How much is too much?

This isn’t a blog about money, I promise. It’s not about spending or saving or living within your means or minimizing or maximizing or being frugal, frivolous, or financially fickle. It’s not about “the best things in life are free,” or “money can’t buy you love,” either, because I wholeheartedly disagree with those statements, and also because as I have already mentioned: this is not a blog about money

It’s about kids and being prepared to love, feed, clothe, house, and provide appropriate extracurricular activities for them as they grow into the people God created them to be.

Now, at times, my writing can venture across the line that separates genuineness and just trying to be funny — and my sarcasm can land smack dab in the middle of “Oh, my gosh, did he really just say that?” So, before I go any further, I need for you to know that I truly, genuinely, 100-percent love kids. 

Not all kids, mind you. Just mine. I’m not like a lot of crazy people who say they see the divine beauty and preciousness and hope for tomorrow in the eyes of all children. I’m only referring to my kids and the deep, deep love I have for them. All five of them.

Five kids is a lot, though. There’s no denying it. Some might even say it’s too many, and depending on the day of the week, I might agree. Especially when it comes to extra-curriculars. My wife and I have been at this parenting-thing for more than 18-years, and we're still trying to figure out how to juggle it all.

We spend most nights from around 10:00 PM til Midnight sitting outside, contemplating these things while kicking back with a beer or a glass of wine in one hand and an iPhone in the other. We usually don’t talk a whole lot during this time, because this is when we try to relax by comparing ourselves to others on Facebook and Instagram.

But when we do engage in conversation, it almost always revolves around doing stuff for the kids. Running from here-to-there-and-back-here-again-so-we-can-get-back-over-there-and-then-the-other-place-before-it-closes-and-oh-don't-forget-about-this-and-that-and... the other thing. 

Evidently, this is our collective spiritual gift and the only thing(s) we are actually qualified to do.  

Last night, after the battery on my phone died from watching videos of friends on beaches with parasailing and scuba-diving and surf-lessons and beachside fruity drinks with whole pineapples and mangoes and other things that look almost too delicious to eat, Bethany and I started talking about some of the stuff we do for our beloveds every month. It verges on the insane. 

As mentioned above, we have five kids: two girls, and three boys. Their ages escape me at the moment, but rest assured, they are old enough to do stuff. Lots of stuff. Too much, really. Things like baseball, football, lacrosse, dance, church camp, overnight camps, bowling lessons (yes, bowling lessons, bless his heart) and, oh, by the way, the oldest is headed to college in the fall, sans scholarship(s). 

The estimated cost of these activities is — you're gonna want to write this down — roughly, nine and a half trillion dollars, give or take. It's worth it, though. It really is. 

But that's not even the point, because this isn't a blog about money. The point is this: if you want to be happy — and I mean really, really happy like your friends on Facebook — don't have a bunch of kids unless you are a trillionaire. That is all I have for you today. 

You're welcome.

Developing Character.

It was 16 days before my 16th birthday when he went to heaven. That was 30 years ago. Sounds like a long time when I say it out loud, but that day — that day still seems like it was this week. I remember what I was wearing when I found him. I remember what I did as soon as I knew: I ran out the back door of the house and into the back yard, screaming obscenities, trying to make myself cry. I don’t really recall a lot after that; the days that followed, or even the funeral.

Those memories play back like scenes from television reruns. Bits and pieces seem clear, but most of the dialogue is paraphrased, muffled, or blurred.

I do remember his mustache – he had a great Tom Selleck mustache that would disappear into his coffee cup, and it stung my face when he kissed me goodnight or gave me a “zerbert” before school. I remember his laugh. And I remember his eyes. He had happy eyes.

I used to get sad on Father’s Day. While others spent the third Sunday in June celebrating with family and lunching at Bennigan’s, we simply treated it like any other Lord’s Day and quietly looked forward to Monday. Then, I had kids of my own and the Dt became something altogether different.

As I grow older, the more and more thankful I am for my Dad and the influence he had on my childhood. But I think I am most thankful for the impact he has had on me since he’s been gone. Let me explain: After people die we tend to remember the best of them. And as time passes, memories play back like a “Best of…” highlight reel.

Not many people sit and ponder the douchey things their dead relatives did. And even then, there’s a kindness and fondness to the memory. My memories of my father are all good ones. I’m sure he yelled sometimes, but I don’t remember, and I bet he had a good reason if he did.

Probably my sister. 

I’m sure he had annoying habits and flaws that bothered me and others. I’m sure he smelled bad from time to time. But I can’t recall.

I just remember him being there. At practices, games, performances, church and the dinner table. I remember his smile. I remember playing football, wrestling, skipping rocks and skipping church to watch John McEnroe defeat Bjorn Borg in the 1981 Wimbledon championship. I was nine.

He sounded kind of like a seal being eaten by a larger seal when he laughed. He’d listen so intently as I recounted silly stories or made-up jokes and then he’d belly laugh as if I were the funniest 14-year-old on the planet. 

I don’t remember a single time when he was disappointed or angry. I don’t remember him telling me to get my shoes out of the middle of the room or to go make my bed. Of course he did all of those things, but that’s not who he was. He was the guy who taught me how to juggle by tossing around pieces of my grandmother’s fine china. The man who threw me flailing through the air at the swimming pool, and then again and again, because, “I think I can get you farther out there this time.” He was the one who let me ride on his shoulders while climbing Stone Mountain. The guy who sweated through telling about how men and women are different and how babies are made when those “differences” bump into each other.

