two incidents involving police and blacks guys who have died in the hands of the police. Honestly, it scares me that you are a minority living in this world. That you could make a couple of bad choices and end up paying for it with your life because of the color of your skin. It’s a scary thought. How can I protect you from racism? Hateful words and actions? How can I guard you from ignorance and close mindedness? The truth is, I can’t. The over reaction I think would be to teach you to be guarded, untrusting, and cynical. At the same time I don’t want you to be naive, blinded and unaware. Where is the balance? The goal, I think, will be to help you recognize that there are terrible people in this world with terrible thoughts. Their lives can and will negatively affect you if you let them. At the same time there are amazing people in this world that are full of love and they can affect your life in such amazing ways. The key my son is to find to be aware of both and be ready for either.
I love you,
This blog is really a follow up to a Facebook post. I posted a picture of my son crying. It had been a fairly terrible night. I had decided against my better judgement to take Toby to a trick or treat downtown. Now normally this isn’t an issue but it was raining off and on. Now because Toby is my child, he is a fairly concrete thinker. In his mind he imagines trick or treating by going to people’s houses and not stores. Well the trick or treat for my town was Saturday and the “merchant” trick or treat was Tuesday. Toby was less than enthused when he tried to walk down another street to people’s houses and do trick or treat and I wouldn’t let him. The water began to flow. Not just the rain but the tears! Combine the pouring down rain and a crying 4yr old equals an unhappy dad. So despite Toby’s wails, I scooped him up and walked in the pouring rain back to my car. The tears didn’t stop there. Since I had taken Toby away from trick or treating and he missed the parade the tears fell heavier than the rain drops outside.
I left the garage door open and came inside. Told Toby that when he calmed down and stop crying he could come inside. The bawling continued. I hopped on Facebook. Oh the wonderful pictures I saw of other families downtown trick or treating. The smiling faces and the happy parents. The happy posts of other friends with new babies that can barely walk. The care free post of nothingness. The whole time Toby is wailing in the background adding a completely inappropriate soundtrack to the photos and posts that I was viewing. I liken it to watching a kids cartoon with the soundtrack to of the Walking Dead blaring. Let’s just say I had enough.
I went out and posted a picture of the tear soaked cheeks of my son. I did it out of frustration but I did it to provide a reminder that being a parent is hard. That when you go on Facebook and see all the perfect families with all the perfect smiling children that it’s all a LIE! Ok, not a complete lie but in all reality is that people don’t post when their kids are bad, crying, throwing tantrums, hitting each other, slamming doors, or breaking your favorite electronic device. No, generally we post the happy pictures that make us smile and think “man, that’s a happy family”.
In the end I think we can become disillusioned by looking on Facebook and seeing all the happy smiling faces. I’m just as guilty as anyone. So in a moment of honesty and truth I posted a picture of what we all as parents experience but don’t share with one another.
Tonight I let Toby stay up late. No school, no work, why not? He watched his shows on the kindle. I watched mine on the tv. He would randomly come up and jump on my lap and kiss my face all over and then run away. I would leave the room and he would find an excuse to follow. When I put him to bed he was whinny and wanted someone “big” to lay down with him, so I laid in his bed for a few minutes. Later I went in and put an extra blanket on him because he feels the need to sleep with a fan blowing on him. Throughout tonight the same thought pulsated through my head: I couldn’t imagine whipping him with a switch and leaving cuts and bruises on his legs.
Tonight it came out that Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings is being accused of child abuse. He admitted taking a switch from a tree and hitting his 4 yr old son with it repeatedly. Full disclosure, I’ve smacked Toby’s butt on a few occasions and popped him in the mouth when he has yelled and talked back. However, I could not imagine beating him with a belt or a switch. I couldn’t imagine hitting hard enough to leave cuts, welts and bruises. It’s just simply something I wouldn’t do.
One of the phrases I always tell my kids at work is “just because something always was doesn’t mean it has to continue.” I use segregation as an example. About how blacks, “colored” couldn’t drink from the same water fountains as white. Things have changed and progressed. The response from my friends have varied about the Adrian Peterson incident. Some have said “well if that’s the case my parents should be in jail” or “he (Adrian Peterson) should be shot” and “that’s what happened to me as a kid, I don’t see a big deal.” To those who accept the fact that this isn’t a big deal because it happened to them, I say that just because you went through it doesn’t make it right. Just because that’s how things were, doesn’t mean it has to be continue.
I fully admit that this world would be a better place if parents were stricter with their kids. That kids seem to get away with everything. That with things like smart phones and all the evils that come with it, that kids are exposed to more now than ever before. I understand that as kids we remembered those “whoopings” our parents gave us. At the same time, I look at Toby and can’t imagine at the age of 4, him doing anything that would want me to beat him until he bled, was bruised and battered. For those that simply accept what happened as a part of growing up, I ask what can a 4 yr old really do to deserve bruises on his butt, legs, back, hands, and scrotum? I can’t imagine.