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.
One of the line I say to my kids at work is that “many times as an adult things are not right or wrong but each choice has a set of consequences and many of the decisions you make are based on which set of consequences can you live with.” As many times I as I say this there are many more times that there are times in which you simply have to do the right thing, regardless of the consequences. Too often I think we look for a rock and hard place to squeeze between so we don’t have to make the right choice and we can avoid making the choice altogether.
As people my belief is that honestly, we are inherently lazy. We simply do the least amount of work for the most gain. However if we can avoid doing any work and seemingly lose out a minimal amount, we’ll do that too. We look to avoid situations in which we’ll be put on the spot or have to potentially step up and do the right thing. I see time and time again where the right thing to do is blaring a horn, waving a sign and wearing face paint and yet the a person will find excuses so that they don’t have to do it.
One way I see people do this is intentionally try and find a rock and a hard place to squeeze into. Take a week and observe friends, family, coworkers and bosses and see if you think this is true. What this will look like is the person making excuses on both sides. Building up barriers as to why they shouldn’t do this or that. Becoming paralyzed when called upon to step up. When confronted with it not stepping up they’ll argue both sides and seemly boxing themselves in and will then look at you and ask this “what was I suppose to do?” Oh and the hands are always raised as to signify they are helpless to do anything about it.
I know I am cynical. I know that I don’t trust 99.99% of all humanity and that it takes moving mountains to get me to react emotionally to anything. However, look around and tell me you don’t see this. That you haven’t experienced this. That you haven’t been frustrated with this. Chances are, if you haven’t then you’re the one doing it.
Hey little man. Well I guess if you are reading this you probably aren’t so little. As always, I hope you are doing well. I hope things are good for you. I can only imagine what you are doing now. If you have a job, a wife, your own child. Maybe you are traveling around with friends. Maybe you are in school and hopefully studying. Who know?! I do know that no matter what I love you and I’m proud of you.
It’s been an interesting couple of months since my last letter to you. You had to be taken to the hospital because you had a severe asthma attack. It was pretty insane. You coughed and coughed. To the point in which you couldn’t keep food or drink down. You had a fever and you kept saying your stomach hurt. After a sleepless night for the both of us things finally calmed down. The aftermath consisted of a definite diagnosis of asthma and a host of allergies, including and especially horses.
The hardest part of all is that as a parent you do everything you can to keep you child safe. When you were in the hospital and I had too much time to think, doubts crept into my mind. Thoughts like “did I miss something?” “Should I have acted sooner?” “Could I have prevented this?” In the end though, the realization is that I can’t always protect you. I can’t always be around and watching over. It’s a tough realization to come to as a parent.
The realization is that I can do everything in my power and you could still be at risk of something. That I can keep a car from hitting you and watch you like hawk but a small particle of grass can mess up your breathing. It’s a humbling experience to realize that you can’t do it all. That a little pill that you chew up and swallow protects you better than I can.
I also realize this, that as of now I’m your provider. I pay the insurance so that we can afford the little pill that can protect you. That you still need me to open the little bottle and give you the pill and most importantly need me to remember to give it to you. I also realize that one day, probably like the day you are reading this, that you won’t need me for those things either. That you’ll be doing it by yourself. It will sadden me a little bit but I’ll also be proud of you.
Dear Toby, (6/21/14)
Hey son. Right now you are with Nanna. I miss you. I can’t help but think about you as I mill around the house. Pick up your toys, clean your room, push past your milk in the fridge. I can help but think of your smile as I look around the house. Your little smile is truly so contagious. I love it. I hope it will never change
Crazy word, change. It’s scary. It’s exciting. It’s mysterious. It’s inspiring. We’ve been through an incredible amount of changes in the past year. You have had to adjust to so much. I am amazed how you have handled yourself. I am so very proud.
The crazier thing is that there are more changes to come. Changes we don’t see coming and changes we can plan for. It’s tough. Some of the changes are small, so small you don’t really notice it. Like you growing up. Your shoes not fitting or your ever expanding vocabulary. It’s incredible. Then there are changes that will hit us like a ton of bricks. Ones that come out of nowhere and we have to simply adjust on the fly. Those can be the hardest. The life changing changes.
So far my awesome little guy you have done an amazing job adjusting to the changes. The small ones that come with growing up and the bricks that have come your way. When you are reading this know that you will still have changes coming your way. They’ll be scary, exciting, mysterious, inspiring, painful and wonderful. In the end though, we can’t escape the changes. Do what you have been doing, simply adjust and keep smiling.
Dear Toby, (5/27/14)
First and always, I hope you are doing well. I hope that when you are reading this you are happy. However, if you’re not that’s ok too. As terrible as times can look it’s not the end of the world. You have an amazing spirit of determination.
I’m privy to that determination on regular basis. Tonight was an excellent example. I had softball practice and you came with me. You played with your best friend, Caden. Of course you got dirty and loved every minute of it. Then it was timed to go home. I politely informed you that when we get home you were getting a bath. For whatever reason, at this age you hate getting a bath. You cry, yell and argue just about every time it’s time for a bath.
We finally get home after you arguing with me the entire way home. I pull you into the bathroom. Still you cried and argued. I stripped off your clothes and still you argued. I plopped you into the tub and still you cried and argued. I pretty much held you up and bathed you while you cried and protested the whole time. You stopped crying and arguing when I pulled you out of the tub and dried you off.
In this little moment I think there are a couple of lessons. The first is that when you, my crazy little man, have your mind made up you don’t give in. I honestly blame myself because I’m the same way. Your stubbornness is both a blessing and a curse. There are times in which you have to be stubborn and not give in. There are other times in which if you don’t give in, well then you’ll end up being the stinky kid at school. The other lesson is pretty simple, I won’t let you be the stinky kid at school.