I remember throwing the football with him. Once, maybe. We played a lot of football, but I only really remember that one time, in the front yard. I remember the Willow Tree that we'd established as the end zone. Maybe it was a Dogwood.

I remember that my dad ran a lot. He was a marathon runner, actually. But I don’t have a clear memory of him actually running. Not a single one.

My dad loved Jesus, and he loved to tell people about how God had changed his life. After he got sick, he was even more excited and vocal about God’s love and grace. I remember getting frustrated about that. I was a healthy, confused, and pissed off teenager, and he was about to die with those happy eyes.

I didn’t get it back then. I do now.

My story is full of major and minor characters who have impacted me in one way or another. Like the lady I saw in the checkout line at Wal-Mart this weekend. She was a minor character. True, I will not soon forget the chain she had connected to rings in her ear and her nose, but she simply made an impression. My father, on the other hand, was a major character. Someone around whom the plot of my story has been cast. He helped shape me, mold me, guide me, and direct me to where my story will ultimately lead.

I’m getting to a point, I promise.

We all have a unique opportunity to help shape the people around us. Every day we’re here. The things we do and the memories we create – no matter how faded or heightened they become over time – can make a real, meaningful, and forever-difference in the stories of folks we love.

And here’s the really great part: We don’t have to do great, big things to make a difference.

I got cut from my school’s basketball team in eighth grade, and I was devastated. Truth be told, I should have been cut because I wasn’t very good. But my dad knew I was upset, and he ached with me. Later on that day, he proceeded to give me one of the the single, greatest gifts he ever gave me. That night, after I had gone to bed, he wrote me a note. It was scribbled, and hard to make out because he had to write it with his left hand. He was born right-handed, but the disease he had rendered his right arm useless. So, he sat down at the kitchen table that night and wrote this with his left:

Today is going to be a great day. 

It’s your day. No one and nothing can make your day anything other than what you want it to be. If the weather calls for rain, decide now that you will enjoy being wet. If the test score is low, work hard to make sure the next one is higher. If treated unfairly for something, smile and be thankful for the many things you’ve not been caught for. 

Attitude is everything. Today is not yet anything. Fill it with laughter.

—Dad

I kept that note for a long time. Somewhere along the way, I lost the original, but the idea of that note – and the words he wrote – have stuck with me. Hardly a week goes by that I don’t think about him and what he must’ve been going through when he took the time to encourage me and reveal some truth about what really matters. It was such a simple act.

But the mark it made on me is indelible.

I don’t get sad anymore on Father’s Day. It’s one of the few days I get to slow down and be reminded about how lucky I was – how lucky I am. 

Now, I may not remember all the details of my relationship with the man I called “Dad,” but I hope the life he helped shape can become a meaningful character in the story of others. 

What about your day today will be remembered? More important, what about your life today will shape the people around you?

Go team, go.

Being a parent is hard. Especially for moms. Now, I’m not 100% positive this is true because I have a penis, but as the father of five I can say with great confidence and conviction that Mom’ing has got to be the most difficult thing in the world.

I’m not a biologist or phycologist or anyone worth quoting, really, but you can trust me. I had a Mom, I know a lot of Moms, and I snore next to one of them — the best one, in my opinion — every night.

That last fact alone is proof enough that the female sex endures the most harrowing existence there is, but the Mom, the Mom is the strongest and bravest and smartest and most formidable of the species without even a shadow of a doubt.

Being a dad is like being an assistant coach on a professional basketball team. I work kind of hard, I guess. I’ve got a clipboard with all the rules on it. I yell a lot and wave my arms, and look pretty busy on the sidelines with my shiny shoes and ten dollar haircut. I shake my head disapprovingly sometimes, but mostly I just give high-fives and slap people on the butt as they walk past, not listening to a single word I say.

Taking the basketball analogy excruciatingly too far, I imagine that being a mom is like being the head coach, lead cheerleader, star player, mascot, team owner, chief executive officer of basketball and game day operations, and the ball… all at once.

I guess what I am trying to say is that the mom my children came out of is pretty special. And I’m not just writing that here because she’s my wife and I’m a little bit scared of her; I write it because it’s true.

She is gorgeous and wonderful and perfect in almost every way. She’s someone that catches your breath and your heart, and you oftentimes get overcome by the simple fact that you share the same planet as this beautiful creature. She’s the everything, but willing to become the nothing so that everyone around her can shine a little brighter. She’s the real deal and the reason I smile most of the time, and I just thought you should know.

Actually, I don’t smile most of the time — because I am a parent and being a parent is hard — but when I do, it’s usually because of her.

Go team, go.

She lost her noodles.

She lost her noodles.

After a yelp and a pitiful little cough, Merrie let loose of just about everything she’d consumed over the past week: Hot dogs, gummy worms, Kool-Aid, green bean casserole, corn chips, vegetable soup, cheese puffs, popcorn, barbecue chicken salad, spaghetti, Lucky Charms, milk, hashbrowns, scrambled eggs, Hamburger Helper, strawberry ice cream and little bits of an almost-digested granola bar.

Happy Birthday, Baby Girl

12 years ago, I held this breath from heaven in my arms and I knew immediately that I was changed. I was a daddy, and she was my world – wrapped in a soft, pink and blue hospital blanket. At some point along the way, I seemed to forget the awe I felt knowing that God had blessed me beyond anything I could have ever imagined or hoped for. At some point, this little miracle became a little girl and the little girl became more of an obligation than a glimpse of God’s radical love and favor.